JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Mississippi State defense has struggled defending a mobile quarterback this season.
On Tuesday, the Bulldogs (8-4) face off against another signal caller that doesn't like to stay in the pocket. MSU plays No. 21 (Associated Press) Northwestern in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. and can be seen on ESPN2.
The Bulldogs gave up 142 rushing yards to Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel in a 38-13 loss to Texas A&M.
"The biggest thing is you have to control them not only your front four, but you have to have a guy at the second level who can go tackle this guy," MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. "That was the biggest thing we learned from the A&M game. You have to have a go-guy and is a second-level guy who is designated specifically to tackle this guy. That's what we've done. We have a guy who knows where he is all the time."
The Bulldogs had multiple defensive players playing spies against Manziel, but for Northwestern junior quarterback Kain Colter things are simpler.
"We simplified that," Wilson said. "Now it's going to be one guy or two guys that always have them in their vision. That way we can mix up our looks."
Colter has picked up 820 yards on the ground on 158 attempts this season for the Wildcats. He leads the team with 12 rushing scores. Colter has completed 92-of-134 passes for 796 yards. He has put it in the end zone eight times through the air.
One of the Bulldogs who might get the duty to spy on Colter is sophomore linebacker Matthew Wells.
"Matt's always involved," MSU linebackers coach Geoff Collins said. "He is a really good player and he's had a really good bowl prep. He is still a young guy and got a lot of practice work in the developmental period. He is a kid that can really match up with almost any opponent from a speed standpoint and a size standpoint."
For the players, sometimes it can be depleting to have everybody covered and look up to see the quarterback running down the field. Stopping the quarterback may bring a boost to the MSU defense.
"When you look on, see everybody locked up and the quarterback gets away," MSU senior defensive back Corey Broomfield said. "That really hurts the morale of the defense. We are making sure we always have a hat for a hat."
Along with Colter, Northwestern also has a traditional quarterback in sophomore Trevor Siemian.
Siemian has completed 116-of-197 passes for 1,192 yards. He has also thrown for six touchdowns.
"They are very multiple," Wilson said. "What they do is keep two quarterbacks on the field at times. Obviously (Trevor Siemian) being more of their passing quarterback and (Kain Colter) being more of their multiple guy as well as a receiver. You got to have a simple plan that applies across the board when both guys are on the field."
Colter has been getting the starts lately, but Siemian has gotten some playing time.
"The big focus of the defense is (Kain Colter) and (Venric Mark)," Collins said. "They have some good receivers they can get the ball to. (They have a) big, physical offensive line. They are very well-coached."
Northwestern junior tailback Venric Mark has been the difference maker for the Wildcat offense this season. Mark has rushed for 1,310 yards on 213 carries this season. He has scored 11 times on the ground.
"He's very explosive," Wilson said. "He's a home run hitter for them. We really have to do a great of getting off blocks and being physical up front for us to go control this guy."
With the difficulties the Northwestern passing and rushing game brings, the Bulldogs are having to implement several different things into their game plan. They are having to do it without assistant coach Melvin Smith. Smith, who coached the cornerbacks, left for Auburn over the holidays.
MSU safeties coach Tony Hughes will be coaching the entire secondary for the bowl game.
"The thing that you miss is those second set of eyes," Wilson said. "Offense is so multiple that you need two sets of eyes. The one thing that you gain is one voice. Now you have one voice communicating the same message over and over. There is a little bit more consistency than there normally would be with two guys back there."