December 30, 2012 5:19:38 AM
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The final practice session with media availability for the 2013 Gator Bowl concluded Saturday with Mississippi State University providing offensive players and the focus became whether the Bulldogs (8-4) can solve the offensive line problems that have plagued them throughout the 2012 season.
MSU Saturday practice notes:
Whether it's been protecting junior quarterback Tyler Russell from punishment or establishing a consistent running game for junior tailback LaDarius Perkins, the MSU offensive line has struggled in all four losses to the University of Alabama, Louisiana State University, Texas A&M University and the Egg Bowl loss to the University of Mississippi. Getting solid performances from the leaders up front like senior right guard Tobias Smith and junior left guard Gabe Jackson will be critical against a Northwestern University defense that gives up 3.6 yards per rush to opposing offenses this season.
"It was just a lack of focus on our part so we need to get back to doing what we do best and that's working hard and being fundamentally sound - we have to know what we're supposed to be doing at all times," Jackson said Saturday after MSU's practice.
Northwestern (9-3), who is ranked No. 21 in the latest Associated Press poll, have gotten multiple sacks in eight of the their last nine games and the key on New Year's Day will be whether the Wildcats can disguise their looks enough to create confusion especially at the tackle positions of the MSU offensive line.
"They are so fundamentally sound and I've got a true appreciation for (Northwestern defensive coordinator) Mike Hankwitz because he's a long-time experienced coach and I know this - his guys will line up properly and be excellent tacklers," MSU wide receivers coach Tim Brewster said. "They don't give up a lot of explosive plays and you won't get behind them a whole lot."
NOTE: I'll have more on Brewster's ability to scout and connection with facing Northwestern after his three seasons as the head coach at the University of Minnesota in Monday's edition of The Dispatch.
With just 60 yards rushing, Perkins will get to the 1,000-yard mark for the 2012 season and that game total is something he's reached 12 previous times in his MSU career already. In order to get that number, which only has occurred 10 times in Bulldogs football history, Perkins will have to explode on the third-ranked rushing defense in the Big Ten Conference this season (allowing teams just 108.7 yards per game in its nine victories this season).
"It's become a topic that's come up a lot," Smith said Saturday. "In fact we got in a heated debate about it a couple days ago because he joked that it was on us to get him to 1,000 (yards) and we came back and said 'no it's on you man'."
Jackson said he still hasn't contemplated his decision to come back for a senior season at MSU after putting in the paperwork for evaluation by the National Football League talent scouts last month. The 320-pound All-Southeastern Conference lineman did say Saturday he would certainly lean toward returning to Starkville if he wouldn't receive a first round draft pick grade by the scouts.
Smith, who has hinted he would like to return after applying for a sixth year of eligibility due to his numerous medical issues hampering his MSU career, said he'll take the offseason to make that decision and allow his body to physically heal before making that decision officially.
"I'm feeling as good as I can be at this moment," Smith said. "I really haven't thought about this possibly being my last game and all I've focused on is winning another Gator Bowl."
When MSU (8-4) takes the field for the 2013 Gator Bowl Tuesday (11 a.m., ESPN2) against No. 21 Northwestern University (9-3), Bumphis will be 94 receiving yards away from 1,000 in the 2012 campaign. The 5-foot-11 receiver from Tupelo matched his touchdown catches in the first three years combined with his production this season with 12 and he'll leave with the most receiving touchdowns (24) and receiving yards (2,252).
"If we have a big game I think I can (get to 1,000 yards)," Bumphis said. "It depends on the game plan. If the plan is to run the ball then we'll be outside blocking. It just depends how their defense plays us."
Northwestern Saturday practice notes:
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was asked this week if he has brought a theme with his team this week as they prepare for the 2013 Gator Bowl on New Year's Day (11 a.m., ESPN2) at Jacksonville University and his answer was simple.
"Yeah...win," Fitzgerald said. "We're here to win and it's something we haven't done in a postseason game here in quite some time at Northwestern and I'm definitely sure our seniors, who will leave the winningest class in Wildcats history, would love to finish that off with a Gator Bowl win. We'll have fun when it's time to have fun but it's time to work right now and our kids understood that today."
Chicago Tribune writer Teddy Greenstein first reported big news involving not only the football program but the entire campus of Northwestern University as the school received $55 million in donations toward its $220 million (that's right, you read that figure correctly) on-campus lakefront facility that will, according to school officials, benefit all Northwestern students on the Evanston, Ill., campus including football players. The facility will host indoor soccer and lacrosse matches and include a student convocation center and of course be the new indoor football practice facility for the Wildcats program. The facility will be named the Ryan Fieldhouse in honor of the lead donation from Pat and Shirley Ryan - both Northwestern graduates whose name already is on Ryan Field (the NU football stadium) and Welsh-Ryan Arena (the NU basketball gymnasium) as well.
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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