STARKVILLE, Mississippi (AP) — Dak Prescott said he was hanging around town earlier this week when a Mississippi State fan stopped him at a convenience store and wished him well in the Heisman Trophy race.
Prescott’s response: “Have you not been paying attention?”
The quarterback’s dream season was interrupted by a three-interception performance in last weekend’s 25-20 loss Alabama.
It was an undeniably bad day. That doesn’t mean it has to ruin the Bulldogs’ championship aspirations.
After all, their national playoff hopes are still in relatively good shape.
No. 4 Mississippi State (9-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) earned the fourth spot in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings released on Tuesday night, sliding just three spots from the top spot after its loss to Crimson Tide.
Now the Bulldogs are focused on correcting the mistakes that hurt them in the loss to the Tide.
“It’s kind of like starting the season back over,” Prescott said. “We’ve got something — not necessarily to prove — but to move forward from and get better.”
Mississippi State has two regular-season games remaining. The first is against Vanderbilt (3-7, 0-6) on Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium, where the Bulldogs can finish a perfect season at home for the first time since 1999.
The finale will be on the road against rival Mississippi in the Egg Bowl. It’s a potential top 10 matchup and another chance to impress the College Football Playoff committee.
But winning those two games — especially on the road against the Rebels — will likely take a much better performance than Saturday’s dud against Alabama.
Especially from Prescott.
His performance wasn’t all bad. He completed 27 of 48 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns while also running for a team-high 82 yards.
But the three interceptions trumped all those numbers. All of them came on promising Bulldog drives that were inside Alabama’s 30-yard line.
And the biggest problem for the Bulldogs: Prescott’s errant throws are a continuing trend. He’s thrown eight interceptions over the past five games and is tied for the SEC lead with 10 picks this season.
Mullen said he couldn’t pick out one particular thing that Prescott is doing wrong on the interceptions.
“They’re all so different,” Mullen said. “Every one of them is such a different play and a different things going on. It’s hard to group any of them together.”
Mississippi State’s defense — which ranks first in the country in limiting red zone scoring — has made up for many of Prescott’s mistakes this season. But it wasn’t able to save the day against the Tide.
“This humbles us,” MSU defensive end Preston Smith said. “We’ve got to keep playing hard. We know if we stop playing hard, somebody can knock us off our high horse if we’re feeling highly about ourselves.”
The frustration after a loss is a new feeling for the Bulldogs, which hadn’t lost in nearly an entire calendar year.
“We’ve handled winning very well this season, so we’ll see how we handle this adversity at this point. It’s late in the year for that to happen, but we’ll see how our guys handle it.”
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason still believes Prescott is one of the nation’s elite quarterbacks. The former Stanford defensive coordinator even compared Prescott to Andrew Luck, who played for the Cardinal and is now in the NFL.
“The one thing you never see from (Prescott) is frustration, and that’s a true sign of a competitor,” Mason said. “I never saw Andrew Luck get frustrated. When you see a guy like that, they’ve got ice water in their veins.”