STARKVILLE – Mississippi State senior quarterback Dak Prescott is glad his team’s not in LSU’s shoes.
The Tigers’ season opener against McNeese State was canceled due to rain and lightning. The Tigers and the Cowboys played nearly five minutes before the game went into a weather delay. They held out as long as the could, but the game was called at 10:36 p.m. and no make up date was scheduled.
On the other hand, Prescott led the Bulldogs to a 34-16 victory over Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, just 166 miles from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The No. 25 Bulldogs (1-0) host the No. 14 Tigers this Saturday in an 8:15 p.m. kickoff televised by ESPN.
“I would rather play a game,” Prescott said. “We had a chance to go out there, fix the kinks and knock some rust off, especially me with my past performance. So to get that stuff out of the way, knowing that we have the people we can count on, it’s a whole lot better coming into a game like this.”
Prescott completed 22 of 38 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 72 yards on eight carries and another score against the Golden Eagles.
This is the second season in a row in which an SEC school didn’t get to play their opener due to weather. Florida had to cancel last year’s opener with Idaho due to weather. The Gators went on to win their next two games – 65-0 over Eastern Michigan and 36-30 over Kentucky in triple overtime.
“The challenge to our football team is to improve without that game, and that’s the issue,” 11th-year LSU coach Les Miles said. “There’s certain advantages that we have that are inherent to the position that we currently have, but one of which is that we didn’t play that first game.”
The Bulldogs answered a couple of questions in getting game reps, but more questions presented themselves as things weren’t always smooth for MSU.
The Tigers didn’t get to answer any of the preseason questions they had, and they will have to wait one more week for those answers.
“They also have the advantage that they are fresh,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “They didn’t have to play last week. Their players are all fresher and ready to go.”
There were 14 Bulldogs who made their debuts last Saturday, including three freshmen. Safety Jamal Peters played on special teams, wide receiver Malik Dear had one catch for four yards and tight end Justin Johnson had two catches for 17 yards and a touchdown.
“The advantage for us is that our guys played in a very tough road environment,” Mullen said. “For our younger guys, it is great to get a game under our belt.”
Both the Tigers and the Bulldogs have new defensive coordinators. Manny Diaz took over the Bulldog defense in the spring, while Kevin Steele was hired by Miles in the offseason. Former Ole Miss coach and University of Southern California assistant and interim coach Ed Orgeron was also hired as the new defensive line coach.
The Tigers got to see the Bulldogs’ opener in its entirety, while MSU has very little fresh film to watch.
“You are looking at kind of different things,” Mullen said. “You are going through last year’s films to watch personnel. You are going through Alabama’s stuff to look at more scheme of where they came from. You can peek at USC stuff with Ed Orgeron as the defensive line coach. You are not real sure what they are going to draw from it schematically and then personnel, you’re watching the players play but you do not know how they are going to do something in a different scheme.”
The Tiger defense was on the field for three plays last week, and MSU offensive line coach John Hevesy joked that they have watched those three plays multiple times.
“You always look at coaches’ histories, where they’ve been, what they’ve done,” Hevesy said. “You kind of have to compile and narrow down what’s his philosophy. You have to look at every variation and there’s multiple things you look at.”
Mullen said most of their focus offensively this week will be on themselves and the execution of the gameplan. The Bulldogs had three games to watch of the Tigers before last season’s 34-29 victory in Baton Rouge. Prescott completed 15 of 24 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 105 yards and another touchdown in the victory last season.
“It is different, but we are going to take what we have and make sure we master that,” Prescott said. “As long as we have that mastered, we can change things up during the game by what they’re throwing at us.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.