April 5, 2014 4:38:41 PM
STARKVILLE -- The continuing development of Dak Prescott as a passing quarterback evolved Saturday with the second inter-squad scrimmage.
In MSU's spring football prospective, five of the key statistics the MSU sports information/marketing department chose to highlight have to do specifically with running the football. Simply put, if they know his running is option one, opposing defenses do as well. Therefore, this spring season MSU coach Dan Mullen has intended to use these 15 spring practices to develop Prescott as a passer.
In a two-hour scrimmage at Davis Wade Stadium that was set up exactly like the first one last weekend, Prescott was asked to show more ability to recognize, throw from the pocket and make plays with his right arm. Instead of dazzling with his feet, something he's been more comfortable with in his first two seasons, Prescott finished with a pair of touchdown passes to find mismatches in the middle of the field.
Despite returning for the 2014 season as arguably the most experienced quarterback in the Southeastern Conference, Prescott continues to focus on showing his improvement beating opposing defenses that play a bubble defense to limit his running ability.
"Dak's decision making ability is always going to be crucial in a situation like this where we don't let him make a lot of plays with his feet," Mullen said. "As long as we run it that way, you should see continued development."
Prescott's development from the pocket was never more on display that on a 3rd-and-18 situation while the first-team offense had struggled early Saturday afternoon. MSU defensive coordinator Geoff Collins quickly shifted his defense and audible in new Cover-3 coverage scheme but Prescott kept the play on. The junior quarterback had essentially mentally confused the defense into the exact look he wanted before finding tight end Gus Walley for a 40-yard touchdown strike.
"When I'm critiquing my passing game, it's about getting my feet to match with my eyes and my arm," Prescott said. "My eyes have to see the play develop and then physically my arm and feet have to be in good position to make a throw."
Prescott finished the day, one in which the defense showed its experience and playmaking abilities, 13 for 31 for 249 yards and four touchdowns. While Prescott wasn't as consistent as he would like, Collins' defense was focused on creating turnovers and the MSU quarterback found big plays when the secondary level of coverage gambled.
"From the offensive perspective, when you're struggling especially like they were early, when you can seize momentum then you have to make the most of opportunities," Mullen said. "I thought they did a good job of that with big plays."
Walley, who was redshirted as a freshman in 2013 while he rehabilitated a severe knee injury from high school, was a weapon in the first-team offense Saturday as he rotates snaps with Malcolm Johnson and Brandon Hill at the position.
Prescott said after the Saturday that if the tight end position depth is healthy for the 2014 season, MSU fans can expect the 6-foot-2 quarterback to find mismatches in the middle of the field this fall.
"The touchdown to Gus today was on a little trap defense but what happens when defenses do that is it gives our tight ends one-on-one with linebackers," Prescott said. "We think we can win those every single time because we don't think anybody has linebackers to run and bring down out tight ends."
Prescott, who enters the 2014 season as the school's all-time leader in completion percentage (.588), found speedster Jameon Lewis for a touchdown on the next drive with a similar route to Walley's after the defense cogged the area between the hashmarks.
Prescott was the Most Valuable Player of the 2013 Liberty Bowl mostly because of his ability to carve up Rice's defense with his arm in a 44-7 victory. Prescott finished that game with 283 passing yards and 78 on the ground.
With nearly every skill position player returning at Prescott's disposal, his ability to get defenses from crowding the line of scrimmage and development in understanding disguising schemes in pre-snap situations will dictate his future success.
"I think naturally as you get older, you can draw back from those experiences previous years in your college career and learn from those and use them to your advantage when you get that next opportunity," MSU quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson said.
Johnson, who was hired two months ago to be Prescott's new mentor at how to play the position knew his first task is trying to make sure the junior quarterback had his mind correctly focused going into a season as the face of the program from a player standpoint.
"The biggest thing is having the right frame of mind. Making sure that your focus is spot-on each and every single day," Johnson said. "You have to understand the magnitude of it. You have to understand the importance and what the sacrifices that it takes to perform at a high level each and every week. And it's not an easy thing to do."
This spring and fall of 2014, it's clear defense already recognize Prescott's running can win a football game and his goal is to provide the answers when that option is clearly taken away.
"Dak has all those qualities you look for when you go out to recruit a player," Johnson said. "People are naturally drawn to him and want to succeed with him. As a coach, when you have that attitude, it's fantastic to come to work and be around him."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.