December 25, 2012
Big Ten Bowl Preview: Gator Bowl
Northwestern possesses the opportunity to boost Big Ten credibility, as well as reverse a dismal bowl history in Evanston when it clashes with SEC foe Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.
Sitting at 1-9 all-time in postseason play, the Wildcats seek their first bowl victory since 1948 against a Bulldog squad that began the season 7-0, but has struggled mightily down the stretch - losing four of its final five games.
Dan Mullen's quarterback-centered offense relies heavily on the performance of junior quarterback Tyler Russell, who has tossed 19 touchdowns against only one interception in MSU's eight wins. In the team's four losses, however, he has thrown five picks. On the season, he has completed 219-of-366 passes (59.8 percent) for 2,791 yards, 22 scores and six interceptions, yet did not throw for 300 yards in a single game this year.
Still, it is a bruising running game that truly drives Mississippi State's success. The Bulldogs averaged 36.7 points and 186.9 rushing yards per game during its season-opening seven-game winning streak, but struggled against SEC defenses in the second half of the season, averaging merely 15.3 points in their four losses. The matchup with NU's defense, which yielded 22.8 points per game and 385.3 yards, will be critical to the final outcome.
Defensively, MSU is headlined by senior All-American cornerback Jonthan Banks, who earned the Thorpe Award given to the best defensive back in the nation, and depends heavily on a strong linebacking corps led by senior linebacker Cameron Lawrence, who led the team with 111 tackles, including 10 for loss and two sacks.
The Wildcats counter with a two-headed monster out of the backfield in junior quarterback Kain Colter and junior running back Venric Mark. Colter has confused the opposition from the quarterback, running back and wide receiver positions this season, accounting for 20 total touchdowns, and Mark led the Big Ten during the regular season in averaging 171.1 all-purpose yards of offense per game. Sophomore quarterback Trevor Siemian also saw extensive playing time under center in 2012, and responded with 1,192 yards through the air and six touchdowns against two interceptions.
Although Mississippi State is a two-point favorite, this appears, on paper at least, to be one of the Big Ten's more favorable postseason matchups. Northwestern has held double-digit leads in two of its three losses, and was stunned in overtime by Michigan in the third, and Mississippi State has been outscored 168-106 over its last five contests.
With a win, NU can attain its first 10-win season since 1995. The meeting between the Wildcats and the Bulldogs is the first ever between the schools.
around the big ten friday stat preview
|color="#ffffff">Gator Bowl - Jan. 1 - Jacksonville,|
|color="#ffffff">Northwestern (9-3)||vs||color="#000000">Mississippi State|
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