Dak and D did it for State on a frigid night
STARKVILLE — This wasn’t Dan Mullen being boastful or rubbing it in. This wasn’t Mullen harping on The School up North or promising “never to lose to that team again.”
No, this was Dan Mullen, his voice shaking and cracking, trying to gather himself to talk about what he called Divine Intervention in Mississippi State’s 17-10 Egg Bowl victory over Ole Miss on Thanksgiving night.
And you can pooh-pooh that all you want — and many will — and you can argue that there’s nothing divine about the game of football. But Mullen was clearly speaking from his heart. You can’t fake what he was saying and how he was saying it.
“He’s a competitor,” he said of Dak Prescott, his eyes watering.
“He’s as tough as they come,” he said, voice shaky, of his sophomore quarterback.
“I’ve been around a No. 15 similar to him,” he said, comparing Prescott to a No. 15 named Tebow.
“The second I put him on the field I expected us to win; that’s how much confidence I have in him,” Mullen said of Prescott.
And, yes, I know, many will ask: Well, why didn’t Mullen put Prescott in before fewer than 12 minutes remained in regulation?
And there’s not a simple answer, other than Prescott has been through hell and back over the past month.
Dr. Allen Sills, a Vanderbilt neurosurgeon, flew in from Nashville on Thursday to help make the final decision on whether or not Prescott would play. Sills made the trip fully thinking there was no way Prescott could play, not after seeing him 12 days ago
Sills had said then that Prescott would be lucky to play in a bowl game because of the nerve damage to his left shoulder. Not that a bowl game seemed very likely, because State had to beat Arkansas on the road and then Ole Miss just to become bowl eligible.
But Sills examined Prescott Thursday, watched him work out in pre-game and gave the OK, telling Mullen that Prescott’s recovery was “miraculous.”
Prescott had taken a few snaps in practices on Tuesday, Mullen said. Prescott hadn’t been in any contact work since being injured in the Texas A & M game three weeks ago, which, of course, was six days after his mother died, so he hadn’t got that much work that week either.
So Mullen didn’t want to play him. He hoped to beat Ole Miss with freshman Damian Williams, who played admirably but clearly wasn’t going to win this game in the fourth quarter.
“I was getting antsy,” Prescott said. “I wanted to play.”
There was a buzz in the stadium when Prescott began warming up early in the fourth quarter. There was pandemonium when he took the field.
And, really, he won the game twice. He won it the first time when he drove the Bulldogs into position for a 39-yard field goal on the last play of the game. The kick went wide right. So Prescott had to win it again.
And he did, in overtime, when he ran for 16 yards and threw for 14, taking the Bulldogs to a touchdown despite a procedure penalty.
His runs were powerful. His passes were crisp. When State faced fourth and one at the Ole Miss 3-yard-line, Prescott went over to the sidelines. Mullen had a play he wanted to run that didn’t involve Prescott running the ball.
Prescott told Mullen: “Let me run. It’s just a couple yards. I can do this with these big guys in front of me.”
Mullen shrugged as if to say, “How could I say no.”
He didn’t and Prescott carried through on his promise.
It surely looked as if Ole Miss was going to tie it. Bo Wallace, plagued by three interceptions (and two sacks) on this night, broke loose for what appeared to be an 11-yard touchdown run, but Nickoe Whitley knocked the ball loose from behind at the 3-yard line. The ball bounced into the end zone and straight up into the arms of State’s Jamerson Love.
That State’s defense made the final play seemed perfectly appropriate State’s “D” gave up just three points all night and allowed only 296 yards on 82 plays. The Bulldogs defense, with outstanding tackling in the open field against Ole Miss’s fleet-footed receivers and runners, kept the Bulldogs in the game so Prescott could win it.
And win it he did.
Said Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin walking off the field, “Dak Prescott became a Mississippi State legend tonight.”
Given what Prescott has endured over the last month — and what he achieved on this frigid night — it’s difficult to disagree.
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