A look at four of Mississippi State's best players, and what Northwestern can do to stop them in the Gator Bowl. Why four? Because that's how many I felt like doing, jerk.
T-Five days on bowl! We've been getting down and dirty with stuff for a while, but now we're getting downer and dirtier. Today, we're going to take a look at the best Mississippi State has to offer - and how Northwestern plans on keeping it under control.
Credentials: Second team media all-SEC, 55 receptions for 904 yards and 12 touchdowns
What he does: It's sort of disingenuous for the Bulldogs to have other receivers: the Bumph leads them in every major category, with 364 more yards than the closest competitor and twice as many scores. It's not his first rode with Tyler Russell, who is considered one of the better QB's MSU has ever had. Bumphis is only 5-foot-11, but he's a 4.4 40 guy and can get himself open. He had four 100 yard games this year and four mult-TD games to boot.
What NU will throw at him: Nick VanHoose and others
Prognosis: Potentially poor. VanHoose has been great all season when healthy his freshman year, but he hasn't always been healthy, and besides, he only lines up on one side of the field: Northwestern doesn't switch star corners onto star receivers, meaning when Bumphis lines up on the side of the field opposite VanHoose, it'll be Daniel Jones' job to stop him. Jones isn't as talented as VanHoose, but he hasn't been bad, with the exception of... well, you know. Northwestern's pass defense isn't sieve-like as it has been previous years, but star receivers can certainly find their way into openings: note that the two all-B1G receivers NU faced this year both had great days, Allen Robinson catching nine passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns, and Kenny Bell grabbing six passes for 77 yards, including a 37-yard score. If NU keeps Bumphis under 100 yards and with no more than one score, I'd consider that a successful day.
Credentials: Second team media all-SEC, 940 yards (5.1 per carry), eight touchdowns
What he does: Perkins is the feature back, taking the ball 186 times with nobody else getting more than 150. He doesn't crack 200 pounds, but was a high school sprinter and has the speed to be the team's kickoff guy too. MSU won every game where Perkins averaged over 4.0 yards per carry, and lost the three in which he got under that number - they also lost the fourth game, where he didn't play at all.
What NU will throw at him: David Nwabuisi and others
Prognosis: Great. We know that Northwestern has somehow developed into a top-20 rushing defense, thanks to a strong linebacking corps featuring Nwabuisi, Chi Chi Ariguzo, and Damien Proby, holding opponents to 3.6 yards per carry. We also know that Perkins played poorly down the stretch. Northwestern frequently has trouble with quarterbacks who have any semblance of an ability to run, but they have the capability to control the line of scrimmage against single-minded QB's and make their requisite running game look ugly. I don't expect Perkins to be a difference maker on the ground against Northwestern.
Credentials: Jim Thorpe Award for the nation's best defensive back, consensus All-American, unanimous first team all-SEC selection, NFLDraftScout's No. 1 CB, four interceptions, nine passes defended
What he does: Banks' praises have been sung from Starkville to places that aren't Starkville. He's a do-everything corner, with the ability to blanket receivers, but also come up and make plays in the backfield. He'll be playing on Sundays next year.
What NU will throw at him: The spread offense.
Prognosis: Good! First off, Mississippi State likes to play a lot of zone coveragee, which might not be the most effective method of using an all-everything corner. Second, Northwestern doesn't play a style that leads to a great day for cornerbacks. The vast majority of plays are runs, although those will often give Banks the opportunity to step up and make plays on options and Venric Mark tosses to the outside. Also, when they do pass, it's short, and from sideline to sideline. There's no feature receiver: just four guys on every play who could end up with the ball. And last but not least, neither of NU's quarterbacks is terribly pick-friendly: 331 attempts between the two, four interceptions. By comparison, Dan Persa threw seven last year on 297 attempts on route to setting the all-time completion percentage record. There's always a chance one mistake against a future NFL corner could hurt the team, a la Walter McFadden in the Outback Bowl a few years back, but that should be the exception rather than the rule.
Credentials: Media first-team All-SEC, coaches all-SEC second team, NFLDraftscout.com's No. 1 OG for 2014 class
What he does: Jackson is a 6-foot-4, 320 pounder who anchors the left side of MSU's offensive line, a unit that allowed 16 sacks, same as Northwestern and good for 29th in the country.
What NU will throw at him: Brian Arnfelt
Prognosis: Okay, I guess. It's tough to term a left guard a key to the game, but Northwestern fans have seen what having a consistent player in a guard spot like Brian Mulroe can do for a team. It opens up running lanes and keeps rushers from coming free up the middle. The middle of Northwestern's defensive line - Arnfelt and Sean McEvily - isn't particularly imposing. But Northwestern sub in and out a lot of guys and rushes well off the edges with Tyler Scott and Quentin Williams. Northwestern will try to pressure the quarterback form the outside and hope Northwestern's linebackers - Nwabuisi et. al. - can provide a firm second line of defense Jackson and others create running holes up front.