NCAA Game Summary - UCF vs. Mississippi State|
(Saturday, December 29th)
Final Score: Mississippi State 10, UCF 3
Memphis, TN (Sports Network) - Anthony Dixon plunged into the end zone from
one yard out with 1:54 left, and Mississippi State held on to edge Central
Florida, 10-3, in the Liberty Bowl, for the Bulldogs' first bowl win since
Dixon gained 86 yards on 24 carries for the Bulldogs (8-5), who finished their
season by winning four of five after a 4-4 start, winning the first bowl for
Mississippi State since a 43-41 win over Texas A&M in the 2000 Independence
Bowl, and perhaps saving head coach Sylvester Croom's job. The Bulldogs had
gone 9-25 in Croom's first three seasons on the job.
Wesley Carroll completed 8-of-18 passes for 39 yards with one interception to
lead an ineffective Bulldogs air attack.
"I've said quite often, we don't need style points. We just find a way to win.
I think that's part of what has helped us evolve toward being a championship
program. I think that's a step you have to take is just learning how to win. I
think we've done that. We found a way to get it done," said Croom.
Kevin Smith, the nation's leading rusher and scorer, gained 119 yards, but it
took him 35 carries. He finished the season with 2,567 yards on the ground,
falling 61 yards shy of Barry Sanders' single-season rushing record, which he
set at Oklahoma State in 1988. Kyle Israel was picked off three times for the
Knights (10-3), completing 10-of-24 passes for 88 yards.
UCF saw it's seven-game win streak come to an end, and failed again in it's
quest for a bowl win. The Knights have dropped both bowl games they have
A Keith Fitzhugh interception of Israel gave the Bulldogs the ball at their
41-yard-line with 5:47 left, and the Mississippi State offense finally broke
through for seven. Carroll had consecutive runs of nine yards each, and a Tony
Burks end around went for 14 yards, putting the Bulldogs at the UCF three-
Dixon followed that with a two-yard run, and a one-yard plunge over the top
and into the end zone to break up the 3-3 tie with 1:54 left.
The Knights couldn't get a first down on their next drive, and Dixon and the
Bulldogs made sure it was UCF's last possession as they ran the remaining 1:51
off to clinch their first bowl win in seven years.
The Mississippi State front seven kept Smith contained early, but the junior
running back broke through for a 14-yard gain early in the second quarter that
put the Knights at the Bulldogs 36-yard-line. He followed that with a five-
yard gain, but the Mississippi State defense stiffened, and UCF settled for a
45-yard field goal by Michael Torres with 11:49 remaining.
An Israel interception set up the first Bulldogs score. On a 3rd-and-11 from
the UCF 19-yard-line, Israel tried to go deep over the middle, but Derek
Pegues read the quarterback's eyes and stepped in front of the receiver for
the pick. Pegues found a wall of blockers down the sideline, and his 40-yard
return gave the Bulldogs the ball at the UCF six.
The Mississippi State offense couldn't punch it in, though, and settled for a
22-yard field goal by Adam Carlson, tying the game at 3-3 with 6:02 left in
Smith and the UCF offense finally mounted a decent drive late in the third
quarter, moving 57 yards on 14 plays. The Bulldogs defense stuffed UCF at the
15, though, and Torres pushed his 32-yard field goal try badly to the right.
The Knights were able to grind out another drive when they got the ball back,
but again Torres came up short. This time the kicker hooked his 37-yard try to
the left, and the Bulldogs defense survived again.
"I think those missed field goals were big momentum breakers," said UCF head
coach George O'Leary. "Give Mississippi State credit; they fought hard and
didn't turn the ball over. That usually means you're going to come up with a
close win like that. Again, it's a disappointing loss."
The six combined points made it the lowest scoring first half in the history
of the Liberty Bowl...UCF's only other bowl appearance was a 49-48 overtime
loss to Nevada in the 2005 Hawaii Bowl...Mississippi State and UCF have met
once before, a 35-28 Bulldogs win in 1997...UCF head coach O'Leary and
Mississippi State head coach Croom spent two seasons together on the San Diego
Chargers coaching staff in the early 1990s.
12/30 00:35:13 ET