STARKVILLE — Mississippi State senior quarterback Dak Prescott is feeling pretty good about his team’s upcoming Southeastern Conference road trips.
Playing a key role in a 49-point home victory will raise anyone’s spirits, let alone a Heisman Trophy contender who wants to help the Bulldogs erase the memory of losing their SEC opener.
One week after a last-second, 52-yard field goal missed in MSU’s 21-19 loss to LSU, Prescott became the school’s all-time leading passer on a day he went 10 of 11 for 227 yards with two touchdowns in a 62-13 victory against Northwestern State at Davis Wade Stadium.
Buoyed by the confidence from that blowout, Prescott and MSU (2-1, 0-1 SEC) will continue to prepare for a trip to Auburn, Alabama, and a game against Auburn (2-1, 0-1) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2). After the trip to the Plains, MSU will head to College Station, Texas, to take on No. 14 Texas A&M (3-0).
The games will give MSU a chance to make its mark in the SEC Western Division chase. They also will provide opportunities to ease the sting of a comeback that featured a 13-point fourth quarter against LSU but resulted in a two-point loss. MSU’s single-game school record of 647 yards of offense against Northwestern State on Saturday continued the strong showing at the end of the game against LSU.
“We said we needed to start fast and be fast all day,” Prescott said. “We did a good job with that, so we’re heading in the right direction moving forward.”
Prescott is 33 of 43 for 474 yards and three touchdowns in the last four quarters. He didn’t play in the second half against Northwestern State. The Haughton, Louisiana, native has thrown 150 passes without an interception dating back to last season.
MSU coach Dan Mullen was pleased with his team’s effort in practice last week after the loss to LSU.
“I think we are getting better as a football team,” said Mullen, whose team received 52 votes in The Associated Press poll, the most by any unranked team. “We are improving from week to week. There are a lot of little things we have to correct. Most importantly to me, I was concerned with our effort (Saturday), and I thought it felt good.”
MSU is allowing 335.7 yards and 16.7 per game, but it held Northwestern State to 257 yards. The Demons started the second half with a 14-play, 72-yard drive that took nearly eight minutes off the clock. That was the only thing that bugged Mullen about his defense’s performance
“If we’re going to win in conference play, you can’t give up eight-minute drives to start the second half,” Mullen said. “Those are momentum, game-changing things, and that’s something we have to fix.”
MSU leads the SEC in third-down defense, though, as teams are 9 of 43 attempts (20.9 percent), which is 10th in the nation.
MSU played several young players on both sides of the ball against Northwestern State, and Mullen wants to see more of a rotation moving forward. Senior cornerback Will Redmond also was happy several young players earned an opportunity to play. He feels the defense is ready to go for the two road trips, even if he isn’t totally satisfied.
“We need a better performance to go out and beat a SEC team,” Redmond said.
MSU allowed 337 yards to LSU, but the Tigers rushed for 266 yards. Leonard Fournette led the way with 159 yards and three touchdowns. Fournette backed up that effort with a career-high 228 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries in a 45-21 victory against Auburn, which allowed 485 yards of offense and only managed 260.
“We’re going to get better,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “We’re going to roll our sleeves up, and we’re going to get ready for next week.”
Auburn was No. 18 in The AP poll last week, but it dropped out of the rankings after the loss.
Mullen is 0-3 at Auburn, and 2-4 overall against the Tigers. Last season, the Bulldogs won 38-23 in Starkville in a game that featured two top-five teams.
“Going to Auburn is not an easy place to go play,” Mullen said. “The challenges on the road are always tough in this league, and that’s what makes the SEC so tough.
“If we can improve this week in practice, I will feel pretty good about taking the field next Saturday.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.