In the second half today, Mississippi State’s offense seemed to have reached that next level we’ve all been talking about. The Bulldogs racked up 231 yards and averaged 6.8 yards per play after halftime. And everything potentially good about this offense could be found in a single possession – a very critical possession, as it turned out.
MSU was leading Auburn 14-10 and had just forced a three-and-out. On its first set of downs, State was facing a fourth-and-1 at Auburn’s 49-yard line. The easy call there would’ve been to punt and pin Auburn deep, letting the defense – which had played superbly all day – protect the lead. But Dan Mullen wasn’t content with that. So he went for it.
With Dak Prescott at quarterback.
The redshirt freshman hadn’t taken a snap all game, but he took one out of the shotgun and ran off left guard for 2 yards to move the chains. That began a sequence of plays that encapsulated the myriad qualities of this offense, which includes getting Prescott some valuable playing time in certain situations. After a Tyler Russell incompletion, LaDarius Perkins ran for 11 yards, and then Russell dropped back and remained remarkably poised as defenders closed in around him. Russell delivered a strike to Jameon Lewis for 21 yards and a first down at Auburn’s 15.
Next play, Russell made a late pitch to backup tailback Derrick Milton on the option for 4 yards, and a personal foul put the ball at the 5. Prescott came back in and ran it to the 3. Russell capped the 10-play, 58-yard drive with a 3-yard lob to tight end Marcus Green. MSU 21, Auburn 10, 4:38 left in the third quarter.
Russell was 2 of 3 for 24 yards on the drive and showed his versatility. He stood tall in the pocket on the throw to Lewis, but on the Green TD he rolled to his right, and Russell was on point on rollout throws all day. That showed that he is hardly a one-dimensional quarterback. Russell finished 20 of 29 for 222 yards, three TDs and no interceptions.
Five different players ran the ball on the drive – two quarterbacks and three tailbacks. Spreading the ball around is something MSU is more capable of than ever this fall. Nine players caught at least one pass today, and five of them had 20 or more yards receiving. Seven players had at least one rush. Such balance is going to make the Bulldogs awfully tough to defend this season.