Saturday in Fayetteville, senior quarterback Prescott smashed Mississippi State records for both passing yards with 508, and more to the point(s) touchdowns passes with five. The most important were the 14-yard connection with WR Fred Ross for one final touchdown that gave the Bulldogs a 51-50 victory over Arkansas.
The last touchdown didn’t end the win. It took a blocked field goal by LB Beniquez Brown at 0:39 to seal Mississippi State’s first success ever on Arkansas’ home field. Special teams heroics aside, the evening was dominated by #15.
“That was a lot of craziness,” Prescott said. “Back and forth.”
Prescott has re-written so many program records that he seems to make more marks weekly. This one, though, meant more than numbers. It had Coach Dan Mullen setting a standard of his own.
“I’d say he might be the best player I’ve ever coached. And if you look at my coaching resume, that’s pretty impressive.”
In a career of compliments this one caught Prescott’s attention. “That’s huge. He’s coached a Heisman winner, a #1 overall pick, some very talented guys. So that’s huge.”
But then Prescott was huge, if not even bigger. He completed 38 of his 50 passes for the record five touchdowns, and only had one of them intercepted. That one was not Prescott’s fault either as an accurate throw caromed off WR De’Runnya Wilson’s normally sure hands for a turnover during an awful third quarter for State.
Three turnovers in that period turned a 31-21 halftime lead into a 42-31 Bulldog deficit, which on a hostile field against a red-hot host team would have been game-over for any other State squad. This isn’t one of those because Prescott is not a normal quarterback. Not merely at MSU but in SEC history.
Prescott also rushed for two touchdowns, giving him seven on the game. That just happened to tie the conference record, though Prescott had to share it with his Arkansas counterpart. Brandon Allen, who Prescott has camped with, also accounted for seven touchdowns in the shootout.
“He did a great job, he’s a great guy,” Prescott said. “He’s a great competitor.”
But Mississippi State has never had a competitor like this one running an offense. And on this evening in the Ozarks, the Bulldogs had to have a great one on his game. Prescott was.
His first half was nothing short of brilliant by any program’s standards. After Allen put his team up on an opening-drive touchdown, Prescott matched with a farther and faster series. He tied it up with a 38-yard flip to RB Brandon Holloway on third down, the littlest Bulldog back scampering through traffic for the touchdown at 7:31.
Given the ball back with a tie, Prescott hit WR Gabe Myles for a 44-yard strike to the Razorback red zone. On third and goal at the four Prescott himself squirmed across the plane for a 14-7 lead. The Allen vs. Prescott tennis match continued through the second quarter with Prescott serving more aces. He worked his team into PK Westin Graves’ range for a go-ahead field goal at 11:47, then the next time directed a 78-yard drive ending on his eight-yard shot to a leaping WR Fred Brown in the end zone.
For good measure, a pressured pass to Ross at the Arkansas 35 turned into a 55-yard catch and scamper touchdown and 31-14 lead. In that half Prescott was 21-of-27 for 308 yards and the three touchdowns. Even opponents were praising Prescott.
“One of those guys, a d-lineman, said I like y’all’s tempo,” Prescott reported. “That kind of threw me off!”
The Bulldogs got badly off-track in the third quarter though. Arkansas had steadied a bit before halftime with Allen’s own third TD toss, a nine-yarder at 0:52. But State was getting the ball to open the new half and with the offense so hot it seemed sure to keep going. Then return man Holloway had the ball knocked loose by Josh Harris and the entire game turned on a dime.
Arkansas only had to go 23 yards and Allen went to one of his tight ends, Jeremy Sprinkle, for the third-and-three touchdown. On State’s first offensive play of the period, Wilson let Prescott’s shot go off his hands and into Kevin Richardson’s at the State 39. Allen immediately went long and the other tight end, Hunter Henry, who’d got a step on S Kivon Coman down the left sideline. The touchdown suddenly had Arkansas ahead 35-31 at 11:39.
And further disaster was ahead. Prescott himself lost the handle, trying to throw just as he was hit by UA’s Deatrich Wise. The loose ball was scooped and returned to the MSU 40 with replay confirming a fumble. Five plays later it was Allen-to-Henry from the 18 and Arkansas was up 42-31.
The Dogs did not rattle. Because primarily Prescott did not let them. “They hadn’t stopped us all night. So if we don’t make mistakes and give the ball up we’re going to come back in this game.”
Mullen said the same thing. “All we’d done is stop ourselves. Stick with the plan, don’t panic. Just run our offense and get to executing. Same thing defense, find a way to make plays. And we did.”
Arkansas’ Brett Bielema helped with a most curious fourth down decision. Leading by 11 and with 4th-and-one on the MSU 26, he passed on kicking for three…which later events might have supported. But neither did he send Allen or Alex Collins straight ahead, or even go to one of the unstoppable tight ends in a short route. He had Allen try to hit Henry in the end zone, and that throw was high. It did not look like much at the time.
But when Prescott ran it in from three yards out at 12:54 of the fourth quarter, home team tension tightened. Then after a three-and-through by an executing Dog defense, Prescott was on a roll again. He threw 11 passes out of 13 snaps in a series, completing ten including the 10-yard toss to Wilson for a lead. Just a 44-42 lead as Graves clanked his PAT, a mistake that caused more interesting calls by both teams the rest of the way.
Allen wasn’t done either, because Allen threw a sweet 52-yard strike to Dominque Reed to the State 13. It was Sprinkle breaking open in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown at 5:33, and Arkansas added a two-point conversion pass to Cornelius.
But they had scored too soon. Way too soon, as Prescott needed barely three minutes to regain the lead. All five of his passes in a hurried series were caught including a 45-yard grab-and-go by Holloway to the UA 19. With third down on the 14, split end Wilson and slot man Ross lined up in a ‘stack’ on the left side.
“They brought a no-deep, it was man-to-man across the board,” Prescott said. “If Fred didn’t win then I was throwing it to Bear. Fred went clean so I threw it off the back foot. He made a good catch and broke a tackle.”
That still left 3:05 for Arkansas to get in field goal range, which they did with Allen always finding somebody open. But after reaching State’s 19-yard line the Razorbacks naturally ran the ball up the middle, using MSU timeouts up and getting closer for the kick. Cole Hedlund took it, and Brown blocked it off the right end.
All Prescott had to do from there was kneel thrice. It was anticlimactic considering the rest of his evening, but a great big mark had been made. Maybe more so with his pure leadership and determination than any statistic. “You never saw him falter,” Mullen said. “He made great plays.”
Holloway ended up the leading rusher with 63 yards on 14 rushes. Prescott netted 46 on 15 carries with the two scores and just two sacks. Both Ross and Wilson had ten catches, the former for 154 yards and two touchdowns and latter for 93 yards—“Shoot!” Wilson said or something like it when learning he hadn’t hit 100—and a touchdown. Holloway did reach 100 yards receiving, 101 to be exact. In all nine Dogs caught passes and Prescott nearly did too, on a 3rd-and-1 throwback by Myles that if fired a tick sooner would have worked for a touchdown. Prescott converted the 4th-and-1 anyway to keep the scoring driving going.
Allen was magnificent in defeat, 30-of-43 for 406 yards and the SEC record-tying seven touchdowns. Henry had 129 of the yards on seven catches, and Drew Morgan 84 on seven also with a score. But back Alex Collins, the league’s third-leading rusher, netted just 53 yards on 19 runs.
Lost in the huge offensive numbers was a good-enough job by State’s defense. They had four three-snap stops and that key turnover on downs. If not for third-quarter giveaways, the Bulldog defense could have kept Arkansas under reasonable control. But stress only brought out their best, and even on the final UA drive keeping them out of the end zone made the difference.
“We just had to make a stop,” LB Richie Brown said. “At some point it’s time to lock-in, stop them from moving the ball. And we executed.”
Beniquez Brown had 12 tackles and Richie Brown 10. While he just had three official tackles, DT Chris Jones was outstanding putting pressure on Allen. Most of all, when the game was on the verge of getting entirely away in that crazed third quarter.
“We stuck together as a team and we overcame it,” said Prescott. “When we didn’t make mistakes we got the tempo going, drove the ball, converted, and got touchdowns.”
But what, say, if that field goal had been good?
“We would have scored,” Prescott said.