By Zach Walker
Rice Owls vs Mississippi State Bulldogs
Tuesday – December 31 – 3:00 PM
Liberty Bowl – Memphis
How did they get here?
The expression ‘by the skin of their teeth’ was seemingly coined with the Mississippi State Bulldogs. After beating Kentucky, the Bulldogs lost three straight to South Carolina, Texas A&M, and Alabama, then went to overtime against Arkansas and won, only to have deja vu strike the next game against Ole Miss, and like before, the Bulldogs won in overtime to become bowl eligible. The Rice Owls earned their first Conference USA title, beating the electric Marshall Thundering Herd 41-24, but before that, if not for a loss to North Texas, the Owls would have won nine straight regular season games, but 10 wins and a conference title isn’t something to shrug off.
How can they win?
The Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott is a major dual threat, and has played some bonsai football at times. After being held in check against South Carolina, he played like a man possessed, throwing for 150 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed the ball 16 times for 154 yards against Texas A&M. He leads the Bulldogs in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns (751/11). The Bulldogs on defense, intercepted the ball 14 times this season, safety Nickoe Whitley had five this season, but the pick of the year was made by Justin Cox, who made a full spread pick, then managed to get the one foot down, this team know how to pluck the low hanging fruit of ill-advised throws and off passes.
Well, if you are a believer in the supremacy of the SEC, then to you the Owls should just save the Earth’s the resources required to make the trip, and just mail the victory to Mississippi State. But 10 wins isn’t a push over, and a conference title is a great achievement for a team. Quarterback Taylor McHargue has to be better than he has been with the football. He must be more accurate and more poised, because a 52 percent completion rate isn’t going to win a bowl game. The Owls are going to have ride running back Charles Ross to a victory, the Owls averaged 240 yards per game, and Ross was ranked 16th nationally, and with 1252 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns, the Owls need to get him going early in the game. McHargue needs to get the ball to, well Ross but also to Jordan Taylor, a 6’5″ target who finished the season with 846 yards and eight touchdowns. The Owls need to get after Dak Prescott, because his accuracy isn’t pinpoint either, throwing as many interceptions as touchdowns.
Prediction: Lots of running, maybe a turnover party, but should be a good game. Mississippi State 20 – Rice 24.