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Defense delivers dominating effort for MSU

 

Brandon Walker

 

STARKVILLE -- Dak Prescott pointed to the scoreboard high above the north end zone of Davis Wade Stadium and smiled. 

 

There were plenty of reasons to smile in the Mississippi State football team's 49-0 season-opening victory against Southern Mississippi on Saturday in the season opener for both teams before a record-setting crowd of 61,889 at Davis Wade Stadium. 

 

"I look up there and I see that zero, and I think that says a lot," said Prescott, MSU's junior quarterback. "That's what it's all about. Offense played well, but the defense was lights out. That's the perfect way to open the season." 

 

In the first meeting between the state rivals in 24 years, the Bulldogs dominated every aspect, wreaking havoc defensively, exploding for big plays offensively, and turning the game into a justification of an offseason filled with big expectations. 

 

"I'm proud of our team today and how we came out and played in the opening game of the season," said MSU coach Dan Mullen, who improved to 5-1 in season openers at the school. "It was great to be able to play this rivalry again. (USM coach Todd Monken) is building a solid program. You can see the type of future they're going to have." 

 

Prescott, who collected preseason Maxwell and Davey O'Bryan Award watch list nominations, backed up his offseason hype with a performance that was at times sloppy and at times spectacular. The Haughton, Louisiana, native took two sacks and threw an interception in the end zone, of which he said, "I can't allow that to happen. That's just a bad play that we can't have." But he offset those mistakes with career highs in passing yards (284) and passing touchdowns (four), and led the Bulldogs to a 35-0 lead early in the third quarter before he exited the game. 

 

"I played OK, but it's not about how I did, it's about the team," Prescott said. "It's great to start the season with a win. It's not about fulfilling outsiders' expectations. We just wanted to do what we knew we could." 

 

While MSU amassed 550 total yards, including 367 in the first half, the story of the game was MSU's defense. 

 

Led by a disruptive force in defensive end Preston Smith up front, the defense forced three turnovers, sacked quarterback Nick Mullens three times, and scored a touchdown on a 70-yard return of a blocked field goal by safety Jay Hughes. The block came courtesy of Smith, a 6-foot-6 senior who had three tackles and an interception. 

 

"That felt so good," Smith said of the block. "I just pushed through and put my hands up. Then I saw Jay pick it up, and I knew he was gone. That's a great feeling." 

 

Smith also helped create pressure up front on Mullens, who was 20 of 42 for 212 yards. 

 

"They were just fast like any other SEC team," Mullens said of the Bulldogs. "I feel like the typical stuff was the problem." 

 

MSU's offense made its impact felt immediately. Taking the opening kick of the season, Prescott capped a nine-play, 87-yard scoring drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver De'Runnya Wilson. 

 

It was the first of four touchdown passes for Prescott, who added a 24-yard scoring strike to Wilson. He also threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Fred Ross and a 23-yarder to senior Malcolm Johnson. 

 

"That's a really good football team," said Monken, who fell to 1-12 as USM's coach. "There's a reason why I vote them in the top 25. That's just a really good football team." 

 

Junior tailback Josh Robinson added 87 yards rushing for the Bulldogs, while senior running back Nick Griffin rushed for 42 yards and had a 1-yard scoring run. Ross caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Damian Williams. 

 

MSU, which has won four-straight games dating back to last season, will play host to Alabama-Birmingham at 1 p.m. Saturday. 

 

Follow Dispatch Sports Writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat

 

 

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