Chicago Sun-Times
with Neil Hayes

Keys for MSU, NU heading into Gator Bowl

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FOR NORTHWESTERN

1)    Run the ball --- Its what NU does best, after all. The combination of quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark have helped the 'Cats rank 15th nationally in running offense. Although they can pass the ball effectively, especially when quarterback Trevor Siemian replaces Colter, the running game has been the key to their success all season.

2)   Protect the ball --- Mississippi State has won 23 of 25 games over the past four years when forcing more turnovers than it has allowed. The 'Cats are hardly careless when it comes to protecting the football. They rank 10th nationally in turnover margin, which means in this area it will be strength vs. strength.

3)    Avoid explosive plays --- The Bulldogs had 89 plays of 20 yards or more this season, an average of almost seven per game, which is up from 3.5 such plays last season. They also had 18 scoring plays of 20 or more yards this season. 

FOR MISSISSIPPI STATE

1)    Find a rhythm in the passing game --- The Tyler Scott-led offense broke five single-season school records in yards passing (2,985), passing yards per game (248.8), completions (237), completion percentage (60) and touchdowns (24). The offense will go as far as the passing game will take it.

2)   Contain Northwestern's running game --- After the Bulldogs allowed an average of 166 rushing yards per game this season, which ranked 11th in the SEC, asking them to shut down NU's 10th ranked rushing offense might be too much to ask. But they need to prevent Kain Colter and Venric Mark from running wild.

3)    Get stops on third down and in red zone --- Northwestern ranks 17th nationally in red zone efficiency and has a third-down conversion rate of 44.9 percent, which is second best in the Big Ten. Finding ways to get off the field on third down and forcing the 'Cats to kick field goals is critical for MSU.

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This page contains a single entry by Neil Hayes published on December 30, 2012 10:26 AM.

A quick look at Mississippi State was the previous entry in this blog.

Players to watch for MSU, NU heading into Gator Bowl is the next entry in this blog.

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