Well for what it is worth, Dan Mullen is not concerned if 2014’s All-SEC quarterback has been great on the 2015 statistic sheets. “I think he is much better this year,” Mississippi State’s coach says.
That strong statement can confuse the crowd. A year ago at this time, Prescott was half-way into a historic schedule, smashing some game or season or career record on just about every snap of the football. More to the point the unbeaten Bulldogs were freshly-ranked #1 nationally.
October 2015 isn’t the same situation. Mississippi State is 4-2, 1-2 SEC. They have been ranked two separate weeks, and with a couple more wins ought be back in the polls for November. Good, yes. Great? Not quite.
Just like the stats. This week Prescott is fifth in SEC total offense, 6th in passing yards, 7th in efficiency. He was first, second, or third in all three when 2014 ended.
Don’t expect his coach to measure Prescott by these digits and date, though.
“The production numbers may not be as high. He might not be making many spectacular plays,” Mullen acknowledge. “But me makes some plays on the field that he wasn’t able to make last year.”
See, what Mullen believes better is simply how better-rounded a college quarterback Prescott has become. Which, memory reminds, is why Prescott did not gamble on early NFL entry and a late-round draft projection. He returned specifically to round-out some key quarterbacking skills which were not much of a ’14 factor when State’s quarterback was the best offensive threat with arm and feet.
“It’s very different,” Mullen said. “Last year he was a big play maker and made a lot of plays. Maybe some flashier plays.” That was certainly the case in wins over LSU, Texas A&M, and Auburn in an epic three-win streak. Prescott’s touchdown run to regain control at Baton Rouge epitomized his spread-scheme skills.
This is a different year and different approach to quarterbacking a club. It isn’t just a concession to developing pro-type skills, though. Mississippi State’s obvious offensive strong point is a gifted and explosive set of receivers; while the running back group hasn’t and likely can’t replace what Josh Robinson provided.
Instead of taking the bulk of rushing duty on his own shoulders though, Prescott is distributing to those route-runners. Not just the first or second target, either, but more. One result, Mullen said, is Prescott isn’t nearly so likely to be seen “running over a safety and diving into the end zone.”
“He’s getting into a fourth progression, and getting the ball out of his hands to a guy that’s wide-open. I think that is a real progression he has made as far as becoming a quarterback instead of a play maker.”
Ask Bulldog faithful, and likely most would say they’d rather see the old play maker over the more polished passer. It is frustrating to watch a Mississippi State offense rank just 11th in SEC rushing this week, averaging just 150 yards. More meaningful is a 3.9 per-rush gain. Compare that to last year’s 5.2 typical pickup every run.
Setting running back rotations and their carry distributions aside as a separate story, passing play is leading State’s attack this season. It fits this edition of Prescott the passer, to his coach.
“When you study the game and film, you think wow, that’s great for a quarterback to do, even though it was a seven-yard play,” Mullen said. To be fair, too, quick seven-yard pass plays work just as well and maybe better than most seven-yard rushing plays. So maybe it moots some stress about needing a stronger ground game.
Or, maybe not. Without reliable running to keep defenses spread around November success will be much, much tougher to achieve. And while offenses don’t care much any more about possession time, burning a little more clock in the scoring process can take some of the strains off a Dog defense that is on the field nearly 37 (!) game-clock minutes each week now.
Perhaps though there’s another clue in Mullen’s comment. That, maybe Prescott is not so committed to throwing as to overlook ground options? For all the pro-style polishing, there’s bound to still be the tough guy core who will go attack a defense directly if the game demands.
Mullen does praise Prescott’s control of the action and the attitude. “His calm and his demeanor, whether we’ve been ahead or behind, you see him try and get the job done and do whatever it takes.
“Last year it might be him saying I’m going to try to make a big play to change the whole game around. Now it’s I’m out here making sure I do what it takes to win the football game. I think the growth and maturity is huge.”
And after all, quarterback greatness is not so much numbers as letters. As in, Ws.