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Dispatch 2013 Gator Bowl coverage Day 1 - Let's recap what we've missed so far....




Matt Stevens


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog is LOOKING LIVE.....at the Hyatt Regency Hotel off the riverfront in Jacksonville, Fla.  


After 10 days of vacation to enjoy the Christmas holiday (thanks for your patience MSU followers and Dispatch readers), we arrived late last night and thought we'd get you caught up on the activies that have occurred at the site of the 2013 Gator Bowl.  




MSU Practice updates: Mississippi State University and Northwestern University have already gone through two full practice sessions on the site with the Bulldogs at North Florida University and the Wildcats from the Big Ten Conference located at Jacksonville University. 




- MSU junior quarterback Tyler Russell says the ankle injury during the season finale loss at the University of Mississippi, which forced him into a protective boot for the first week of bowl preparations before the holidays, will not be an issue come New Year's Day when the two teams meet at EverBank Field (11 a.m., ESPN2). Russell, who will make his first start in a bowl game in his college career on New Year's Day, said last week that he'd be "100 percent" healthy for the 2013 Gator Bowl against Northwestern. Russell finished the Egg Bowl at Ole Miss 18-of-33 for 268 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, was sacked three times and hit hard on numerous occasions thanks to a aggressive Rebels pass rush. Russell missed the 2011 Music City Bowl to complete last season after suffering an undisclosed injury to his left knee in the practices before the victory over Wake Forest University. The former Parade All-American out of Meridian High School was one of just three quarterbacks with 15-plus touchdowns and just one interception through seven games. Russell finished the regular season with 2,791 yards passing and 22 touchdowns spread out to seven different receivers. 


"It's a great opportunity to take charge of the offense in a Gator Bowl," Russell said. "The fact of the matter about our offense this season has been when we're on, we're real good but when we're off a little bit whether it's a throw, play call or line adjustment that was off, I have to take total responsibility for that." 




- The departure of Melvin Smith as cornerbacks coach simply means MSU secondary coach Tony Hughes will be forced to coach the entire set of defensive backs for the 2013 Gator Bowl. MSU head coach Dan Mullen addressed the staff adjustment in the secondary when the team arrived two days ago.  


"One voice is sometimes a good thing but then again, we have a nickel and dime package in our system where at that point one guy is watching six guys at one time," Hughes said Thursday. "There's certainly pluses and minuses to both having one or two voices in a secondary staff." 


Hughes, who normally just coaches the safeties along with being a recruiting coordinator on the MSU staff, has increased responsibilities due to former assistant Melvin Smith leaving the Bulldogs for the same position at Auburn University on Christmas Day.  


"They work together in the secondary all the time anyway so I think it's a real adjustment to Tony having the entire secondary as opposed to the split," Mullen said. "Tony is a great coach and I trust in him the ability to take core of all the things needed for this week." 


Mullen said he'll evaluate "what direction" MSU (8-4) wants to take with the coaching vacancy after the 2013 Gator Bowl game is over. The Bulldogs fourth-year head coach did leave the door open for Hughes to handle both duties heading into the 2013 season. 


The MSU defense is facing another high octane spread-option offense similar to when the lined up against Troy University and Texas A&M University this season. MSU fans don't need a reminder that the defense more than struggled in both of those contests, especially with the ground attacks of both schools, and Northwestern's quarterback duo of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian both bring the throwing and scrammbling for rushing yards element to the offensive attack.  


Both Colter and Siemian played in all 12 games and have similar passing numbers. Colter was 92-of-134 for 796 yards, 8 TDs and 2 interceptions, an efficiency rating of 135.2 this season. Siemian's numbers read 116-of-197 (58.9 percent) for 1,192 yards, 6 TDs and 2 picks, good for an efficiency mark of 117.7. 


"The biggest thing is not only do you have to control the (quarterback) with your front four but you have to have a guy in the second level that can go tackle this guy," MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. "That's what we specifically learned from the A&M game." 




NOTE: Media will have player availability with selected offensive players after their practice at North Florida University today and we'll have a post of newsy items and video of interviews shortly aftwerwards.  




- I'll have a feature in Sunday's edition of the The Dispatch on MSU senior wide receiver Chad Bumphis' return to Jacksonville and how this time he won't have his arm in a sling but be fully healthy for the bowl game - his final contest in a MSU jersey.  




Northwestern Practice updates: The bowl history for Northwestern is essentially a glass half full or half empty argument for Wildcats fans.  




- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald hasn't won a bowl game either as a linebacker that was once named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year when he suited up for the Wildcats under coach Gary Barnett (lost a Rose Bowl and Florida Citrus Bowl) or as the head coach of his alma mater as well (0-5 in bowl games as a coach). Northwestern's staff and players have taken the business type mentality to Jacksonville by focusing on ending that negative streak before the arrive back on the Evanston, Ill., campus. 


"It will mean nothing until we get this win in this bowl game," Northwestern linebacker David Nwabuisi said. " ... since I've been here it's been expected that we go to bowl games. It's about taking that next step and getting that win, then pressing on and getting to the Big Ten championship, setting new goals and standards." 




- Northwestern may use a small wrinkle to the 2013 Gator Bowl on New Year's Day as the Wildcats may line up their projected starting quarterback Kain Colter at wide receiver to exploit the Denver native's athletic ability on the perimeter.  


"I don't mind going in at wide receiver," Colter said. "If I'm going to have a chance to play at the next level, it probably won't be at quarterback, so any chance I get to go out there and showcase my abilities, I'm going to take advantage of it. 
I love playing quarterback, I've been playing it my whole life, but wherever the team needs me I'm going to go out there and play." 


NU's backup quarter Trevor Siemian started two games this season (vs. Indiana University vs. Penn State University) and Colter saw plenty of action as a receiver. Colter had a career best of nine receptions for 131 yards against the Hoosiers, and still found time to rush for 161 yards in 14 carries from the quarterback spot while scoring a school record-tying four rushing touchdowns.

"I don't mind going in at wide receiver," the Denver native said. "If I'm going to have a chance to play at the next level, it probably won't be at quarterback, so any chance I get to go out there and showcase my abilities, I'm going to take advantage of it. 

"I love playing quarterback, I've been playing it my whole life, but wherever the team needs me I'm going to go out there and play."

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has instituted the two-look system at quarterback and it's worked out well for the Wildcats offense. NU averaged 397.8 yards per game and scored at better than a 30-point clip per outing.

"We believe we've got two young men that we can win with," the Wildcats coach said. "We watch a lot of NFL teams that don't have one. We're very fortunate to have two.  




All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.



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