By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State has turned its attention to Northwestern this week, and the game plan is ready to go.
The Bulldogs (8-4) will face the No. 21 Wildcats (9-3) in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1. After a practice today, MSU will split up for Christmas and reconvene in Jacksonville on Dec. 26.
The players have learned plenty about Northwestern this week.
“They don’t mess up a lot,” quarterback Tyler Russell said. “They’re really smart, everybody’s going to fit their gap, and everybody’s going to cover their man. You’re not going to really catch them out of coverage.”
MSU has been working in Davis Wade Stadium all week because of rain, plus it gives coaches better film to study before practices resume next week. Head coach Dan Mullen likes what he’s seen from his team.
“We’ve got to clean up some things (today) out there before we leave,” he said. “But at that point hopefully we’re ready to play the game. And then you get the confidence builder when you get to the bowl of reviewing basically the whole bowl practice week again.”
A knee injury kept Russell out of last year’s Music City Bowl, and he saw limited playing time the year before that in the Gator Bowl. So this is a new experience for him – if he can get over the sprained ankle that’s limited him this month.
“They rested me the last few weeks, but I was able to go pretty good this week, and the ankle feels really good,” Russell said. “I think come the bowl game I’ll be 100 percent.”
Mullen said Russell was “average” during Wednesday’s practice, missing some throws and making some wrong reads. But he’s not concerned.
“He’s a guy that’s played some football, so he knows he’s got some time to get some things cleaned up,” Mullen said.
Mullen doesn’t expect to be missing any players of note for the bowl game, saying only a couple of walk-ons are ineligible to play due to academic issues. The fall semester recently ended.
It was overall a good semester for the Bulldogs, who posted a team grade-point average of 2.65. Several December graduates gathered to take pictures Wednesday night.
Mullen said he expects “to have more and more guys in graduate school playing on the football team here in the future.”