The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

    Gator Bowl Preview: Dogs’ focus set on winning bowl game


    The Mississippi State University football team came to Jacksonville for one reason: to win the Gator Bowl. Amidst welcome parties, a beach party, luncheons and even a visit to the children’s hospital, the coaches and players have kept their sights on the task.

    Senior captain Tobias Smith said the players have enjoyed being in Jacksonville but kept the game on the forefront of their minds.

    “Coach tells us every day that we’re here to win a game, and they don’t want to leave the seniors without winning a game at the end of the year,” Smith said. “They want to send the seniors out on the best note possible.”

    For the Bulldog seniors, the Gator Bowl is a familiar sight. Just two years ago MSU man-handled Michigan 52-14 in the Gator Bowl.

    Head coach Dan Mullen said a show of hands earlier this week revealed only 20 out of 115 State players competed in the Gator Bowl two years ago.

    Mullen said the seniors have done a good job educating the younger players on preparing themselves for the bowl experience.

    “With the practices we’ve had this week, our guys have done a good job of having complete focus in preparation and still be able to shut it down and turn it off and have a great time with all the great bowl events,” Mullen said. “Our overall focus has been better this week than it was two years ago. I think our coaches and seniors have understood that and done a good job of keeping the attention of our team. When it’s time to work, we work.”

    Although Northwestern would appear to have the momentum after winning its final two games compared to MSU’s final game loss at Ole Miss, when it comes to bowl games, the Dogs have all the momentum.

    State is riding a five-game bowl win streak, tied with Rutgers for the nation’s lead. Northwestern, on the other hand, is in the midst of a nine-game bowl losing streak, the longest in FBS history.

    However, this year’s Wildcat team is led by a senior class that is the winningest class in school history. They have been to a bowl game each of their seasons but have yet to win one.

    The Bulldog seniors are looking for one final win, and according to Jim Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks, the team wants to win for themselves and for the MSU fan base.

    “We want to go out as one of the best in Mississippi State history and win back-to-back bowl games,” Banks said. “I hate to lose, and if I lose, it will be stuck with me for a long, long time.”

    Facing a Big-10 opponent does not bother the Bulldogs. Captain Cameron Lawrence

    said the Wildcat rushing attack combined with experience up front could be dangerous but is nothing the Dogs have not seen.

    “Northwestern is definitely a top-ranked team and top-ranked opponent, so we know, going in there, it’s going to be a dog fight. It’s a bowl game, and anything could happen,” Lawrence said. “Playing in the Southeastern Conference, a lot of people would see it as one of the elite conferences, but I get excited to play a new school. It’s always fun to have a new experience and a new opponent and a new challenge.”

    The Wildcats have already beaten one SEC team this season when they outlasted Vanderbilt 23-13 in the second week of the season.

    But for Northwestern, not only do the players have to remain focused in the days leading up to the game, but the Cats will also face an unfamiliar distraction during the game: cowbells. 

    State fans are not allowed to ring cowbells while Northwestern has possession of the ball, but the clanging will fill the stadium at all other times.

    Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said traditions are one of the neat aspects of college football.

    “It’s a great tradition that Mississippi State has,” Fitzgerald said. “At practice everyday we have crowd noise and absolutely terrible music that plays everyday from warm up all the way through the end of practice, so I think we prepared our guys for any sort of distractions they may have.”

    With Northwestern ranked No. 21 in an MSU-free AP poll but the Dogs being a two-point favorite, the game may ultimately come down to who wants it more. 

    Lawrence said Mullen has encouraged the team to finish strong for the senior class.

    “Going out with a win wearing Maroon, that’s going to be special for us,” Lawrence said. “We want to leave a lasting impression on the younger generation, and hopefully it will carry over into the following years.”

    Leave a Comment
    More to Discover

    Comments (0)

    All The Reflector Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Activate Search
    The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University
    Gator Bowl Preview: Dogs’ focus set on winning bowl game