STARKVILLE, Mississippi (AP) — Dak Prescott stepped up in the pocket and then pulled the ball down, accelerating through the left side of the line and darting down the sideline for an easy 48-yard touchdown run.
It was one of several highlights for No. 1 Mississippi State in a 45-16 victory over Tennessee-Martin on Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium.
But the Prescott run was arguably the most important play — showing that the centerpiece of the Bulldogs’ offense is reasonably healthy as the program makes a final push for its first Southeastern Conference title since 1941.
Prescott had battled a left ankle injury over the past few weeks, occasionally wearing a protective boot around the football complex. He moved gingerly on the ankle in a win over Arkansas one week ago, but didn’t seem bothered by it on Saturday.
The Bulldogs (9-0, No. 1 CFP) extended their winning streak to 12 games, jumping ahead 24-3 by halftime. Prescott completed 14 of 23 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns. It was his school-record ninth 200-yard passing game of the season.
He also ran for 54 yards.
“Dak played pretty solid,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “He didn’t have to make a lot of plays today, just manage the offense and distribute the ball. He missed one or two throws in there, but he made more than he missed.”
Mississippi State’s Brandon Holloway ran for a 35-yard touchdown and Ashton Shumpert added a 59-yard touchdown run as the Bulldogs gained 254 yards on the ground and 520 yards overall.
“We didn’t execute as clean as we wanted to in that first half,” Prescott said. “But we still made some plays and still got the job done.”
UT Martin (5-6) closed to 7-3 on Jackson Redditt’s 33-yard field goal late in the first quarter, but failed to make any consistent progress against Mississippi State’s defense.
The Skyhawks’ Jarod Neal threw for a 31-yard touchdown and also ran for a 1-yard score.
Mississippi State led 38-3 in the fourth quarter before Tennessee-Martin — which plays at the Football Championship Subdivision level — scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns against the Bulldogs’ backup defense.
“We wanted to make sure the quarterbacks felt us on every play,” Mississippi State linebacker Ryan Brown said. “We have to improve and that’s the thing. People that don’t improve later in the season are the ones who fall off.”
Mississippi State had just one late turnover by the backup offense. It was a welcome change for the Bulldogs compared to the previous three games, which were marred by a combined eight turnovers.
Now the Bulldogs can prepare for their final stretch of SEC competition, which begins with a crucial game at Alabama on Nov. 15. They also host Vanderbilt and travel to face Mississippi in the Egg Bowl.
“We still haven’t achieved all that much,” Mullen said. “With three games left to play we’re in first place in the West, but there’s still a lot of football.”
Prescott had been inconsistent over the past three weeks, completing just 57.4 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and five interceptions against Auburn, Kentucky and Arkansas.
But he avoided mistakes against the Skyhawks, finding Fred Brown for a 10-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and Joe Morrow on a 55-yard touchdown in the third.
Josh Robinson, who was second in the SEC in rushing coming into the game, carried the ball just six times for 33 yards in limited action.
UT Martin’s Abou Toure finished with 94 yards rushing on 19 carries.
Dylan Favre, the nephew of former NFL star Brett Favre, completed 8 of 16 passes for 57 yards for the Skyhawks. He played for Mississippi State in 2010 and 2011.
Neal was 14-of-27 passing for 159 yards.
“We left a couple of plays out there today that we wish we could have hit,” Tennessee-Martin coach Jason Simpson said. “Obviously, (Mississippi State is) a very good football team and their athletic ability caused us to be in the wrong place.”
Mississippi State said cornerback Will Redmond was suspended from Saturday’s game because of an academic issue. Redmond had a late interception against Arkansas on Nov. 1 to seal a 17-10 victory.