Improved Passing Will Elevate Dak Prescott and Mississippi State

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Quarterback Dak Prescott rode a rocket ship of individual praise congruent with Mississippi State’s unlikely ascent to the No. 1 ranking a season ago. Prescott was the unofficial October Heisman winner, leading the Bulldogs with his dual-threat playmaking ability and compelling bloggers to bestow him nicknames.

Losses in three of Mississippi State’s final four downgraded Prescott from Heisman shoo-in to out of the picture, and the team went from SEC championship contenders to the familiar role of also-ran.

While it’s unfair to pin the Bulldogs’ Orange Bowl defeat to Georgia Tech on quarterback play, as Dak Prescott put together his most statistically impressive individual performance against the Yellow Jackets, he struggled in Mississippi State’s other two losses.

When Mississippi State and Dak Prescott were both thriving, parallels between Prescott and another quarterback of head coach Dan Mullen’s — Tim Tebow — were drawn. At least, parallels between Prescott and the Florida Gators version of Tim Tebow were drawn.

When Prescott sputtered, he was more easily compared to the NFL version of Tebow.

The comparisons to Tebow are unavoidable: tank-like physiques facilitating powerful rushes and a perfect schematic fit. Of course, there’s as much made about Tebow’s limited passing repertoire as there his status as one of college football’s all-time greats.

That’s worrisome if you’re Mullen, because Tebow’s yards per attempt throughout his Florida career were higher than Prescott’s last season. And, even so, Prescott threw as many interceptions (11) as Tebow threw in his freshman, sophomore and junior campaigns combined.

For Dak Prescott to take his game to another level — and, likewise, elevate Mississippi State to SEC contention — he must make significant strides as a long-ball passer.

That doesn’t mean abandoning the principles of the spread attack that has been so successful for Dan Mullen, both as an offensive coordinator and at times in his head-coaching career. And, indeed, Prescott threw a nice dump pass to running back Ashton Shumpert Saturday under duress that was classic Mullen-offense stuff.

But the Bulldogs senior also has potential to add a needed dimension as a more traditional, pocket passer in 2015.

Prescott’s participation in Mississippi State’s spring game was limited, as is often the case with entrenched No. 1 quarterbacks in spring games. However, in the opportunities Prescott was afforded, he showed flashes of being the dangerous deep threat the Bulldogs need to keep defenses honest.

The SEC’s better defenses took advantage of Prescott’s limitations last season, with Arkansas, Alabama and Ole Miss combining to force six of the quarterback’s 11 interceptions.

Both Arkansas and Ole Miss should be improved defensively in 2015, with each returning a bevy of starting talent. Alabama has question marks in its secondary, but even so, the Tide did last year, as well, and still got to Dak Prescott for three interceptions.

Prescott’s ability to stand tall in the pocket, see coverage and use that strong arm to uncork deep passes will spread opposing defenses. Once the box is unpacked, Dak Prescott can take off and run, which he’s proven to do with tremendous results.

Put those skills together, and Dak Prescott should go from an unofficial October Heisman to the real deal. Likewise, Mississippi State could go from Halloween No. 1 to Thanksgiving No. 1.