Northwestern won’t have any issues against Mississippi State in the 2013 Gator Bowl, as long as the Wildcats stick to the ground game.
The Wildcats have a run-first system that has been tough to stop this season. Northwestern averaged around 230 yards on the ground per game, which put them in the top 20 in the nation during the regular season.
Northwestern’s biggest offensive threat has to be junior running back Venric Mark. Mark ran for more than 1,300 yards this season on 213 carries—11 going for touchdowns—averaging around six yards each time he took the ball.
But when Mark isn’t running the ball, there’s the chance that junior quarterback Kain Colter takes off. Colter finished the season with 820 rushing yards on 158 carries, 12 of them going for scores.
The ability to keep the defense on its toes is a major advantage for the Wildcats, but they still have to plan and play smart. Running the ball on each play isn’t going to fool any team in the country, especially a Mississippi State team that won eight games in 2012, with four coming against SEC foes.
Over the course of the season, Northwestern has run the ball about 62 percent of time, leaving the other 38 percent to passes from Colter or sophomore quarterback Trevor Siemian.
The Wildcats have platooned Colter and Siemian the entire year, but the Gator Bowl is when Colter should be on the field for nearly the entire game. Despite 63 fewer attempts, Colter’s completion percentage is much higher—68.7 percent compared to 58.9 percent.
And the biggest factor is that Colter is a threat on the ground whereas Siemian is not.
With Colter on the field, he can throw the ball off of a play-action fake, run the ball himself or hand the ball off to one of the best backs in the nation in Mark. That’s how Northwestern is going to defeat Mississippi State.
Mississippi State has shown that it doesn’t field a very strong run defense. The Bulldogs give up an average of about 165 yards on the ground per game and have allowed more than 200 rushing yards four times this season. When playing Texas A&M, they allowed 693 yards, and more than half came from the Aggies run game.
Running the ball early and often will drown the Mississippi State defense.