|Northwestern won its first bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl by beating Mississippi State 34-20. (US Presswire)|
NORTHWESTERN WON. Northwestern and Mississippi State are two of the best teams in the nation in terms of turnover margin. But when they faced off for the first time in FBS history in the Gator Bowl, it turned into a turnover party.
Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell re-wrote the single-season passing section of the program's record book, but his performance in the Gator Bowl was not representative of his 2012 season. After throwing just six interceptions all season -- and setting the school record for interceptions per attempt (1:61) -- Russell was picked off four times by the Northwestern defense. Northwestern quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian combined for three interceptions themselves, bringing the whopping total to seven combined turnovers for two teams that rank in the top 12 nationally for turnover margin.
Northwestern finally ended the bowl victory drought that had lasted since the 1949 Rose Bowl -- its only previous win in postseason history. There were seven straight losses since 1999, and the Wildcats fans no longer have to hear about the infamous streak.
HOW NORTHWESTERN WON: Despite the three interceptions, Northwestern was able to win the turnover battle thanks to aggressive play by its defense. Mississippi State got some great opportunities thanks to forcing turnovers. But in most of those situations, the Wildcats would answer with a turnover or big stop to get the ball right back. Pat Fitzgerald said after the game that he was looking for an answer from his team in the second half, and the defense locked it down by allowing only two of Mississippi State's seven second-half drives to last for more than four plays. In total, Northwestern held the Bulldogs to just 1-for-11 on third down. Russell never was able to get into a rhythm with his receivers, and the need for immediate scoring kept freshman Dak Prescott on the sideline for most of the game.
WHEN NORTHWESTERN WON: Once Northwestern finally claimed a two-score lead in the fourth quarter, the defensive line turned up the pressure on Russell and sacked him twice on the Bulldogs' last possession.
WHAT NORTHWESTERN WON: Northwestern not only doubled its program total for bowl wins, but fans and pundits alike no longer have to focus on the streak. Instead, we should look at what Fitzgerald has been able to accomplish at his alma mater. He joined the staff in 2001 as a defensive assistant, and leading the Wildcats to a bowl win was the exclamation point on a decade-long process of building within the program. After the game, Fitzgerald explained that this victory not only ended the streak but is also a new beginning. Wildcat fans hope to look forward, not back to 1949, from here on out.
WHAT MISSISSIPPI STATE LOST: The longest active bowl win streak ends at five, but the loss also caps a tremendously disappointing finish to the 2012 season. The 7-0 start might have been misleading to some, particularly considering the level of competition, but any team that loses five of its final six games (including the Bulldogs' first loss to Ole Miss since 2008) is going to feel disappointed heading into the offseason.
For the dates, times, ticket and viewing info for all 35 games, check out the Bowl Schedule page.
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