By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When asked about Northwestern’s strengths, Mississippi State players and coaches have used the word “disciplined” a lot this past week.
That quality has carried the Wildcats to a 9-3 regular season and No. 21 national ranking. MSU (8-4) will find out just how disciplined Northwestern is when the two teams meet at 11 a.m. today in the Gator Bowl at EverBank Field.
“They’re disciplined,” MSU offensive guard Gabe Jackson said when asked about Northwestern’s run defense. “In the gap, they’ll be there. You don’t see many blown assignments. They do what they’re supposed to do and they do it well.”
The book on Big Ten teams is that they’re slower and less athletic than SEC teams. Northwestern is pigeon-holed that way, especially as a program that’s not a traditional power such as Michigan or Ohio State.
Discipline can make up for those deficiencies, but this team has good athletes, most notably dual-threat quarterback Kain Colter and speedy tailback Venric Mark.
Those two have combined to rush for 2,130 yards and 23 touchdowns in an offense that heavily emphasizes the run. Northwestern averages 230.9 rushing yards and 31.5 points per game.
“They kind of remind me of our offense about a year ago,” MSU safety Corey Broomfield said. “They’re explosive when they get it going.”
Defensively, the Wildcats are strong against the run but are vulnerable to the pass. That could bode well for MSU quarterback Tyler Russell, who needs just 209 passing yards today to reach 3,000 for the season.
Northwestern gives up 262.6 passing yards per game, but Russell sees a defense that doesn’t make mistakes.
“They do everything the right way,” Russell said. “They’re not going to blow a coverage or anything like that. So it goes back to us executing, and I think we’ll do that.”
The Bulldogs are trying to end the season on a positive note. They’ve lost four of their last five, including a 41-24 loss to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl.
However, history is on MSU’s side. It’s won five consecutive bowl games, while Northwestern has lost its last nine, including each of the last four years.
Plus, this is the SEC vs. the Big Ten. The better conference should win, right?
Colter said the SEC is “obviously great, but I feel like we have some pretty good athletes in the Big Ten, too, and we’re not going to shy away from anybody.”
MSU tailback LaDarius Perkins sees a difference between the two leagues.
“Well, everybody knows the SEC is the best conference in the world, really,” Perkins said. “Speed is unbelievable in the SEC. I watch a lot of Big Ten, and they don’t move like we move. We’ll see what happens come game day.”