BATON ROUGE, La. -- Although fans at Ohio State, TCU, Clemson or Michigan State might disagree with his assessment, LSU coach Les Miles says that Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott is "as good a college quarterback as there is."
Maybe Cardale Jones, Trevone Boykin, Deshaun Watson or Connor Cook is a superior signal-caller, but Prescott certainly belongs in the conversation. And if Miles is correct, Prescott’s accomplishments against Miles' Tigers helped place him in that position.
Entering Saturday’s game, Miles knows his defense must do a better job of corralling Prescott if the Tigers are to return home with a victory.
"He's a guy that makes plays and gets up in the seam, and he doesn't go down unless you tackle him," Miles said. "I think the key piece to what we're going to try to do this week is prepare tackling. If we do that, I think it will make a difference."
Tackling Prescott is easier said than done, though, when the opponent possesses his combination of quickness and power. The 230-pound quarterback rushed for 100-plus yards in each of the past two meetings with LSU, but most notable was his ability to keep plays alive in the most thorough dismantling of an LSU defense in Miles' decade-long tenure.
Prescott passed for 268 yards and two touchdowns, ran for 105 and another score and led Mississippi State’s offense to 570 yards of total offense in last season’s 34-29 victory. He had turned in a handful of notable performances beforehand, but that night in Tiger Stadium put Prescott on the map as a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender.
"I just remember bringing him down," LSU defensive end Tashawn Bower recalled. "He was a heavy guy and I was like, 'Geez, this is a quarterback, really?'"
Really. Prescott accounted for both his longest run (a 56-yard touchdown) and longest pass (a 74-yard touchdown to Jameon Lewis) of the 2014 season against LSU, and he made some of his biggest plays on third downs.
LSU had cut Mississippi State’s lead to 17-10 shortly after halftime when Prescott did his best to bury the Tigers in the third quarter. On the first series after LSU’s score, Prescott completed a 12-yard pass to De'Runnya Wilson on third-and-10, quieting a suddenly noisy LSU crowd. On third-and-3 a few plays later, Prescott ran 56 yards for a score.
On the next possession, he hit Lewis for his long touchdown on third-and-7. And on the drive after that, he converted the first of two third downs to push deep into LSU territory before a field goal gave the Bulldogs a 34-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.
There are a variety of reasons for that scoring outburst -- for one thing, Prescott and Josh Robinson helped State exploit LSU's defensive front for 270 yards on inside runs -- but that was not LSU’s only issue.
"We have to make sure this year that we’re all communicating, we’re all running the same thing, we’re all making sure that we’re taking care of our responsibilities," defensive tackle Christian LaCouture said. "I think Coach O [Ed Orgeron] and Coach [Kevin] Steele are going to have a very good game plan for us. Just make sure that we’re communicating properly and making sure that we’re all in our gaps and I think if we do that, our coaches are going to have us ready."
The Tigers’ defensive backs also know they can’t get fooled into sprinting toward Prescott when it looks like he might run. That’s how coverage breakdowns occur.
"You do your job in the back end and you leave it up to those guys up front to get him down," cornerback Tre'Davious White said.
Reducing Mississippi State's explosive plays would be another objective. The Bulldogs produced 10 plays of 20-plus yards against LSU last season, including the aforementioned touchdowns, a 66-yard Robinson run and a 44-yard completion to Wilson.
LSU seems to be in better position to limit the damage up the middle now that LaCouture and Davon Godchaux have established themselves at defensive tackle and Kendell Beckwith has taken over at middle linebacker, but even they likely won’t eliminate all of Prescott’s big plays. He wasn’t at his best in last week’s opener against Southern Miss and still passed for 237 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 72 yards and another score.
However, the Tigers know that if they are to fare better than in last season’s nightmare, they have to make their hits count when they get a chance to take Prescott to the ground.
"He’s a bigger guy," LaCouture said, "so when you have that chance to bring him down, you’ve got to bring everything you’ve got."