NU faces daunting task with Dawgs

Northwestern's goal in its trip to the Gator Bowl is to earn the program's first bowl victory in 64 years. Standing in the way of that hope is a talented Mississippi State team loaded with talented playmakers. The Wildcats know they face a daunting task.

Kain Colter has yet to delve deeply into the Mississippi State scouting report, but it doesn't take extensive film study to realize the talents of Johnthan Banks. The senior cornerback won the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top defensive back.

"A guy who's the best DB in the nation, he's going to make plays out there." said Colter of Banks. "We're going to have to work around that. I'm sure he'll make his plays on that day, but I like our guys, too. Our guys have been against some good corners, good DBs, and they're not going to shy away from a challenge."

Banks stands out on the Mississippi State roster. However, the Bulldogs are loaded with playmakers that are keeping Coach Pat Fitzgerald busy as he plans the playbook.

Once finals week at Northwestern concludes, the Wildcats will begin to review the detailed film and scouting reports of the Bulldogs, then work the game plan into form before departing to Jacksonville at the start of game week.

"We're going to have to have our best couple weeks of preparation to get ready for it," Fitzgerald said. "But the guys are hungry. It's a big game for our seniors, a huge game for our program. Playing in an awesome venue on January 1st is a special opportunity."

The Bulldogs pose a challenge when on defense. The unit ranks 28th in the nation in scoring defense and 30th in run-stopping. Linebackers Cameron Lawrence and FOX Sports NEXT Freshman All-American Benardrick McKinney lead a stifling front seven.

"They've got some big guys up front, some pretty good DBs, and some linebackers that can run around and make plays," Colter said. "They're an athletic group, well coached, and they're going to be a good challenge."

NU must expect the unexpected when the Bulldogs are on offense. Mississippi State presents a balanced attack mixed with precision passing and downhill power running. Fitzgerald likened MSU to another MSU—Michigan State.

"Dan [Mullen] does a terrific job schematically," Fitzgerald said. "They've got great balance when you look at that offensively. There are not a lot of things that are going to tip what they're doing."

Making its fifth consecutive bowl appearance, Northwestern has made it a goal to end the program's 64-year bowl victory drought. Standing in the way is a tough Mississippi State team.

"They're very, very physical, very well coached, and play with a terrific effort," Fitzgerald said. "It's going to be a fun challenge."

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats. He resides on Chicago's north side.
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