The Northwestern Wildcats snapped an absurd 63-year bowl drought Tuesday afternoon, with a 34-20 victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
The Wildcats had lost their last nine postseason games (tied for an NCAA record), their last victory coming in the 1949 Rose Bowl against the California Golden Bears.
The win represents an important milestone for the program, and in truth, it was a long time coming. Coach Pat Fitzgerald has revitalized Northwestern football since taking over in 2006, leading them to five consecutive bowl games. And now, finally, after near-misses against Auburn and Texas Tech, he can call himself a bowl champion.
For Mississippi State, the loss caps off a horrid end to the season. The Bulldogs opened the year 7-0, but dropped five of their last six to finish 8-5.
Let's take a look at who was most responsible for this historic result:
Northwestern Defense: A
Northwestern was the beneficiary of some atrocious quarterback play (more on that in a bit), but to their credit, they certainly made the most of it.
The Wildcats tallied four interceptions on the afternoon, and returned them for an average of 20 yards each. That includes the momentum-establishing pick-six by Quentin Williams on the game's second play from scrimmage.
Even after being battle-tested in the ugly, rugged Big Ten, it would have been easy for Northwestern to be overpowered by Mississippi State. They are, after all, a member of the big, bad SEC.
But the Wildcats pushed back and, on almost every occasion, they were the ones doing the overpowering. In the end, that would turn out to be the difference.
Northwestern QBs Kain Colter/Trevor Siemian: B+
Neither of Northwestern's dual-quarterbacks set the world on fire this afternoon, but they weren't asked to. Their job is to manage the offense, move the chains and pick their spots.
That's precisely what they did.
Colter, the "athletic one," ran for 71 yards on 11 carries, while Siemian, the "pocket passer" threw for 120 yards on 12 completions. The latter also flashed some mobility of his own, picking up a first down with a 10-yard scamper and adding a four-yard touchdown run to boot.
While the opposing quarterback was throwing his team out of the game (again, more on that soon), Colter and Siemian made only plays that kept their team in it—which is exactly what they're expected to do.
Mississippi QB Tyler Russell: F
Pardon my french, but what the hell was that?
2012 was supposed to be the year of the SEC quarterback. And while Russell was nowhere near as proficient as Manziel, Murray or McCarron, he was certainly no slouch.
But today, he played like Paul Crewe after a meeting with his bookie.
Russell made inexplicable decision after inexplicable decision, throwing four interceptions before the afternoon was through. Here's how they rank by egregiousness:
- Interception #1 – Returned for a TD on the game's third play.
- Interception #4 – Fourth quarter; Nick VanHoose could have called fair catch.
- Interception #3 – In the red zone; one play after Bulldogs' intercepted Colter.
- Interception #2 – In the red zone; stymied long Mississippi State drive.
Russell threw 366 passes this season—and only six of them were intercepted. On Tuesday, he threw 28 passes and four of them were intercepted.
He didn't play like a viable quarterback, and it cost his team dearly.