Today’s Gator Bowl: MSU (8-4) vs. No. 21 Northwestern (9-3), EverBank Field, 11 a.m., ESPN2 (Bob Wischusen play-by-play, Danny Kanell analyst, Allison Williams sideline), XM 195, Sirius 123.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. | The final day of MSU’s 2012 season is upon us. The Bulldogs go for a sixth consecutive bowl victory, which would be the nation’s longest streak after Rutgers lost to Virginia Tech on Friday in the Russell Athletic Bowl. And State is going for its third straight bowl victory under fourth-year head coach Dan Mullen.
Northwestern, meanwhile, is looking to snap a nine-game bowl losing streak. Its lone win was the 1949 Orange Bowl. This is the Wildcats’ fifth consecutive bowl appearance under seventh-year head coach Pat Fitzgerald. Here’s an AP story on the teams’ bowl streaks.
I’ve got plenty of coverage for you in today’s Journal. My game advance looks at the discipline of Northwestern, with a little SEC vs. Big Ten chatter. I also have a lengthy notebook leading with the focus MSU says it’s maintained throughout the week of practices.
Also, if you didn’t catch it Sunday – or just need to refresh yourself – be sure to look at our GameDay section. And of course, visit our college football page to stay caught up on all the bowl action.
A quick personnel note: Co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Geoff Collins will be making the defensive play calls today. Nothing wrong with DC Chris Wilson; Mullen just wanted to give Collins a shot at making calls. A bowl game is a good time for such experiments.
• Be sure to follow me on Twitter for updates during and after the game. Now, let’s review MSU’s three keys to victory.
1. Mind the run. Northwestern likes to run the ball – a lot. The Wildcats have run the ball 50 or more times in five games this season, including 67 against Illinois. They’re averaging 230.9 rushing yards per game, which ranks fourth in the Big Ten and 14th nationally.
Venric Mark leads the attack with 1,310 yards, while dual-threat quarterback Kain Colter has gained 820 yards. MSU has had trouble with the run, giving up 233 to Ole Miss last time out and 361 to Texas A&M. State is allowing 166 rushing yards per game, which ranks 11th in the SEC.
2. Hit the Mark. Besides running the ball well, Mark is averaging 20.1 yards per punt return, which would lead the nation if he had enough returns to qualify (he has 14, one shy of the minimum standard). Mark has taken two of those returns all the way back for touchdowns – 82 yards versus Syracuse and 75 yards against Penn State.
This is a matchup of strength vs. strength. MSU leads the nation in punt coverage, which opponents averaging just 0.67 yards per return. Punter Baker Swedenburg has a knack for forcing fair catches and putting the ball where it needs to be, and the Bulldogs have speedsters like Jamerson Love and Darius Slay getting down the field to cover.
3. Avoid mistakes. Northwestern doesn’t make many mistakes, ranking 10th in the nation in turnover margin. That means MSU can’t afford many miscues, whether it’s turnovers or – as in the Ole Miss game – a failure to capitalize on turnovers.
The Bulldogs have taken good care of the ball, tied for fifth nationally in turnover margin. Quarterback Tyler Russell has generally made smart decisions with the ball, with only six interceptions in 366 pass attempts.
• Notable stat: Mullen is 16-2 against non-conference foes, but 2-16 against ranked foes.
• Weather: It’s gonna be a nice one, with mostly sunny skies and temps in the 60s all afternoon. Projected high is 73 degrees.