Dak Prescott accounted for nearly 350 yards of total offense and two scores, and Josh Robinson ran for a pair of touchdowns as well to help Mississippi State spoil the University of South Alabama football team's home opener with a 35-3 non-conference football victory at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Saturday. The contest was played in front of a crowd of 38,129, the first sell out in Jaguar history and second-highest attendance ever for a Sun Belt Conference school at its home facility.
Prescott ran for a season-best 139 yards on 14 attempts — including a 40-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter that extended the Bulldog advantage to 35-3 — while completing 13-of-21 attempts for 201 yards and a score. Robinson posted 77 yards on 12 attempts as well, helping MSU (3-0) record a 288-57 advantage on the ground and 514-345 overall edge in total offense.
Jameon Lewis caught six passes for 76 yards for the Bulldogs, who defeated the Jags for the second time in three seasons.
Maleki Harris paced USA (1-1) with a career-best 14 stops, also forcing two fumbles, while offensively Brandon Bridge was 21-of-39 passing for 203 yards and Jeremé Jones matched a career high with seven receptions for 76 yards. Wes Saxton added six catches for 30 yards, and Shavarez Smith and Danny Woodson II finished with four for 52 and 38 more, respectively.
"What a great atmosphere. I want to thank our fans for coming out and supporting us," Jag head coach Joey Jones said. "It's so exciting for our players and everyone involved with the university, and we are excited they came out. It was an atmosphere our kids will never forget, and I appreciate our fans coming out and supporting them. I wish we would have played a little better, but you have to play great to beat those guys and we didn't play great."
"We played pretty well today coming into a hostile environment on the road against a team that is picked to finish at the top of its conference," stated Bulldog head coach Dan Mullen. "Their crowd showed up. That's a good football team we played today. I hope for them that all their students and fans buy in and continue to give them that atmosphere the entire season as they push to try and win a championship."
USA would get on the board with nine-and-a-half minutes before the break, marching 71 yards in 10 plays and over four minutes before Aleem Sunanon converted a 26-yard field goal to make the score 7-3. On the second play of the possession Bridge found Smith for a 42-yard pick-up down the middle of the field to move the ball to the MSU-40, with the former adding first-down completions to Saxton and Cameron Broadnax for five and 19 yards, respectively.
The Bulldogs answered with a two-yard Robinson touchdown run, going up 14-3 with seven minutes remaining in the opening half, as Prescott hit Fred Brown for a gain of 36 yards to move MSU to the Jag 24-yard line before tacking on a 19-yard run on third-and-nine the play before the score. Three-and-a-half minutes later, the lead grew to 21-3 as Prescott lateraled the ball to Lewis, who threw back to the Bulldog quarterback for a 24-yard touchdown pass with four-and-a-half minutes left in the second period.
Will Redmond intercepted a pass on the Jags' first play after the kickoff; four snaps, 32 yards and 82 seconds later Robinson scored again — this time from 15 yards out — to make it a 28-3 game at the half. The Bulldogs outgained USA, 203-90, while outscoring the Jaguars 21-3 in the second quarter.
"We knew how good they were on defense," explained Jones. "You have to make big plays on them. We had a couple of chances early, and we didn't take advantage of them. They kind of wore on us in the second quarter. They are a much-improved team. My hat's off to them. They have a lot of good athletes out there — a lot of size and speed. You have to play pretty well to beat these guys, and I don't think we played as well as we could.
"We finished the game last week against Kent State and took a step forward, but this week we had some early opportunities we didn't take advantage of and we just have to get it done. We have to make those plays."
MSU forced four turnovers in the contest, recovering two fumbles and intercepting a pair of passes, recording five sacks and six passes defensed as well. Kendrick Market, Benardrick McKinney and Matthew Wells each were credited with five stops to pace the unit, with the latter two making 1½ stops behind the line of scrimmage each. Tolando Cleveland ran back a pick 45 yards and had 1½ tackles for loss among his four stops, and Preston Smith finished with a pair of sacks for a loss of 15 yards to go along with a blocked kick.
After the Jags missed an opportunity to take a 3-0 lead with a 31-yard field, which was blocked by the Bulldogs' Smith, MSU marched 80 yards down the field and went ahead 7-0 on a 15-yard scoring pass from Prescott to Malcolm Johnson with just under five minutes to go in the opening period. On USA's ensuing series Richie Brown recovered a fumble at the Jag 31-yard line, but on the next snap Harris stripped the ball from Ashton Shumpert — with Jerome McClain recovering on the USA-36 — to give the ball back to the Jaguars.
Terrell Brigham and Davin Hawkins made nine stops a piece for USA, with Montell Garner and McClain supplying six each — it was a career-high total for the latter. Theo Rich had two stops for loss among his four tackles, and Brigham broke up two passes and recovered a fumble also.
USA will open Sun Belt Conference action when it plays host to Georgia Southern Saturday at 6:30 p.m. in a contest that will be broadcast nationally on ESPN3.
"I know that this game does not define us despite the mishaps we had on offense, defense and special teams," Bridge observed. "We have two goals as a team: a conference championship and a bowl game. Those are still in our reach. This game doesn't define us. We can still accomplish our goals; the season starts tomorrow. We have eight conference games ahead of us."
"These past two games counted and of course we wanted to win, but we want a conference championship and a bowl game," Harris added. "Those are what our goals have been since the spring. That's what we have been working toward. This loss hurts, but we are going to come back prepared and ready to play next Saturday."