Then again, it’s a pretty serious stage Prescott performs on himself. This is the quarterback of the Southeastern Conference pace-setter, and top-ranked team in every list that matters. The current front-runner in most Heisman Trophy projections, too. So any hint of a health issue is instant national news, as happened Saturday evening when Prescott reported to the post-victory press conference wearing the boot.
Tuesday evening, same boot, same foot, same questions. The answer was a bit clearer though. “I’m fine,” said Prescott. “I don’t think I’ll have anything wrong with me at the Arkansas game. I think I’ll be fine, it’s just pure precaution to make sure nothing else happens.”
If some sense of concern around Bulldog Country is only natural for the lead Dog, well, so is wearing some sort of boot, brace, wrap, whatever. Mississippi State is seven wins into the season and each victory has come with a physical price. Most obviously the last four, all against conference competition and teams either top-ten ranked (LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn) or playing for bowl eligibility (Kentucky).
Beating this league lineup is what has pushed the Bulldogs to first place in SEC and, now, the inaugural College Football Playoff standings. If it has left everyone a bit beat-up, that’s just the tradeoff. Particularly for Prescott.
“Like Coach (Dan) Mullen said at the end of the practice, this time in college football especially in the SEC you’re not going to feel good. Not one part of your body I don’t think is feeling the best it ever felt. We’ve been taking a lot of hits, from top to bottom. Even the guys on the practice team, the scout team, they’re not feeling too good themselves. But we have to keep going, continued to stay motivated and get better.”
Prescott offers no details on his health, of course. It was enough to say following Tuesday’s practice “I was full go, yeah, I was fine.”
Besides, finding out that they were given the opening edge by the 12-member CFB selection committee should ease some aches and pains. Prescott and club have low-keyed their #1 polling position; this means a little more, at least in the long-term view.
“It’s cool,” Prescott said. “Just talking about that, that’s something you can never take away from the University or this program. First-ever team to be ranked number-one. So I think that’s pretty cool for the University and everybody.”
As for the most recent outing, Prescott will grade it a success since after all Mississippi State did come away from Kentucky with the win. Which is all that mattered at the time. Still there were definite areas to critique himself over. “Not hesitating throwing the ball, getting it out of my hands. Don’t be worried about making mistakes and make quicker decisions,” Prescott said.
“But we did a lot of good things. We ran off the ball, the offensive line dominated the game. Josh Robinson, just phenomenal breaking tackles and just being Josh. And the defense did good, they had some points but everybody stepped up when they needed to.”
This weekend Mississippi State is back on the home field for the next conference contest. Prescott has seen Arkansas before but in 2013 it was strictly from the sideline, after a much more serious setback a week earlier at Texas A&M to his left shoulder and arm. In his absence starter Tyler Russell and backup Damian Williams directed an overtime victory, with true freshman Williams scoring the winning touchdown on a 25-yard keeper.
Now it is Prescott’s turn to start against the Razorbacks at last. Defensively, “They’ve got a different coach but they’re still going to do the same thing. I mean the head coach is really the defensive guy so they’re going to everything he wants them to do. They’re not too difficult (scheme wise) but I expect them to change a little bit up here and there for us. They’re a good defense, they’re really good up front and have a good linebacker corps. And I think their safeties play really well getting off the hashes and jumping back on the inside routes. So they’re a good team.”
A hungry team, too. The Bulldogs aren’t nearly as worried about Arkansas trying to play spoiler nearly so much as that they are a proud program desperate to snap a multi-year SEC losing streak. Even the urgency to stay one step ahead of the conference race and atop the polls is of secondary concern to just winning the next game.
For that matter Mississippi State hasn’t been quite as crisp in the last seven or so quarters since leaping to a 21-0 lead over Auburn. Prescott takes some responsibility for maybe looking too big, too long, too something. Yes, for the Bulldogs to move and score he has to make plays.
At the same time a great quarterback uses the play-makers around him and Prescott has plenty of those to work with. Besides, giving the ball to a teammate reduces the wear and tear on the triggerman. Of late, Prescott said, game review showed “I’ve been trying to make a big play rather than letting it come to me.” There is nothing wrong with that to be sure because this is one of the land’s elite players.
But as the boot reminds, sometimes an extra yard can cost more than the net gain. So this might be the right time to slide a little sooner, step out a step earlier, and so on. Just as Prescott said he was doing in September.
“I have to get back to that,” he said, rather than “trying to make some things happen downfield when I’ve got enough yards, I can slide out of bounds. And I think I’ve got to get back to that.”