Mississippi State offensive guard Gabe Jackson (61) clears a path for quarterback Tyler Russell to score on a quarterback sneak against South Alabama during the season. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. â€“ Mississippi State is looking to find some success on the offensive side of the ball.
To do that, the Bulldogs have to start with the offensive line.
"We're going to pass the ball, (and) we're going to run the ball," MSU junior left guard Gabe Jackson said. "We've just got to manage the ball because with (Northwestern's) offense, they're fast-paced. We've got to slow the game down and play physical ball."
The Bulldogs (8-4) face off against No. 21 (Associated Press) Northwestern (9-3) today in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. and can be seen on ESPN2.
To get the running game going, the offensive line is going to have to establish themselves up front.
"(It's) really just starting to come off the ball and setting the line of scrimmage so we can establish the run early," MSU senior right guard Tobias Smith said.
The Bulldogs only rushed for 30 yards in a 41-24 loss to rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl on Nov. 24, 2012 in Oxford. That has been a main issue the offensive line has been addressing in bowl practices.
"(It's about) just work on the basic things, like fundamental footwork and hand placement," Jackson said. "They've (gotten) better at it."
The lack of offensive production in the rushing game against the Rebels may have been due to missed assignments.
"It's just a lack of focus that we had," Jackson said. "We had to get back to what we're good at doing and that's working hard, being fundamentally sound and know what we're doing."
Jackson was a freshman when the Bulldogs beat Michigan 52-14 in the 2011 Gator Bowl. This time he doesn't see much difference.
"It doesn't' really seem like it was too long ago, so it just feels like it's deja vu," Jackson said. " (It's) just with different people I'm playing."
Jackson will test the National Football League waters when the season is over. His play on the field shows that and his teammates have taken notice.
"That's why (Jackson) is in the standing he's in now," Smith said. "He's a great player and has been since he's been playing."
Jackson has seen the improvement of his game since he came in as a freshman. The Bulldogs are going to need Jackson to play at the same level he has all year to get a victory.
"My pass blocking improved a lot especially since my first year playing," Jackson said. "(I'm) just working on looking at other guys, seeing what works for them, watching film on other guys to see what works, trying it out and just keep working on stuff until I found out what was my best fit."
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