November 10, 2014 8:58:24 AM
STARKVILLE -- In the moments after leading the Mississippi State football team to its first 9-0 start in program history, coach Dan Mullen wasn't peppered with questions about a 45-16 victory against Tennessee-Martin on Homecoming.
Mullen wasn't asked repeatedly about quarterback Dak Prescott, who had for three touchdowns and 260 yards. He wasn't pestered to reflect on No. 1 MSU's historic winning streak, which moved to 12 games, the second-best active run in the country.
Instead, Mullen and each MSU player who met with the media Saturday night was asked often about one thing: MSU's game against Alabama on Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
"It's definitely going to be a hurdle," said Mullen, whose team hasn't lost since a 20-7 defeat at home against Alabama last season. "I'd like to make sure we do our job, go win the game, and go on to win the (SEC) West. But it's a huge hurdle for us to go over there and win that game. In this league, to win it you have to be able to win big road games."
MSU will aim for its first win in Tuscaloosa since 2007. A win would be Mullen's first against Alabama, as the sixth-year Bulldogs' coach is 0-5 in his career against the Crimson Tide. But he never has had a team this capable, as the Bulldogs remained No. 1 in the country for the fifth-straight week when the Amway Coaches Poll (USA Today) and The Associated Press Top 25 were released Sunday. That continued recognition came on the heels of a business-like win Saturday in which MSU never trailed and led by as many as 35 points in the second half.
The performance featured strong showings from a number of unexpected contributors. Prescott, who has scored at least three touchdowns in eight of nine games, was efficient before exiting early in the third quarter. He was 14 of 23 for 206 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 54 yards and another score.
But the usual headline stealers like Prescott and tailback Josh Robinson largely stepped aside, leaving the spotlight to a number of younger players, including sophomore tailback Ashton Shumpert, who rushed four times for 82 yards and a 59-yard score. Running back Brandon Holloway scored his first career touchdown on a 35-yard second-quarter run, and freshman Jamoral Graham had his first career touchdown catch, a 44-yarder from backup quarterback Damian Williams.
Despite the rare limelight, though, even players like Holloway were looking forward to the trip to Tuscaloosa by the end of the game.
"It's exciting. There is no better feeling," Holloway said of going to Alabama undefeated. "We have been doing well this year. We just have to keep it up and go get another win."
First, the Bulldogs took care of the Skyhawks, who scored two late touchdowns to make the score a little less lopsided. Asked his impression of MSU after the loss, UT-Martin linebacker Tony Bell seemed impressed.
"Those guys are legit," Bell said.
They'll need to be Saturday, when MSU and Alabama square off at 2:30 p.m. (CBS). It will be MSU's third CBS game of the season, but none have had higher stakes. With a win, MSU would own a two-game lead in the Southeastern Conference Western Division race with two games to go. More importantly, a victory would be the latest in a string of marquee wins this season.
"Playing in big-time games in November means you're playing for championships," Prescott said. "To go to Tuscaloosa being the hunted is a challenge we are willing to take."
The numbers are starting to pile up for the Bulldogs.
The 12-game winning streak, which started at Arkansas last November, is the school's second-longest run. A win in Tuscaloosa would tie the mark set between 1942 and 1944.
Prescott is re-writing MSU's single-season record book for quarterbacks. On Saturday, he became the first Bulldog ever to top the 3,000-yard mark. He stretched his school record for touchdowns in a season to 29.
With 45 points, MSU is No. 6 in the country in total offense and 12th in the country in scoring offense. It has topped the 500-yard mark in seven times. MSU has scored more than 30 points eight times. A 17-10 victory against Arkansas is the exception.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat
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