Gator Bowl: Mississippi State Preview

The Bulldogs come to Jacksonville with an 8-4 record, ranked #21st nationally in the BCS standings and a 5 point favorite over the Wolverines with losses in the tough SEC Conference on the road at #16 Alabama and #11 LSU with 3 point loss at home to #1 Auburn and a double overtime loss at home to #8 Arkansas. Mississippi State's most impressive win was probably defeating Florida 10-7 on the road in Gainsville, and their defense protected a 10 point first quarter lead. They had come from behind 4th quarter wins against Georgia and a 4-8 UAB team. They also came from 10 points down in the 4th quarter to send the Arkansas game into overtime. Both teams will be appearing in a bowl game for the first time in 3 years. This will be the first meeting between the two schools in football. Michigan has won 7 of 10 SEC Bowl meetings, and 23 of 29 meetings overall with one tie. In 1991, Michigan's last appearance in the Gator Bowl resulted in a Gary Moeller win over Mississippi, 35-3. Mississippi State's home stadium capacity is 55,802, and the stadium capacity of the Gator Bowl's EverBank Field is 76,867. The Bulldogs have not played a Big Ten opponent since Illinois in 1980, and their record against Big Ten Teams is 2-6-1.

On offense, they are led by Quarterback Chris Relf. He had a 132.3 passing efficiency rating, and threw for 10 TDs and ran for 4 more TDs. He is a dual threat averaging 57 yards per game rushing, and 126 yards passing. Redshirt Freshman Tyler Russell is his backup. Their running back is Junior Vic Ballard; he averages 81 yards per game and has scored 16 rushing TDs. Junior Robert Elliot is his backup. The offense averages 394 yards per game, and 216 on the ground with 2 rushing and one passing TD per game; they average 27 points per game. The Bulldogs are a strong running team and ranked #16 nationally, and a weak passing team. When they do throw, Relf's favorite target is Sophomore Chad Bumphis; he averages 4 receptions and 53 yards per game, and has 5 TDs. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Bumphis will miss the Gator Bowl with a broken collarbone. Sophomores Chris Smith, Arceto Clark and Brandon Heavens will start at wideouts. The offensive line has given up 22 sacks, nearly 2 per game. The offensive line is led by Senior Left Tackle Derek Sherrod and Senior Center J.C. Brignone. Other starters are Junior Right Guard Quentin Saulsberry and Junior Right Tackle Addison Lawrence. Redshirt Freshman Gabe Jackson will start at Left Guard, but Sophomore Tobias Smith will rotate in quite a bit. The Fullback is Senior Patrick Hanrahan and Tight End is Senior Brandon Henderson, both are used primarily for blocking and the running game as well as pass protection. Henderson has 8 receptions and Hanrahan 3 for the season. If we can contain Relf, Ballard and the Bulldog running game, we'll have a good chance to win. Mouton, Martin, Ezeh and the defense must come up big and since they've had time to heal, we should be in good shape.

The Bulldog defense is the strength of their team! In 36 red zones, they have allowed opponents to earn 16 TDs. The most points scored on this defense was Arkansas putting up 38 in double overtime, and 31 in 4 quarters; Alabama put up 30 points on the Bulldogs. Senior Chris White led the defense with 105 tackles, 15.5 for loss including 6 sacks and 2 interceptions. The two other starting linebackers are also Seniors, Emmanuel Gatling and K.J. Wright; Wright has 93 tackles, 7 for loss with 3 sacks and 9 pass break ups. Sophomores Cameron Lawrence and Michael Hunt may also see action at linebacker. The defensive line in anchored by Senior Defensive End Pernell McPhee. McPhee is from Pahokee as are 4 Michigan players (Smith, Odoms, Ash and Hawthorne). Sophomores Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox are the tackles, and Junior Sean Ferguson is the other end. These guys will bring heat and pressure on our offensive line and quarterback; they are ranked #14 nationally in tackles for loss. When we throw, the Bulldogs have Sophomores Corey Broomfield and Johnthan Banks at the corners, and Redshirt Freshman Nickoe Whitley at Free Safety and Junior Charles Mitchell at Strong Safety. Junior Wade Bonner may also see action at Free Safety. Banks has 2 interceptions and 5 pass break ups, Broomield has 3 picks and 6 pass break ups and Mitchell leads the backfield with 86 tackles. Denard Robinson will need to have a big day, and I like his chances to do so since he has also had time to heal and he is playing in his home state. 9 other Floridians are on the current Michigan roster.

On Special Teams, Mississippi State has a very good punter in Senior Heath Hutchins; he averages 41.3 yards per boot, and has nailed 24 of 57 kicks inside the opponent's 20. Opponents have only been able to earn 60 punting return yards in 12 games against the Bulldogs. With our punt return team, we certainly shouldn't expect much in this game. Their placekicker is Derek DePasquale; he has hit 9 of 11 field goals with his longest being 42 yards and is 21 of 21 on PATs. The Bulldogs had 2 field goals blocked earlier this year, and have blocked 3 kicks including 2 from Fletcher Cox; they also executed a successful onside kick. Senior Sean Brauchle is his backup. The punt and kickoff return specialist is Redshirt Freshman and backup running back Ladarius Perkins; he is replacing Bumphis and averages a little over 20 yards per kickoff and 16 yards per punt return. Leon Berry also returns kickoffs, and he averages nearly 27 yards per return and had a 97 yard TD against Alcorn State. Senior Maurice Langston is another return specialist.

This is a winnable game for Michigan. Although the Bulldogs have some very good athletes including some we recruited like Boyd, Bumphis, Euls, McPhee, Thames, etc., and certain NFL players like McPhee, Sherrod and White, we should be able to contain their offense though and put up points. It is critical that we win the turnover battle. The Bulldogs are plus 10 in turnovers
in seven of their eight wins, and minus 4 in three of their four losses. This is what I predict will happen:

*Michigan defense will stop the Mississippi State running attack and hold Ballard under 100 yards

*Denard Robinson will run for 200 yards and pass for 200 yards for 400 yards of total offense

*Michigan will force 3 Mississippi State turnovers

*Michigan defense will put Mississippi State in several 3rd and long situations forcing them to pass, and the Bulldogs will not convert many of those

*Mississippi State will have 4 red zone opportunities, and only come away with 17 points; they will have no Big Play TDs

*Michigan will convert every red zone opportunity into touchdowns and earn 3 red zone TDs and 2 Big Play TDs

*Roy Roundtree, Darryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway all have at least 4 catches each and we net 500 yards in total offense

*Jonas Mouton and Kenny Demens have big games with 10+ tackles each and Mike Martin will also have a big day

We will see just how good our coaching staff has prepared our team given the circumstances surrounding the football program, and how well they adjust during the game. Has there been enough "improvement" in the Michigan football program? Will this be Coach Rod's final week and final game as Michigan's head football coach? Will David Brandon review the football program's status and make an announcement on January 2nd, 3rd, or 4th? Will Jim Harbaugh return to Ann Arbor to replace Coach Rod?

Michigan 35 Mississippi State 17

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