Mississippi State not only advanced to its fourth straight bowl game but also won its third under head coach Dan Mullen, which is a school record.
The Bulldogs also set several Liberty Bowl and single-game and bowl school records including largest margin of victory (37), touchdowns scores (six), receiving yards (Jameon Lewis, 220), touchdowns responsible for (Dak Prescott, five), touchdown passes (Prescott, three).
MSU’s offense capped off its best statistical season in school history with 533 yards with most of its starters on the bench by the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs defense limited Rice to just 145 yards of total offense and just 61 on the ground, 179 below its rushing average.
Junior wide receiver Robert Johnson fumbled on State’s opening drive of the game after making a first down catch. That turnover set up the Owls lone score of the game.
Redshirt freshman kicker Evan Sobiesk had one of his extra points blocked.
Keys to Victory
(Reviewing the scouting report from our GameDay preview)
1. Fast start
The Bulldogs fumbled on their opening possession allowing Rice to capitalize and get on the scoreboard first. However, MSU responded with 44 unanswered points, including a 27-7 lead by halftime.
2. Continue momentum
Although the Bulldogs appeared in a more prestigious bowl a year ago, the momentum leading into the contest was much different.
In 2012, MSU had lost four of its previous five games going into the Gator Bowl and fell 34-20 to Northwestern. This year the Bulldogs won two must-win games in overtime to close out the regular season just reach the postseason and culminated in a dominating 44-7 victory over Rice in the Liberty Bowl.
3. Grow up
Rice’s roster featured 10 more seniors than State’s including six more senior starters than the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State was the eighth youngest team in the country with just 13 total seniors but was able to overcome the experience gap with a dominating performance.
WR Jameon Lewis. Although Prescott was picked as the game’s Most Valuable Player, Lewis broke the school’s single-game receiving record which had stood since 1970.
Lewis hauled in nine passes for 220 yards against Rice and has caught 13 balls for 333 yards in two career games at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
It was a rocky season for the Bulldogs, filled with numerous injuries at key positions and facing the nation’s fifth-toughest schedule. Credit Mullen and his staff for keeping the team together and finding a way to chalk up its fourth consecutive bowl game and fourth straight winning season.
With a bulk of its roster returning and a favorable schedule in 2014, the future of the program seems bright.