NCF Nation: liberty bowl 2013

Instant Analysis: Miss. State 44, Rice 7

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
7:13
PM ET


Mississippi State's bowl hopes were hanging by a thread in late November, but the Bulldogs closed the regular season with a pair of overtime wins to earn their fourth straight bowl appearance and made good on that postseason trip with a resounding 44-7 victory Tuesday over Conference USA champion Rice in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Here's a quick recap:

It was over when: After losing a fumble and falling behind 7-0 early, Mississippi State reeled off 44 unanswered points to win going away over a Rice team that was manhandled at the line of scrimmage. The Bulldogs were dominant in every phase and racked up 454 total yards to the Owls' 130 total yards by the end of the third quarter.

Game ball: Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, coming off his clutch performance in the win over Ole Miss, was nothing short of brilliant. Looking healthy and in total command, Prescott passed for 283 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 78 yards and two touchdowns -- all in just three quarters. He'll head into the 2014 season as one of the SEC's marquee quarterbacks and primed for a huge year.

Turning point: On a third-and-9 play, Prescott connected with Jameon Lewis for 35 yards down to the Rice 2-yard line, setting up Ashton Shumpert's 1-yard touchdown run to put Mississippi State ahead to stay at 14-7 with 9:49 to play in the second quarter.

Unsung hero: Lewis was a nightmare for the Rice secondary. The Bulldogs' speedy receiver hauled in nine catches for a school-record 220 yards. He had six catches for 181 yards in the first half, including a 65-yard catch and run in the final seconds of the half to set up a late touchdown that all but sealed the game, staking Mississippi State to a 27-7 lead.

Stat of the game: Mississippi State held Rice, ranked 16th nationally in rushing offense, to 61 rushing yards. The Owls' leading rusher, Charles Ross, was limited to 28 yards on 10 carries. Ross came into the game with 1,252 rushing yards.

What it means: Mississippi State carved out its fourth straight winning season, the first time that has happened in Starkville since Jackie Sherrill guided the Bulldogs to four straight winning seasons from 1997 to 2000. It was Dan Mullen's third bowl victory at Mississippi State, which is the most in school history.

To watch the trophy presentation, click here.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl preview

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
11:00
AM ET
Rice (10-3, 7-1 Conference USA) and Mississippi State (6-6, 3-5 SEC) square off on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET (ESPN) in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn. Here's a quick preview:

Who to watch: In what has been the “Year of the Quarterback” in the SEC, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott established himself as one of the more productive multi-purpose quarterbacks in the league. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound sophomore took over as the Bulldogs’ starter after Tyler Russell suffered a concussion in the opener. He’s a bruising runner with a big right arm and proved to be as resilient as he was athletic. Prescott came off the bench in the fourth quarter against Ole Miss and played through a painful nerve injury in his left elbow to lead the Bulldogs to a 17-10 overtime victory that locked up their fourth straight bowl appearance. A few weeks earlier, he came back and played valiantly in a tough loss to Texas A&M less than a week after his mother, Peggy, lost her battle with cancer. Prescott should be as healthy as he has been for the bowl game. In SEC games only this season, he ranked fourth in total offense with an average of 269.3 yards per game, finishing ahead of the likes of AJ McCarron, Zach Mettenberger, Nick Marshall and Connor Shaw.

What to watch: Rice senior running back Charles Ross has rushed for 1,252 yards and scored 15 touchdowns this season, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. The Owls are one of the better rushing teams in the country. They’re averaging 240.2 yards per game on the ground and ranked 16th nationally. Even though Mississippi State ranked in the middle of the pack in the SEC in terms of rushing defense, the Bulldogs were outstanding defensively down the stretch. They held their previous three opponents to 20 or fewer points, including Alabama, which was a season low for the Crimson Tide. They also held Auburn to a season-low 120 rushing yards back in September. The Bulldogs are built to stop the run, which will be a must if they’re going to leave Memphis victorious.

Why to watch: Rice coach David Bailiff, in his seventh season, has the Owls on the brink of history. They’re coming off a Conference USA championship, their first outright conference championship since winning the Southwest Conference title in 1957, and can win 11 games for the first time in school history with a victory over Mississippi State in the bowl game. This is only Rice’s third bowl appearance since 1954, so Bailiff clearly has this program headed in the right direction. Mississippi State and Dan Mullen also have a chance to do something that has been done only one other time in Starkville in the past 50 seasons, and that’s record a fourth straight winning season. Jackie Sherrill led the Bulldogs to four straight winning seasons from 1997-2000.

Prediction: Mississippi State 28, Rice 24. The Owls are a senior-dominated team and brought back all but two starters from last season’s team. They’ll be ready to go and are playing with a lot of confidence after winning nine of their past 10 games. The key for Mississippi State is having a healthy Prescott. He puts a ton of pressure on a defense with his ability to run and pass, and the Bulldogs are good enough up front defensively to force the Owls out of their comfort zone.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
10:20
PM ET

Rice Owls (10-3) vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (6-6)

Dec. 31, 4 p.m. ET, Memphis, Tenn. (ESPN)


RICE OWLS BREAKDOWN
It has been a historic year for the Owls, who captured their first outright conference championship since 1957 by beating Marshall in the Conference USA championship game.

[+] EnlargeCharles Ross
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsCharles Ross (1,252 yards and 14 TDs) leads the way for Rice's potent rushing attack.
This is a program on the uptick. They've won 17 games in the past two seasons, accomplishing the feat for only the second time in their history. (The first came in 1953-54.)

The Owls are an experienced, senior-laden group on both sides of the ball, having brought back all but two starters on each side.

Quarterback Taylor McHargue, a fifth-year senior, is a productive and steady signal-caller.

And Rice is one of the nation's better rushing teams, averaging 240.15 yards per game on the ground, good for 16th nationally with senior Charles Ross (201 carries, 1,252 yards and 14 TDs) leading the way. -- Sam Khan Jr.

vs.

MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS BREAKDOWN
For the first time, Mississippi State is headed to a bowl game for a fourth straight season, but it was far from easy.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsDak Prescott returned to action against Ole Miss and should be even healthier for the bowl game.
The Bulldogs punched their postseason ticket in dramatic fashion by beating in-state rival Ole Miss 17-10 in overtime. In fact, each of the Bulldogs' last two wins came in overtime. They also needed an extra period to beat Arkansas 24-17 on the road the next-to-last week of the regular season.

Mississippi State showed its mettle down the stretch despite injuries to quarterbacks Dak Prescott and Tyler Russell. Prescott, who had a nerve problem in his non-throwing arm, came off the bench in the fourth quarter to engineer the win over Ole Miss and should be much healthier for the bowl game. He leads the team in both passing (1,657 yards) and rushing (751 yards) and has accounted for 18 touchdowns in 10 games.

Defensively, Mississippi State also played its best football when its season was on the line. In their last three games, the Bulldogs allowed a total of four touchdowns on defense and held Alabama to a season-low 20 points. Tackle Chris Jones is one of the most talented freshman defenders in the country. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Jones leads the team with seven tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hurries.

All six of Mississippi State's losses this season came to teams ranked in the top 25 of the current BCS standings. A win in the bowl game would assure Dan Mullen's Bulldogs of their fourth consecutive winning season, something that hasn't happened in Starkville since 1997-2000, when Jackie Sherrill was the coach. -- Chris Low

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