September 1, 2014 8:10:56 PM
STARKVILLE -- Following a 49-0 blanking at the hands of Mississippi State on Saturday night, University of Southern Mississippi football coach Todd Monken was effusive in his praise for the Bulldogs.
"That's a good football team over there," said Monken of MSU. "There's a reason I vote for them in the top 25. I have a vote in the coaches' poll, and that's a very good football team."
Now, a second Conference USA coach with nothing but praise for the Bulldogs will take a shot in Starkville this weekend.
During his weekly press conference on Monday afternoon, UAB coach Bill Clark went a step further than his USM counterpart in his assessment of the 1-0 Bulldogs.
"They have a chance to win the SEC this year," said Clark, whose team enters at 1-0 after a 48-20 win over in-state rival Troy. "This is going to be a good test for us. They are as good as advertised as far as what I see."
UAB will be the second-straight C-USA opponent for the Bulldogs, who dominated in every facet of the game in the dismantling of Southern Miss Saturday night.
Junior quarterback Dak Prescott passed for a career-high 284 yards and four TDs, 11 different Bulldogs caught passes and the MSU defense pitched a shutout and scored a touchdown of its own in the blowout win.
"I'm proud of our team today and how we came out and played in the opening game of the season," said MSU head coach Dan Mullen, who improved to 5-1 in season openers. "I thought we played a lot of guys, but we tried to play guys throughout the course of the game, and a lot of guys made plays on both sides of the ball. I'm also really proud of how our defense played all night long."
Mullen's weekly press conference, delayed by the Labor Day Holiday, is set for 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.
UAB, which finished 124th in the country (out of 125 D1 teams) in scoring defense a year ago, looked improved across the board in its opening-week 28-point win over Troy.
"(The win) may loosen us up a little bit," said Clark. "It won't change our preparation, focus, or intensity. We may have been a little tight, but I really believe this is as focused of a team as I have seen. Let's hope we can keep that focus."
For Clark, much of that focus will likely center around stopping an MSU offense that posted 550 total yards against USM. Prescott, though spotty early, remained in command throughout his two-plus quarters of action, finding 10 different receivers and tossing four TD passes.
"Offensively, they have weapons everywhere," said Clark. "They are monstrously big. They have a quarterback (Prescott) that has a chance to play for the Heisman Trophy. Defensively, they are super well coached. They are fast. They are multiple in their scheme."
MSU's defensive line created havoc for much of the night against USM's overmatched offensive line, sacking QB Nick Mullens three times and allowing just 75 total rushing yards.
That effort up front was spearheaded by senior DE Preston Smith, a 6-foot-6, 267-pound senior who collected three tackles, three QB hurries and a blocked field goal that led to a Bulldogs' touchdown.
"We talked about being more explosive this offseason," said Smith. "Hopefully tonight was just the beginning."
For UAB, the visit to MSU presents the chance to face a big, physical Southeastern Conference opponent on the heels of a season-opening win. For players like senior defensive lineman Diaheem Watkins, the visit to Starkville is a tremendous opportunity.
"Just look at it like this, a lot of us guys have dreams of playing in the NFL and these guys are NFL size," said Watkins. "We got a chance to go out and show what we can do against some pretty big guys."
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon at Davis Wade Stadium.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat
n Brother of WR Jameon Lewis killed: An argument that turned violent claimed the life of Tyriunce Lewis, the brother of Mississippi State WR Jameon Lewis, in Tylertown early Sunday morning.
According to the Walthall County Sheriff's Department, Tyriunce Lewis and acquaintance Kendall Magee got into a disagreement that ended with Magee shooting Lewis once in the head with a handgun at Tylertown's Oakhurst Apartments. Airlifted to Forrest General Hostpial, Tyriunce Lewis was pronounced dead later Sunday afternoon.
Jameon Lewis, who is currently in his senior season at State, has not commented publicly on the tragedy, and the University has yet to release a statement.
n Smith earns honor: Mississippi State senior Preston Smith was named Southeastern Conference Defensive Lineman of the Week for the first time in his career, league officials announced Monday. Smith is the first Bulldog defensive lineman to earn the honor since NFL first-round draft pick Fletcher Cox accomplished the feat four times in 2011.
Smith picked up the award after filling out the box score in State's 49-0 shutout victory against Southern Miss this past Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium. The Stone Mountain, Ga., native registered two tackles, one interception, one blocked field goal, one pass breakup and a quarterback hurry, leading the Maroon and White to its first shutout since September 1999.
The 6-foot-6, 270-pound lineman picked off his first career pass early in the first quarter, before blocking his first career field goal in the third. The blocked 30-yard attempt was picked up by fellow senior Jay Hughes and returned 68 yards for a touchdown.
Thanks to Smith's efforts, MSU was the only SEC squad and one of just seven FBS teams to register a shutout in college football's opening week. The Bulldogs' "Psycho Defense" forced three turnovers and limited the Golden Eagles to 283 yards of total offense, the second fewest allowed by a league school in week one.
n MSU has 11 on NFL active rosers: Eleven former Mississippi State Bulldogs are on the active opening weekend rosters of NFL teams, including three players who will take the field in the league's opening game at 7:30 p.m. Thursday when Green Bay and Seattle square off on NBC.
Linebacker K.J. Wright begins his fourth NFL season after claiming a Super Bowl ring last February with the Seahawks. Wright is once again penciled in as the starter at outside linebacker after recording 80 tackles last season. His squad goes up against the Packers, who feature two former Bulldogs in offensive tackle Derek Sherrod and defensive end Josh Boyd.
Gabe Jackson, who started all 52 games of his MSU career from 2010-13, makes his NFL debut when the Oakland Raiders travel to face the New York Jets at noon CT Sunday live on CBS.
Defensive end Tommy Kelly is the longest tenured former Bulldog in the NFL. Kelly begins his 11th season and first with the Arizona Cardinals after spending 2013 with the New England Patriots and 2004-12 with the Raiders.
Cornerback Johnthan Banks begins his second NFL season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Banks, the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award winner, recorded 55 tackles and three interceptions in his rookie season. Running back Boobie Dixon signed an offseason contract with the Buffalo Bills and enters his fifth year.
2. MSU men back in win column after beating UT Martin COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Starkville girls continue winning ways with Joe Horne victory HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
4. Columbus girls open Joe Horne Classic with victory HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. MSU women aim for 11-0 start today against Maine COLLEGE SPORTS