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STARKVILLE, Miss. – Vanderbilt's rough season looked like it had turned the corner over the past few weeks with slightly more competitive games against Southeastern Conference competition.
The Commodores took a step backward on Saturday night.
No. 4 Mississippi State cruised to a 51-0 victory over Vanderbilt at Davis Wade Stadium, jumping out to a 37-0 lead by halftime. It was the Bulldogs' most lopsided victory over an SEC opponent since 1936.
"We were abysmal in the first half, but I don't feel like I've lost the team," Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. "There are no 21-point plays for when you get behind like we did."
Mississippi State's Dak Prescott threw three touchdown passes and ran for another to help the Bulldogs bounce back from last week's loss to Alabama.
"We cleaned up a lot from last week and made some plays," Prescott said. "We won 51-0. If you don't think we controlled that game, then I don't know what you're looking for."
This one was decided well before halftime. Prescott threw touchdown passes of 9, 27 and 14 yards and Christian Holmes ripped the ball out of Vanderbilt receiver Latevius Rayford's hands before returning it 51 yards for a touchdown as the Bulldogs built a 37-0 lead by the break.
Mississippi State (10-1, 6-1 SEC) slowed down in the second half, scoring two touchdowns. Coach Dan Mullen said he had no inclination to run up the score despite the program's precarious position in the CFP rankings.
"That's not the game of football," Mullen said. "That's not what it's about. It disrespects the game a little bit if you do that."
Vanderbilt (3-8, 0-7) had three turnovers in the first half. The Commodores finished with just 228 total yards, including 49 on the ground.
Prescott completed 16 of 21 passes for 193 yards to rebound from one of the worst outings of his career last weekend, when he threw three interceptions in a 25-20 loss to Alabama. That loss dropped Mississippi State from the No. 1 spot in the CFP rankings to its current spot at No. 4.
Now the Bulldogs hope to stay there.
"What we want is still ahead of us," Mississippi State receiver Joe Morrow said. "We've just got to work, work, work."
They looked like one of the nation's elite teams against Vanderbilt, but still don't control their destiny in the SEC's Western Division. Mississippi State has to beat rival Mississippi next weekend — and Auburn must upset Alabama — for the Bulldogs to advance to Atlanta for the league championship game.
It was another rough game for the Commodores, who have lost all seven of their SEC games by double digits.
After looking a little more competitive in recent outings, this one was a disaster from the start. The Commodores used three different quarterbacks — Johnny McCrary, Patton Robinette and Stephen Rivers — to try to generate some offense, but McCrary and Robinette both threw an interception in the first half as Vanderbilt quickly fell into a gigantic hole.
McCrary completed 15 of 31 passes for 161 yards.
"We lost our cool," Mason said. "We should have played with purpose. We didn't play with poise."
Every time the Commodores made a mistake, Mississippi State capitalized. The Bulldogs scored after all three of Vanderbilt's turnovers and needed to punt only once in the first half.
MSU's Josh Robinson ran for 63 yards on seven carries — all in the first half. Morrow caught five passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns. Eleven Mississippi State receivers caught at least one pass.
Prescott's four total touchdowns led the Bulldogs, but maybe more important is that the 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior didn't turn the ball over. He had thrown eight interceptions over the previous five games.
"I thought he played well," Mullen said. "He was throwing it well, making good decisions."
Mississippi State finished undefeated at Davis Wade Stadium for the first time since 1999 and reached 10 wins in the regular season for the first time in program history.
Vanderbilt hasn't beaten a top 10 team since topping No. 6 South Carolina in 2007.
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