The end of the Belk Bowl wrapped up another successful season at Mississippi State, and it marked the end of one of hte most amazing, if not the most amazing, Bulldog careers as Dak Prescott left the field for the final time in maroon and white. In the end, the Bulldogs left Charlotte with a 51-28 win over the Wolfpack. Here are five thoughts I had from the contest.
1. For all of the grief given the Mississippi State defense, it did better than most give it credit. The one thing the defense failed to do in 2015, and granted, it is a big thing, was force turnovers. That may have never been on display more than in the Belk Bowl. The Bulldogs forcing two turnovers in the first quarter went a long way towards putting this game in the win column early. If Mississippi State had been able to do that all year, the results could have been a bit different.
2. Dak Prescott. What can you say about him? There has never been a more transformational player in Starkville. I'll have a lot more on him later this week, but what a final game for him. Solid numbers, even if he hit a dry spell early in the third quarter. His ability to throw in the elements (and his receivers ability to catch in them) is pretty remarkable. It will be fun to watch his Senior Bowl preparation and path to the NFL draft. I'd be thrilled if the Pittsburgh Steeler snagged him a possible future replacement for Ben Roethlisberger. I know there is debate about his potential to be a starter, but I think it is there. He was much more of a passer than a runner than given credit for. The best thing for him would be for the Tim Tebow comparisons to stop.
As for the quarterback position at Mississippi State next year, no one will feel more pressure than the player (perhaps Nick Fitzgerald) that steps into the position next year. If the quarterback play can be in the ballpark with Prescott this season, the Bulldogs will have the set up for another strong season, and if that happens, 2017 could be a huge year for Mississippi State.
Just like Prescott rewrote most of the MSU record book, he took care of business in the Belk Bowl as well. He also picked up the MVP honors as well.
3. One of the things that above average teams do is answer when they get punched. Mississippi State did this several times when North Carolina State looked like they were going to get anything going. This is one of the reasons you just do not see the Bulldogs lose to teams to whom they should not lose. That's coaching. Is there room for improvement? Yep, but this staff has this program in a pretty good place.
In the end, the Bulldogs just found a way to absolutely pound North Carolina State. Who had the Bulldogs going for 51? They made that happen in tough football conditions. The defense found a way to slow down a strong offense, limiting them to only 28 points, 21 with the game in the balance. The Bulldogs also took advantage of mistakes, using Wolfpack miscues to score multiple times. This may have been the best game played by Mississippi State from start to finish all year. It is the kind of game that players can remember and try to build upon the following season.
4. Anyone else fired up about the potential of this defense next year? Richie Brown, Benequez Brown, Geri Green, and Leo Lewis all playing significant minutes at linebacker? Brandon Bryan is a beast in the secondary. There is some amazing potential for this to be a nasty group in 2016. We saw some flashes of it in this game. The future should be bright on that side of the ball.
5. Take a moment and really appreciate where Mississippi State is right now. Was 2015 frustrating? Yes it was. Was the end of 2014 frustrating? Yes, it was. However, Mississippi State is a program on the correct trajectory. Ten years ago, no one would have expected six straight bowl appearances, with wins in four of them, by Mississippi State. No would have have expected to be in the hunt for a New Years Six bowl two years in a row. No one would have expected time at No. 1 in the nation. All of those things have happened in Starkville. For the first time ever, Mississippi State has put together back-to-back nine win seasons. Next year could be a bit of a slide as the Bulldogs adjust to life without Prescott, but in the long term, Mississippi State is in a place it has never been before. Enjoy the ride.