#20 Mississippi State and its star quarterback did just that. Prescott threw for 303 yards and four touchdowns leading the Bulldogs to a 31-13 victory at Missouri. By winning the first meeting of these programs as SEC opponents, State left Faurot Field 7-2, 3-2 SEC. The Tigers are 4-5, 1-5.
Hours of rain with occasional lightning kept the home crowd down, well below the announced 58,878. A number of young locals did stay the distance though. They wanted to meet Dak Prescott in person, a rare surprise to this old Dog.
“I don’t normally see that. But it’s pretty cool,” Prescott said. “They were wearing #15 jerseys, I’m sure it wasn’t for me.”
By game’s end even Tigers were applauding the Bulldog quarterback. He completed 27 of 40 throws without an interception, and ran for 68 more yards. Only 47 of those counted as Prescott did absorb three sacks, a couple coming after a pre-half injury forced his offensive line to shuffle around.
But Prescott bounced up each time, and even when Coach Dan Mullen temporarily took him to the sideline after one hard shot it wasn’t serious. Prescott returned to throw more touchdowns, tying his career-high with four and earning a sixth 300-yard passing game.
Mullen thought Prescott might have tried too much a few times, and taken some unnecessary hits in the process. “But overall I think he continues to do what we need him to do and execute the offense. He’s the guy we’re going to lean on offensively.”
For his part Prescott leaned on his reliable receiving pair. Fred Ross tied a career-high with 11 catches, which went for 115 yards and a touchdown. De’Runnya Wilson only caught four balls but turned them into 102 yards, and scored twice.
“When we’re attacking them outside with Bear, and Fred is eating them up inside, they really don’t know what to do or how to stop it,” Prescott said.
The Tigers certainly didn’t on State’s first series, after the Dog defense had stopped Missouri’s own opening turn. Prescott flipped the ball immediately to a receiver-sweeping Ross for what officially went as a ‘pass’ play and 11 yards. Next play, a more conventional Ross route netted 15. And after Prescott had a throw for TE Darrion Hutcherson batted at the line, he wisely went back to #8 again.
Ross caught the downfield strike in stride for a 36-yard touchdown and lead State never lost. But it was closer than comfort for too long.
Because after the quick passing points State tried to become a ground-pounding offense. It didn’t work, the Dogs lost all rhythm, and the next five series ended on two successful punts, two fumbles on rushes, and a blocked punt.
Fortunately the Tiger offense lived down to its league-low standards. Or rather, State’s defense made sure of same. “We had a game plan to come in and out-tough those guys,” DT Chris Jones said. “We worked on it all week and it was successful.”
Jones and fellow tackle Nick James certainly were. They destroyed Missouri’s interior blocking and made life miserable for Tiger quarterback Drew Lock. Even when stuck in poor situations by mistakes and turnovers, the Dog defense was up to the challenge.
Speaking of challenge…some Dogs even tried to send a message in warm-ups. “We put fear in them before we even played them,” S Kivon Coman said. “If you look a man in the eye and he looks away, he ain’t ready to play you.”
All Missouri was ready for initially was playing for any points. After a RB Brandon Holloway fumble the Tigers got as far as the eight-yard line before settling for a short field goal. The blocked punt, recovered on State’s 25, also only resulted in three points.
“That’s big on our defense,” Jones said. “Coach (Manny) Diaz emphasized no matter where the ball is, do whatever it takes not to let the ball in the end zone.”
Holloway redeemed his earlier mistake on the kickoff with a 69-yard return. Having worked mostly to Ross up to then, Prescott looked now for Wilson. He over-threw the tall target on second down, but came right back with a right pylon strike. Wilson muscled some space for the 28-yard touchdown catch.
Missouri did answer that one with their only successful drive of the evening. Russell Hansbrough and Ish Witter ran hard and effectively in a ten-play series ending on a 14-yard Hansbrough touchdown. It was the first Tiger TD since October 3. It was also their last points.
The Bulldog offense, on the other hand, regained rhythm and put the game away with a 17-point third quarter. “Second half we came out and executed,” said Ross. Missouri also killed their own defensive chances with some painful penalties, such as a holding call for 15 free yards on the first State series. It helped cover 77 yards on just six snaps, the last a five-yard bullet to Wilson at the goal line.
The big play though was Wilson hauling in a 3rd-and-11 long lob on the right sideline. There was a defender in the area, he just had no chance of stopping a high throw. Wilson knew it, too, telling Prescott during an official delay to fix a clock problem.
“I told him the (cornerback) was like 5-9 and giving me free release.” The downfield catch became a 63-yard connection, thanks to Missouri adjusting their defense at halftime.
“They went from two-high man to one-high man,” Ross said. “I don’t think there’s many teams in the country that can man-up Bear and expect to have success. He took advantage of it.”
Coman took advantage of a pressured Lock under-throwing for an interception at the 37-yard line. PK Westin Graves knocked a 36-yard field goal through for the 24-13 lead that seemed to sap Tiger energy at last. Before the quarter ended Prescott directed a 9-play drive of 81 yards with WR Fred Brown catching the eight-yard touchdown for the final margin.
Missouri did muster some extended drives in the last quarter, but no points. Lock was dropped on 4th-and-5 at the Bulldog 23, and with the clock closing in on two remaining minutes Coman knocked away a fourth-and-goal pass from the 12.
Missouri did win the running competition with 215 yards. Tyler Hunt led everyone with 85 yards but 72 of that came on one big break in the final quarter, with LB J.T. Gray saving the touchdown. Witter had 81 yards on 12 rushes, Hansbrough 61 on 16 with his team’s only touchdown. Lock had a hard night, 11-of-26 for just 107 yards and five official sacks. Two of those went to LB Richie Brown, while LB Beniquez Brown had a team-leading eight stops and a half-sack. Jones was credited with just two tackles but both went for losses and Lock will have #98 nightmares for a while.
“We executed the gameplan and came out successful,” Coman said.
The Bulldog offense could have run much better before the Tigers tired out, and two fumbles won’t look good on review either. But 430 yards, a 50% conversion rate on third downs, and scoring on all three red zone chances was good enough for Mullen’s men. Some of whom, he noted, would have to be at Friday classes despite arriving back in Starkville around 4:00am.
If their coach could share some of his post-game emotion, showing up for roll would be easier. “Winning in the SEC is hard, winning on the road in the SEC is really hard,” said Mullen explaining his bouncing around post-game, high-fiving and playing to the Bulldog crowd. “A tough environment, weather, all this stuff, late night kickoff. To get a win, I’m juiced!”
So was a Bulldog team that wasn’t going to let conditions rain on their parade into a showdown with Alabama.