Pressed into starting duty after last week’s injury to senior Tyler Russell, third-year sophomore Prescott made the most of his two quarters’ action. Running the Mississippi State show for just eight series, Prescott and offense produced five touchdowns and a field goal. That 37-0 halftime lead was more than enough to even the Bulldogs’ record at 1-1 on the season. Alcorn State left with the same mark.
If Prescott was bothered by sitting out the entire second half, it didn’t show any more than personal pride in how the first start played out. “It was all about the team,” Prescott said. “The team went out and did a good job up front, the running backs and receivers did well. So we performed well one half to get the job done.”
Well? That just hinted at how dominating the SEC Bulldogs were against their SWAC guests in the first and second periods. The 37 points were most for State at a halftime since 1996, and all points came on offense and kicking. Some eleven first-half plays went for ten or more yards, running or throwing, and this despite a possession-time difference of only 96 seconds. Alcorn State didn’t do much in their nine turns with the ball before halftime, netting a grand total of 30 yards; best showing by a Dog defense since the 2000 Auburn slugfest.
Coach Dan Mullen didn’t mind a bit that most of the 55,085 announced attending had left by the third period. They’d seen enough by then and so had the boss Dog. “That’s a good win for us. Wins are hard to come by in every level of football and I thought our guys came out and played hard right from the opening whistle all the way to the end.”
True, because even with wholesale substitutions and a true freshman, Damian Williams, quarterbacking all but the last two series, State still out-scored the Braves in the second half anyway. If not for a broken coverage by a scratch secondary in fact the Dog defense was poised to post the first shutout in 14 years. Mullen wasn’t worried; just the opposite after an encouraging offensive display.
“I love that we ran 87 plays to their 50, I love that.” State’s plays produced a net 556 yards to just 163 for the battered Braves.
“We were just flying around,” LB Benardrick McKinney said. “Coach (Geoff) Collins emphasized to fly around, play hard, and create big plays. The D-line did an awesome job doing their thing and clearing up for the linebackers to make plays.”
Even better, to force three turnovers with a first quarter interception and two more passes stripped after the catch for recovered fumbles. It didn’t matter much what combination coordinator Collins put together as the game developed, the Dogs were in control on that side. Alcorn State quarterback John Gibbs spent much of the day running for his health or just throwing something somewhere. The Dogs were credited with only one sack, by DT Curtis Virges, but stats didn’t show how much pressure was applied.
“Basically it came from watching film, how they set, and that gave us a real advantage of how to play those guys,” Virges said. As to Gibbs, “I don’t know what he was doing, but he was just turning around and throwing the ball. I was like, OK!”
Gibbs and team did make an initial impression with completed passes for first downs. That was until group pressure had Gibbs unload into a crowd with Bulldog LB Deontae Skinner making the interception. Enter Prescott, who not only made a starting debut but was immediately put under another sort of pressure as State faced 4th-and-9 at the Braves 36-yard line.
He even converted it with a throw to WR Joe Morrow, except ASU had apparently called time as the ball was snapped. It could have frustrated Prescott. It did not.
“The first one showed me I could do it, just go do it again. I called a different play and it worked the same.” TE Malcolm Johnson adjusted to the throw and State had first down at the 13. Two snaps later Prescott faked beautifully to RB Josh Robinson sweeping right, which opened up the middle for a ten-yard touchdown keeper at 9:22.
The next turn also took six plays to produce, going 70 yards. Completions to WR Robert Johnson and WR De’Runnya Wilson started the fast series before Lewis took an end-around through the left side and scooted 44 yards, with a few extra tacked on for a facemask tackle. It took three snaps to get those last three yards, the third a power run by RB Derrick Milton at 6:16.
Taking back over at their 40, State went for another fourth down needing eight yards. Only this time it was from a punt formation, and with PK Devon Bell deep instead of P Baker Swedenburg. Bell rolled right and tried to throw back left for Malcolm Johnson who was not open. State was fortunate Brave Kenny Tolbert only broke-up the play rather than picking it off with clear sailing ahead.
Either way Alcorn State had possession on the Bulldog 43. They made nothing of the gift, stuffed on three straight rushes into punting it back. By utter comparison State’s offense was able to go 80 yards in six plays, with gains of 15, 12, nine, 23, and finally 14 as Milton got a quarter-step ahead of linebacker Damon Watkins at the left pylon and Prescott dropped the ball in perfectly for a touchdown.
Their next turn saw the debut of true freshman RB William Shumpert, who rushed four-straight times including a 4th-and-short conversion. Prescott hit Wilson for 24 yards more, WR/RB Brandon Holloway carried for 15 around the left end, then Shumpert crushed Brave Anthony Williams getting to the two. A short penalty for substitutions just meant Shumpert only had a yard to go, and through linebacker William Thomas at the goal line, for his touchdown at 6:28.
“My O-line opened up some big holes so I just hit them hard,” Shumpert said.
It took all of eight seconds for the Bulldogs to make it 34-0. Well that, and a forced turnover. CB Taveze Calhoun gave up a completion in front of him that would not have been for a first down, and stripped D’Andre Smith in the process with a recovery of the fumble at the 31-yard line. On the first snap Prescott got time and Lewis got way-open as he lost Hendrick Taylor around the 20 and jogged in at 5:15. Bell, who missed just one PAT all last season, was wide on this one.
With nothing to lose by now the Braves tried their own fakery which also failed, the punter caught two yards short of the marker. Bell knocked the field goal through for the 37-0 halftime margin.
In the locker room Prescott found out his day was done, and Williams was told to take over. If he was anxious, a 95-yard Holloway kickoff return to the Brave one-yard line surely made his debut much easier. He only had to hand Shumpert the ball twice to get the touchdown.
It was still 44-0 going into the fourth quarter, the only questions being who else State could put on the field and if it would end in a shutout. Gibbs foiled the latter hope, though he had to make a wild underhand heave before getting hit. Arnold Walker turned it into a 34-yard gain. From the Dog 25, Gibbs had two targets around one Dog defender and threw to the open one, Tollette Georgia, for the touchdown at 11:42.
The Bulldogs got it back on their longest drive all day, 89 yards with the first seven plays snapped to Williams and getting to the Brave one. Sam Cowart came in for the eighth hike, giving RB Nick Griffin the ball for a ten-yard touchdown rumble.
Prescott was 12-of-19 passing for 174 yards and two touchdowns, while Williams was 8-of-13 for 105 yards with an interception. Between them the ball was distributed to no less than 13 receivers, and distributed evenly too. WR Fred Ross’ three catches were most on the day, for 46 yards. Shumpert came up just short of breaking the century in his college debut, with 98 yards on 22 carries. His two rushing touchdowns matched, as best can be determined, the two rushing scores by Michael Davis as a 1991 first-game freshman. Griffin had 53 yards on 13 carries, and Milton scored on both a run and a catch. Alcorn State mustered only 28 rushing yards on 25 tries or keepers.
“We played a lot of guys on defense today,” Mullen said. “But we want to make sure everybody on defense when their number is called they’re going to run to the ball hard, we’re going to get 11 guys to the football and go make plays.”
Plays were made on both Bulldog sides of the ball. It all might have come against a SWAC victim, but making big plays and big points was the sort of big fun this team needed after last week’s lost opener to a top-twenty opponent on the road. And as Mullen reminded, it was with seven starters not participating at all.
Yet the revised lineups performed like polished groupings to make the 2013 home opener a winner. “It was just like practice,” said Lewis. “We knew everything we worked on we’d do out here, so everybody knew their assignment. So we came in ready to perform.”