In a game that featured 1,110 yards of offense and 101 points scored, Arkansas and Mississippi State’s epic matchup needs to be recognized as one of the best SEC games this season.
Part of what made this game so spectacular was that it was the two quarterbacks who were controlling the offenses and the outcome. Razorbacks signal caller Brandon Allen threw for a school-record seven touchdown and no interceptions to go along with his 406 yards passing. On top of breaking multiple Arkansas school records, Allen became the first SEC quarterback ever to throw for six or more touchdowns in two games in a single season.
Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott compiled his own accolades. His 508 yards passing surpassed his previous career-best, 453-yard performance in the Orange Bowl last year. Prescott also scored seven touchdowns with five of them through the air and two of them on the ground. After the game, Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen — who has coached both a Heisman winner and a No. 1 overall pick in Tim Tebow and Alex Smith — said Prescott, “might be the best player I’ve ever coached.”
Mark Schofield from Inside the Pylon writes a film series called “On Two” where he takes two plays from a player’s game tape and analyzes them in-depth. I thought that would be a good way to try and highlight just how good both Allen and Prescott were last Saturday. But, because their performances require an extra look — and to respect Mark’s creativity — let’s call this little session “Three and Out” and look at three different plays from each quarterback.
Three and Out: Brandon Allen
It’s not always the touchdown throws that mean the most, and I’m going to try to show that in some of these examples. Here we saw a great reason why Arkansas was 8-for-14 on third down: Allen’s ability to stay confident with pressure in his face.
The above play is on third-and-6. Not only did Allen step up in the pocket after his drop back, but he stepped into contact knowing it was the only chance he had at generating the power he needed to get that ball in front of his receiver. Allen’s awareness to keep his feet light while moving up and down the pocket allowed him to avoid pressure he couldn’t even see and make throws like the one above.
Our second play highlights how effective — or more accurately, deceptive — Allen was on play action. Allen had multiple touchdown throws off play action on Saturday and his knowledge of play-fake situations allowed him to utilize running back Alex Collins’ talent without Collins even touching the ball.
Collins is having a good year running the ball, and opposing defenses know Arkansas’ offensive line makes its fame on being bigger and stronger than their attacking defensive line. When it comes to a situation like the video above, second-and-goal with added blockers heightens the defense’s prediction of a handoff. When Allen can sell the fake as well as he did, he freezes the linebackers for long enough to open the throwing window. He made the Bulldogs pay for biting on the play action many times in that game.
My final examination from Allen is my favorite, and an aspect of his game I truly appreciate. The video above is just one of many examples we watched during that game of Allen not being afraid to attack the field over the middle. Often we’ll see quarterbacks (especially in the red zone) tense up and be tentative with their throws. They’ll target a route near the sideline or back of the end zone that, if misjudged or errant in accuracy, have a better chance of going out of bounds instead of a turnover. It’s a smart but conservative style that has a greater possibility of leaving points on the field.
Allen, however, knew he had one of the best receiving tight ends in all of college football running in space. Allen dropped back perfectly into his stance, generated power off his back foot and fit his pass into a window barely bigger than the football itself, and kept it away from two defenders. That throw took guts, and a mentality like that which made Allen a record breaker last Saturday.
Three and Out: Dak Prescott
Prescott has been labeled by some as a Tim Tebow type of quarterback: a powerful, run-first guy who makes passes when he must thanks to a well-executed scheme that gets guys wide open. That’s not completely false, but it is more insulting to Prescott than he deserves.
Football is all about taking your big-play shot when it comes. Players never know when that’s going to be, so when they see it, they have to act within the blink of an eye. That’s what happened on the play above. It being second-and-9 on the edge of their own side of the field called for a play like this, but it took a well placed throw to make it work. Prescott isn’t always as reliable as he needs to be to show he’s a dependable NFL prospect, but here we saw he can still make it happen at the college ranks as he dropped a dime in between three defenders. Taking your shot is important. Connecting on that shot is what makes good players great.
You can’t have a Prescott breakdown without gushing over his arm strength. Prescott’s ability to turn his arm into a football cannon has a tendency to get him in trouble at times. But, in some instances, it can make him look like a pro.
In this play we saw Prescott play from the shot gun with no play action or read-option threat. It was a situation where he was going to have to beat the defense as a passer. He did, and when Prescott is on as a passer — much like when LSU’s Brandon harris was able to best Florida — he becomes very tough to stop.
I’m sure some of you figured my last point would highlight one of his touchdown runs, but it doesn’t. It does, however, feature that threat.
When Mississippi State is in the red zone, it forces the defense to be sound in its discipline. The entire reason this play worked was because as Prescott keeps the ball and rolls right, both the linebacker and the strong safety move in the direction he’s going.
The linebacker and safety each have two responsibilities on this play. If Prescott keeps the ball and runs, they both go up to tackle. But if there’s a receiver in the area, they act as if they’re playing zone; the linebacker takes the zone up close and the safety takes the zone behind him. So if the receiver stays near the line of scrimmage, the linebacker picks him up and the safety drops back to give help in the end zone. But, if the receiver runs down field towards the goal line, the safety picks him up and the linebacker goes after Prescott.
Keep all that in mind and watch how Prescott used his threat to run to bait both of those players away from where he’s going to throw. The slight roll to his right and slight glance at the running back moving that way froze both players. That subtle freeze put the safety in no-man’s land and took him out of coverage for where the ball eventually went. With top athletes all over the field in the SEC, deception is a necessary tool for quarterbacks.
To be fair, these weren’t elite defenses Prescott and Allen were stuffing the stat sheets against, but we still have to tip our cap to two incredible performances and remember this game as one for the record books.