Mississippi State’s Season in a Nutshell

Photo via The Mississippi Dispatch

With about two weeks to go before the bowl game, the Wildcats have begun prepping for their New Years’ Day battle with the Bulldogs. We are planning our cowbell response to help combat the annoyance noise the Wildcats will have to battle as they head to the South.

Northwestern’s players are done with exams and Evanston is relatively empty so they are doing team-building activities like the Dave & Buster’s trip or the Bulls game trip all while practicing before a holiday break. Pat Fitzgerald has his bowl preparation plans pretty well set up. Of course, practice will be getting serious pretty soon as the attention turns toward preparing for Mississippi State.

It is getting close to that time here too. So it is time to start acquainting ourselves just a little bit with Mississippi State and who NU is actually facing in this bowl game.

Here is hoping that this post serves as an introduction to the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Fast Start, Slow Finish

Mississippi State’s big story this year was the fast start and the hard finish when the realities of the SEC schedule hit this team. The Bulldogs started the year 7-0 and were ranked nationally. Some thought they could compete with the likes of Alabama and LSU for the SEC West. The seven straight wins did not feature a single bowl-eligible team however.

So when 7-0 Mississippi State visited Alabama it seemed like a pretty good matchup. A 38-7 thrashing from the Crimson Tide sent the Bulldogs into a tailspin. They lost four of their last five games with their only win coming against hapless Arkansas. Again, Mississippi State did not beat any bowl-bound teams this year.

In that final five-game stretch the Bulldogs gave up 477.0 yards per game, including 203.6 rushing yards per game and 273.4 passing yards per game. It seems that Mississippi State was an equal opportunity defender at the time.

The Bulldogs gained 351.0 yards per game in those closing five games and averaged 21.2 points per game. Of course, those final five games included matchups with Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU in a murderer’s row of three straight difficult games for Mississippi State (only one was in Starksville).

So it is hard to make heads or tails of this team from a straight numbers perspective. The 8-4 record does not feel so much as a mirage as a team that won the games on its schedule and lost games it might have been expected to.

The only difference is, Mississippi State lost its four games by an average margin of 23.3 points per game. In fact the Bulldogs only played one game decided by one possession — a 30-24 win over Troy.

An All American at Cornerback

NU will have to keep an eye on All-American cornerback Jonathan Banks. Photo via HailState.com

The best player for Mississippi State is undoubtedly All-American Jonathan Banks. He had four interceptions, returning them for 124 yards, seven break ups and 11 pass deflections. This from a guy teams knew to avoid.

Expect Dan Mullen to move Banks around and stick him on every receiver. If Kain Colter lines up in the slot any, I would suspect Banks will be the cornerback lining up opposite him. Banks is the kind of cornerback that takes away part of the field from Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian when they step back to throw. Banks also recorded 59 tackles. He will be involved on defense one way or another.

He is the one guy Northwestern has to be aware of at all times on defense. Of course, an over-emphasis on him could leave Northwestern forgetting about others on this defense.

Darius Slay actually led the Bulldogs with five interceptions and had 11 pass deflections himself and six pass breakups. Preston Smith had 4.5 sacks and Cameron Lawrence and Denico Autry each had four sacks too. Lawrence led Mississippi State with 111 tackles.

This is a defense that is SEC-athletic, if not at the talent level of the elite teams or with the discipline not to give up big plays. The Wildcats, if they run their offense, have a chance to either bust open big plays or get bogged down like they normally do. It seems beating this defense will come down to execution and taking advantage of whatever the defense gives them.

Inconsistency on Offense

Mississippi State could have a very balanced offense if not defended correctly. Those are the offenses that give everyone trouble. But the Wildcats will be somewhat more focused on continuing their solid run defense.

LaDarius Perkins was Mississippi State’s top rusher with 940 yards and eight touchdowns. He averaged only 85.5 yards per game. That makes you think the Bulldogs are more of a passing team.

Tyler Russell is the primary quarterback, although Dak Prescott also played all 12 games and took snaps at quarterback. Russell threw for 2,791 yards with 22 touchdowns against six interceptions. He averaged 232.6 passing yards per game.

From these numbers you can see this is not an imposing offense Northwestern is going up against. Then again, the Wildcats do not have that imposing of a defense. Yes, NU’s defense is good against the run but there have been plenty of issues against the pass that have yet to be corrected. Time and health might fix some of those — Nick VanHoose is expected to be 100 percent and ready for the Gator Bowl — but excuse me if I am a bit worried about the consistency of this team’s pass defense.

Those lack of turnovers from the quarterback position could mean that Mississippi State will be able to move the ball through the air. That is what the Wildcats have to be careful about in this game.

  • CatAlum06

    For once, I feel as if we have a bowl matchup where we could very well have the more athletic team. If MSU’s best player is indeed a DB, well, a good offensive game plan can go a long way to minimizing that threat.

  • bandcat

    Looking at Miss. State WR stats they spread the ball around..How good is Bumphis? I also think we have our best shot here to get the@!!!%%%$$$ off our back. This is One game…Players execute and Coaches execute we put 49 behind us..Peak and Stay loose.. Go Cats!

  • NUMBalumDave

    As I see it, the biggest threat is their coaching. Fitz has alluded to this, and we all know how well he and Mullen get along and the respect they have for each other. Fitz knows that Mullen will bring something new and different to this game and that adaptability is as important as athleticism. Go Coaches, and Go Cats!

    • Ron

      Which means that Fitz will “out of respect” take his foot off the gas in the third quarter with a moderate lead. Ugh. Watch for it.

      • Fanaticat

        Then an assistant needs to have a laminated card to show Fitz the 20+ point second half leads given up over the course of his career.

        This team should never even think about slowing down until up by 4 TDs by the end of the 3rd quarter.

      • Kat

        The problem is that Fitz thinks the ‘Cats have a better D than they actually do.

        In a couple of years that strategy might work since the pass rush and secondary should be much improved, but until then, it’s a poor move.

  • CatInTheHat

    Good analysis, PRR. I have to say, though, that I am tired of reading on ESPN and Bleacher Report about MSU’s “SEC speed” and “SEC athletes.” Yes, they have some athleticism, but they were downright noncompetitive against the top half of the SEC and some of the bottom half of it, as well. I just hope we can shut the so-called experts up once and for all come 1/1/13.

    Also, something I think would be a very nice side note to getting the bowl monkey off our back is the fact that, should the ‘Cats win, they will have done it in one of the few bowls that was already in existence when NU won the ’49 Rose. That would be pretty cool.

    • Kat

      I seem to recall the ‘Cats already beating a team w/ “SEC speed,” Vandy.

      Granted, Vandy didn’t beat anyone in the SEC either, but they still finished w/ a better SEC record than MSU.
      Funny how they totally ignore that.

  • Watching and (Mostly) Waiting

    Interesting comment about “if Colter lines up in the slot”. In the early games, Colter was always at WR when Siemian was QB, and Trevor threw to him almost obsessively, with both good (Indiana) and bad (PSU) results. In later games, it seemed Colter was off the field when Siemian was in. In thinking about the “new wrinkles” that come into the game plans with 6 weeks to prepare, I had wondered whether Kain will return at wide-out. Back to the future for the Cats? From this comment, maybe Colter should return, just to occupy Banks as a decoy, and open things up for our other WR’s.

    • Kat

      The PSU game wasn’t exactly “bad” results (except for the final score).

      Even w/ PSU’s pass rush, Siemian led the ‘Cats to 3 drives that resulted in TDs (that’s more TD drives than what Colter had led in games against BC and Vandy and they don’t have the D that PSU has).

      When a QB has little time to throw, he’s not going to have his best game (look at what the Giants pass rush did to Aaron Rodgers this year).

      Things probably would have turned out differently if Mark had not been absent on the backfield during the 4th Q; w/o Mark, the PSU defense didn’t worry about the run at all and just went full gear after Siemian.

      • Watching and (Mostly) Waiting

        Well, Colter caught 3 balls for 17 yards at PSU, and I’ll bet Siemian threw to him 10 times. 136 Siemian yards passing. (And of our 3 TD drives, I just checked and Colter led one whole drive and scored a rushing TD as QB on another.) My comment of “bad” was referring to Siemian forcing the ball to Colter, and I think 17 receiving yards speaks for itself. Coaches’ decisions agree–Colter has not caught a significant pass (and only a couple overall) since the PSU game. My point is maybe it’s time to try working that in again.

        • Kat

          Colter had 3 out of the 21 receptions the ‘Cats had; Siemian completed passes to 7 other receivers (4 of whom had 3 or more receptions).

          Colter led 1 drive that went nowhere.

          As for the TD Colter scored, Sieman did the heavy work moving the ‘Cats 60 yds down the field.
          I think we will see Siemian at QB and Colter at wideout if MSU’s D stacks the box to stop the run (since they have some good corners).
          Think we haven’t seen Colter too much at WR b/c he has been banged up.

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