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Post-game from EverBank Field - Dispatch 2013 Gator Bowl coverage - No. 21 Northwestern 34, Mississippi State 20

 

 

 

Matt Stevens

 

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - What did we learn? 

 

- One team's Northwestern's) bowl drought ended as another team's (Mississippi State's) nation-longest bowl winning streak ended as well as the Wildcats defeated MSU 34-20 in the 2013 Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl.  

 

While draped in blue Gatorade following his first bowl victory as a Northwestern University player or coach, Pat Fitzgerald had found the answers to move his program forward. 

 

Mississippi State University head football coach Dan Mullen was left heading out of EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., with the understanding his team was stuck in neutral.  

 

The barriers that MSU (8-5) blew through two years ago with a Gator Bowl victory in 2011 were left to the opposite sideline as Northwestern won its first postseason game since 1949 with a 34-20 win in the 2013 Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl.  

 

" I think in talking to (Fitzgerald), I've known him for a long time and seeing him after the game, I know how important that was to him," Mullen said. 

 

The 14-point victory for the Wildcats (10-3) not only produced its first 10-win season since Fitzgerald was a Big Ten Conference Player of the Year at linebacker in 1995 but also produced Fitzgerald first ever bowl victory as a coach or player with the Wildcats.  

 

After the game, Northwestern players tore apart a stuffed monkey in the locker room that they'd bought last year to symbolize the fact the program hadn't won a bowl game in 73 years.  

 

"I've never been here before, so I'm not sure how to act," Fitzgerald said after the win. "This is what's left of the monkey after the guys tore it apart, obviously, in the locker room. There are so many lessons this team has learned, especially for our seniors and it's been a special journey." 

 

MSU simply didn't learn its lesson from its previous four losses in its last five games leading into Tuesday's contest as the Bulldogs turned the football over repeatedly and never took the lead in its first bowl loss under Mullen.  

 

" Obviously, bowl trips tend to be more fun when you come out on top," Mullen said after the loss. "We had a great time here this week, but we talked about adjusting back to the speed of the game...and I think our first five possessions were two three‑and‑outs and three interceptions. So that's not a real fast start to a game that we're looking for." 

 

Northwestern, who came into the contest with just nine interceptions this season, picked off MSU junior quarterback Tyler Russell four times tying a school bowl record set in the 1949 Rose Bowl victory over the University of California. Interestingly, that Wildcats win in Pasadena, Calif., was their last bowl victory in school history.  

 

"These are still young kids that's we're talking about," Mullen said referencing to Russell's performance. "They're not pro athletes. I think he started off the game very poorly. I think he was shaken and I 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'." 

 

 

 

Tyler Russell suffered his worst game in a MSU uniform 

 

After the way his quarterback started the 2013 Gator Bowl, the only thing Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen knew to do was hit the proverbial reset button.  

 

Once MSU junior quarterback Tyler Russell threw his third interception in the first half, Mullen told him to go into the locker room and redo everything about his preparation, including the way he put his uniform on.  

 

"I said 'go into the locker room, splash some water on your face, retie your shoes, readjust your pads and forget that you came out to start the game'," Mullen said after the game. "Get in the tunnel, start jumping up‑and‑down again, get yourself tight and run out of the tunnel again." 

 

None of that worked as Northwestern University used four interceptions by Russell to pace their momentum to a 34-20 victory over the out-of-sync Bulldogs on New Year's Day.  

 

"I think he was shaken and I 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'," Mullen said.  

 

Even after Russell mentally restarted himself, he physically never looked like the quarterback that had only six interceptions all season and had led the MSU offense to nearly every season-long mark in the school record book.  

 

"I was talking to Tyler, he was telling me I got to get going," MSU junior tailback LaDarius Perkins said. "Because he said he was struggling a little bit, he was like (to me) 'get the guys going' and we'd try to keep moving (and) pick it up some." 

 

Russell was not made available to the media following the game Tuesday afternoon.  

 

Russell, who had a stretch where he went 137 attempts without an interception this season, ended the first half lost, confused and mentally exhausted after being 6-for-14 for 45 yards with three interceptions and two touchdowns - one to MSU senior receiver Arceto Clark and one to Northwestern senior defensive end Quentin Williams.  

 

"He was losing a little bit of confidence," Mullen said. "That's why I told him get into the locker room (that) we're still going to stick with it and throw the ball. So get in there, get ready to go, come out again, get refreshed and go make plays." 

 

Russell's four interceptions are the most by an MSU signal caller since Wesley Carroll tossed four passes to University of Arkansas defenders in a 2007 loss to the Razorbacks. The former Parade All-America selection from Meridian doubled the previous school record for interceptions thrown by an MSU player in a bowl game.  

 

Despite Russell's trouble with giveaways, a late 10 points in the final four minutes and 48 seconds of the first half allowed MSU (8-5) to go into the locker room with just a 13-10 halftime deficit.  

 

"I told them in the locker room guys are going to have off days," Mullen said. "Here's the great thing. He had an off day, and there were still some opportunities there for us in the fourth quarter to go win the game. So great learning moment for young guys." 

 

MSU LB coach Geoff Collins named defensive play caller for 2013 Gator Bowl 

 

The Mississippi State University football program wanted to make sure everybody knew before the 2013 Gator Bowl who was calling the defensive signals.  

 

For the first time as a MSU assistant coach, co-defensive coordinator Geoff Collins was given the defensive play calling duties over two-year co-defensive coordinator Chris Wilson.  

 

The results were mixed but with more consistent results against an aggressive Northwestern University spread-option attack but ultimately a 34-20 loss in the 2013 Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl on New Year's Day.  

 

"They gave up some drives but made some big stops in the red zone and created a couple of turnovers, made some big plays," MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. "I think overall, the defense played well. I think a couple of the situations on third down where we lost contain on the pass rush and they were able to scramble for some third downs were some key things we have to look at to make sure we're doing the best we can to get pressure with our down guys on the quarterback." 

 

Mullen said the decision to go with Collins over Wilson had more to do with the teams' struggles against spread offenses based on a no-huddle tempo style like the University of Troy and Texas A&M University and was pleased with what he saw despite No. 21 Northwestern (10-3) being 10-for-19 on third down conversions Tuesday afternoon.  

 

"We struggled against some spread teams and tempo teams in the past so I wanted to try something different," Mullen said. "Give Geoff an opportunity to call the game and just see also communication wise, because there is a lot that has to go on with rotating the defensive line in and out of the game, and getting those guys going with those tempo teams to be able to make all the rotations you need to make and call the game at the same time." 

 

Collins said he was told the decision was based in part with cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith leaving for the same position at Auburn University and the extra importance of Wilson's defensive line position group needing to be set on every play with the secondary only having the one voice of assistant coach Tony Hughes.  

 

"It came up the day we got here," Collins said. "I think it had to do with Melvin was in charge of substitutions most of the time and we do a lot of substituting with the defensive line. He was just letting me call it and Chris handle the defensive line substitutions. For the most part it was good." 

 

MSU senior CB Johnthan Banks' career ends with injury  

 

MSU senior cornerback Johnthan Banks essentially saw his college football career end on a punt return to end the first half where he suffered a nerve damage to this thigh muscle.  

 

Banks, the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award winner given to the nation's best cornerback and a All-America selection, suffered what Mullen said was a ' massive gash in the side of his leg' that required multiple stitches by the Bulldogs training staff. The injury was later classified as a bruised nerve to the thigh muscle as he went from "probable" to return at the start of halftime to his return to the 2013 Gator Bowl game being "doubtful" according to MSU football spokesperson Joe Galbraith.  

 

Banks finished his MSU career tied for the school's career lead in interceptions with Walt Harris with 16 and completed the Gator Bowl loss with four tackles in the first half. Banks was not made available to the media following the contest.  

 

Mullen did concede Banks' high status for the National Football League Draft in April made him leery of putting the Maben native back into the game despite MSU eventually tying the score at 20 in the second half. 

 

"First I was scared to death for him (and then) looked up at the instant replay and said it didn't look like anything serious," Mullen said. "I think he didn't feel right. He wanted to go back in, but I told our trainers unless he's 100 percent, try not to put him back in the game." 

 

 

 

Pat Fitzgerald becomes Northwestern's all-time leader in wins 

 

With the 34-20 victory in the 2013 Gator Bowl, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald became the school's all-time leader in wins with 50 in just his seventh season with the Wildcats program. 

 

Fitzgerald overtook College Football Hall of Fame selection Papa Waldorf after the bowl victory over the Bulldogs, which was his first as either a player of coach at Northwestern.  

 

"It's no secret that our goal is to be champions, and this is the first step in accomplishing that mission," Fitzgerald said after the win. 

 

Fitzgerald came into Tuesday 0-4 as a coach and 0-2 as a player in bowl games with Northwestern and the current members of the No. 21 Wildcats squad even purchased him a stuffed monkey to symbolize the monkey on the 38-year-old's back due to the consistent losing in postseason games.  

 

"It's great to be a champion, and I'm very thankful for our young men," Fitzgerald said. "Very thankful for our staff, and incredibly thankful for our fans. All of those that have stuck with us throughout the years. Chicago's Big Ten team is going to come back as Chicago's Big Ten champions and season tickets went on sale today. So we're already in 2013, so let's get to work." 

 

 

 

What did we hear? 

 

 

 

"Excuse my language but it sucks." - Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen when asked his reaction to the Bulldogs losing five of his last six games in 2012 season.  

 

 

 

"The great thing is eight‑win seasons, and it's starting to be disappointing at Mississippi State," Mullen said after the loss. "Eight‑win seasons are starting to get disappointing. So that is the direction you want the program headed in." 

 

 

 

"I said 'go into the locker room, splash some water on your face, retie your shoes, readjust your pads and forget that you came out to start the game'," Mullen said about MSU junior quarterback Tyler Russell. "Get in the tunnel, start jumping up‑and‑down again, get yourself tight and run out of the tunnel again." 

 

 

 

"He was just a little frustrated and who wouldn't be frustrated after making that mistake early on in the game?," - MSU junior offensive guard Gabe Jackson said about MSU junior quarterback Tyler Russell. "He kind of settled down some and I was telling him to not beat himself up and everybody makes mistakes. Everybody has those days." 

 

 

 

"Not having (Johnthan Banks) out there kind of changes your mindset a little bit," MSU co-defensive coordinator Geoff Collins said. "He's a great player, a great ambassador for the school. He's just a pleasure to coach." 

 

 

 

"I've never been here before, so I'm not sure how to act," Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said after the win. "This is what's left of the monkey after the guys tore it apart, obviously, in the locker room. There are so many lessons this team has learned, especially for our seniors and it's been a special journey." 

 

 

 

"I was talking to Tyler, he was telling me I got to get going," MSU junior tailback LaDarius Perkins said. "Because he said he was struggling a little bit, he was like (to me) 'get the guys going' and we'd try to keep moving (and) pick it up some." 

 

 

 

What's next? 

 

 

 

242 days until another college football game vs. an opponent 

 

 

 

The Bulldogs open up the 2013 college football season on Aug. 31 at Reliant Stadium in Houston against Oklahoma State University on one of the ESPN family of networks.  

 

"We'll hit the recruiting trail, and usually I do the full evaluation where we add what directions, you know, what changes and tweaks and all of those things we have to make," Mullen said. "We'll look at next year's team and see what direction next year's team is going to head in." 

 

 

 

All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.

 

 

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