Note-Booking The Bulldogs' Sixth Victory

There was the pre-season sense Dak Prescott could become a special Bulldog. Only half-way into his junior season, #15 is on the fast track to number-one…as in the best to ever quarterback a Mississippi State offense.

Prescott took another huge step in that direction by breaking a record once thought uncatchable at Mississippi State. With two rushing touchdowns against Auburn, and another score in the air, he now has 53 career touchdowns. That surpassed the mark of 52 set by the great Don Smith in 1983-86. Oh, and this running—and passing—total doesn’t officially count the three touchdowns Prescott has caught on throw-back plays.

It’s true, teams play more games than in the 1980s; and Prescott has been part of bowling Bulldog teams too. But perspective is provided by this: Prescott is still in his first full season as the starter, and he has played just 29 games. Smith, who admittedly didn’t have the supporting cast, got his touchdowns over four seasons, three of them starting.

A more immediate angle on Prescott’s prowess was provided by the opponent. Auburn officials report no quarterback has rushed for 100-plus yards and passed for 200-plus against a Tiger team for the last 40 seasons. Prescott netted 121 on the ground, 246 in the air.

Not that he cared about stats and standards this day. Two interceptions, as many as he’d tossed the first five games, irked Prescott to no end. “I played decent enough to get the win. But it was really my teammates that did a great job. The offensive line blocked well, the receivers made plays, Josh (Robinson) did a great job. We still got it done.”

CALMING VOICE FROM ABOVE: Prescott isn’t the kind to get too high or low whatever the circumstances. Still two picks, one in the end zone, can get to a guy. Especially with so much at stake for State, and by extension his increasing Heisman Trophy stock.

Mullen wasn’t worried his quarterback would respond rightly, and Prescott did with a clutch drive before halftime. “It was great leadership, but not just him but the entire team.” Which to the head coach included his assistants. And not just the play calling, even though years together have brought a level of 2014 efficiency not seen here before.

The ‘new’ kid in the offensive staff, quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, did more than call plays. He between-series headset chats with Prescott weren’t only about tactics this time.

“He does a great job, and keeps it loose,” Mullen said. Again, not that Prescott requires a whole lot of counsel…but sometimes a good word counts. Besides, said Mullen, “Dak knows he made some mistakes. No need to yell at him. I guarantee he’s more mad at himself than I am at him for doing some of those things. It’s all about we’ve got to go play the next play.”

HEISMAN HYPING: As noted, Prescott has become the hot Heisman Trophy topic over the past two weeks with splendid statistics and big play-making timing against top-ten teams. This game wasn’t quite his finest few hours on the field, Mullen agreed.

“He tried to get out of the mix today by throwing a couple of picks. Then he scored three touchdowns and got himself back in!”

TRICK, NO TREAT: Had the game turned out otherwise, focus would have fallen immediately on a curious first-quarter call to fake a punt from State’s own 28. P Logan Cooke rolled left with the ball and forced a pass picked at the 37.

Auburn turned that gift into a field goal. Then Prescott’s first interception set up another three-pointer that gave the guests new life, abetted by a fumbled-away punt later in the period. So momentum was turned on the unnecessary turn-over, considering State was up 21-0 and the defense dominating.

Mullen defended the decision though, first because the Tigers showed they were setting up for a return and no pressure was coming. “They were not aligned right. We had practiced that, we had planned it even in their ‘safe’ defense.” Except the punt play took a while to be triggered; and Auburn might have gotten a tip when S Kendrick Market moved out of a protect spot to the wing.

The larger question was, why then and there? “We hadn’t come to keep it close, we wanted to come to win,” said Mullen. Except State was winning, the Tigers sputtering. Regardless, “I’m like hey, let’s run it and he (Coach Greg Knox) agreed, and we thought we had it. We missed a block on the edge, and I think Richie Brown kind of fell and Logan lost him in sight.”

That might be another key to the call; linebacker Brown intercepted three passes last weekend and showed a fine set of hands. Throwing a fake his way could be a high-percentage play, but the stumble coming out threw it all off and Cooke had to heave into a crowd.

In the end this didn’t derail the Dogs, who regained the momentum before halftime to score again. Still, it had to be asked afterwards. “I called it,” Mullen repeated. “If Greg had called it I could blame him. As head coach you’ve got to keep yourself aggressive, you know? When a coordinator in some of that stuff, you don’t have to come to the press conference afterwards!”

ZONE OF THEIR OWN: Mullen could joke since he came to post-game as the winning head coach. Besides, the blown play still only produced three points even when Auburn got down to the Bulldog four. A series later they settled for three again, from the five. Earlier they had missed a field goal from State’s nine.

While Auburn would put up a pair of touchdowns, their last drive also died near the MSU goal with S Justin Cox’s interception at the three. So on six trips into the MSU red zone, the Tigers—who came in leading the SEC in RZ offense at 100% points—came up short twice entirely and settled for kicks twice.

No big deal, said DT Kaleb Eulls. “We go in every week and study, watch film, get an edge on those guys. That’s something I feel helps us out.”

This prowess helped the head coach. “It does make you feel good that you can fake punts, you can take some shots (on offense),” Mullen said. “If you’re not perfect on offense the defense is going to be there to make plays.”

Something else aided the Dog defense prepare for this week, Eulls agreed. At LSU, they faced a run-heavy offense with play-action potential. Then it was a Texas A&M team that throws twice as often as they rush and even then many runs are scrambles. From those two extremes, State had seen enough to get ready for a well-balanced Auburn attack.

“It helped us out, with the run and the pass,” said Eulls. “You learn a little bit from each game that will help you out the next week.”

SPECIAL-LIST: Knox will have other items of more concern this open week, probably. Two games in a row, KR Jamoral Graham has miss-played a punt into a turnover deep in Dog territory. On the brighter side, PK Evan Sobiesk knocked through his crucial field goal from PAT distance for the 11-point lead in the second half that really put pressure back on Auburn.

And the back-breaker followed immediately. Tiger return man Ricardo Lewis fielded on the far-right corner and angled back to middle of the field where he ran into a teammate and was stood up. But not stopped yet, allowing DB Quadry Antoine to rip the ball free. CB Tolando Cleveland came up with the fumble on the Tiger 15 and two snaps later the Bulldogs led 38-20.

The twist to this turn of events? Antoine wasn’t supposed to be on the field. But earlier LB Dezmond Harris had “gone down” Mullen said on another kickoff cover play. “Quadry steps in and makes a big play,” the coach said.

CLUTCH CALLS: There were several points Auburn appeared to have made a huge passing play, only to see everything come back on penalties. It began early too, as on their fourth series a 30-yard gainer was negated by holding.

Much more frustrating for the Tigers was a negated second-quarter touchdown. On third-and-goal Nick Marshall evaded DE Preston Smith’s reach and found Sammie Coates in the end zone. The celebrating was short-lived as one ref had toss his cap signaling the receiver had gone out of bounds. Replay showed Coates indeed had stepped out, oddly on the back line of the end zone with no pressure to do so. Not only was it an incompletion but loss of down and the Tigers settled for a second field goal.

Three snaps into the second half came what could have become a big turn-of-tone for the Tigers, as Coates caught a strike on the sideline and ran for 68 yards down to State’s two where CB Taveze Calhoun finally caught him from behind. Then, came the flag though the official had been tugging at it for a few seconds already.

Just about everyone figured it was a horse-collar call, but no. Coates had pushed Calhoun off before the catch, so Auburn lost a huge gainer, 15 yards, and soon were punting.

“I felt he pushed off a little bit,” said Calhoun. “Great call by the ref, thank God for that!”

FINALLY: TE Malcolm Johnson has had some tough times against Tiger teams, more annoying since he is a Tuscaloosa native. He didn’t play in the 2011 game as a redshirt freshman; then was injured in 2012 when State won at home. Last year Johnson was held to a single catch for five yards at Auburn.

But in his last shot against the home-state squad, Johnson finally got to have some on-field fun. He led State with five receptions, going for 60 yards. This was after Johnson was held without a catch by Texas A&M. And he had his usual quota of downfield blocks in the running game. Johnson has self-imposed an interview ban since last year though so his feelings aren’t available.

Mullen was happy to talk for the tight end though. Especially about Johnson’s brilliant catch to set up the final Bulldog touchdown. It came after Antoine’s forced fumble, during the break brought by Auburn’s challenge of the turnover call…something the Tigers had to do at that point. But the extra time allowed Johnson to do some politickin’ with his coach.

“Malcolm said can you call this play?” said Mullen, as everyone agreed to forego B.Johnson’s first suggestion and throw the pylon pattern. “He’s a fifth-year senior captain and I trust him. He’s been around and it sounded like a good call. Dak trusted him, we went with it. And we hit him and he made the play.”

For 14 of the 15 yards needed to score, which RB Josh Robinson immediately accounted for. Prescott said he wasn’t aware that M.Johnson had influenced the play call. “I’m not sure, I didn’t hear that, but Malcolm had told me earlier in the game man, I’ve got this feeling I could catch anything. When that play was called and I saw Malcolm one-on-one with that guy that thought went through my head and I just gave him the ball he could make a play on.”

The other aspect, and likely what coaxed Coach into agreeing, was the pile-it-on principle. After a big turnover, go for the big strike. This, Prescott did know about.

“We had to right there. Special teams made a great play, Quad comes in and strips the ball out. That was a big-time play right there. We had to strike and go ahead and get that easy touchdown.”

BEAR FORCE ONE: State has played the last two SEC games, against top-ten foes, without leading receiver Jameon Lewis as a leg injury has the senior sidelined. His absence though has allowed others to step up.

Or fly high in the case of WR De’Runnya Wilson. A week ago he had four catches for 72 yards and a touchdown against the Aggies. Which just happened to be his same statistics this week: 4, 72, and 1, all of it in the first half.

In his three SEC tests this season, Wilson has piled up a dozen catches for 235 yards and a touchdown every time.

One of Wilson’s biggest plays wasn’t a catch. It was when he was rassled down on a sideline throw to convert a fourth down in the fourth quarter, which set up the crucial Sobiek field goal. There was no doubt who Prescott wanted to throw at that play, either.

“A big guy like that, just put it up in the air against a smaller defender and he’s going to get it or it’s going to be PI, one or the other,” Prescott said.

MSU-ELLANEOUS NOTES: For the first time in program history, the Bulldogs both played and defeated three top-ten teams in order; then-#8 LSU, #6 Texas A&M, and now #2 Auburn. Research later showed the last time any college team defeated three top-ten teams in order was in 1983; and it was Auburn, the Bo Jackson Tigers… With Kentucky winning easily today, it’s likely State will face a fourth ranked team (albeit not top ten, yet) in a row following the open date… State now has a nine-win streak going back to last season, topping the eight-win streak of the 2011-12 teams… This was the fourth Bulldog team ever to open a season 5-0, and like the previous three these Dogs also won their sixth game… At 6-0, State is assured of bowling and thus extending the program record of four-straight bowl trips to five… The 62,945 crowd was the largest in Scott Field history…. And to the great sorrow of both media and fans, voluble RB Josh Robinson did not attend post-game interviews. He sent the message though that he had people awaiting and was forgiven.

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