Jacksonville, FL (Sports Network) - First-time opponents are set for a New
Year's Day showdown at EverBank Field in Jacksonville when the Mississippi
State Bulldogs take on the Northwestern Wildcats in the Gator Bowl.
Mississippi State's season got off to a flying start, winning each of its
first seven games to rise all the way to No. 13 in the polls, but as its
schedule got more difficult, its luck began to run out. The Bulldogs lost four
of their last five games, including to nationally-ranked opponents Alabama
(38-7), Texas A&M (38-13), and LSU (37-17) to finish 8-4. Still, their
campaign was good enough to qualify for a bowl for the third straight season.
"This is a reward for our players after all their hard work this season and I
know our coaches, players and fans will again have a great time in
Jacksonville," Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said.
The start of Northwestern's season could not have been any better, as it won
each of its five September games, but a fantastic year could have been even
stronger had things gone differently in Big Ten losses at Penn State (39-28)
and Michigan (38-31 in OT) as well as at home against Nebraska (29-28).
Despite the heartbreaking defeats, the Wildcats finished with back-to-back
wins over Michigan State (23-20) and Illinois (50-14) to end the regular
"To have our seniors go out by playing in five straight bowl games and cap
their careers by playing on Jan. 1 is just a great opportunity," NU head
coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
Despite playing in the brutally tough SEC, Mississippi State has put together
a very impressive year offensively (30.2 ppg, 389.4 ypg) thanks in large part
to its record-setting quarterback.
Tyler Russell has had the most decorated season in Bulldogs' history under
center, setting school records for yards (2,985), completion percentage
(.600), and touchdowns (26), and with just six interceptions, he boasts one of
the best touchdown-to-interception ratios in the nation.
Russell knows he will have his hands full with the stout Northwestern defense.
"They don't mess up a whole lot," Russell said. "They're really smart. You're
not going to catch them out of coverage, they aren't going to make mistakes
like that. We just have to go out there and execute and do the things that we
Helping Russell along the way is All-SEC receiver Chad Bumphis, who has piled
up 904 yards on 55 receptions, hauling in 12 touchdowns in the process. The
senior is now the program's all-time leader in receiving yards (2,252) and
LaDarius Perkins (940 rushing yards, 160 receiving yards, 10 total TDs) serves
as the every-down back for the Bulldogs, and he's racked up 100 or more total
yards in six of the 11 games he's played in.
Although the Bulldogs' defense has proven to be vulnerable at times (389.9
ypg), it has still been strong on the scoreboard, allowing 22.4 ppg, due to an
outstanding 30 takeaways.
Leading the defense is All-America defensive back Johnthan Banks, who has
recorded four interceptions, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery while
leading the team with 11 passes defended. Darius Slay (five INTs) has surely
benefited from Banks' presence, and Cameron Lawrence is one of the best all-
around linebackers in the country with 111 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, four
sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
The offensive attack for Northwestern is very similar to MSU's, as it scores
31.5 ppg on nearly 400 ypc. However, the Wildcats rely much more heavily on
the running game, as they net more than 230 rushing yards per contest.
Leading the way in the rushing attack is one of the most explosive running
backs in the country in Venric Mark, who's gained 1,310 yards on 6.2 ypc,
while scoring 11 touchdowns. He's been especially hot lately, rushing for 100
yards or more in five of the last six games, including a career-day at
Minnesota on Oct. 13 (20 carries, 182 yards, two TDs).
Quarterback Kain Colter is also a crucial part of the ground game, amassing
820 rushing yards and a team-best 12 scores, while his passing numbers (.687
completion percentage, 796 yards, eight TDs, two INTs) have also been
impressive. Splitting snaps under center with Colter is Trevor Siemian (1,192
yards), who despite having 63 more attempts than Colter, doesn't have as
strong of numbers (.589 completion percentage, six TDs, two INTs).
The Wildcats spread the wealth in the receiving game, as seven players have
more than 100 yards receiving but no one has more than 373 yards. Rashad
Lawrence (303 yards) has a team-high 32 receptions, Tony Jones (335 yards) has
four touchdowns, and Colter has even been utilized in the pass game with 16
Northwestern's defense (22.8 ppg, 385.3 ypg) may not be as active in the
turnover game as MSU, but with nine interceptions and 16 fumble recoveries, it
is more than capable of coming up with big plays when needed.
Damien Proby is one of the Big Ten's top tacklers with 108 stops, and Chi Chi
Ariguzo (86 tackles) has made plenty of plays behind the line of scrimmage
with 10.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and four fumble recoveries. David
Nwabuisi (91 tackles, three INTs)) and Tyler Scott (seven sacks) have also had
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