By Steve Megargee
AP Sports Writer
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Dak Prescott threw three touchdown passes and ran for two more scores and Mississippi State trounced Rice 44-7 on Tuesday in the most one-sided Liberty Bowl victory in the game’s 55-year history.
Mississippi State (7-6) wrapped up its fourth straight winning season and prevented Rice (10-4) from winning bowl games in back-to-back years for the first time. By accounting for five touchdowns, Prescott set a Liberty Bowl record.
After falling behind 7-0, the Bulldogs scored touchdowns on four consecutive possessions.
Mississippi State’s Jameon Lewis caught nine passes for 220 yards to break the Liberty Bowl receiving record held by Houston’s Vincent Marshall, who had 201 yards in a 44-36 loss to South Carolina in 2006. Lewis also set the school single-game record.
Prescott was 17 of 28 for 283 yards and also ran for 78 yards on 14 carries.
Prescott’s performance delighted a partisan crowd of 57,846 and capped a triumphant late-season performance amid personal tragedy for the sophomore quarterback, whose mother, Peggy, died of cancer in November.
Prescott came off the bench in the fourth quarter to lead Mississippi State to a 17-10 overtime victory over Ole Miss that made the Bulldogs bowl eligible. He then delivered arguably the finest performance of his career Tuesday on a day when he knew the offense would be resting on his shoulders.
Although Prescott and senior Tyler Russell had shared quarterback duties throughout the regular season, Prescott had the job to himself in the Liberty Bowl while Russell recovered from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. Prescott responded better than anyone could have reasonably imagined.
Rice took an early lead on Charles Ross’ 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter after the Owls recovered a fumble at the Mississippi State 47. The Bulldogs dominated from that point on.
Mississippi State responded to Rice’s early score by producing touchdowns on each of its next four possessions to grab a 27-7 halftime lead. Prescott threw touchdown passes to LaDarius Perkins, Malcolm Johnson and Artimus Samuel in the first half. Prescott added two touchdown runs in the third quarter.
Rice’s offense simply couldn’t keep up that pace.
The Owls had won the Conference USA title – their first outright league championship of any kind since 1957 – by relying on a rushing attack that was ranked 16th among all Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Rice had shown it could run the ball against SEC competition by rushing for 306 yards on 51 carries in a season-opening 52-31 loss to Texas A&M.
Mississippi State stopped that Rice rushing attack in its tracks.
The Owls gained only 61 yards rushing — 179 below their season average — on 32 carries. Ross, who entered the day having rushed for 1,252 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, was held to 28 yards on 10 carries.
The Liberty Bowl is about a three-hour drive from Mississippi State’s campus, and the proximity created a home-game atmosphere for the Bulldogs. At least 90 percent of the fans appeared to be wearing Mississippi State maroon. The last time Mississippi State played in the Liberty Bowl, a record crowd of 63,816 watched the Bulldogs beat UCF 10-3 in 2007.