Wolverines, Bulldogs set for first meeting

Published 12:03 pm Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Gator Bowl is an inexact title. Maybe the Spread Bowl?

Saturday’s Gator Bowl will feature two coaches who are gurus of the spread offense, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen and Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez.

Both have mobile quarterbacks, Michigan’s Denard Robinson and Mississippi State’s Chris Relf, who are both a threat to run or pass.

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But there, the similarities end. Michigan limps into the Gator Bowl after big losses to Wisconsin and Ohio to close a season that started with Big Ten title hopes and a Heisman Trophy campaign for Robinson. Those were derailed by a three-game losing streak.

Mississippi State enters the game after a second-straight win in the Egg Bowl over archrival Ole Miss and a fourth-place finish in a very tough SEC West.

“Mississippi State is a great team and has been consistently ranked among the top 25 this season,” Rodriguez said in a team release.

Mississippi State’s defense, paced by senior linebacker and Conerly Trophy winner Chris White, is one of the SEC’s best defenses, allowing just 20.3 points per game.

The Mississippi State spread option offense has to be licking its chops in anticipation of facing one of the nation’s worst defenses, a unit that gave up 35 points to Football Championship Subdivision foe Massachusetts.

The Wolverines (7-5, 3-5 in the Big Ten) are ranked 103rd out of 120 FBS teams, giving up 33.8 points per game. Opposing rushers have shredded Michigan’s unconventional 3-5-3 defense, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and 30 rushing TDs.

Passing-wise, the Wolverine secondary has been riddled by opposing passers. The Wolverines yield 260 passing yards per contest and have given up 18 TD passes.

Offensively, the Wolverines will provide an excellent test for Mississippi State’s defense.

The Michigan spread option revolves around Robinson, who is Michigan’s leading passer (155-of-250, 10 interceptions, 2,316 yards, 16 TDs) and rusher (245 carries, 1,643 yards, 14 TDs). This season, Robinson wrote his name into the NCAA record book, becoming the first quarterback to rush for 1,500 yards and pass for 2,000 yards in the same season while breaking the NCAA record for most rushing yards by a quarterback.

What makes that production even more amazing is that Robinson has been banged up for most of the season. He sustained a sprained knee, an injured shoulder, two dislocated fingers on his left hand and concussion-like symptoms.

But Robinson isn’t the only big-play threat for the Wolverines.

Running back Vincent Smith rushed for 588 yards and five TDs and has caught two more TD passes as the Wolverines ranked 11th (251 yards per contest) on the ground.