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Gator Bowl Blog: Day 2

The WNUR Sports staffers are chronicling their trip to Jacksonville for the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl. Today, Sports Director Jim Sannes (@JimSannestakes a look at the red zone offenses for both the Northwestern University Wildcats and the Mississippi State University Bulldogs.

Gator Bowl Northwestern Mississippi State Jacksonville BridgeSay what you want about Jacksonville, but I, for one, am enjoying views like this. We took a look around the city along the riverside and saw plenty of purple. Even in the Hyatt, Mississippi State’s team hotel, there was more purple than maroon, an encouraging sign for Tuesday.

Yesterday, we broke down the third down offenses of each team. Today, we’ll look at red zone efficiency, an area where the ‘Cats have excelled this season.

Northwestern

The ‘Cats enter the Gator Bowl with the nation’s 17th highest red zone efficiency rating, scoring on 88 percent of their trips inside the opponent’s 20 yard-line. In 51 attempts, the ‘Cats have 22 rushing touchdowns, nine passing touchdowns, and 14 field goals.

Photo Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE.

Photo Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE.

A large part of this success for the ‘Cats is due to kicker Jeff Budzien. Budzien was named first-team All-Big Ten by the coaches after making 17 of 18 field goal attempts, including all 14 after the ‘Cats reached the red zone. The last time Budzien missed a field goal shorter than 53 yards was November 5th, 2011.

Not surprisingly, the ‘Cats’ biggest threats in the red zone are Kain Colter and Venric Mark. Colter has completed nine of his 12 pass attempts in the red zone with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has also tacked on 24 carries for 94 yards and 10 of his 12 rushing touchdowns this season. Mike Trumpy is the third leading rusher with six carries for 17 yards and two touchdowns.

Mark has gotten the bulk of the carries inside the 20, rushing the ball 37 times for 125 yards and eight touchdowns. He is also tied for second on the team in red zone receptions with three, but for a total of only eight yards.

Of the receivers, Tony Jones has a marked advantage, leading the team in receptions (4), yards (39) and touchdowns (3). Second on the team in yards is Cam Dickerson, who has 2 receptions for 27 yards and one touchdown. True freshman superback Dan Vitale has three receptions for 25 yards and a touchdown.

Mississippi State

Just as with third down offense, the ‘Cats have a marked advantage over the Bulldogs in red zone efficiency. Mississippi State enters the Gator Bowl 95th in the nation, scoring only 77 percent of the time they enter the red zone. In 47 trips, the Bulldogs have 12 rushing touchdowns, 17 passing touchdowns, and seven field goals.

Kicker Devon Bell missed his first three field goal attempts this season and finished the regular season 12-19 overall. On kicks longer than 29 yards, Bell was only successful nine out of 16 times, including four misses on attempts shorter than 40 yards.

Quarterback Tyler Russell is 21-36 in the red zone for 177 yards, including 13 touchdowns and two interceptions. As previously mentioned, Russell has thrown 19 touchdowns and one interception in the Mississippi State’s eight wins compared to three touchdowns and five interceptions in their four losses, so turning over Russell is a must.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Dak Prescott has a majority of his playing time in the red zone. He is 6-10 for 40 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in the red zone, but his biggest threat is his legs. Prescott has run the ball 17 times for 42 yards and four touchdowns, all four touchdowns coming from snaps inside the 10-yard line.

The leading rusher for the Bulldogs in the red zone is their second-team All-SEC running back LaDarius Perkins. Perkins has rushed the ball 22 times for 55 yards and seven touchdowns and has tacked on a receiving touchdown from 13 yards out.

Russell in the red zone has two favorite targets: receiver Chad Bumphis and tight end Marcus Green. Bumphis has seven receptions for 63 yards and six touchdowns. The most shocking part of that stat is that it means that half of Bumphis’ 12 touchdowns have been 20 yards or longer.

Photo Credit: Butch Dill/Getty Images North America

Photo Credit: Butch Dill/Getty Images North America

Green, who is 6’1″ and 240 pounds (pictured right), recorded seven of his 19 catches on the season in the red zone. Five of those seven receptions went for touchdowns as Green totaled 67 yards inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

It will be interesting to see what the ‘Cats do defensively close to the end zone to defend Bumphis and Green. I would assume corner Nick VanHoose will be on Bumphis all day as he has had a fantastic year and was named to the Big Ten All-Freshmen Team. That leaves Mike Hankwitz with the choice of Ibraheim Campbell, Jared Carpenter, or one of the linebackers to cover Green. My money would be on Campbell, but it’s something to keep an eye on on Tuesday.

Click here to check out Gator Bowl Blog: Day 1.

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