STARKVILLE – It has been a somber week at Mississippi State after the passing of starting quarterback Dak Prescott’s mother Peggy.
Peggy Prescott died Sunday morning at the age of 52 following a lengthy battle with colon cancer.
“We’re a very tight-knit program and when someone in our family has to go through something like that it’s always a very, very difficult situation,” said MSU coach Dan Mullen. “Our prayers are with him and his whole family. I want to thank everybody out there that’s been sharing their prayers with Dak and his family. I know that is much appreciated and they appreciate everyone respecting their privacy with everything they’re having to go through.”
Prescott went home to grieve with his family on Sunday and his return to practice for this week’s game with Texas A&M is uncertain. Mullen stated that he has not thought about the football side of things concerning Prescott and that he has the full support of the team during this time.
If Prescott is unable to play, the Bulldogs will turn back to senior Tyler Russell at quarterback. Russell has missed three games due to a concussion this season and missed the South Carolina contest last weekend with a sprained ankle.
“He practiced (Sunday) night just fine,” Mullen said. “He had a boot on most of the week last week but practiced (Sunday) night and was good. The fact he didn’t have to play on Saturday is certainly adding to his being 100-percent this week. If he’d had to play Saturday I’m not sure he’d be at 100-percent for this game.”
MSU dropped to 4-4 overall and 1-3 in Southeastern Conference play Saturday following a 34-16 loss at South Carolina. The Bulldogs played well in areas in all three phases but five turnovers – four by Prescott – resulted in 20 points on the board for the Gamecocks.
State held South Carolina to 1-of-11 on third down and forced seven three-and-out drives on the day.
“50-percent of their possessions were three-and-outs and that’s what you want,” Mullen said. “Unfortunately we gave up the ball three times deep in our own territory and that’s hard to defend from.”
The Bulldogs were also able to limit junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney’s impact on the game. Blaine Clausell held the All-American in check with the aid of others allowing three tackles and a pass deflection.
“He still had a few tackles and a tipped ball but I think overall our guys handled those situations well whether they were one-on-one or getting help with him,” Mullen said. “What I was happiest with was the execution of the plan. Our guys did a good job understanding where their help was and being in the right positions to get the job done.”
Mullen, who also serves as Mississippi State’s special teams coordinator, made changes at kicker and punter last week. Evan Sobiesk was used on the Bulldogs long extra point and successful 38-yard field goal while Devon Bell was used to punt all five times for a 47.6 yard average pinning four inside the red zone including one at the 5-yard line.
“I like big, long punts with great hang time, I like field goals that go through the uprights and kickoffs that go out the back of the end zone,” Mullen said. “If (Sobiesk kicking and Bell punting) is the recipe for it then that’s what we’ll do but we always evaluate practice.”
MSU is back on the road this week traveling to Texas A&M (7-2, 3-2) at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. The Aggies are averaging 582.6 yards and 49 points per game this season and defeated State 38-13 in Starkville last season.
“Obviously it’s a tough challenge playing one of the best, if not the best offense in the country,” Mulen said. “I say that thrugh a consistency standpoint. The lowest number of points is 41 so obviously they’re a very explosive offense. They’ve done a great job and have a lot of talented players. They had a bunch of first round draft picks last year and it looks like they’ll have a bunch of first round draft picks this year.”
Texas A&M’s offense features sophomore quarterback Johnny Manziel coming off a Heisman Trophy season a year ago. Manziel is even more impressive this fall completing 72.5-percent of his passes for 2,867 yards, 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions while also leading the Aggies in rushing with 564 yards and eight more scores.
Manziel’s dual-threat ability is what concerns Mullen the most.
“There’s a little bit of everything,” Mullen said. “Obviously there’s his ability to run the football which you have to defend against. There’s his ability to throw the football which you have to defend against. Then there’s the third one which is his ability to improvise and in improvising he can run or throw. That’s where the difficult problem comes in to defend.”
Texas A&M rolled up 693 yards against the Bulldogs last year and Manziel ran wild accumulating 440 yards of offense and two touchdowns. Ben Malena also rushed for 112 yards and a score while Ryan Swope made nine catches for 121 yards.
Mike Evans also had nine grabs for 97 yards against State last fall.
“If you look at all the talent that they have, that’s what makes them a top offense,” Mullen said. “What you have to do is execute at a very high level by being in the right position and tackling in the open field.”
On the injury front, junior safety Dee Arrington and walk-on freshman running back Josh Creekmore are both listed out for Saturday’s game along with eight others who have previously missed action.