STARKVILLE, Mississippi (AP) — Dak Prescott bounced around in the pocket for a few seconds and then let a long pass fly down the right sideline to De’Runnya Wilson, who fought off a defender, caught the ball and zoomed toward the end zone for a touchdown.
About 50 Mississippi State offensive players and coaches celebrated on a cold, windy day at spring practice.
The Bulldogs hope 50,000-plus fans at Davis Wade Stadium are celebrating for similar reasons next fall.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Prescott had moments of brilliance during his first season with Mississippi State — throwing for 1,940 yards and running for 829 more as a sophomore. Now he is the team’s clear No. 1 quarterback for the first time, and spending spring practice working to make sure his junior season is even better.
“I’ve always been comfortable, but nothing is like going out there and knowing you’re going to get the first team reps,” Prescott said. “It’s your job to set the tempo, set the mood at practice and I’m enjoying it.”
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen shuffled his coaching staff in the offseason when co-offensive coordinator Les Koenning left for Texas. He made Billy Gonzalez and John Hevesy the new co-offensive coordinators and brought in quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson from Utah.
The 27-year-old Johnson has a long relationship with Mullen, who was an assistant at Utah in 2004 when he recruited and signed Johnson to play quarterback. Johnson went on to have a stellar career for the Utes — leading the program to 26 victories — and has now parlayed that experience into a coaching career.
Johnson said Prescott has all the tools to be successful.
“He’s a smart guy and obviously he’s been in the offense for a while,” Johnson said. “He’s a veteran and it’s been fun having him around. Personality-wise, from a leadership standpoint, he’s exactly what you want.”
He’s also a perfect fit for Mullen’s offense, which is at its best when the quarterback can run. Prescott had 13 rushing touchdowns and 10 passing touchdowns last season while splitting time with Tyler Russell.
Now Johnson is working to help Prescott advance his game and become more consistent. Prescott completed just 58 percent of his passes last season, which ranked 12th in the Southeastern Conference.
“I’ve learned a lot in just a short period,” Prescott said. Johnson’s “all about fundamentals and fast feet. That’s something I can work on quite a bit. He’s definitely getting lot out of us, hollering at us, motivating us and it’s been fun so far.”
Prescott should have plenty of quality receivers around him. Jameon Lewis returns after leading the team with 64 catches for 923 yards and five touchdowns last season.
There are also high hopes for Wilson, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound sophomore who caught 26 passes last season as a freshman. He could give the Bulldogs that consistent, big-play threat on the perimeter that they’ve usually lacked in recent seasons.
Prescott said he’s spent a lot of time talking to Wilson about how they can improve the passing game. Mullen said he’s been impressed by Prescott’s diligence in communication.
“The quarterback has got to be a leader on the offense,” Mullen said. “And I think now, having been here a while he understands what we’re trying to do, understands the game. So this is where you see him starting to make that adjustment, from learning to being comfortable in the offense.”