by Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahlrosenblum)
Northwestern failed to capitalize on three Tyler Russell interceptions, taking a very slim lead into the locker room. Russell gave them the game, particularly when he threw a pick in the red zone, right after Colter gave them a perfect chance to get back in the game. Northwestern’s offense was unable to take advantage, however, leading just 13-10 at the half.
I’m not sure why Mississippi State doesn’t run the ball more. The Wildcats have yet to prove they can stop the run. Perkins ran the ball three times for 24 yards in the first quarter. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Finally, in the second quarter, the Bulldogs turned to Josh Robinson and got a huge play out of it. They're averaging nearly 10 yards a rush after one half of play.
While Robinson might have had the rush of the half, as his 59-yard rush helped set up Mississippi State's first score, LaDarius Perkins was the far more consistent rusher for the Bulldogs. His long was 20 yards so even if you remove that rush, he still had nine rushes for 41 yards, for about 4.5 yards per carry.
Dan Vitale is getting a lot of work for Northwestern. I’m not sure he has Drake Dunsmore size but he’s good with the ball. He finished the half with three receptions for 34 yards and was wide open down the right sideline for what could have been a 20-yard grab.
Without much help from the run game, Northwestern has moved mainly to the five wide.
With the exception of one 22-yard run, Venric Mark couldn’t get much going in the first half. Mississippi State’s front four were extremely solid. A nice cutback left and no matter, Mark couldn’t find an opening.
Northwestern hasn’t really gone down the field much and Mississippi State has seemed to key into the Wildcats’ quarterback runs and rushes up the middle. Kain Colter only threw a single pass in the second quarter, which given his 7-of-9 success, is probably a mistake.
Drive By Drive
The Bulldogs’ first drive began with plenty of openings on the left side of the field. Unfortunately for Mississippi State, wide receiver Arceto Clark dropped a fairly easy second-down catch, and then on third down, Tyler Russell threw it Quentin Williams’ way, and the defensive back raced down the right sideline into the end zone to give Northwestern a 7-0 lead.
NORTHWESTERN 7 – MISSISSIPPI STATE 0
After Steve Flaherty sent his opening kickoff into the end zone, he hit a low line drive on the second one, that Mississippi State would have been better off letting bounce out of bounds. Unsurprisingly, after Russell’s interception, the Bulldogs began with a fairly effective run around the right end, and then the openings were once again there as Russell found an open Mike Smith for a first down. Meanwhile, with three passes to open the afternoon, Mississippi State had built room for its rushing game, and LaDarius Perkins proved tricky to bring down as he raced around both ends for big gains. The drive ended though when safety Ibraheim Campbell anticipated a post route down the right sideline and raced in front of the open receiver to make the grab. Russell just waited too long to make his read. Northwestern looked awfully vulnerable against the running game, but its pass defense was able to make a couple of big plays. Bend not break, indeed.
We’ve known all season that Pat Fitzgerald loves superback Dan Vitale, so Northwestern began its day with a shovel pass inside to Vitale. Kain Colter snared a first down as he kept darting to the right sideline to avoid tackle after tackle on what began as a plunge up the middle. Vitale recorded his second grab as he was the slot receiver in Northwestern’s five wide catching an instant screen for a good gain. On the Wildcats’ first third down of the game near midfield, Colter threw a little short to a wide open Christian Jones on the left sideline but he bowed down to make the catch. Another shovel pass to Vitale nearly turned into a touchdown when the superback spun out of one tackle to gain 15 extra yards. Vitale’s third reception was followed by a bad miss from Colter as he had Venric Mark by a couple of steps in the end zone but he overthrew him by a long shot. Colter couldn’t convert on third down either as he was pressured into tossing a quick pass over the middle, so Jeff Budzien came out and knocked a 34-yard field goal through to give Northwestern a 10-0 lead.
NORTHWESTERN 10 – MISSISSIPPI STATE 0
Northwestern got another assist from Mississippi State’s receiving corps on the Bulldogs’ third drive, as Chad Bumphis dropped a laser beam over the middle. On third-and-long, pressure forced Russell to toss a quick screen to Josh Robinson, who immediately ran right into defensive end Tyler Scott for a loss. With that, Northwestern had its most convincing defensive stop of the game. And I was left wondering why Mississippi State hasn’t gone to its run more, given how well it worked on the second drive.
End of First Quarter (Northwestern 10 – Mississippi State 0)
Northwestern saw another promising drive stall as a pass was batted down at the line, a rush was stuffed and Trevor Siemian’s third-down pass wobbled to the ground short of wide receiver Christian Jones. Budzien ended the drive with his second field goal.
NORTHWESTERN 13 – MISSISSIPPI STATE 0
Northwestern’s defense again looked very good on Mississippi State’s fourth drive of the game, as they stuffed a run up the middle on first down, clogged up the pocket to force an overthrown ball down the left sideline on second down and covered the sideline very nicely on third down.
Kain Colter created something beautiful on first down, as he found the middle was stuffed so he took it around the left end for a 13-yard gain. A face mask penalty added 15 yards and pushed Northwestern into Mississippi State territory. The Bulldogs were all over the Wildcats’ ensuing option, however, as Mark was immediately wrapped up, setting up second-and-14. Shortly after, Northwestern gave Mississippi State some much needed life with a short pass over the middle that defensive end Denico Autry easily intercepted and then wove beautifully to the right to bring it into the red zone. Chi Chi Ariguzo intercepted Russell’s very next pass, however, putting Russell perilously close to Mike Kafka’s old mark of five picks.
On third down, Kain Colter found little-used wide receiver Demetrius Fields for a first down along the right sideline, to at least give the Wildcats the edge in field position again. With the run game still struggling to get afloat, however, Northwestern was forced to punt for the first time.
When you’re doing goal-line leaps at your own 30-yard line, that probably isn’t a good thing, but on the very next play, Josh Robinson darted left. Deonte Gibson was in the backfield, but he paused as he waited for the handoff, and that was all the pause Robinson needed. He easily worked around the left end and guided by a series of blocks took it all the way to the Northwestern two-yard line. Two false starts set Mississippi State well back. With Northwestern basically running four guys on the front line and seven men in a straight line five yards back, the Wildcats easily stopped the Bulldogs’ second-down run up the middle, setting up a pivotal third-and-10. Northwestern beautifully defended the five wide on third-and-long, and Russell’s pass to Bumphis, trailed a yard back by a defender, sailed long to force a field goal.
NORTHWESTERN 13 – MISSISSIPPI STATE 3
Despite having no hole up the middle all day, Mike Trumpy was sent in to bulldoze up the middle twice. He saw the dirt quickly both times, with a total gain of a single yard. On third-and-nine, Colter had Dan Vitale wide open down the right sideline, but took off running instead for a three-yard gain. Northwestern’s offense continued to languish in the second quarter.
Mississippi State went instantly to the run and was rewarded with a first down after a strong outside run by LaDarius Perkins. Perkins followed with a beautiful cut through the line for another first down, scissoring through the defense with decisive speed. The drive ended with a gorgeous leaping snare by Arceto Clark on a perfect lob into the end zone by Russell. Clark was just barely able to get his foot in after making the astounding catch.
NORTHWESTERN 13 – MISSISSIPPI STATE 10