The game of course being Alabama’s slugfest at LSU, won in overtime by the visiting Crimson Tide. Prescott, nor any other Dog much less their coach, expressed any preference. They simply wanted an advance-view for next Saturday when Mississippi State puts a perfect 9-0 record, and much more importantly SEC West and overall leads on the line of scrimmage. Game time is to be set Sunday afternoon by CBS.
Afternoon, evening, whenever this cross-border rivalry kicks off, the stakes are…no, high doesn’t do State’s situation justice. “It means everything,” Prescott said.
”Playing big-time games in November, it means you’re playing for championships. To being the hunted that’s a challenge we’re willing to take and we’re all excited about it.”
Excited was not exactly something said about Saturday’s home game. Again, all Dogs hewed to the party line that UT-Martin had their full attention. A better description was Coach Dan Mullen and staff kept the team on a standard game-week script, resisting temptation to look ahead or start working on Alabama early. This likely would have been counter-productive anyway and possibly psyched the squad the wrong way and at the wrong time.
At the same time there was no way #1-ranked Mississippi State was going to have SEC-like intensity for an Ohio Valley Conference guest. It showed for much of the first two quarters, too, before the Bulldogs put up ten quick points for a 24-3 intermission margin. A couple of third period touchdowns made sure there would be no national-scene-shaking upset.
While the Bulldogs have not always looked like a #1 sort of squad, Prescott downplayed suggestions the highest ranking is a burden or something like that. “I don’t think we actually get to wear it!” he joked. True, the ascension to top spot did take some edge off the first time State played that way, at Kentucky.
”That was just one week,” Prescott said. “We got that out of the way.” Last week it was a matter of holding off a hard-nosed Arkansas squad 17-10 and handling the pressures. As for UT-Martin, “Tonight we stepped on our toes the first half,” Prescott said. “But we eventually got it going and got the win, that’s all that really matters.”
Winning matters infinitely more to the quarterback than statistics and records. Both of which, Prescott packs a bunch of these days. By running for one touchdown and throwing two scoring passes, the junior blew past the MSU season record in TDs-Responsible with 29. He already held the career mark which is now moved out to 60. He became the first Bulldog to account for 3,000 yards total offense in a season, now with 3,010 and counting. And he now has nine 200-yard passing games on his career, another record.
Reciting and retyping these lists takes longer every week, yet Prescott claims ignorance. “No, I actually don’t know which ones, what they were for, anything,” he said, allowing media to tell him. “That’s cool!”
Red-hot actually. What has cooled down though is Prescott’s trademark fast start to games. There was a stretch where as a starter he directed opening-drive touchdowns eight of 12 games. That pace has dropped off now, but can’t entirely be accounted to the quarterback. Even if, as a good leader will, Prescott does try to take responsibility for slow starts by the offense.
”We just have to continue to be focused every single play, treat each play as its own and execute cleaner. Focus on doing your job and everything else will pan out, everybody else will do their job, and we’ll be fine.”
Coach Dan Mullen didn’t have a set script for snaps by his starting quarterback against the Skyhawks, though he did tell network TV at one point a 38-3 margin would finish Prescott’s evening. Mullen actually made his move at 31-3 after Prescott found WR Joe Morrow for a 55-yard touchdown. Damian Williams took care of the rest of the game, albeit not the ball on a fumble setting up UTM’s second and last touchdown.
What Prescott rarely did was run, just six rushes. That was enough to net 54 yards though 48 of the total came on a single read-and-run for touchdown in the second quarter. Prescott insisted there was no leash from the coach to limit his totes.
”Whatever play is called I’m going to execute and go through my progressions. I’m not sure if that was planned or not.” No Mississippi State fan was unhappy to see #15 on the sideline, putting no unnecessary stress on the gimpy left ankle. Prescott did not wear the protective boot to postgame this week, either.
Prescott wasn’t the only starter working a shorter stint than usual. RB Josh Robinson was lifted in the second quarter so Brandon Holloway and Ashton Shumpert could take turns. And score touchdowns in the process. Prescott was particularly proud for Holloway who finally got to hit the burners in the clear.
“That’s awesome. He’s been close right there a couple of times this year. But for him to actually get in there, break away and show that speed, that was special for him.” As for Morrow’s touchdown, it was a nice touch for the veteran wideout in a home game…but all the more encouraging for what is showed about the receiver corps as a whole. Senior Jameon Lewis did not play; instead his backup Gabe Myles caught a team-best five balls for 54 yards.
And when WR Jamoral Graham came down with Williams’ 44-yard strike for a final touchdown, it meant 11 Bulldogs have caught at least one touchdown pass. Prescott included, on a throwback. It would have been an even dozen if LT Blaine Clausell’s catch and rumble into the end zone in the first quarter had counted, but officials ruled the alignment didn’t make Clausell eligible enough.
Regardless the regular receivers all show the sort of play-making possibilities that let a quarterback spread the ball around without hesitation. “That goes back to the off-season and the summer, the work we put in with each other just throwing sessions we had,” Prescott said. “Just on our own. And I have trust in every single one of those guys. Like I said before, there are still some of the guys that haven’t made big plays yet that I have trust to throw the ball without any worry of them making big plays.”
With Homecoming celebrated and UT-Martin excused, the Bulldogs face their decisive SEC closing stretch of three games. Had LSU hung on to a late lead, State would have been able to about lock-up the Division next Saturday. Still success in Tuscaloosa will keep the Dogs in control and on track.
Prescott has gone on this road trip before. And with an unbeaten Bulldog team, too. The 2012 squad was 7-0 heading to Alabama, only to return with the first of what became three-straight SEC losses and a frustrating finish. The bye-word that November was ‘we believe’, which was fine at the time.
This team and this quarterback prefer fact to faith.
“That was two years ago. It’s a complete different team, completely different attitude. I don’t think it’s the ‘we believe’ rather than ‘we know we can’. We’re not trying, hoping any more, we’re trying to play our best game and worry about us and execute.”