September 8, 2013 2:58:20 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State University offense took full advantage of playing an inferior opponent Saturday in the home opener.
After a week of grumbling from fans, message boards, and even the Bulldogs coaches, MSU made up for its lack of offense in the opening weekend with 556 total yards Saturday in a 51-7 victory against an overmatched Alcorn State University.
In a game where MSU (1-1) sat seven starters due to injuries or undisclosed disciplinary reasons, the Bulldogs had 308 yards in the first 30 minutes in building a 37-0 halftime lead.
The 37 points marked the most in the first 30 minutes for MSU since it scored 38 vs. Northeast Louisiana University in a 59-0 victory on Nov. 2, 1996.
"Having only scored three points last week made us all think we were better than that," MSU sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott said. "You felt like this whole week was just one shot against us after another, and it was important for us to score points right away. We needed that momentum."
In his five games at MSU against Football Championship Subdivision opponents, MSU coach Dan Mullen has outscored the competition by an average of 40 points. MSU appeared more focused on getting its speed athletes the football by giving carries to wide receivers Jameon Lewis and Brandon Holloway. Eight MSU players had carries in a blowout that saw MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning emphasize sweeps and draws around the tackle box for a total of 277 rushing yards.
MSU crossed off numerous firsts in the opening minutes. Former Noxubee County High School standout Deontae Skinner's interception on the opening possession represented the first turnover, and it quickly turned into the first touchdown. Prescott, who was getting his first college start at quarterback in place of Tyler Russell (concussion), scored on a 10-yard designed quarterback draw that opened the scoring.
Prescott, who showcased his athletic ability on designed rollouts and scrambles in the first half, was 12 for 19 for 174 yards and three touchdowns. With Russell on the sidelines wearing a head set and in gym shorts, his sophomore backup proved proficient in making the throws he needed to make in Mullen's spread-option offense. In the first half, Prescott used seven receivers. Both of his touchdown passes were thrown only where MSU receivers could make the catch.
"I thought Dak came out and managed the offense really well by making quality throws, and I was proud he recognized when a play needed to be made today," Mullen said.
Even without standout tailback LaDarius Perkins, who was held out for precautionary reasons due to a left ankle, MSU ran for five touchdowns. The crowd of 55,085 at Davis Wade Stadium also witnessed the college debut of Tupelo native Ashton Shumpert. The highly regarded four-star freshman had two 1-yard touchdown runs, rushed for 98 yards, and ran over ASU defenders in between the tackles.
"He ran the ball hard," Mullen said. "We called his number a lot today and (he) was physical, so I was proud of him for that effort."
By the time Holloway, who had a career-high 148 all-purpose yards, took the second-half kickoff 95 yards to the Braves' 1-yard line, MSU was satisfied with playing third-teamers and walk-ons the rest of the afternoon. By that time, the MSU student section had practically cleared out and Mullen inserted freshman quarterback Damian Williams into the game.
"Everybody on this team already knows that if you get Holloway in the open field with his speed, ain't too many guys in this game are going to catch him," MSU junior wide receiver Jameon Lewis said.
After gaining 21 yards on their first drive, ASU (1-1) had 142 yards the rest of the game. It had 10 consecutive three-and-out drives. MSU, which held No. 13 Oklahoma State University to 21 points last week, held to its aggressive nature and brought constant pressure against starting quarterback John Gibbs Jr. The Bulldogs even recorded their first sack, as junior defensive tackle Curtis Virges got into the backfield for his first sack since the 2011 Music City Bowl against Wake Forest University in Nashville, Tenn.
MSU will open Southeastern Conference play next week at Auburn University. On Saturday, though, fans didn't have to worry about another offensive blackout like the one the witnessed in the season opener.
"I know everybody looks at it differently than I do, but when you lose it's not as bad as it would appear but when you win, like today, it's never really as good as it appears, either," Mullen said.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.