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Prescott's emergence key for MSU
by The Associated Press
Jan 03, 2014 | 44 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mississippi State's dominant 44-7 victory over Rice in the Liberty Bowl secured the Bulldogs' fourth straight winning season.

The way Dak Prescott keeps improving, there might be a few more in the near future.

Prescott was impressive in the Bulldogs' finale, completing 17 of 28 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns while also running for 78 yards and two touchdowns. Mississippi State (7-6) ended the season on a three-game winning streak.

It was a fitting finale for the 6-foot-2, 230-pound sophomore from Haughton, La., who came into the season as Tyler Russell's backup but ended it as one of the Southeastern Conference's up-and-coming quarterbacks.

Now he's the Bulldogs' unquestioned leader going forward and expectations will be high. Dan Mullen, who is the first coach to lead Mississippi State to four straight bowl appearances, said the program embraces the challenge.

"Each team has a one-year shelf life," Mullen said on Tuesday. "The 2014 team is born on Jan. 10 when we report for our first team meeting. We have one year to show what we can do. Our expectations are always that we want to win the SEC West and represent Mississippi State and the whole state of Mississippi. That's the one thing we can control."

The 2013 version of the Bulldogs started slowly, but continued to improve. Russell suffered a concussion in a season-opening 21-3 loss to Oklahoma State, which opened the door for Prescott.

The sophomore quickly proved he was ready for starting job. He came to Mississippi State with a reputation as a run-first quarterback, but proved to be a capable passer, completing 58.4 percent of his throws for 1,940 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

His favorite target Jameon Lewis also returns next season. Lewis easily led the Bulldogs with 64 catches for 923 yards and five touchdowns. He was also a frequent option on trick plays, throwing for three touchdowns, including two of them to Prescott.

Prescott was also Mississippi State's best option in the running game, finishing with a team-high 829 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns.

His play was consistently stellar despite personal tragedy and a shoulder injury.

His mother, Peggy, died in November after a yearlong battle with cancer. He also suffered a nerve injury in his non-throwing shoulder in a loss to Texas A&M and missed the next two games against Alabama and Arkansas.

But when he was healthy, he was often spectacular. He's already earned a spot in school lore after coming off the bench in the fourth quarter — despite the injured shoulder — to lead Mississippi State over rival Mississippi in the Egg Bowl.

The five-touchdown performance against Rice was just an exclamation point.

"It was all about the game plan and my teammates," Prescott said. "I guess I scored the touchdowns, but the rushing touchdowns, I basically walked into the end zone. The offensive line did a great job blocking for me. And then on the three passing touchdowns, Jameon (Lewis) helped and did a great job getting the ball (close), and then I just had to make one more throw."

Now the Bulldogs will strive to put a complete team around him.

The team's defense gradually improved and was terrific during the final three games, giving up just 11.3 points per game.

Linebacker Benardrick McKinney returns after leading the team with 71 tackles and freshman defensive tackle Chris Jones turned into one of the SEC's best interior linemen by the end of the season, finishing with seven tackles for a loss.

Mullen said his young team's toughness through adversity this season bodes well for next fall

"With a very young and impressionable group they didn't listen to any (negativity)," Mullen said. "They battled and they fought."
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