Northwestern vs. Mississippi State: Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl Preview

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern (9-3) is playing in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fl on New Year’s Day vs. Mississippi State (8-4) in what could be the program’s greatest chance in the Pat Fitzgerald era to end the bowl drought.

No. 20 Northwestern is still in search for the school’s first bowl win since the 1949 Rose Bowl and has lost nine straight bowls, but face a Mississippi State team that has lost four of their last five games to end the regular season.

The Bulldogs really took advantage of a soft early slate of games and started out 7-0, but when they started facing stiff SEC competition saw their dreams of the school’s first 10-win season in more than a decade fade away. The season came to an end with a 17-point loss to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, losing for the first time to their in-state rival under Dan Mullen.

However, the Bulldogs own the nation’s longest active win streak in bowl games at six, so they have that going for them, and for the first time since Oct. 20 face a non-SEC opponent.

The last time Mississippi State faced a Big Ten team was in the 2011 Gator Bowl when they put a whooping on Michigan, beating the Wolverines 52-14 in what would be the last game for Rich Rodriguez as coach of Michigan.

If Northwestern is going to end their bowl drought this season it will need big contributions from do-it-all quarterback Kain Colter and All-American Venric Mark. Colter is a threat to pass, run and even catch the ball when Trevor Siemian is inserted at quarterback in Northwestern’s spread offense that’s averaging the 15th most rushing yards in the nation.

Mark was named an All-American after rushing for 1310 yards and 11 touchdowns and being one of the elite return men in the country. His work on special teams could be the x-factor in this game.

Mississippi State will counter with their own rushing attack led by LaDarius Perkins whose 940 rushing yards was good enough to land him on the All-SEC second team and wide receiver Chad Bumphis who also landed on that team after leading the conference with 12 touchdown receptions.

Northwestern does boast a staunch run defense, but I think State will be able to run the ball just enough and mix in some deep balls to Bumphis, to keep the defense off-balance. Combined with the Bulldogs underrated defense led by the cornerback duo of Jim Thorpe award winner Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay (five interceptions) will effectively shutdown the passing game of Northwestern.

My prediction: Mississippi State wins 27-26

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Patrick is the host of “The Wake-up Call,” on Sportstownchicago.com airing Wednesday mornings from 8-10. View his show’s website here.

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