MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -Kevin Smith couldn't catch Barry Sanders. There were too many Mississippi State Bulldogs in the way.
Central Florida's All-American was limited to 119 yards on 35 carries, leaving him 61 yards shy of Sanders' single-season rushing record Saturday in a bruising 10-3 loss to Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl.
The Conference USA champion Knights were hoping to make a statement against their Southeastern Conference foes. The Bulldogs wouldn't let that happen and wouldn't let Smith break loose.
``I think I speak for everybody on our team that this leaves a very sour taste in our mouth,'' Smith said.
Mississippi State held Smith to his second lowest rushing output of the season and kept him out of the end zone for just the second time. He came into the game averaging 188.3 yards and 13.9 points per game.
Both led the nation, but the Bulldogs coaching staff thought they found what they needed to slow him down while watching game film of Central Florida's 64-12 loss to South Florida in October. The Bulls held Smith to 55 yards and kept him out of the end zone for the first time this season.
Like the Bulls, the Bulldogs were disciplined against Smith, filling gaps and rarely allowing him to make the corner. He gained 3 yards or less on 23 of attempts.
``I just don't think we gave Kevin much help,'' Central Florida coach George O'Leary said.
It's the kind of frustration Smith has rarely endured this season. He rushed for 320 yards and four touchdowns against Alabama-Birmingham and rushed for more than 200 yards five times.
Late in the season he began passing some of college football's greatest tailbacks on the single-season rushing list - Marcus Allen (2,342), Ladainian Tomlinson (2,158) and Mike Rozier (2,148) - in his pursuit of Sanders. The 1988 Heisman Trophy winner rushed for 2,628 yards that season, and did it in just 11 regular-season games for Oklahoma State.
Smith finished with 2,567 yards in 14 games, including his bowl stats, which weren't factored in the season total until a rule change in 2003.
``We didn't do our job tonight,'' said Smith, who announced recently that he will return for his senior season. ``Mississippi State's team did a real good job. We had a gameplan, a good gameplan, but we didn't do what we had to do.''
While the Bulldogs didn't often admit it, their focus was on Smith during their December practices. It wasn't hard to figure out that UCF's losses all came when he was held below 150 yards.
``We knew coming into the game that we were going to have a tough obstacle in stopping Kevin Smith,'' defensive end Titus Brown said. ``We tried to stop the run and make them throw the ball, which is into our strength, and I think we did that today.''
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