December 31, 2013 10:24:55 PM
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Preston Smith received great news at the beginning and end of the day.
Early Tuesday, the Mississippi State redshirt freshman defensive end was on the phone with the mother of his first-born daughter.
Later in the day, Smith celebrated the emotional high of his personal news with a performance that earned him MSU's defensive MVP trophy following a 44-7 victory against Rice in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
"This day will always mean a lot to me because of what I went through in a 24-hour period and, it's all good," Smith said. "I started on the phone with (the mother of his child) hearing my child in the background and have a lot to be thankful for."
Smith had six tackles about 12 hours following the birth of Lauren Marie Smith, who he hoped to see as soon as possible.
In a season MSU was last in the Southeastern Conference in sacks (16), the Bulldogs (7-6) blitzed their front seven without suffering many consequences. Rice (10-4) marched down the field on each of its first two drives and scored the first touchdown of the game. But the Owls had 63 yards, including 22 rushing, in the final three quarters.
"We just got back to playing Mississippi State defense," Smith said. "We hadn't been hitting anybody in a long time. I think it woke us up, but we got back into our routine of playing in our gaps."
Evans fails to make the trip; Arrington ruled inactive, will seek medical redshirt
MSU officials announced Tuesday sophomore defensive lineman Quay Evans was ineligible for the AutoZone Liberty Bowl for an unspecified reason.
Evans, a former four-star prospect from Morton, wasn't involved in the team's bowl preparations in Starkville or at Rhodes College once the squad arrived in Memphis.
MSU coach Dan Mullen also said injured safety Dee Arrington, who played in three games this season, likely will try to seek a medical redshirt with the NCAA Eligibility Center this spring. Arrington is expected to compete for time at safety with the graduation of Nickoe Whitley and the adjustment period of East Mississippi Community College transfer Justin Cox.
"He has never redshirted since he's been here," Mullen said, "so we'll try to get in him a medical redshirt this year. As our trainer said, he's getting better to be able to do drills and stuff like that, but he's still not cleared to play in a game."
Rice coach blames himself for Owls "being unprepared"
Rice coach David Bailiff said all week his team would have to play its best game to win and after reflecting on the blowout loss, two words came to mind.
"We didn't," Bailiff said.
The Owls defense, which led Conference USA in nearly every statistical category, allowed the Bulldogs to convert 8 of 12 third downs, which tired an already undersized defense.
"We would get them in third-and-long situations and then Dak (Prescott) would scramble and then yard ball was created," said Bailiff, whose team won the Conference USA championship. "When yard ball was created, we didn't keep our fundamentals.
"We were dreaming big all year but this one falls completely on me for not having this team ready to play in a bowl game. Bowl games are normally about who's happy to be here and who is ready to play. Being unprepared like we were is unacceptable."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.