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Wildcats and Bulldogs Meet in the The Gator Bowl

Kain Colter

Can Colter and the Wildcats get their first bowl victory since 1949 today in the Gator Bowl?

New Year’s Day is upon us and one of the first games to kick it off is the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl from Jacksonville, Florida.  This is Mississippi State’s second trip to the game in the last three years while Northwestern makes their first appearance in the event. The two teams are amazingly identical in a few ways. They both averaged around 31 points per game and gave up 22 points per game on the season. They are both very disciplined too in that they turn the ball over very seldom.

Where the teams differ relates to their respective season losses. In the Bulldogs four losses, their closest margin of defeat was 17 points and that came in a loss to rival Mississippi.  The other three losses weren’t exactly against sisters of the poor. They were soundly beaten by Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU.

Northwestern meanwhile was beaten three times and all three were tight games. They actually led in Happy Valley before losing by 11  to Penn State, lost in the final minutes to Nebraska by one and dropped a heart-breaker to Michigan by seven in overtime. As odd as it sounds, this Wildcats’ team was darn close to being undefeated and potentially playing in the Rose Bowl.

Northwestern Bowl Record: 1-9, the Wildcats have lost nine straight bowl games since winning their first in 1949.

Mississippi State Bowl Record: 10-6, the Bulldogs have won five straight bowl games dating back to 1999.

When Northwestern has the ball – The Wildcats were 15th in the country in rushing, but just 112th in passing so expect large doses of running from them. Junior RB Venric Mark led the Wildcats with 1,310 yards rushing with 11 TDs. He also serves as the Wildcats’ return guy on punts and kickoffs making him one of the top ten guys in the country in total offense.

QB Kain Colter rushed for over 800 yards and 12 touchdowns. He only throws the ball about 11-12 times per game and does split time with Trevor Siemian who had six touchdown passes and two interceptions. Mississippi State has a very good and veteran secondary so I expect the Wildcats to stay on the ground as often as possible.

Tyler Russell

Will Russell's ankle be an issue in the Gator Bowl today?

When Mississippi State has the ball – QB Tyler Russell is nursing an ankle that he injured in the season finale against Ole Miss but he is expected to play. During the season, Russell threw for 2,791 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. The running game is in the hands of LaDarius Perkins who ran for 940 yards and eight touchdowns on the year.

Norhtwestern ranks 18th in the nation against the run giving up about 122 yards per game so I expect Head Coach Dan Mullen to throw the ball a little more often in this one. MSU’s top receiver is Chad Bumphis who had 55 catches for 904 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Wildcats’ secondary has just nine interceptions in 2012 but six of those have come in the last three games.

Northwestern (-2) vs Mississippi State – As amazing as it sounds for such a young guy, Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald can become the team’s all-time winningest coach with a win in this one which would be his 50th for his career. More importantly to Fitzgerald however is ending the nine-game losing streak. Their only bowl win cam in the 1949 Rose Bowl.

The Bulldogs are on an excellent bowl streak and will have familiarity with the Gator Bowl set-up. It’s more than likely that Coach Mullen will use back-up QB Dak Prescott regardless of how Russell’s ankle is doing and I believe Fitzgerald will do the same thing with his QBs as well. I really want to take the Wildcats in this game but I have to believe the SEC level of competition has the Bulldogs ready for anything. Take MSU to win outright in this one.

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