Author: Drew D’Alelio
Time to put away the cowbells once and for all, Mississippi State. The 2013 Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl belongs to the Northwestern Wildcats.
With an opportunistic defense, a balanced offensive attack, and a little bit of luck, the Cats got the bowl victory they had desired since their 1949 Rose Bowl victory over California. Northwestern capitalized on both sides of the ball, forcing four turnovers on defense and converting those turnovers into 17 of their 34 points.
It wasn’t always pretty, however, as the Cats quarterback duo of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian combined for three interceptions. The defense also gave up 5.7 yards per rush, including a 91 yards (13 YPC) to MSU freshman Josh Robinson. Lastly, the Cats found themselves sleeping on a couple plays, such as when MSU tried an onside kick in the fourth quarter when down by a touchdown. Luckily, the kick went out of bounds.
While the Wildcats still have to work on some of the little things, now is not the time. Celebration is in order for Pat Fitzgerald and co., as his Wildcats finish the year with only their 3rd ten win season in school history.
Northwestern’s defense, all in all, was nothing short of spectacular. MSU quarterback Tyler Russell, who had only thrown six interceptions all year, was on his toes the entire game, finishing the day with four interceptions. On MSU’s first drive, DE Quentin Williams set the tone as he dropped back in coverage, intercepted Russell, and took it to the house for a touchdown.
It never got much better for Russell, as his turnovers always seemed to come at the wrong times. His second interception occurred right when his unit began to gain some momentum. Deep into Northwestern territory, Russell threw to his receiver in single coverage, but safety Ibraheim Campbell saw it the whole way, making a beautiful catch that led to a Jeff Budzien field goal, putting the Cats up 10-0.
His 3rd and 4th were no better. Down 13-0, Mississippi State got the momentum swing it needed, when MSU lineman Denico Autry picked off Kain Colter, setting up a 1st down deep in Wildcat territory. Russell responded with a poor decision, throwing into tight coverage, which led to a Chi Chi Ariguzo interception. His last pick came when MSU had begun to launch a comeback, forcing Northwestern to punt in the fourth quarter with only a 27-20 lead. On 3rd down, Russell aired it out into a sea of purple, into the arms of Nick Vanhoose, who returned it to Mississippi State’s ten-yard line.
Other Northwestern defensive contributions include three sacks, two by Tyler Scott, and one by Quentin Williams. Jared Carpenter played exceptional as well, leading the team with ten tackles, and taking home the 2013 Gator Bowl Player of the Game award.
The offense, while unable to move the football at times, made Tyler Russell pay for his mistakes. Trevor Siemian threw for 120 yards, most of which came on an impressive drive that put Northwestern in front 20-13 in the 3rd quarter. Kain Colter threw for 76 yards, and rushed for 71, while Venric Mark ran 13 times for 56 yards. Freshman Dan Vitale was the unsung hero for the offense, as he had seven catches for 82 yards. Northwestern also converted 10 out of 19 third down opportunities. Mississippi State? 1 for 11.
All in all, the Wildcats have a lot to be proud of. While Mississippi State struggled mightily during the second half of the season, Northwestern still had a tough matchup on hand, as they were outmatched in size, and had not been tested by an opponent from the all-powerful SEC conference aside from Vanderbilt.
Entering the season as a young and unproven team, these Northwestern Wildcats far exceeded expectations, finishing as a ten win team for the third time in school history, and capping it all off with an impressive bowl victory. Nevertheless, coach Pat Fitzgerald has plans for bigger and better things, as he hopes to lead the team to a Rose Bowl. Since many key contributors will be returning next year, that goal may not be too far fetched.
A great season for the Wildcats ends on a high note. The sixty-four year bowl drought is now over. For good. Northwestern made a huge statement today in Jacksonville, and enter 2013 as legitimate contenders in the Big Ten Legends Division next year.
Next up, the 2013 new season, which begins with a trip to California on August 31st.