September 08, 2016

Mississippi State's first game without star quarterback Dak Prescott was a dud.

The offense stalled, the defense gave up big plays and special teams had crucial errors in a stunning 21-20 home loss to South Alabama. Now coach Dan Mullen is trying to figure out some answers before Mississippi State (0-1) opens Southeastern Conference play against South Carolina (1-0) on Saturday.

''There are issues everywhere that we've got to get fixed,'' Mullen said.

Mississippi State had a productive offense the last two seasons largely thanks to Prescott, who is about to make his first NFL start with the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. Prescott was a perfect fit for Mullen's version of the spread offense - gifted at running and throwing while making quick decisions with the ball.

Now the Bulldogs - who blew a 17-0 halftime lead on Saturday - are trying to run the same offense with quarterbacks Damian Williams and Nick Fitzgerald.

Through one game, the results weren't pretty. The Bulldogs had 382 total yards and scored just three points in the second half against a Conference USA defense.

''If you look at grades, guys actually graded pretty well and did a good job,'' Mullen said. ''Then there would be a glaring critical error at a key moment of the game.''

Williams played most of the game under center and had some success, completing 20 of 28 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown while also running for 93 yards.

But the 6-foot-1, 229-pound junior isn't much of a threat to throw deep down the field. Once South Alabama figured that out, the Jaguars were able to contain the Bulldogs' short passes and running plays.

South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said Mississippi State's offense hasn't changed much, though it was obvious that Prescott's talent is hard to duplicate.

''Schematically, they've been very successful over the years,'' Muschamp said. ''They tailor their system to what their quarterback can do. They're not going to give that quarterback as much as they gave Dak.''

Fitzgerald - who started against South Alabama - has a better arm and would be more likely to give Mississippi State a vertical passing option. But the sophomore missed on his first three passes of the afternoon and was quickly benched.

Mullen didn't give many clues about who would play on Saturday.

''Everybody competes every single week for us,'' Mullen said. ''We'll see how everybody does in practice this week.''

Mississippi State's defense and special teams could use some improvement as well. The Bulldogs are young in the secondary and gave up several big plays in the second half. South Alabama quarterback Dallas Davis - a sophomore making his first career start - threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns.

Mississippi State kicker Westin Graves made a career-long 48-yard field goal in the game, but also missed a 28-yarder in the final seconds that would have given the Bulldogs the win. It bounced off the left upright.

''It's the consistency of performance,'' Mullen said. ''Not `Can we do it?' We can do it, because we've shown that we can do it. We have to do it every single snap of the game and have a consistent performance.''

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AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this story.

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP . AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org .

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