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Freshman QB carries Miss State to 31-27 victory

Bulldogs force 5 Louisville turnovers in 73rd annual TaxSlayer Bowl

Keytaon Thompson of the Mississippi State Bulldogs reacts after rushing for a 14-yard touchdown in the first quarter of the TaxSlayer Bowl against the Louisville Cardinals at EverBank Field.
Keytaon Thompson of the Mississippi State Bulldogs reacts after rushing for a 14-yard touchdown in the first quarter of the TaxSlayer Bowl against the Louisville Cardinals at EverBank Field.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Before the TaxSlayer Bowl, Keytaon Thompson was a relatively unfamiliar name outside of Stark Vegas. On Saturday the freshman quarterback ran for 147 yards and three touchdowns to help No. 24 Mississippi State beat Louisville and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson 31-27.

Thompson and Jackson provided many of the highlights, and some lowlights.

Thompson, who made his first start in place of injured quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, scored twice in the fourth quarter, including a 1-yard plunge with 3:39 remaining that put the Bulldogs (9-4) ahead for good.

“Today we talked about going out there and playing all four quarters and it took four quarters to win that ballgame,” said Bulldogs interim head coach Greg Knox. “We talked about playing to our identity. Playing fast, physical and tough. I thought we did that as a team.”

Jackson had the Cardinals (8-5) on the move late, but safety Mark McLaurin intercepted his third pass of the game. After a failed fourth-down conversation, Jackson got a final chance in the waning seconds, but his final desperation pass was batted away in the end zone.

“We were right there in the ball game and had our chances to win it,” said Cardinals head coach Bobby Petrino. “It was a hard fought game and we just didn’t come out on top.”

Jackson completed 13 of 31 passes for 171 yards, with two touchdowns and four interceptions. He threw just six picks in the regular season.

IMAGES: Fans enjoying 73rd annual TaxSlayer Bowl

He ran 24 times for 158 yards and a touchdown, breaking the TaxSlayer Bowl record for most rushing yards by a quarterback. West Virginia's Pat White set the previous mark with 145 yards in 2007.

Jackson also was sacked six times.

He had the longest run of his career, a 75-yarder late in the second quarter, and a 13-yard TD scamper earlier in the game in which he split two defenders and made another look silly.
But his poor throws overshadowed his ankle-breaking runs.

And he probably ended his college career with a loss. Jackson has yet to declare for the NFL draft, but most outsiders believe the dynamic junior will turn pro.

"I've got to sit down with my coach and my family," said Jackson when asked was this his final game in a Cardinals uniform.

If so, he went out setting more records. Jackson became the third player in Football Bowl Subdivision history with at least 50 touchdown passes and 50 touchdown runs, joining Florida's Tim Tebow and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick.

He also broke his record for rushing yards and yards from scrimmage in a season.

Thompson completed 11 of 20 passes for 127 yards. He ran 27 times, a clear part of interim coach Greg Knox's game plan for the inexperienced starter.

"We knew that's what he did best," said Knox. "When we first started him, I gave him a game plan sheet. I had him mark the plays he felt comfortable with. He marked about 60 plays, then we narrowed it down from there as we went through the practice sessions. We knew going into the game he had to run the football."

It was the fourth time this season in the Football Bowl Subdivision that both starting quarterbacks topped 100 yards rushing.