Vanderbilt-Mississippi St. Preview
(AP) - Dak Prescott said he was hanging around town earlier this week when a Mississippi State fan stopped him at a convenience store and wished him well in the Heisman Trophy race.
Prescott's response: ''Have you not been paying attention?''
The quarterback's dream season was interrupted by a three-interception performance in last weekend's 25-20 loss at Alabama.
It was an undeniably bad day. That doesn't mean it has to ruin the Bulldogs' championship aspirations.
After all, their national playoff hopes are still in relatively good shape.
No. 4 Mississippi State (9-1, 5-1 SEC) earned the fourth spot in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday night, sliding just three spots from No. 1 after its loss to the Crimson Tide.
Now the Bulldogs are focused on correcting the mistakes that hurt them last Saturday.
''It's kind of like starting the season back over,'' Prescott said. ''We've got something - not necessarily to prove - but to move forward from and get better.''
Mississippi State has two regular-season games remaining. The first is against Vanderbilt (3-7, 0-6) on Saturday at home, where the Bulldogs can finish a perfect season for the first time since 1999.
The finale will be on the road against rival Mississippi in the Egg Bowl. It's a potential top 10 matchup and another chance to impress the College Football Playoff committee.
But winning those two games - especially on the road against the Rebels - will likely take a much better performance than the dud against Alabama.
Especially from Prescott.
His performance wasn't all bad. He completed 27 of 48 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns while also running for a team-high 82 yards.
But the three interceptions trumped all those numbers. All of them came on promising drives that were inside Alabama's 30-yard line.
And the biggest problem for the Bulldogs: Prescott's errant throws are a continuing trend. He's thrown eight interceptions over the past five games and is tied for the SEC lead with 10.
Coach Dan Mullen said he couldn't pick out one particular thing that Prescott is doing wrong on the interceptions.
''They're all so different,'' Mullen said. ''Every one of them is such a different play and different things going on. It's hard to group any of them together.''
Mississippi State's defense - which ranks first in the country in limiting red zone scoring - has made up for many of Prescott's mistakes. But it wasn't able to save the day against the Tide.
''This humbles us,'' defensive end Preston Smith said. ''We've got to keep playing hard. We know if we stop playing hard, somebody can knock us off our high horse if we're feeling highly about ourselves.''
The defense took another hit Friday when the school announced that starting safety Justin Cox has been suspended indefinitely after being arrested on felony aggravated domestic violence and burglary charges.
The Oktibbeha County sheriff's department confirmed that Cox was arrested about 4 a.m. on Friday and later posted $20,000 bail.
Cox, a 6-foot-3, 192-pound senior, has played in nine games this season, starting eight. He's made 21 tackles with two interceptions.
The frustration after a loss is a new feeling for the Bulldogs, who hadn't lost in nearly an entire calendar year.
''We've handled winning very well this season, so we'll see how we handle this adversity at this point," Mullen said. "It's late in the year for that to happen, but we'll see how our guys handle it.''
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason still believes Prescott is one of the nation's elite quarterbacks. The former Stanford defensive coordinator even compared Prescott to ex-Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck.
''The one thing you never see from (Prescott) is frustration, and that's a true sign of a competitor,'' Mason said. ''I never saw Andrew Luck get frustrated. When you see a guy like that, they've got ice water in their veins.''
Vanderbilt is frustrated after turning the ball over four times in its last game, a 34-10 home defeat to Florida on Nov. 8.
The loss snapped the Commodores' streak of three straight bowl games, and their 10-game winning streak in November also ended.
Now, Vanderbilt would like to put an end to Mississippi State's playoff hopes.
"Yeah there is a little incentive in that, but obviously every week in the SEC we play a great opponent," junior tight end Steven Scheu said. "This week is no different. It definitely adds to some of the excitement that we're going into a hostile environment like Starkville. It's really exciting and hopefully we can knock them out and get a win this weekend."
Mississippi State has taken two straight in the series, winning 15-3 in the last matchup in 2009 at Vanderbilt.