Ten minutes and 33 seconds in, Dak Prescott was disgusted. He had just watched Louisiana Tech quarterback Jeff Driskel throw a 16 yard pass to Trent Taylor, putting Tech up 14-0 over Prescott’s Mississippi State team.
Prescott was P.O.’ed, to paraphrase his own words. Typically, State’s quarterback is the happy-go-lucky, upbeat, brush-it-off-your-shoulders kind of guy. But not in that moment, not when some other team had come into his stadium and passed up and down the field on his defense and twice kept him from reaching the endzone he considers to be his.
“It actually made him angry,” head coach Dan Mullen said.
It made the whole team angry, as matter of fact. While Tech was on their sideline celebrating after the extra point, MSU’s defense was on its own sideline giving itself an ultimatum.
“Everything has to change,” one player said to his defensive teammates. “They don’t get in our endzone after this.”
Meanwhile, Prescott was preparing to rally the offense, a look in his eye Mullen had never seen before.
“I don’t know if you wanted to get in front of him at that point,” Mullen later remarked.
Unfortunately, Tech’s defense had to. Those 11 players were on the receiving end of Prescott and MSU’s offense unloading a season full of frustrations on the field. Prescott has made big plays before, had impressive game performances, led comebacks and driven his team to victory, but there was something a little different about that drive when he took the field. There was no stopping him. It wasn’t a moment of panic, and MSU was in no way fighting the clock with almost 19 minutes left in the half.
But Prescott was angry, and Tech, they learned, didn’t like him when he was angry. In one minute and 49 seconds, Prescott pushed his team, willed his offense 82 yards down the field for the score. A six yard pass followed by a six yard run. A 19 yard pass for another first down followed by a four yard rush. Back-to-back passes of 27 and 18 yards put MSU at the two-yard line where the ball was immediately punched in on a quick run. Methodical, precise and perfect. Not one thing wrong.
In under two minutes, the game completely changed, and really, despite the score, it was over.
Starting with those points, MSU went on a 45-6 run, winning the game by a final score of 45-20. Tech never did get into the endzone again, just as State’s defense had promised itself they wouldn’t. MSU’s offense, with only 39 yards to its name before that drive, went on to rack up 440 yards before the final second ticked off the clock.
Even the special teams got in on the action when a blocked punt by wide receiver Donald Gray set MSU up for the go-ahead score with less than one minute left in the first half.
“After the 3:51 mark of the first quarter, absolutely it was our most complete game,” Mullen said.
“I was trying to just go out there and set the tone,” Prescott said, telling reporters he personally took the blame for MSU’s early deficit. “We didn’t want to let them hang around and think that they had a shot against us. We had to take over immediately.”
The defense was inspired, freshman safety Brandon Bryant saying they took the field “with fire” the next drive, and it showed as Tech’s offense, which had looked unstoppable its first two possessions, managed only 24 yards on four plays.
Most importantly, it was a fire they kept for the entire game.
“For the first time,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said, “I saw some players really start to grab a hold of things. Guys in the huddle really started to take ownership of this deal. We talked all year about the demeanor of our football team and you started to see a different look in their eye from that point on.”
In 2010, Diaz said after the game, MSU would have won that game by three. He pointed to that team’s five-point Homecoming win over UAB as an example.
But in 2015, State won the game by 25.
“That shows the maturity of our program,” Diaz said.
It also shows how good MSU can be this year. MSU suffered a couple early losses, looking out of sorts for most of the first half of the season, despite tallying a 4-2 record in the first six games of the year. 5-2 is only one game better, but what came out of that fifth win made a world of difference for a team full of talent but that had been trying to find itself.
For the first time all year, really, MSU was consistently dominant, doing it for more than just a quarter or a half, and they did it in all three phases of the game.
“It was just a good feeling in the locker room with all the boys,” Bryant said, “everybody smiling all around because you know you completely dominated.”
“We know we’re dominating when we get things going in our favor and when we get some tempo on offense,” Prescott said. “That was the team we know we can be.”
With five conference games coming up, Prescott will have plenty of chances to show it again.