STARKVILLE — Call it the one that got away.
A year before his team defeated then-No. 8 LSU and then-No. 6 Texas A&M in back-to-back games, Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen had the Bulldogs in position for a huge win at Auburn early in the 2013 season. At the time, few knew how good Auburn really was.
Leading for much of the game and owning a 20-17 lead deep into the fourth quarter, quarterback Nick Marshall capped an 88-yard drive with a touchdown pass to tight end C.J. Uzomah that gave the Tigers a 24-20 win.
The victory propelled Auburn to a 13-win season and a spot in the Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game. MSU finished the regular season 6-6 to squeak into a bowl game.
At 2:30 p.m. Saturday (WCBI), No. 3 MSU will have a chance for revenge. If that happens against No. 2 Auburn, it would provide one of the program’s biggest victories.
MSU has had its share of close calls against Auburn. In 2010, the year Auburn quarterback Cam Newtown won the Heisman Trophy and led the Tigers to a national championship, MSU dropped a 17-14 home decision, the closest game the Tigers had all year. In 2011 at Auburn, the Tigers stopped quarterback Chris Relf at the 1-yard line as time expired to preserve a 41-34 win. Last year, Auburn escaped with a four-point win that still has the attention of some MSU players — to a point.
“It left a bad taste in our mouth,” MSU linebacker Benardrick McKinney said. “But, at the same time, the past is in the past, and this game has nothing to do with that game.”
This game is different from last year’s matchup. Both teams were unranked a year ago, as Auburn was climbing back to respectability under first-year coach Gus Malzahn, while MSU was dealing with uncertainty at quarterback. Dak Prescott, then a redshirt sophomore, made his first career SEC start and played well, rushing for 133 yards and two touchdowns and throwing for 213.
This year, Prescott has taken his game to new heights. Now a Heisman Trophy contender after combining for eight touchdowns in back-to-back victories against top-10 teams, he admits he has come a long way from making his first league start at Auburn more than a year ago.
MSU assistant coach Geoff Collins also was in his first SEC road game as the program’s solo defensive coordinator. While he believes his defense made great strides in the loss, he also knows the Bulldogs will face an offense that has come a long way.
“The big thing is understanding the run game,” Collins said. “We did a decent job of defending the run last year, but that was early in the season. As the season went on, they started getting more and more and more powerful. We understand how talented they are. We understand how good they are. Their schemes are among the best in the country, and we face a great challenge.”
n In related news, Heisman Trophy candidate Dak Prescott was named Maxwell Award Player of the Week and Manning Award Quarterback of the Week on Thursday.
Prescott earned the awards after amassing 356 yards of offense and scoring five touchdowns in a 48-31 victory against then-No. 6 Texas A&M last week at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville. Prescott has five national honors since Sunday (Davey O’Brien Award Quarterback of the Week, Athlon Sports National Player of the Week, and College Football Hall of Fame Performer of the Week).
The Haughton, Louisiana, native was 20 of 26 for two touchdowns and no interceptions. He rushed 23 times for 77 yards and a career-best three touchdowns. He also caught one pass for 11 yards.
Prescott is a huge reason why MSU leads the nation in yards per play on first down (8.6) and has five more 20-yard plays than any other Football Bowl Subdivision school.
Prescott’s play against Texas A&M led MSU (5-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) to its highest ranking in school history (No. 3). The victory also helped the Bulldogs earn consecutive victories against top-10 teams for the first time in program history.
Prescott has more touchdowns (20) than Tim Tebow (19), Johnny Manziel (18), Cam Newton (17), and Jameis Winston (19) had in their Heisman Trophy-winning seasons.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat