- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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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.
7hGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough