By JOEL COLEMAN
Faced with an 11 a.m. start time, Mississippi State’s earliest kickoff this season, it took MSU nearly a quarter to wake up on Saturday.
Once they did, the maroon and white Bulldogs hit the ground running, overcoming an early 14-0 hole to defeat Louisiana Tech 45-20 on homecoming at Davis Wade Stadium.
“We came out and we started slow, our first early-morning game of the year, but I thought our preparation was good,” said Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen. “Guys were up and ready to go (Saturday) morning. We had a good walkthrough, we just started slow. It takes a team effort to pick yourselves up out of a 14-0 (deficit) and we did and we ended up turning it around and playing very well in all phases.”
Quarterback Dak Prescott continued his assault on the Mississippi State record book, breaking his 23rd school record with 43 pass attempts as he completed 30 throws for 347 yards and three touchdowns.
Prescott also ran for 34 yards and a score.
Most of Prescott’s damage came following LA Tech’s early surge as MSU fought back and took control of the contest.
“We didn’t want to let them hang around and think they had a shot against us,” Prescott said. “We had to take over immediately or the game was going to drag out. It was going to go all the way to the fourth quarter and who knows what happens in a close game where they think they have a chance. We’ve got to flip the momentum and get things going in our favor.”
MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who spent the 2014 season at Louisiana Tech in the same role, orchestrated a Mississippi State defense that got stingier as the game went along.
MSU (5-2, 1-2) allowed LA Tech 14 points and 177 yards of total offense in the game’s first quarter. From that point on, LA Tech (4-3) gained just six more points and put up only 236 more yards of total offense.
“The biggest thing was we just had to go play better,” Diaz said of MSU’s defensive turnaround. “Sometimes there are some X and O adjustments and sometimes we know what they’re doing and they were out-executing us. That was disappointing to us.
“I felt like for the first 10 minutes of the game, (LA Tech) was playing a step faster than we were. You can’t panic, but you have to understand that’s not acceptable and I thought the guys responded from that point on.”
Louisiana Tech built its early lead on the arm of former Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel. Driskel threw for 303 yards and two touchdowns in the game. Of that, 147 yards and both scores came in the first quarter.
On LA Tech’s first offensive possession of the game, Driskel orchestrated an 8-play, 80-yard drive capped with a touchdown pass to Paul Turner.
After holding MSU on its ensuing possession, LA Tech got the ball back and Driskel again drove his team down the field and scored on a 16-yard pass to Trent Taylor.
Down two scores, Mullen said Prescott’s demeanor changed.
“It is great having a guy that really wants to rally and turn the score around when you are down 14-0,” Mullen said. “He got a look in his eye. He wanted that ball and wanted to go make things happen on the field.”
Prescott used his intensity to put MSU back on the right course. He led Mississippi State on an 82-yard scoring drive late in the first quarter that saw Aeris Williams punch the ball into the end zone from two yards out to cut LA Tech’s lead in half.
Early in the second quarter, Mississippi State inched closer on a 26-yard field goal from Westin Graves, who is now 8-for-8 on his field goal attempts this season.
LA Tech answered with a field goal of its own to stretch its lead to 17-10, but Prescott evened things up with a touchdown pass to De’Runnya Wilson with just 2:53 to play before halftime. From there, MSU seized momentum.
“Once we got it going on, it was going,” Wilson said.
Prior to the intermission, MSU forced LA Tech to punt. Donald Gray charged in and blocked the kick for Mississippi State, Brandon Bryant recovered on the LA Tech 2-yard line and Prescott pushed the ball into the end zone for a 24-17 lead.
“I think (the momentum) shifted before (the blocked punt), but that was like the finisher,” Prescott said.
MSU built onto its advantage in the second half. Prescott and Wilson hooked up again, this time on a 20-yard connection, to put Mississippi State up 31-17.
After Jonathan Barnes kicked his second field goal of the game for LA Tech, Prescott threw his third touchdown pass, this one a 12-yarder to Fred Brown.
Already up 38-20, Mississippi State capped the scoring when safety Brandon Bryant intercepted a Driskel pass and returned it 73 yards for a touchdown.
It was a grand ending for a day that didn’t start out so well for MSU. Rather than allowing things to continue to spiral out of control however, Mississippi State regrouped.
As happy as he was to get Saturday’s win, Wilson said when his team takes the field against Kentucky for next weekend’s game, MSU can’t afford another slow start.
“Next game we have, whether it’s at night or evening or whatever, we’ve got to be the ones that go out and hit the other team in the mouth,” Wilson said.