All of this without claiming any personal credit. "It's all about the team," Prescott said of an evening which had Mississippi State's media staff scouring record books for anything comparable by anyone in memory. But team-mates were more than happy to ring a bell for their quarterback.
"He pretty much did it on his own!" OG Gabe Jackson said. "He took the game in his hands and did what he had to do, make plays and make big plays. And we came out and helped block for him." As well as for Bulldog backs who combined for another 179 rushing yards on their 39 carries with touchdowns by Derrick Milton and Josh Robinson.
But it was in the air where Mississippi State made the most mark, and that was a story in itself. Not only were the Bulldogs counting on a third-time college starter to throw the ball well, but Prescott was going up against Troy's Corey Robinson who happens to be only the active NCAA career leader in both passing yardage and completions. The same Robinson who'd thrown for 343 years in last year's game.
On the stat sheet it looked like a serious mismatch, and indeed on the field it played out this way…just in a near-total reversal. Prescott out-shone his counterpart in every way that mattered, completing 13-of-21 throws for 233 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers. Robinson was 15-of-25 for a career-lowest 105 yards, a fumble turnover and an interception that was turned into the first Bulldog points by CB Jamerson Love.
After last year's fireworks in Troy, this year's visiting team simply got burned by a dialed-in Dog defense. "We wanted to come out, be aggressive and fly around and make the plays we know we can make," said OLB Matthew Wells, who stripped Robinson for a crucial first-quarter fumble.
Yes, as odd at is seemed in the final score's context, the plays made by Wells and Love way back in the first period were crucial. Because the turnovers, and just holding Troy out of the end zone two times, set a tone for both teams, Coach Dan Mullen thought. "Defense, a heck of a job. I mean a heck of a job right there to hold the team like Troy to 186 yards. That's a pretty special performance by our defense."
Troy not only sputtered in the air but were crushed on the ground, managing only 47 net yards on 26 rushes. That included clamping down on option-specialist Deon Anthony. The two-quarterback approach which worked so well before achieved nothing this game because State's defense was well-prepared.
"#6 is more of a passer, #7 more of a runner," said MLB Benardrick McKinney of the respective triggermen. "We alerted when #7got in the game, we had certain plays to stop him from running." Meanwhile constant pressure and tight man-coverage flustered Robinson as never before in his career.
"It was a good thing for us to get stops like we could and try to take control of the game early," Wells said.
State actually had the first Troy turn stopped on 3rd-and-long, but S Nickoe Whitley drew a post-play personal foul for 15 yards and free first down. It worked out in Bulldog favor though as on their next third down Robinson tried for Wilson Van Hooser down the right numbers. Love jumped in front for the catch and made like a wide receiver himself with the 70-yard return for touchdown at 12:58.
"It all started up front with the d-line, they got good pressure," Love said. "I just disguised it and he threw it straight to me. I read it and saw the result, I just tried to make a play."
Troy looked ready to answer after a 29-yard completion behind Whitley had them on the six-yard line with four snaps to score. But after a one-yard loss on second down, Robinson's protection collapsed. Wells reached for the sack and strip, as McKinney came up with the fumble at the 12 and returned to State's 36.
Taking the field for the first time, State's offense produced points—three of them—with a 13-play drive capped on PK Devon Bell's 25-yard kick at 3:08. But his ensuing kickoff went out of bounds for 35-yard line starting position. This series showed why Troy was a dangerous opponent. Back Brandon Burks moved the chains on a hot-route catch, then broke a 26-yard rush to the State 28. Two more first downs later Robinson drilled a touchdown shot from the five-yard line to favorite target Eric Thomas.
And in a great what-if moment, WR Jameon Lewis fumbled at the end of his kickoff return. Fortunately LB Richie Brown got to the loose ball fastest so State could start the new quarter with possession. Prescott rewarded the effort. First he threw for 34 yards on third down to TE Brandon Hill.
On the next snap, at Troy's 46, Prescott tossed left to Lewis…who ran parallel to the line while Prescott and most of the offensive line floated back the other way. Former prep quarterback Lewis' return throw was a little low but Prescott dug it up and took off down the right-side numbers. OC Dylan Holley, making his first college start, provided the last necessary take-out at the five-yard line as Prescott dove across the goal at 13:44.
It wasn't just the points and 17-7 lead that counted to Prescott. "We had to take the momentum back and let them we weren't going to stop. And we did a good job of that too."
For their part the Trojans did a great job helping the home team out. After Love broke up a third-down throw Troy set up to punt. Will Scott rolled right, looked and decided he had room and blocking enough to run. He didn't, as CB Kivon Coman knocked him out at the 22-yard line. The Bulldogs rode the abrupt momentum change immediately as Prescott bolted right up the middle and into the end zone at 11:55.
The rout was officially on. After good pass pressure forced a (real) punt State struck quickly, aided and abetted by a Troy personal foul. After WR Joe Morrow dropped a sure scoring strike he was popped in the back of his helmet by Trojan defensive back Chris Pickett popped Morrow in the back of the helmet for a cheap personal foul—called by a Sun Belt officiating crew--and first down at State's 39.
So Prescott again immediately went deep and this time Lewis caught the pass and ran down to Troy's 15. From there it was Prescott again going through right guard for the touchdown tote, at 8:08.
Robinson added his touchdown on a 19-yard scamper down the left sideline at 3:03; then with 84 ticks left to halftime Prescott first hit WR Robert Johnson for 11 yards, then connected with Lewis for a 50-yard scoring play at 1:00 exactly.
Troy managed just 50 net yards in the second period, yet Mullen—based on an experience when at Florida against the Trojans—was still pressing his team to stay hot to start the second half. "We were up big at halftime, and it was like a video game in the second half them putting up points. But for us to come out, drive the field and control the clock and score, I think was really huge for us."
Prescott did direct one more touchdown drive, with Lewis rushing it the final eight of 75 yards for the 52-7 margin at 10:28. The final margin might have been even greater but Bell missed a 30-yard field goal in the third period. Substitute Evan Sobiesk took over and hit from 24 yards in the fourth quarter. By then QB Damian Williams had replaced Prescott and got to run a touchdown drive of his own, with RB Ashton Shumpert setting it up for Milton to score on a 10-yard blast at 4:47.
Milton finished as game-high rusher at 56 yards with 46 more from Robinson. On just his two big catches Lewis totaled 96 yards of receiving while three teammates had a trio of grabs each. No less than ten Dogs caught a pass, including Prescott. Lewis marked his own place in the history books as he too ran, caught, and threw for a touchdown in the same game.
The best balance was a Dog defense where ten had at least three tackles; with nine players getting a hand in on a tackle for loss of some sort. Wells had the only official sack, but Robinson might as well have gone down rather than unload some of the balls he had to under constant pressure.
"If he gets in a rhythm he's going to tear you up," Mullen said. What our defense was able to do was not let him get that rhythm going."
"We just fly to the ball, we had a lot of fun playing around and executing our plays better," said McKinney.
The Bulldogs (2-2) were indeed enjoying themselves, not least because the home-field victory eased some lingering sting from last week's last-drive loss at Auburn. "I think we needed that to get that taste out of our mouth," said Jackson. Instead of sulking about might-have-beens, State players focused fast on a genuine opponent and gave themselves the right sort of momentum going into an open date.
That much rang loudly and clearly.