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LSU again an important test for QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State

Dak Prescott led Mississippi State to 570 yards of total offense in last season's 34-29 win against LSU. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Chomping his fingernails inside Tiger Stadium, Tad Prescott prayed the pass would fall short. Mississippi State had fought too hard to let such a program-defining win slip from its grasp. The Bulldogs had taken too much joy watching all those LSU fans head for the exits in the third quarter. Tad’s brother, first-year starting quarterback Dak Prescott, had done everything short of drive the team bus that night, accumulating 373 yards and three touchdowns.

But a 24-point lead evaporated after three consecutive LSU scoring drives. The No. 8-ranked Tigers were on the verge of halting the upset and extending their 14-game winning streak against the then-unranked Bulldogs. With less than a minute remaining, LSU's Brandon Harris threw a 22-yard strike to Travin Dural and followed that up with a 12-yard scramble, pushing LSU into State territory with 5 seconds left. Dak bounced nervously on the sidelines while his brothers, Tad and Jace, watched from the stands.

Thankfully for all three, the Hail Mary was intercepted. The game ended and a cathartic celebration ensued. Tad high-fived receiver De'Runnya Wilson. He hugged defensive lineman Chris Jones.

"And then all of the sudden, I see these big arms extending," Tad recalled, "and I realize that it’s Dak. We hugged each other. I don’t think a word was said."

Nothing needed to be said, Tad explained. Everything was understood between the brothers raised in Haughton, Louisiana.

"Just how proud our mom was," Tad said, filling the silence between the two. "Our mom hated LSU. I mean, with a passion."

Peggy Prescott, who died less than 10 months earlier after a long bout with cancer, didn’t get to see her boys celebrate in Baton Rouge. She didn’t get to witness the transformation of her youngest, Dak, who used that game on national television to begin what would be a magical season for both he and Mississippi State. The Bulldogs reached No. 1 in the polls for the first time in program history, and Prescott catapulted himself into the Heisman Trophy race. A spectacular 56-yard touchdown run against LSU was the main highlight in a package that featured an SEC-best 42 total touchdowns and 4,435 total yards.

Dak became a celebrity that night. Now he and his brothers use back doors and hope restaurants have private rooms so they can eat in peace and avoid autograph-seekers.

Dak has learned to accept the cost of fame and being the face of an entire university, but somewhere in the back of his mind it doesn’t feel right.

"That’s how we were raised," Tad said. "Our mom would say, 'People will give you things and people will take things, but one of the things people will never give you and one of the things you will always have to earn is respect.' So people saying, 'Oh, you’re a Heisman candidate,' that meant nothing to him unless he brought the trophy home."

So after losing three straight games to end the season, and eyeing a young roster with question marks -- like three new starters on the offensive line -- Dak bypassed the NFL draft to return for his senior year. Tad told him the defense wouldn’t be the same: "Are you sure you want to come back?"

"He looked at me and said, 'We’ll be younger next year but I promise you we have way more talent than we had last year.'"

Unranked in the coaches poll, picked to finish last by the media, the quietly confident quarterback will get the chance to prove himself once again. And again, the opponent will be LSU.

"He wants to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke," Tad said.

Dak, for his part, isn’t worried about extra motivation heading into the game Saturday. The stakes, he said, speak for themselves.

Like last season, a win against perennial powerhouse LSU could catapult the Bulldogs from unranked back into national prominence.

"It’s going to determine first-place or last-place in Week 2 of the SEC,” he said. "So we want to come in and we want to make sure we’re ready to go so we can finish off the week and be No. 1 in the SEC."

Said coach Dan Mullen: "I think for a confidence thing for the team it is huge. ... If you get this conference win, it puts you in first place in the SEC West, and that is a fun place to play from."

Dak pointed out that last season they didn’t lose at home in Davis-Wade Stadium. That’s the plan again, he said.

There are doubters, of course. Mississippi State is a 3-point home underdog, but that’s nothing new.

"You have to go out there and prove it," Dak said. "This is just a chance, it being an SEC game, not that we’re trying to prove to the voters that we’re a real team, but to be better as a team and let each other know that we are, that we’re a great team."