MSU Falls in Gator Bowl
By Matthew Osborne
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Northwestern tops Mississippi State 34-20 in the 2013 Gator Bowl.
2013 is off to a fantastic start for Pat Fitzgerald and his Northwestern Wildcats.
In a game which saw a combined seven interceptions, it was the Fitzgerald’s Wildcats who outlasted the Mississippi State Bulldogs 34-20 in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, earning the program’s first bowl victory since 1949.
Mississippi State signal caller Tyler Russell, who threw just six interceptions during the regular season, was picked off four times on Tuesday afternoon and finished the game with a season-low 106 yards passing.
Russell’s first mistake of the afternoon was directly responsible for the game’s first points.
Facing third down from his own 31, Russell was picked off by Northwestern defensive end Quentin Williams, who returned the interception 29 yards for the Wildcat touchdown.
Russell would throw two additional interceptions in the first half, as the Wildcats jumped out to a quick 13-0 lead behind a pair of Jeff Budzien field goals.
Using a strong running game to compensate for Russell’s struggles, the Bulldogs were able to pull within 13-10 at the half.
The Bulldogs’ quarterback was also able to bounce back and string together a couple of solid drives in order to make the game competitive early in the third quarter, although his performance would eventually dip once again late in the contest.
“These are still young kid that's we're talking about. They're not pro athletes,” Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen commented about his quarterback. “I think he started off the game very poorly. I think he was shaken and [we] just wanted to calm him down and say,’ hey, get a blank slate, clear it, go in the locker room and come out and start this one from scratch’.”
After tying the game at 13-13 on a Devon Bell 47-yard field goal early in the third quarter, Northwestern began to assert its will over the Bulldogs.
Trevor Siemian, who rotated reps with Kain Colter at quarterback, provided a spark for the Wildcats offense, throwing for 120 yards in a relief effort. Despite throwing a combined three interceptions of their own, Siemian and Colter made just enough plays to put the Wildcats in a position snap a nine-game bowl losing streak for the program.
Running backs Josh Robinson and LaDarius Perkins led the offensive attack for the Wildcats, as each back rushed for over 80 yards on the afternoon.
With the loss, Mississippi State finishes the season losing five of its final six contests following an impressive 7-0 start.
“Excuse my language, but it sucks,” Mullen stated bluntly about his team’s conclusion to the season. “Nobody likes to lose. Our kids put in; everybody puts in a lot of working to win football games. It was great to win a lot early. It sucks to lose late, to be honest with you.”
Although the Bulldogs head into the offseason with a sour taste in their mouths, the players remain focused on continuing the tremendous momentum which the program has generated under the leadership and guidance of Mullen.
“We are going to make sure we stay positive,” Perkins told reporters outside the locker room. “Our coaches have all the confidence in the world in us. So we are just going to stay positive and come out in the offseason and get everything going.”
Mississippi State finishes the season with an 8-5 record.
With the win, Northwestern reached double-digit wins for just the second time in the modern era.
Northwestern safety Jared Carpenter was named the game’s MVP after finishing the afternoon with a game-high 10 tackles.