November 9, 2014 12:52:13 AM
Brandon Walker - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- The scoreboard hadn't even been turned off.
That's how much time it took for the No. 1 Mississippi State football team, with fans still cheering a 45-16 homecoming victory against Tennessee-Martin, to begin fielding questions about the next game on its schedule.
That game will be against No. 4 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where a victory would go a long way toward solidifying MSU's championship aspirations. In his postgame press conference, the first question lobbed at MSU coach Dan Mullen wasn't about the 29-point win against UT-Martin. It was about Alabama.
"It's a big-time game this week," Mullen said. "This is what you play for. We're in the middle of November, competing for first place in the SEC West, which is what it's all about. That's what we want out program to be about."
On the heels of its ninth-straight win to open the season, MSU will make the 90-mile trip to Tuscaloosa as an unbeaten team for the second time in three years. In 2012, Mullen's Bulldogs were 7-0 before dropping a 38-7 decision to No. 1 Alabama. This season, the Bulldogs are 9-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country.
Asked how his current team is different from the one that lost in Tuscaloosa two seasons ago, Mullen said, "I guess we'll have to see next Saturday."
The sixth-year head coach wasn't the only Bulldog talking about Alabama after the latest win.
Defensive end Ryan Brown, who had five tackles and a sack against the Skyhawks, was all smiles when asked about his team's trip to Tuscaloosa.
"I get goosebumps just thinking about it," said Brown, a junior from New Orleans. "This is why we all came here. This is what we play for."
The events of Saturday made the stage in Tuscaloosa even bigger. Already ranked No. 1, MSU will go to Alabama with a one-game lead in the SEC's Western Division. A win would extend that cushion to two games with leagues games remaining against Vanderbilt at home and at Ole Miss.
"It means everything," MSU quarterback Dak Prescott said. "Playing in big-time games in November means you're playing for championships. To go to Tuscaloosa being the hunted is a challenge we are willing to take."
Dak's all, folks
For the first time since a 35-3 win at South Alabama in Week 3, Prescott enjoyed an abbreviated day.
After back-to-back physical wins against Kentucky and Arkansas where he showed wear-and-tear in the second half, Prescott was out of the game by the middle of the third quarter after his eighth three-touchdown performance of the season.
The Haughton, Louisiana, native was 14 of 23 for 206 yards and two touchdowns, the first a 10-yarder to sophomore Fred Brown in the second quarter, the second a 56-yard strike to junior Joe Morrow in the third. Prescott also ran six times, a season-low, for 54 yards and a touchdown, a 48-yard sprint on the first play of the second quarter.
"We didn't execute in the first half as clean as we wanted to," Prescott said, "but we still made some plays and still got the job done."
After his touchdown to Morrow, Prescott was done after MSU's second drive of the second half. He gave way to backup Damian Williams, who completed two passes for 50 yards and a touchdown.
"I thought Dak played pretty well," Mullen said. "It wasn't perfect, but he was able to make plays, particularly there early in the second half."
Prior to the game, MSU announced junior cornerback Will Redmond, tied for the team lead with three interceptions, would miss the Homecoming game and sit out as part of a one-game suspension due to a violation of team rules.
Following the game, Mullen said Redmond's suspension was for academic reasons, but he said the punishment was for one game. The Memphis, Tennessee, native is expected back next week.
With a trip to No. 4 Alabama looming, it appears Mullen was taking no chances. While Prescott looks completely healthy after limping through a win against Arkansas a week ago, other Bulldogs didn't see much playing time. Senior wide receiver Jameon Lewis, who has missed most of MSU's last four games, was held out once again, and tailback Josh Robinson, who is 19 yards short of 1,000 for the season, was used sparingly. Robinson rushed six times for 33 yards. He didn't play following MSU's second possession of the second quarter.
"Josh said he was sore. We chose to keep him out," Mullen said.
Lewis missed his third game of the season. He played sparingly in two others.
"We want him at 100 percent," Mullen said. "Early in the week, we chose to hold him out of everything, no practice, no game this week. The goal is to have him 100 percent for practice this week."
The return of Favre
Four years ago, Dylan Favre was a promising young quarterback at MSU when he signed with Mullen out of St. Stanislaus High School in 2010. After transferring out of the program two years later, Favre returned to his roots and received the playing time he wanted in front of the Davis Wade Stadium crowd.
Favre was 8 of 16 for 57 yards and was sacked twice.
"He was talking to us a lot, talking friendly trash," said MSU defensive Ryan Brown of Favre. "I wasn't here when he was, but I've heard the stories, the legendary stories. All the guys here say he was Johnny Manziel before there was a Johnny Manziel."
Favre wasn't that good, but he was good enough.
"I wanted to see the score the other way around, but it was fun," Favre said. "I had a great time, from pregame all the way until the clock hit zero. Seeing all the guys I came in here with was a great time, and it was a great crowd."
Favre arrived at UT-Martin a season ago and is playing out his senior season as a backup. Asked about the success of No. 1 MSU this season, the former Bulldog had nothing but good things to say.
"It's cool," said Favre. "Like I told coach Mullen after the game, keep this thing going. I'm happy to see them have this success because I know the work they have put in every day because I've been through it. They deserve this. Now that this is over, I can pull for them."
Maligned early in the season, particularly after a performance against Alabama-Birmingham that included two missed extra points, MSU's kicking game remained quietly efficient. Junior Evan Sobiesk, who has made four-straight kicks, improved to 6-for-6 on kicks of less than 40 yards. His 27-yard field goal in the second quarter made him 7 of 8 for the season.
MSU's defensive line, which entered the game tied for the Southeastern Conference lead with 29 sacks, continued to harass. The Bulldogs dropped quarterbacks Dylan Favre and Jarod Neal three times, one each by defensive ends Ryan Brown, Preston Smith, and Torrey Dale. Smith has a tackle for loss in each of MSU's last eight games, while Dale's takedown was the first sack of his career.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat