Dan Mullen improved to 7-0 against cross-division opponent Kentucky thanks to a Heisman-like performance from Dak Prescott on Saturday.
In doing so, MSU bumped up their record to 6-2 and 2-2 in the SEC and became bowl eligible for a school-record sixth straight season.
Here are my takeaways from what was MSU's most complete game of the season so far.
Dak Prescott looks like Dak Prescott again
While the 2015 Dak has been a more mature version and one that makes better decisions in the passing game, I think everybody was waiting and wondering if the Dak that rushed for almost a thousand yards last season would ever make an appearance again. Well it finally happened against the Cats. While Dak had a monster game throwing the ball as well -- 348 yards and three touchdowns -- his 117 yards on the ground really opened up the offense and kept the chains moving.
No. 15 has been on a warpath ever since LA Tech jumped out to a 14-0 lead over State last week. He is playing inspired football and it's elevating the play of his teammates at the same time. I never imagined he could top anything he did last year, but 465 total yards of offense along with six touchdowns did the trick.
Dak is much healthier than he was at this time last year because he hasn't taken anywhere near the same amount of hits. I expect his carries to increase these last four games and the offense to look similar to last year's because of it. The offense has really been clicking these last two games so I expect Mullen to stick to the same strategy of utilizing Dak's legs with the meat of the schedule coming up in November.
Secondary shined despite injuries
With Will Redmond out for the season with a torn ACL, we knew the MSU secondary would be put to the test against Patrick Towles and the Kentucky offense. I thought they responded and played one of their best games of the season. After throwing for over 300 yards in each of the last two games, MSU limited Patrick Towles to just 23-of-42 pass attempts for 218 yards and forced three interceptions.
There was a scary moment when Taveze Calhoun went high in the air to defend a pass and hit the ground hard on the way down, leading to a exit from the field and not on his own power. Thankfully it was his hamstring and not a knee, so he was able to return a few plays later. He then went on to make two highlight-reel interceptions, one on a one-handed grab and the other when he jumped higher than the receiver and tipped the ball to himself to finish the play.
Offensive line imposed their will
A tweet from Matt Jones of Kentucky Sports radio summed up the dominance of MSU's offensive line: "Dak Prescott has enough time to do his taxes before every throw." Despite their struggles in run blocking this season, State's big boys up front have been about as good as you could ask for in protecting the quarterback.
Dak really did have all day to throw the ball. It was the best pass protection I've seen in years from MSU's line. They only allowed one sack, bringing the total to 10 sacks allowed for the season. That's better than any other team in the SEC that has played eight games, and it's still fourth best counting the teams that have played seven.
The run blocking wasn't phenomenal. MSU averaged 5.7 yards per attempt and rushed for 204 yards which is a solid day, but it looks a lot better due to Dak's numbers on the ground. With that being said, the offensive line and running backs did do a better job Saturday against a decent Kentucky D-line. There were more four to five yard gains on first down, especially with Aeris Williams in the game, and that's promising after all the 2nd down and 12's the offense has faced in previous games.
Depth at wide receiver
MSU didn't have a 100-yard receiver in the game, but two players eclipsed 90 yards and 10 different players caught a pass. Bear had a big game as usual, hauling in just four passes but turning that into 91 yards and a TD. The two biggest surprises in the game were Brandon Holloway and Darrion Hutcherson. Hutcherson finished with 40 yards and a TD and Holloway finished with 98 yards and a TD. Hutch is a big target to throw to in the red zone at 6-foot-7. It's good to see him progressing and seeing more passes thrown his way.
Obviously those two aren't receivers which is what I wanted to talk about here, but it shows the amount of weapons Dak Prescott has at his disposal. Back to my original point of wide receiver depth, Fred Ross -- who has led that unit in catches the majority of the season -- caught just two passes for 11 yards. But it didn't matter. Donald Gray stepped up into a bigger role and Dak found the JUCO transfer several times early in the game. Gray didn't light up the stat sheet with 56 yards, but he showed he was a mismatch which forced Kentucky to focus more on him the rest of the game.
Even if Bear goes pro, MSU will have a solid group returning next season with Gray, Myles, Ross, Dear etc.
New faces stepped up on defensive line
Everybody raves about A.J. Jefferson, Ryan Brown, Chris Jones, etc. but usually don't evaluate the players backing them up. I tried to do that when I noticed the younger players getting some action Saturday. Not many people are talking about it, but I was impressed with Johnathan Calvin and Will Coleman on the few snaps they were in the game.
Coleman didn't record a tackle and Calvin only recorded one tackle which went for a loss, but they did a good job of getting off blocks and getting in the back field. I've been impressed with Calvin this season even when he's not showing up on the stat sheet. Cory Thomas also recorded his first turnover in his Bulldog career on a fourth-quarter interception on a screen pass. He was close to breaking it for the first touchdown of his career but got tripped up.
Diaz has every position group on the defense improving every week. From freshmen to seniors, every player is stepping up and making an impact when their name is called.