Mississippi State demolishes Rice in Liberty Bowl

Bucky Dent, The Sports Xchange

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Dak Prescott's roller-coaster 2013 ended at a high point in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Tuesday.

Accounting for 361 total yards and a game-record five touchdowns, the Mississippi State quarterback led his team to a record-breaking 44-7 rout of Rice.

In earning Most Valuable Player honors, Prescott completed 17 of 28 passes for 283 yards and three scores. He also rushed 14 times for 78 yards and two touchdowns, both in the third quarter, before departing for backup Damian Williams as the fourth quarter started.

It was a perfect ending to a tumultuous season for the sophomore. He lost his mother, Peggy, to cancer in November and battled through a spate of injuries to lead his team to an upset win over archrival Mississippi on Nov. 28 to clinch bowl eligibility.

"It's really been about Mississippi State and this football team just being there for me," Prescott said. "They've made the hardest thing of my life easier, I guess. I can't be thankful enough for what everyone's done for me."

That extended to Tuesday's game. After missing a couple of easy throws while starting 3-for-7, Prescott started zeroing in on wide receiver Jameon Lewis, who couldn't be stopped under any defensive scheme.

The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Lewis grabbed nine passes for a school and Liberty Bowl-record 220 yards, including catches of 17, 28, 35 and 65 yards. Most were short throws on which Lewis made most of the yardage after the catch against a defense that failed to keep containment.

"The game plan was to rely on the run, but the defense wasn't going to allow us to run," Lewis said.

"Rice is a big, physical team," Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said. "We had to put our athletes in a position to make plays. Couldn't be prouder of how we executed after a bit of a slow start."

The Owls (10-4) actually scored first on a 1-yard run by running back Charles Ross with 6:41 left in the first quarter, capping a nine-play, 45-yard drive. However, Rice gained only 66 more yards in the game as Mississippi State's speed in the back end of its defense, plus its heft up front, kept the Owls from establishing their ground game.

Entering the day averaging 240.2 rushing yards, the Conference USA champs managed only 61 yards on 32 attempts. Over the last three quarters, they were restricted to 22 yards on 19 carries.

"This one's on me," Owls coach David Bailiff said. "When we had a chance to make plays, we just couldn't. But we can't let this game define us. We accomplished all our goals this year but winning this game."

Prescott's 10-yard pass to running back LaDarius Perkins with 2:01 remaining in the first period tied the score at 7. Running back Ashton Shumpert's 1-yard plunge with 9:49 left in the first half gave the Bulldogs the lead for good.

Prescott hooked up with tight end Malcolm Johnson on a 13-yard screen pass at the 4:32 mark of the second quarter to make it 20-7. After Lewis lugged a short pass 65 yards to the Rice 5, Prescott flipped a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Artimas Samuel with 10 seconds left in the half for a 27-7 halftime advantage.

It never got any better for the Owls. Prescott found the end zone on runs of 5 and 11 yards in the third quarter, and backup placekicker Taylor Earhart converted a 19-yard field goal with 4:45 left in the game to wrap up the most lopsided contest in the bowl's 55-year history.

"We knew we had to play our best game of the year to win it," Bailiff said. "Obviously, we didn't."

Owls senior quarterback Taylor McHargue completed eight of 15 passes for 84 yards.

Mississippi State outgained Rice 533 yards to 145.

NOTES: Mississippi State S Nickoe Whitley, who leads all active Football Bowl Subdivision players in career interceptions with 15, missed the game due to surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Whitley suffered the injury Sept. 14 at Auburn but played nine games after he was hurt. ... Rice PK Chris Boswell tops all active FBS kickers with 13 field goals of 50 yards or longer. He also led the FBS this year with a 77 percent touchback rate on kickoffs. ... The Bulldogs and Owls met for just the second time. Mississippi State's 28-14 win on Oct. 11, 1975, was later forfeited to Rice.