Northwestern finally wins a bowl game -- at Mullen's expense
Northwestern wide receiver Tony Jones can't quite make a catch as he is defended by Mississippi State defensive back Darius Slay during the second half of Tuesday's Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. (USA TODAY Sports)
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Northwestern, which had not won a bowl game since the Harry Truman administration, ended decades of postseason disappointment with a turnover-filled 34-20 decision over Mississippi State on Tuesday in the 68th Gator Bowl at EverBank Field.
The Wildcats (10-3), ranked 20th in the BCS, had won only one bowl game in their history, a 20-14 victory over California in the 1949 Rose Bowl. They had dropped the last nine, which tied Notre Dame for the longest bowl losing streak. Four of those losses have come in the last four years under coach Pat Fitzgerald.
The game was tied 13-13 in the middle of the third quarter but the Wildcats finished strong with their diverse offense that baffled the Bulldogs (8-5). The dual-quarterback threat of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian did damage both running and passing.
In addition to four interceptions, the Northwestern defense had three sacks, two by Tyler Scott.
Northwestern snapped the third-quarter tie with a 3-yard touchdown run by Tyris Jones and a 4-yard TD by Siemian in the third quarter. The first touchdown was set up by a 34-yard gain on a short Siemian pass to Dan Vitale, while Colter set up the Siemian TD with a 31-yard gain to the MSU 4.
Mississippi State, coached by Manchester, N.H.'s Dan Mullen, cut the lead to 27-20 when Tyler Russell threw a 14-yard TD pass to Malcolm Johnson with 11:42 left in the game.
However, Nick Van Hoose picked off Russell for the fourth time in the game, and returned it 39 yards to the Bulldogs' 10. A penalty for sideline interference and for illegal substitution (when MSU had 14 players on the field on one play) preceded Venric Mark's 3-yard run with 8:10 left.
Colter completed 9-of-15 passes for 76 yards and ran 12 times for 75 yards. Siemian was 12-of-21 passing for 120 yards and gained 17 yards on three rushes. Mark added 55 yards on the ground.
Russell, who broke most season passing records for MSU and had only six interceptions entering the game, finished with 12-of-27 passes for 120 yards. LaDarius Perkins gained 96 yards rushing to finish with 1,036 yards for the season.