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Gator Bowl breakdown: Mississippi State

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SDS will be breaking down every bowl game and what to watch for. Check out the Mississippi State-Northwestern preview if you haven’t already.

The Game: Mississippi State vs. Northwestern

What’s at stake: 2nd nine-win season under Dan Mullen
Dan Mullen has taken Mississippi State to three straight bowl games, and it’s surprising to no one that MSU has a chance to win their ninth game for the second time in the last three years. Winning has become ho-hum in Starkville, and Mullen is good at it. Is there a ceiling to winning in Starkville? Probably, but many thought that ceiling would be shattered this season after starting 7-0 and ranked just outside of the top ten in the BCS. The season certainly didn’t finish the way everyone expected, but winning nine at MSU in the SEC West is certainly something Starkville consistently hasn’t seen.

Why Mississippi State will win: Teams don’t win against SEC defenses with two QBs
Northwestern features a two-quarterback system. The passer of the two, Trevor Siemian, and the runner Kain Colter will try to do something that many teams can’t do against SEC defenses – rotate quarterbacks in a winning effort. Sure, teams have won rotating quarterbacks, but no one has done it consistently with success. Siemian has thrown for only six touchdowns, while Colter (the runner) has thrown for eight. Colter has also run for a team-high 12 touchdowns, too. Mississippi State’s run defense was pushed around towards the end of the season, and they will try to revive their tough front seven against a run-heavy Northwestern offense.

Why Mississippi State will lose: Lost four of the last five games
Losers of four of their last five games, MSU will try to rekindle that early season magic that saw them start 7-0 before losing to Alabama. In their defense, MSU lost four of those games to three top ten ranked teams. But the worst of the losses was obviously against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, who laid the smack down on the Bulldogs. There’s no positive momentum of any kind in the program right now – recruiting or playing. The defense was exposed in their four losses, and it will be a tough task for the veteran leaders to regroup and reset the focus.

3 players MSU must stop: QB Kain Colter, RB Venric Mark and LB Chi Chi Ariguzo
Colter and Venric Mark spearhead the 14th ranked rushing offense in the country. Colter has rushed for 820 yards, while running back Mark has toted the rock 213 times for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. MSU must be stout against the run, because the rushing attack is the lifeblood of the offense. Wildcat linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo has been a disruptive force on defense, and he currently leads the team with 10.5 tackles for loss. MSU’s blockers must know where Ariguzo lines up on every play and put a hat on him.

3 players for MSU who must play well: QB Tyler Russell, WR Chad Bumphis and DT Josh Boyd
Tyler Russell and Chad Bumphis have been the two players who Dan Mullen could count on performing every week on offense. Russell has thrown for 2,791 yards and 22 touchdowns, compared to just six interceptions. He’s taken exceptional care of the football. Bumphis has recorded a team-high 55 catches for 904 yards and 12 touchdowns. Both must play well on offense against a weak passing defense to notch a win. And on defense, tackle Josh Boyd must pick up his play. Bowl game wins start in the trenches, and the senior Boyd must play well, as he’s had an underwhelming season so far. Boyd has only tallied 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

MVP prediction: QB Tyler Russell
However, the best news for MSU is that Northwestern is ranked 102nd in pass defense in the country, and that should have Russell and his receivers ready for blood. MSU will look to attack the Wildcats down the field with their multiple weapons at receiver, just like they successfully did early in the season. Russell’s attempted an average of 30.5 passes per game, and I think he goes well over that mark Monday.

Photo Credit: Spruce Derden–US PRESSWIRE





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