Gator Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Northwestern preview

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The Matchup: Mississippi State (8-4) vs. Northwestern (9-3)

When: Tuesday, January 1st

Where: Jacksonville, FL

Game Time: 12:00 PM ET

TV: ESPN2

Northwestern ranked wins: None

What you need to know about Northwestern: Northwestern finished third in the Legends Division in the Big Ten, losing to Michigan and Nebraska. However, pumping out nine wins is a great season for Coach Pat Fitzgerald.

The biggest thing you need to know about Northwestern is that they feature a two-quarterback system and a formidable rushing attack that ranks 14th in the country and averages over 230 yards per game on the ground. The Wildcats’ two-armed approach has been a success in part because of a stunning lack of negative plays. The passing quarterback Trevor Siemian threw for 1,192 yards and six touchdowns, while the runner Kain Colter threw for only 796 yards and eight touchdowns. Running back Venric Mark and Colter lead the rushing attack, as Mark topped the 1,300-yard mark with 11 touchdowns, and Colter rushed for 820 yards and 12 touchdowns. Both have combined to score 23 of the team’s 28 rushing touchdowns.

The defense is solid unit altogether, ranked 32nd in scoring defense (22.8 ppg) and 52nd in total defense (385.3 ypg). Defensive lineman Scott Tyler and linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo lead the Wildcats’ defense. Tyler leads the team with seven sacks, and Ariguzo leads the team with 10.5 tackles for loss. Both will be key in trying to apply pressure to MSU’s quarterback Tyler Russell.

The lifeblood of the Wildcats is the running game, and Mississippi State will have to tackle well and take care of their assignments on defense, something they haven’t done the last few weeks.

What you need to know about Miss State: Mississippi State started off 7-0 and ranked just outside of the top ten before playing Alabama. Since the Alabama game, MSU has lost four of the last five games, including the Egg Bowl. The Bulldogs have very little momentum heading into Jacksonville, too, and the early success had everything to do with the easy schedule.

But Tyler Russell has had a fantastic season at quarterback, making big plays and limiting turnovers. Russell threw for 2,791 yards and 22 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions. Russell’s cast of receivers includes Chad Bumphis (904 yards), Chris Smith (540 yards) and Arcedo Clark (451 yards).

Running back LaDarius Perkins sits just outside of the 1,000-yard club with 940 yards and eight touchdowns. He should get to that mark against Northwestern, and he’ll have to be instrumental in moving the chains on the ground.

Early on, I thought MSU’s defense was slightly underrated. Just because they played a weak schedule, I thought they weren’t getting enough credit. However, they were exposed against better offenses in Bama, Texas A&M, LSU and Ole Miss. Linebacker Cam Lawrence leads the team in tackles with 111 total and 10 tackles for loss, and he’s the leader this group can count on and a fantastic athlete. Defensive backs Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay have also played well in their senior season, too. This is a very veteran-laid defense that should be ready to leave school with a bowl win. But stopping the Wildcats’ running game is the biggest item on the agenda.

By the numbers:

Category Miss St Northwestern
Scoring Offense 30.3 ppg 31.5 ppg
Total Offense 389.4 ypg 397.8 ypg
Rush Offense 140.67 ypg 230.92 ypg
Pass Offense 248.8 ypg 166.8 ypg
Scoring Defense 22.4 ppg 22.8 ppg
Total Defense 389.9 ypg 385.3 ypg
Rush Defense 166 ypg 122.75 ypg
Pass Defense 223.9 ypg 262.6 ypg
Turnover Margin +17 +13
INTs 16 9
Sacks By 18 25
Sacks Against 16 16

Who has the edge? These two teams’ strengths are essentially the opposite of one another. Mississippi State loves to let Tyler Russell make plays in the passing game, while Northwestern wins games with their formidable rushing attack and solid defense.

The Wildcats have the edge with their rushing attack, and MSU has a favorable matchup against Northwestern’s secondary.

While everything will be pointing to Russell to have a big game, running back LaDarius Perkins will have to play his best game of the season. Not only Perkins, but the entire MSU defense will have to be ready to play. They lost their mojo in the last five games, and Lawrence and Banks will have to get the boys ready to play.

MSU should win this game, but losing four out of the last five certainly doesn’t bode well for any kind of momentum. We’ll see if MSU can reverse the trend. The Bulldogs are 2-0 in as many years under Dan Mullen in bowl games.

Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

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