By JOEL COLEMAN
There was a time not long ago when bowl eligibility was a rarity with the Mississippi State football program. Not anymore. It’s the norm.
For the sixth consecutive season, the Bulldogs punched their ticket to the postseason on Saturday night as MSU put away Kentucky 42-16 at Davis Wade Stadium.
“When I got here, I had people patting me on the back saying if we could get to a bowl game every once in a while, that’d be fantastic,” Mullen said. “But (director of athletics Scott Stricklin) and (MSU president Mark Keenum), they kind of expect that now and our fans expect that too. I love it. That’s the expectations we wanted to build in this program.”
Dak Prescott threw his first interception of the season, breaking a string of 288 straight attempts without a pick, but also totaled 348 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air and 117 yards and 3 more scores on the ground to set the pace for the Bulldog victory.
The performance was Prescott’s fifth career game with more than 300 yards passing and the first time in as a Bulldog he’s hit that mark in back-to-back games.
“I just played real relaxed,” Prescott said. “I was prepared for the game. This was a good game for me. We needed some momentum and needed to get going and have a big game like this to finish this stretch (of home games) out.”
Brandon Holloway and De’Runnya Wilson each put up big numbers in the receiving game for the Bulldogs (6-2, 2-2).
Holloway rushed for 36 yards, but caught 98 yards worth of passes to go along with his second career receiving touchdown.
“I like showing I can be versatile on the field and help out my team in any way,” Holloway said.
Wilson had 91 yards receiving with a touchdown.
Cornerback Taveze Calhoun set the tone for the Bulldog defense. After it was officially announced earlier Saturday that his fellow senior, Will Redmond, would miss the remainder of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Calhoun went on to intercept two passes to go along with three tackles.
“I made a few plays in practice this week and they say you play how you practice,” Calhoun said. “I just credit that practice to the way I played.”
For the fifth time in eight games this season, Mississippi State did allow its opponent to score the first points of the game.
Kentucky (4-3, 2-3) took the early lead in the contest midway through the first quarter. The Wildcats used a seven-play, 69-yard drive to go up 7-0, getting in the end zone when quarterback Patrick Towles crossed the goal line from two yards out
“The first drive of the game, we stalled on them and gave up a third-down conversion,” Mullen said. “You have to give Kentucky credit too because they had some really good plays and they have some great players. We just had a few missed tackles.
“That first miss on third down was a big one and we need to improve on that.”
It didn’t take the Bulldogs long to answer. On their ensuing possession, Mississippi State started at its own 19-yard line and methodically drove 81 yards on 15 plays. Prescott tied things at 7-7 with a 1-yard carry.
After Kentucky’s Austin MacGinnis drilled a 44-yard field goal to put Kentucky back on top 10-7, MSU went on a second-quarter run that all but put the game away.
Early in the period, Prescott found Wilson for a 13-yard touchdown, putting the Bulldogs up 14-10.
That score held until the 1:27 mark of the quarter when Holloway hauled in his touchdown reception.
On Kentucky’s ensuing drive, Calhoun picked off Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles, setting up a lightning-fast, three-play, 80-yard MSU touchdown drive capped by a 20-yard Prescott scoring run.
MacGinnis would add another field goal, a 48-yarder, for Kentucky just prior to halftime, but MSU held a 28-13 lead.
“That was huge,” Mullen said of the final moments of the first half. “We gave up the (field goal) which I wasn’t happy about. Give them credit, but it was (set up by) a really bad decision on my part to give a squib kick.
“But our two touchdowns late really shifted momentum. It was a tight game and that gave us momentum that we didn’t have a lot of the whole first half.”
After the intermission, MacGinnis struck again, pulling Kentucky to within 12 at 28-16 with a 32-yard kick. That would be Kentucky’s final points.
Mississippi State put an exclamation point on its win with two more touchdowns.
Late in the third quarter, tight end Darrion Hutcherson hauled in his first career touchdown reception from 13 yards out before Prescott rambled in on an 18-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter.
With the win in hand, MSU now knows it’ll be playing football after the regular season finale in late November. Prescott said that that was the expectation all along.
“I don’t think anyone on this team expects not to go to (a bowl),” Prescott said. “It’s nothing new. We’re excited about it. It’s still hard to win, don’t get me wrong, but we’re glad we’re going to one.”
Holloway said the Bulldogs are still aiming even higher however.
“We want more than bowl games,” Holloway said. “We still want SEC Championships and things like that.”