December 13, 2013 11:14:49 AM
STARKVILLE -- After all the concerns about injuries, especially at quarterback, Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen joked Thursday that Dak Prescott is "healthy today," but he continues to worry about him doing anything for the rest of the month.
"We've got some time, a lot of practice between now and (the Liberty Bowl) and with how this year has gone ...we've got to watch him walking to class taking final exams with all those curbs around campus," Mullen said.
After the exams, MSU (6-6) will turn its focus to its final game of the season, a showdown against Conference USA champion Rice (10-3) in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 31, (ESPN) in Memphis, Tenn.
In what Mullen called "divine intervention" in the postgame interviews, MSU's sophomore quarterback etched his name into the history and lore of the most important game in the Magnolia State. Prescott went from medically unable to play to rescuing the Bulldogs and becoming the hero for a majority of the 55,113 fans in attendance at Davis Wade Stadium Starkville.
"I didn't think there was any chance that he would be able to play," Mullen said after the game. "It was a miracle. I don't know what else to call it."
Trailing 10-7 with more than 11 minutes left in MSU's season, Mullen turned to Prescott to rally the team. In the postgame media conference, Mullen broke into tears when thinking about where Prescott's performance came from mentally and emotionally.
"It was a heroic effort," Mullen said. "He's as tough as they come in this world. When your quarterback looks you in the eye and says, 'Give me the ball and we're going to score', that's a pretty easy decision on my part."
Prescott engineered a fourth-quarter comeback that helped MSU beat Ole Miss 17-10 in overtime victory against Ole Miss. His 3-yard plunge on a classic draw play on fourth down provided the final margin. Prescott, who sat out the previous two games with severe nerve damage to his left shoulder, finished with 144 yards in the final 11 minutes and overtime. He was 11 of 20 for 115 yards and the game-winning touchdown run.
"It has been plenty of downs and plenty of ups for me lately, and this is certainly one of the best feelings I've ever had," Prescott said. "It was a awesome atmosphere, and our team wanted to keep fighting all night. Sometimes you have to just keep fighting."
MSU's victory in the Battle for the Golden Egg is the only MSU game Rice coach David Bailiff said he has extensively watched, but he said Thursday he was impressed with the gutsy effort of Prescott.
"It was an incredible football game to see Dak step onto the field and the enthusiasm that happened on that sideline." Bailiff said.
Bailiff, who was named Conference USA Coach of the Year, said his program had reached its season goals by winning its first C-USA title and qualifying for the Liberty Bowl.
"There's great chemistry at Rice because our number one goal was to get to the Liberty Bowl," Bailiff said. "Our second goal was we wanted to lead the world in chest bumps and high fives."
Rice has won 15 of its last 18 games. It has 23 seniors, including 19 fifth-year players. Bailiff seemed to bristle at the idea of facing a Southeastern Conference school in the Liberty Bowl on New Year's Eve.
"I think we're a lot more athletic than people realize, and so much of it is because of our senior leadership with young men that have invested four or five years into this program," Bailiff said.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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