It's time to take a look at Mississippi State's X factor in today's matchup with Northwestern in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl:
LaDarius Perkins, Jr. RB: One thing the Bulldogs have struggled with during their 1-4 finish was running the ball. What had been their bread and butter on offense for most of their 7-0 start was barely moving in the month of November. After averaging 180.4 yards per game through the first seven contests of the season, Mississippi State averaged just 85 yards on the ground in the last five games -- and that included a 203-yard performance against Arkansas. Perkins has to get it going again today. He went from being one of the top all-purpose backs, to becoming the forgotten man, as he averaged just 54 yards and had no rushing touchdowns in the last four games that he played. Northwestern's rush defense is pretty good, too. The Wildcats rank 20th nationally against the run, allowing just 122.8 yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry. Mississippi State wants to be extremely balanced on offense, but that obviously can't happen if Perkins isn't running the ball well. The Bulldogs haven't had the same efficient offense since mid-October, so Perkins' play is very key to getting the ball moving again. With Mississippi State's defense struggling mightily during the last month of the season, the offense will have to churn out yards and put up points because you just don't know what you'll get from the other side of the ball. Also, keeping the ball in their own hands will help tremendously because the Wildcats love to run and keep that clock moving. The Perkins of old has to show up for the Bulldogs today.