|DL Sean McEvilly kisses the Gator Bowl trophy after Northwestern beat Mississippi State on Tuesday. (US Presswire)|
The last time No. 20 Northwestern won a bowl game, a gallon of gas cost 17 cents, a new car cost about $1,420, RCA was perfecting a system for broadcasting color television and Harry Truman roamed the halls of the White House.
So after a 34-20 win over Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl at Everbank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., on Tuesday, it was time for the Wildcats to party like it was 1949.
Northwestern (10-3) used a strong defensive performance and ball-control offense to take an early double-digit lead and ultimately hung on for a win over Mississippi State (8-5). The win snaps a nine-game bowl losing streak and is the first bowl victory for the Wildcats since a 20-14 win over California in the Rose Bowl 63 years ago.
The Bulldogs finished with 292 total yards, but QB Tyler Russell threw four costly interceptions after tossing only six in the regular season. Northwestern finished with a balanced 357 yards as the team passed for 196 yards and rushed for 161.
When the game turned: Mississippi State had rallied to tie the game at 13-13 early in the third quarter and Northwestern faced third-and-10 at its own 24-yard line on the ensuing drive. However, QB Trevor Siemian avoided the rush and hit WR Rashad Lawrence for 12 yards and a first down. Siemian completed his next two throws and RB Tyris Jones capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run to give the Wildcats a lead they would not relinquish.
Highlight moments: Northwestern DE Quentin Williams returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown on the third play from scrimmage, as he dropped into coverage on a zone blitz before snagging the ball and outracing Mississippi State players to the end zone. … Bulldogs WR Arceto Clark made an amazing 18-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter when he beat the defender to the back of the end zone before twisting his body backward to make the grab as he fell to the ground.
Significance of Northwestern's victory: The win erases more than six decades of bad karma as the Wildcats finally won a postseason game. Coach Pat Fitzgerald was emotional at the podium after the game, saying he always tells his players to “act like they've been there before,” but admitting a bowl victory is something new. This win could propel the Wildcats to a top-15 ranking and provide momentum for a team returning plenty of talent next year.
Significance of Mississippi State's loss: The Bulldogs may be plateauing as a program under coach Dan Mullen. Mississippi State had won its previous five bowl games before the defeat and continues to struggle against ranked teams. The Bulldogs dropped five of their final six games and enter a very uncertain offseason after a poor postseason performance.
- Northwestern QB Kain Colter -- completed 9 of 16 passes for 76 yards with 2 INTs; 11 rushes for 71 yards
- Northwestern QB Siemian -- completed 12 of 20 passes for 120 yards with an INT; 2 rushes for 14 yards, TD
- Northwestern RB Venric Mark -- 13 rushes for 56 yards, TD
- Mississippi State QB Tyler Russell -- completed 12 of 28 passes for 106 yards with 2 TDs and 4 INTs
- Mississippi State RB Josh Robinson -- 7 rushes for 91 yards
- Mississippi State DB Nickoe Whitley -- 2 INTs
What they said about Northwestern winning its first bowl game in 63 years:
- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald to ESPN -- “This was the one last negative we needed to erase. This is just the beginning.”
Numbers you should know: Fitzgerald won his school-record 50th game. … The Wildcats entered the game with nine interceptions this season. The defense intercepted Mississippi State QB Tyler Russell four times. … Northwestern won 10 games for only the third time in school history. … The teams entered the game a combined plus-30 in turnover differential, but threw seven total interceptions. … Mississippi State finished the game 1 of 11 on third down, with Northwestern going 10 of 19.
(For more on the Gator Bowl, check out the Eye on College Football blog)
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from Big Ten bloggers Dave Carey and Mike Singer, follow @CBSSportsBigTen.