January 2, 2013 5:03:21 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Mississippi State University football program wanted to make sure everybody knew who was calling the defensive signals before the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.
For the first time as a MSU assistant coach, co-defensive coordinator Geoff Collins was given the defensive play calling duties in place of two-year co-defensive coordinator Chris Wilson.
The results were mixed against an aggressive Northwestern University spread-option attack in a 34-20 loss 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 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 team's struggles against spread offenses that used a no-huddle tempo style like Troy University and Texas A&M University. He said he was pleased with what he saw even though No. 21 Northwestern (10-3) was 10 of 19 on third-down conversions.
"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."
Collins said he was told the decision also had to do with the absence of cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith, who left for the same position at Auburn University, and the need for the defensive line, which Wilson coaches, to be set on every play because the secondary only had one voice -- 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."
Mullen said a decision about Collins remaining the game-day play caller on defense likely wouldn't be made until the beginning of spring practices in March.
Wilson wasn't made available to the media after the game.
"I'm going to evaluate that as we move forward," Mullen said. "We'll hit the recruiting trail, and usually I do the full evaluation where we add what directions, what changes and tweaks, and all of those things we have to make."
Banks' career ends with injury
MSU senior cornerback Johnthan Banks saw his college football career end on a punt return in the first half after he suffered nerve damage to his thigh muscle.
Banks, an All-American and the recipient of the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the nation's best cornerback, suffered what Mullen said was a "massive gash in the side of his leg" that required multiple stitches. The injury was later classified as a bruised nerve to the thigh muscle, and he went from "probable" to return at the start of halftime to "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. He had four tackles in the first half. Banks wasn't made available to the media after the game.
Mullen said the probability of Banks being selected early in the NFL draft in April made him leery of putting the Maben native back into the game even after MSU tied the score at 13 in the second half.
"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."
Fitzgerald becomes Northwestern's all-time leader in wins
The victory enabled Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald to become the school's all-time leader (50) in his seventh season as coach.
Fitzgerald overtook College Football Hall of Famer Papa Waldorf after the victory, his first as a player or coach at Northwestern.
"It's no secret our goal is to be champions, and this is the first step in accomplishing that mission," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald entered the game 0-4 as a coach and 0-2 as a player in bowl games. No. 21 Northwestern had purchased Fitzgerald a stuffed monkey to symbolize the monkey on the 38-year-old's back due to the program's fortunes 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."