BATON ROUGE, La. -- At first glance, Mississippi State’s success rate on third down against LSU doesn’t appear to be anything special.
The Bulldogs were just 5-for-14 on third down Saturday night, a conversion rate that could easily result in defeat instead of the 24-point advantage they built at one point. But in the crucial part of Mississippi State’s 34-29 win at Tiger Stadium – their third-quarter run where they built that enormous lead – quarterback Dak Prescott & Co. ran circles around the Tigers’ defense.
In five third downs in the quarter, Mississippi State scored twice – on a 56-yard Prescott run and a 74-yard touchdown pass from Prescott to Jameon Lewis – picked up two more first downs and totaled 154 yards. Only once did they fail to convert for at least a first down.
“I think there are a couple times that Dak improvised,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “I know Jameon’s touchdown, obviously [a] huge improvised play and that’s one of the things that Dak brings to the table.”
Prescott was responsible for a miscue early in the third quarter that allowed LSU to get back into a game the Bulldogs had dominated. On the first play of the quarter, LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander ripped the ball out of Prescott’s hands and defensive end Danielle Hunter recovered the loose ball and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown that cut State’s lead to 17-10.
But check out the damage Prescott did immediately afterward, particularly on third down:
On the ensuing drive, Prescott kept the Bulldogs’ possession alive with a 12-yard completion to De’Runnya Wilson on third-and-10. Shortly thereafter, Prescott scrambled for a 56-yard touchdown when the Bulldogs faced third-and-3 near midfield.
Mississippi State’s offense didn’t do much on the first two plays of its next drive, but Prescott then created some more third-down magic. LSU pass-rushers Dwayne Thomas and Hunter both had a shot at him, but Prescott escaped as the pocket collapsed and scrambled left to spot a wide-open Lewis near midfield. No Tigers defender laid a fingertip on the Bulldogs receiver as he sprinted 55 yards for a touchdown that pushed State’s lead to 31-10.
On State’s final drive of the quarter, LSU had the Bulldogs backed up to their own goal line. Facing third-and-9 from his own 2, Prescott ran for a 12-yard gain and another first down. The Bulldogs drove 88 yards in 14 plays, eventually settling for a 28-yard field goal that made it 34-10.
“You’re going to trust [Prescott]. You’re going to put the ball in his hands to make things happen in that moment in the game. And we did that for the whole game,” Mullen said. “When we needed a play, he stepped up and made the plays that we needed to make – and he did it with his arm and with his legs.”
As Mullen said, that ability to make something out of nothing is part of what makes Prescott special. The Heisman Trophy contender was impressive throughout Saturday’s win, passing for 268 yards and rushing for 105, but those third-down conversions were particularly important in helping Mississippi State put some distance between itself and LSU.
“He is their offense,” LSU safety Jalen Mills said of Prescott. “We knew going into the game that he could run and throw, but we had a couple of miscues on defense.”
And Prescott made the Tigers pay when those miscues occurred – particularly on third downs in the third quarter, when the Bulldogs averaged 30.8 yards per attempt and made the biggest plays that all but locked up the biggest win in Mullen’s tenure.