2013 Gator - Northwestern 34, Miss State 20

Posted Jan 1, 2013

2012-2013 Bowls - CFN's Preview & Prediction for the 2013 TaxSlayer.com Gator

2013 Gator

Miss State vs. Northwestern

- 2012-2013 CFN Bowl Central

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National Rankings
77th Total Offense 62nd
58th Total Defense 51st
54th Scoring Offense 42nd
29th Scoring Defense 32nd
86th Rushing Offense 14th
69th Run Defense 18th
50th Passing Offense 108th
47th Passing Defense 98th
5th Turnover Margin 10th
Position Rankings
relative to each other
5 Highest - 1 Lowest
M   N
3 Quarterbacks 4
3 RBs 4
4 Receivers 2.5
3 O Line 4
3 D Line 4
3 Linebackers 3.5
4 Secondary 2
4 Spec Teams 4
4 Coaching 3.5

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Behind huge interceptions early and late, No. 21 Northwestern beat Mississippi State 34-20 in the Gator Bowl and snapped college football's longest postseason losing streak Tuesday.

The Wildcats (10-3) earned their first bowl game win since 1949, ending a nine-game losing skid that was tied for the longest in NCAA history. They also celebrated double-digit victories for the first time since the 1995 Rose Bowl season.

Quentin Williams returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown on the third play of the game and Nick Vanhoose set up a late touchdown with a 39-yard interception return. Those plays were the difference in a back-and-forth game that featured more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (six).

In between, Northwestern's two-quarterback system kept the Bulldogs (8-5) off balance most of the day.

Scrambler Kain Colter ran for 71 yards, making up for his two interceptions. Backup Trevor Siemian threw for 120 yards and an interception, and also ran for a score.

Even with the turnovers, they were more efficient than Mississippi State's Tyler Russell.

Russell completed 12 of 28 passes for 106 yards, with two touchdowns and four interceptions. He had only thrown six picks in the first 11 games this season.

LaDarius Perkins ran 19 times for 84 yards for the Bulldogs, and freshman Josh Robinson added 91 yards on seven carries.

Venric Mark, Northwestern's all-everything back, finished with 56 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.

Mark and Colter were on the field for the final few snaps, watching from afar as the madness started to unfold on their sideline. The Wildcats spent the final 1:42 celebrating the program's first postseason victory since beating Cal in the 1949 Rose Bowl.

Senior defensive tackle Brian Arnfelt doused coach Pat Fitzgerald with a water bucket and then jumped into his arms. Players danced at midfield and then ran toward the stands to recognize friends, family and fans. Fitzgerald playfully directed the band as it played the alma mater.

The Wildcats donned Gator Bowl championship hats and posed for pictures long after the final seconds ticked off the clock.

The feeling had to be special, especially since players and coaches hadn't forgotten that they blew three double-digit leads in the second half of every loss this season. Northwestern surrendered big leads against Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan. That `here-we-go-again' feeling surely had to come into play when Mississippi State tied the game at 13 in the third quarter.

But the Wildcats responded, with Siemian directing a 76-yard drive that put NU up for good.

Siemian's 4-yard TD run, set up by Colter's 31-yard scamper, made it 27-13 with 26 remaining in the third.

Mississippi State ended the season losing five of its final six games.

Northwestern (9-3) vs. Mississippi State (8-4)
Jan. 1, 12:00, ESPN2

Here's The Deal … Northwestern's post-season woes have been well-documented. The basketball team has never been to the NCAA tournament, and the football team hasn't won a bowl game since winning its only bowl over Cal in the 1949 Rose.

There was a blown opportunity against Bowling Green in the 2003 Motor City, and there were overtime losses to Missouri in the 2008 Alamo and Auburn in the 2010 Outback, but for the most part the Wildcats have been badly outclassed in most of their nine losses. They were far worse than Peyton Manning's Tennessee team in the 1997 Citrus; were woefully overmatched by Eric Crouch's Nebraska team in the 2000 Alamo; and were rightly beaten easily by a far stronger Texas A&M squad in last season's Meineke Car Care. This time, though, NU is punching in its own weight class.

Unlike Northwestern, Mississippi State comes into the game on a terrific bowl streak with five straight wins spread out from the 1999 Peach victory over Clemson to last year's Music City win over Wake Forest. However, the Bulldogs come into the bowl after dying down the stretch, losing four of their last five games after feasting on cupcakes over the first half of the season. Over the first seven wins, the only victory over a team that finished with a winning record came against Middle Tennessee. Once it came time to step up against Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU, the fun stopped getting blown out in all three games. After ripping up Arkansas, MSU was inexplicably rocked by Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl meaning that the team has yet to beat anyone who went bowling.

Northwestern came painfully close to getting a shot at Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship, gagging late against Michigan on a deep bomb to set up field goal to push the game to overtime and losing to Nebraska on a few late passes. This is the best Wildcat team yet under head coach Pat Fitzgerald, but nothing that happened this season will matter without finally giving the program a second bowl win.

Outside of Mississippi State's Rich Rodriguez era-ending blowout in the 2011 game, the Gator has been relatively solid over the last few years with four of the last six decided by a touchdown or less, and one of those games was Bobby Bowden's career-finale over West Virginia in 2010.

Players to Watch: Northwestern's Venric Mark deserved far more all-star recognition than he received this season. The do-it-all running back not only leads the team in rushing, but he's one f the nation's elite kick returners and receivers finishing 11th in the nation in all-purpose yards. The junior is hiccup quick and great at getting an inch and taking it a mile running for 100 yards eight times this season including a span of five of the last six games. Teams started staying away from him on punts after he brought kicks back for touchdowns against Syracuse and Penn State, and he needs to be a sparkplug of a playmaker against the Bulldogs.

The MSU pass defense has been mediocre statistically, but the talent is tremendous and should be a key to the game, led by corner Johnthan Banks, a 6-2, 185-pound senior who could've left early for the NFL. The veteran leader doesn't get picked on, but he's still tremendously active with four picks on the year – two against Auburn – to go along with 69 tackles. He's going to spend a long time at the next level, and this will be his final chance to make a move up the charts.

Will it be Kain Colter who gets to test the Bulldog secondary? Used as both a runner and a passer early on, he was a dangerous dual-threat playmaker before the coaching staff moved him to more of a jack-of-all-trades role, rushing for 161 yards and four scores against Indiana while also catching nine passes for 131 yards. He ran for 166 yards and three touchdowns against Iowa, and completed 6-of-9 passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. In all, he ran for 820 yards and 12 touchdowns and threw eight scoring passes with just two picks. The coaches will use him in a variety of ways after getting time to scheme.

Northwestern will win if … the defense stops the run. Tyler Russell is a good-looking quarterback for a passing game that did a nice job of keeping things moving, but MSU is at its best with a balanced attack that keeps defenses guessing. It's not a coincidence that the Bulldogs ran for more than 100 yards eight times this season and went 8-0, and went under 100 yards four times going 0-4. Northwestern might not have the same talent as Alabama, Texas A&M or LSU, but it's 18th in the nation against the run allowing more than 150 yards twice and losing both games. The Cats don't have a top pass rush, but they're aggressive against the run and should be able to keep the MSU ground attack under wraps.

Northwestern is terrific at hanging on to the ball when it comes to converting third down chances. MSU is better in time of possession, but the Wildcats are stronger at moving the chains. The Bulldogs are just converting 37% of their chances, but NU isn't great at coming up with key stops. If the Cats can keep MSU's third down percentage to around 35%, they'll be in great shape.

Mississippi State will win if … Russell has to take chances down the middle of the field. The Wildcat safeties can tackle, but they're not great in deep coverage and need to be tested as much as possible. Nebraska didn't start pushing it deep until late, but it had success once Taylor Martinez and the offense opened it up. Russell is efficient, and he has the decent targets in Chad Bumphis and Chris Smith to come up with a few home runs. The Big Ten's worst pass defense isn't going to come up with all the stops it'll need to take away what Russell will want to do.

Great in turnover margin, MSU has to take advantage of its chances. Northwestern has a problem putting the ball on the ground, and interceptions have been a big issue lately with six in the last three games. The Bulldogs have been phenomenal when it comes to getting on the ball recovering 14 of 18 fumbles, while the Wildcat D has only jumped on 16 of 28 fumbles. Overall, Northwestern isn't awful when it comes to turnovers, but MSU has to be +2.

What Will Happen: Never mess with a streak. Northwestern has the make-up and the ability to rise up and shut down an SEC team – it did it in a 23-13 win over Vanderbilt early in the season – but MSU will get the passing attack working. The Wildcats will get quirky to keep it close, but they'll be too one-dimensional while the Bulldogs will make up for a bad finishing kick with a strong all-around effort in what should be a close game for a full sixty minutes.

CFN Prediction: Mississippi State 31 … Northwestern 27
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Mississippi State -2 O/U: 53

Gator Bowl History
2012 Florida 24, Ohio State 17
2011 Mississippi State 52, Michigan 14
2010 Florida State 33, West Virginia 21
2009 Nebraska 26, Clemson 21
2008 Texas Tech 31, Virginia 28
2007 W. Virginia 38, Georgia Tech 35
2006 Virginia Tech 35, Louisville 24
2005 Florida St 30, West Virginia 18
2004 Maryland 41, West Virginia 7
2003 NC State 28, Notre Dame 6
2002 Florida St 30, Virginia Tech 17
2001 Virginia Tech 41, Clemson 20
2000 Miami 28, Georgia Tech 13
1999 Georgia Tech 35, Notre Dame 28
1998 North Carolina 42, Virginia Tech 3
1997 North Carolina 20, West Virginia 13
1996 Syracuse 41, Clemson 0
1994 Tennessee 45, Virginia Tech 23
1993 Alabama 24, North Carolina 10
1992 Florida 27, NC State 10
1991 (Dec.) Oklahoma 48, Virginia 14
1991 (Jan.) Michigan 35, Mississippi 3
1989 (Dec.) Clemson 27, West Virginia 7
1989 (Jan.) Georgia 34, Michigan State 27
1987 LSU 30, South Carolina 13
1986 Clemson 27, Stanford 21
1985 Florida State 34, Oklahoma St 23
1984 Oklahoma State 21, South Carolina 14
1983 Florida 14, Iowa 6
1982 Florida St 31, West Virginia 12
1981 North Carolina 31, Arkansas 27
1980 Pitt 37, South Carolina 9
1979 North Carolina 17, Michigan 15
1978 Clemson 17, Ohio State 15
1977 Pitt 34, Clemson 3
1976 Notre Dame 20, Penn State 9
1975 Maryland 13, Florida 0
1974 Auburn 27, Texas 3
1973 Texas Tech 28, Tennessee 19
1972 Auburn 24, Colorado 3
1971 (Dec.) Georgia 7, North Carolina 3
1970 (Jan.) Auburn 35, Mississippi 28
1969 Florida 14, Tennessee 13
1968 Missouri 35, Alabama 10
1967 Florida State 17, Penn State 17
1966 Tennessee 18, Syracuse 12
1965 (Dec.) Georgia Tech 31, Texas Tech 21
1965 (Jan.) Florida State 36, Oklahoma 19
1963 North Carolina 35, Air Force 0
1962 Florida 17, Penn State 7
1961 Penn State 30, Georgia Tech 15
1960 (Dec.) Florida 13, Baylor 12
1960 (Jan.) Arkansas 14, Georgia Tech 7
1958 Mississippi 7, Florida 3
1957 Tennessee 3, Texas A&M 0
1956 Georgia Tech 21, Pitt 14
1955 Vanderbilt 25, Auburn 13
1954 (Dec.) Auburn 33, Baylor 13
1954 (Jan.) Texas Tech 35, Auburn 13
1953 Florida 14, Tulsa 13
1952 Miami 14, Clemson 0
1951 Wyoming 20, Wash. & Lee 0
1950 Maryland 20, Missouri 7
1949 Clemson 24, Missouri 23
1948 Georgia 20, Maryland 20
1947 Oklahoma 34, NC State 13
1946 Wake Forest 26, South Carolina 14
1936 Hardin-Simmons 14, New Mexico State 14