USA TODAY Sports
With a 34-20 victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl, the Northwestern Wildcats end a 64-year bowl drought. Recapping the wild weekend that was the Wildcats in the River City.
You may not have heard, but Northwestern hadn't won a game in a couple years and a few tries. Chad and I both were picking the 'Cats to win, as were most writers from both sides, but "something something Northwestern in a bowl game" meant that until the clock hit 0:00 in the fourth quarter, nothing was decided.
But an entire bowl game's hype and hoopla happened, too; let's recap the whole thing!
Before I kick off, a note: if anyone feels so inspired as to share photos, highlights, and thoughts of their bowl games, please do that, either in this thread or in the FanShots and Posts. As a B1G community, we'd love to hear about your experiences!
The Gator Bowl Parade and Pep Rally consisted of a total of about four things: (1) Car clubs galore, (2) An incredible number of Shriners-type organizations, (3) hungover me realizing that Mississippi State's cowbell tradition might be, in fact, the worst thing ever, and (4) Northwestern University President Morton Shapiro going all #NotSoHumbleBrag on everyone at the Pep Rally. Reminding us that Northwestern "does it the right way" without "football majors" and backhandedly insulting Mississippi State (seriously, I'll post video when I find it), Shapiro simultaneously had my friends and me laughing hysterically, calling it the most elitist pep rally ever, and thinking this was the greatest speech since "Ask not what your country can do for you." Troll on, Morty. Troll on.
All things considered, Jacksonville's not a terrible town. Everything was very accessible, I wasn't afraid to walk around at night (thanks, Houston), and the hosts clearly know what they're doing after 66 years of hosting the Gator Bowl.
Then game day. Ahhh, game day. After Mississippi State's Famous Maroon Band spelled "SEC" and led the cowbell-toting crowd in a rousing spelling exercise of "M-S-U" and "S-T-A-T-E", Northwestern opened with a pick-6 for senior DE Quentin WIlliams, who housed a terrible read from Mississippi State QB Tyler Russell. Russell struggled all day with his reads en route to 106 passing yards for 2 TDs and 4 INTs. Northwestern, as the game wore on, was increasingly in the Bulldogs' backfield and sacked Russell X times. While this season's surprisingly-competent NU rush defense struggled at times to stop the run (the Bulldogs piled up 186 yards on 33 carries), the 'Cats used efficient secondary play to befuddle Russell and force the Bulldogs into a 1/11 mark on third downs.
Utilizing the same two-QB system they employed all year, Pat Fitzgerald and Mick McCall enabled both Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian to do what they did best--run the ball a number of different ways and make percentage passes. Colter threw two bad interceptions and Siemian tossed an armpunt which would've made Taylor Martinez blush (but the 'punt' net Northwestern 58 yards on second down, so we'll call it a wash), but Colter tucked the ball down on timely third down conversations to scramble for first downs, and Siemian threaded a couple needles to keep drives alive. Siemian would cap off a quality effort with a 4-yard sprint on the zone-read--by my estimation the first or second time all year he's kept off the mesh--into the end zone. The 'Cats used all the weapons in their arsenal, from freshman superback Dan Vitale (watch out for him in 2013), to a plethora of wideouts, to all three RBs (Venric Mark, Mike Trumpy, and Tyris Jones).
Holding on for dear life in the 4th quarter, Northwestern took over deep in Bulldog territory after a Nick VanHoose INT, and Venric Mark's 2-yd push on an otherwise quieter day put the 'Cats up 14 for good. After Mississippi State inexplicably tried to run the ball on 2nd-and-long with just over two minutes remaining, Quentin Williams sacked Russell on 4th-and-forever. Three Kain Colter snaps in Victory Formation began the celebration--hugs, photos, tears, you name it--as the modest Northwestern contingent began a raucous celebration.
I'll just leave Fitz's postgame speech here for your listening pleasure:
Just fantastic. If it wasn't already apparent, you can tell how much this game meant to Pat Fitzgerald and the entire Northwestern football family. As just another testament to how "all about Northwestern" Pat Fitzgerald is, ask yourself this: how many D-I coaches would stop in the middle of their victory speech and strike up the band (hat-tip to my former organization, the Northwestern University Wildcat Marching Band, for great performances all week) with, literally, "A-one, a-two, a-one, two, three, four" into a stadium-wide rendition of "Go U Northwestern"? Kudos to you, Pat Fitzgerald, and congratulations on your school-record 50th victory.
Fitz rightly noted at the very start of his speech: "We tell our kids: Act like you've been there before. Well, we haven't been there before." With more solid performances like yesterday, Wildcat Nation will have to learn how to act it in the future. Going forward, the 'Cats look at a postseason ranking possibly inside the Top 15, and return most parts of one of the most successful teams in school history (only the 3rd 10-win season).
But enough about the future. I'm still riding this high, and it's absolutely awesome. So proud to be a member of Wildcat Nation, and even moreso after yesterday--GO 'CATS!