By Logan Lowery
MEMPHIS – Things could not have gone much better for Mississippi State during Tuesday afternoon’s AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
The Bulldogs (7-6) routed Conference USA champion Rice 44-7, setting six bowl records in the process while finishing with their fourth straight winning season in front of a maroon-dominated crowd of 57,846. It was the most one-sided game in Liberty Bowl history.
Sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott, named the game’s most valuable player, was responsible for five touchdowns – three passing and two rushing and 361 total yards.
“I’m so proud of this team,” said MSU coach Dan Mullen. “Coming into the year, a lot of people didn’t pick us to go to a bowl or have a winning record. Our young, impressionable group didn’t listen to any of that. They stuck together, battled and fought through unbelievable injuries and adversity throughout the year. We played the third hardest schedule in all of college football and to do that and finish with our fourth straight winning season and fourth straight bowl game is very special.”
MSU completed its best offensive season in school history by rolling up 533 yards of offense. The Bulldogs had a balanced attack of 294 yards through the air and 239 yards rushing.
Prescott completed on 17 of 28 passes for 283 yards and no interceptions while also pacing State’s ground game with 78 yards on 14 attempts. His five touchdowns were a Liberty Bowl record.<b>
Prescott tossed touchdowns to LaDarius Perkins (10 yards), Malcolm Johnson (13 yards) and Artimas Samuel (4 yards)
“It was all about the game plan and my teammates,” Prescott said. “I guess I was the one that scored the touchdowns but it was really a team record. On the two rushing touchdowns, I pretty much walked into the end zone after the offensive line did a great job blocking. On the three passing TDs, Jameon (Lewis) did the work putting the ball down there and I had to make one more throw to get it into the end zone.”
Lewis set both bowl and school records in the contest with nine catches for 220 yards. That set a Mississippi State single-game record, bowl game or otherwise. The junior wideout had six catches for 181 yards in the first half alone.
Lead doesn’t last
Rice (10-4) capitalized on a Bulldog turnover to begin the game. Phillip Gaines jumped on a Robert Johnson fumble at midfield setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by Charles Ross six plays later.
It would be the lone Owl score of the game as the Owls were limited to just 145 yards of total offense and just 61 on the ground, 179 below its average.
“We knew coming into this game that we were going to have to play our best to win it,” said Rice coach David Bailiff. “Obviously, we didn’t. My hat’s off to Coach Mullen and the job his staff did with his football team. They did a fabulous job getting their team ready to play. This one falls on me. We were not ready to play.”