Perfectly Imperfect “10″; ‘Cats End Drought In Convincing Fashion 34-20

NCAA Football: Gator Bowl-Mississippi State vs Northwestern

You can read about the stats. We can obsess over the play-calling. It doesn’t matter. Northwestern just won a bowl game. Not just any bowl game, but the Gator Bowl against an 8-4 SEC opponent.  We’ll get to all of that game breakdown later tonight. Heck, I won’t even gloat about my Dan Vitale click to pick. For now, I’ve got more pressure on me than ever as a packed Hyatt Regency bar of partying ‘Cat fans including our fearless president are waiting for me to join them in celebration.

I will start trying to convey what it felt like. That’s right, I’m starting with the very end of the game. With 1:42 to go and the defense having forced yet another turnover, this time on downs, reality started to hit. Despite the poor overall attendance, Northwestern had a good 20,000 or so fans and the throng of purple was on its feet screaming at full throat. We all looked around. We did the math calculations on the impossibility of it all and we were taking a knee.  The cheering didn’t stop for 20 minutes. I stood there with shivers and chills saying outloud “this is really happening”.  The players looked like five-year-olds bounding around with glee. Fitz got the Gatorade shower, the first such one of his career, which oh by the way, is now win number 50, good enough to become the alltime wins leader in the history of Northwestern football. The players donned their Gator Bowl CHAMPION hats and raced towards the band. We all sang the fight song with the band. The players then moved to the other side of the Northwestern side and did it again. The PA announcer was interrupted by the half stadium singing.  he wisely let the fans sing on. Then Fitz and the players took the podium.

He was emotional. I was emotional. Hell, my cell phone was emotional as “OMG!!!” texts came through at a rate that was on par with the INTs in the game. The enormity of the moment hit me. 10-3 and Gator Bowl champs. A likely Top 15 finish and a preseason Top 15 start. And for the love of God, no longer having to endure ESPN or BTN’s lower third graphic reminding the nation about 1949 and the streak. This is big. No, it is monumental. As B1G teams went down on New Year’s Day in both blowout (Purdue), heartbreaking (Michigan) and just downright outmanned (Nebraska) ways, NU was carrying the torch for the conference. Oh yeah, and how about some of our wins now – Syracuse, Vandy, Michigan State – not so bad, right?!!

As the moment consumed me I thought about guys like Darnell Autry, who had kindly texted me before the game. I thought about Damien and Zak and Teddy Johnson and Brett and Tyrell. I thought about guys you’ve never heard of who played in virtual anonymity in front of 14,000 fans in the 70s, 80s and early 90s.  Guys who never tasted winning, let alone a bowl win. And there they were right in front of us. A group that went way beyond everyone’s expectations, except themselves. A team that created the swagger that has been one of the small intangibles missing from the program. A team that defined resilient, getting back off the mat after seemingly unbearable last second losses. I thought about what they must be thinking. And then Fitz took the mic.

At this point, one side of the stadium was 100% empty. Not a single purple clad fan had left, however. Fitz was clearly (or at least by the pauses, audibly noticeable) emotional. Then you realized once again, why the school’s most visible brand ambassador must be so easy to go to bat for if you’re Jim Phillips or Morty Schapiro. He improvised my thoughts exactly. After his diplomatic thanks, he thanked the fans, and said he always tells the guys to act like you’ve been here before. Then, he admitted, “we’ve never been here before”.  He talked about the seniors and asked that the fans and players unite in singing the fight song as he directed the band to play. It was one of those “you had to be there” moments. Man, was I glad that I was.  Fitz abutted his quote about not having been there before with the emphatic “we are here now and we are here to stay!”.

You know I’ll break the game down later. We’ll give out The Great, The Good & The Disappointing as we always do, but this post is about something much bigger than that. It is so much bigger than one game. It is a major milestone for the program. A rung up the ladder to becoming a perennial Top 25 team and a legit B1G title contender.  We’re all Northwestern fans. Those of us in the stands and you at home were freaking out up 14 entering the 4th quarter and especially when Mississippi State cut it to seven.  We overcame the mental block and have now erased one of the very few negatives left in program perception.

The irony of it all is that this game was the inverse of what everyone expected. Our secondary won the day forcing four INTs and played brilliantly. We shut down Tyler Russell who went just 12 of 28 for 106 yds and had as nearly many INTs (4) in this game as he did all season (6). Our running game barely got going as they managed to keep Venric Mark in check and it was Trevor Siemian’s passing against the best CB duo in the nation that supercharged us. Our rush defense, the rock all season, got gashed in big chunks. We candidly played an average game, yet still managed to beat our second SEC foe of the year (with Vandy winning 9 games and a bowl, that is no longer spin, it’s legit) – by 14 (and we all know most SEC teams would’ve punched it in to win by 21 at the end)! There is so much to go in to, so much to breakdown, so much to be positive about.  But, for now, I’m going to party like it’s 1949.

PS – That one last “negative”? Not having Ryan Field packed with purple. Season tickets went on sale today. Let’s do our part and start recruiting people on this awfully sexy bandwagon, shall we?

  • NUMBalumDave

    Well, Wildcat fans, ol’ NUMBalumDave cannot speak, as usual after a football game. But, this wasn’t just any old game, and I did not just ‘any old’ cheer.

    What a great, great day. Great game for the ‘Cats. Great victory for Fitz – winningest coach in NU history. Great weather. Great stadium. Really welcoming staff. Band did well. (Jiminy, the MSU band is almost as big as an entering freshman class at NU.)

    Things I wish had happened today: Venric Mark. NUMB playing toward the NU stands (only happened once). And, better ball protection.

    Otherwise, a very good day. A signature kind of win. Shot the monkey. And, NU fans were really great today.

  • zeek

    That drive where it was tied up 13-13 and Trevor Siemian threw 3 consecutive completions starting on a 3rd and 10 to march the team from our 24 to the Mississippi State 3 yard line is going to be one of the all-time drives in the history of this program.

    The whole team just stepped up today in the 2nd half to finish the job but that drive just stands out for turning the momentum back to our favor permanently.

    • NUMBalumDave

      Soon as they went up-tempo they got their mojo back.

    • James Klock

      Agreed– that may well challenge Kain’s 2011 performance at Nebraska, as The Drive.

    • fullfathomfive

      I agree about that drive. Siemian saved the start of the season at Syracuse and the end in Jacksonville. The kid’s a winner.

      • zeek

        There was no doubt in my mind we were going to win after he led us to that score. The whole team got its mojo back after that. They trailed us the rest of the game.

    • nwujames

      I admit I was concerned that there was some quarterback confusion after MSU got Colter’s number and Siemian started going 3 and out, but today they figured it out and made it happen. That, imo, was THE key to finishing this game with a W.

      Siemian’s escaping the sack on 3rd down (and marching us down the field) was huge. I think all the happy wildcats owe TS a big thanks for getting the momentum back.

      What’s really fun about this milestone win is the fact that it’s hard to point to any one single player as MVP (not to diminish Carpenter’s winning ESPN’s vote). We had so many players, offense and defense, contribute key plays to keep this game moving.

      Really looking forward to LTP’s breakdown. Congratulations to all – what a wonderful day!

  • CatInTheHat

    :’-D

  • nwildcat

    Happy New Year and congrats to you, LTP. You have been unwavering in your support and hope for this program for some time now. Wow, what a feeling!

  • DT

    Well said, LTP… A great day for the NU program…. And yes, I’m smiling… :-)
    Go Cats–

    • CatInTheHat

      Haha…smiling and you have to be just a little impressed ;-)

      • DT

        No doubt I was, Cat… Like so many who comment/contribute here, been waiting many years for this experience… As The Great One, said; “How sweet it is”!…

        • http://twitter.com/LakeThePosts Lake The Posts

          No joke. Met with dozens of fans postgame who said “do you think DT will finally be happy?” I told them all he holds winning a bowl game in highest order. Even he is smiling. I see I was spot on.

          • DT

            You were indeed spot on… Needless to say, I’m happy for you too! Glad you were there in person! Enjoy it all!!!

        • CatInTheHat

          I’m just giving you grief. This is a landmark day in all of our lives. I just hope you had even a modicum of the joy that we felt today. I suspect you felt much more :-) thanks for being part of our family

          • DT

            Much appreciated, Cat… Hope you had a great time in Jax…

        • David

          DT- How many years have you been waitng for a bowl win. 25 for me. This would be a fun poll for LTP. It would be interesting to see how long LTP readers have been waiting.

          • DT

            David- I guess it started for me in earnest in the 86 season attending the game against Illinois at Champaign that a U-Dog NU team won. There were maybe, 200 NU fans there by the way… Every program needs a spark of sorts and I thought if they could play with U of I at that point, earnest upside existed and a bowl win was realistic validation of the potential of the program. Like a few here I’m sure, the minute the game ended in 95 at Pasadena, it became a priority for me to as I think Gary Barnett said in so many words, “not want to have that feeling again”… I really thought NU would be Nebraska in the 00 Alamo, and more recently, Auburn… Those two losses were the toughest in my mind by the way..
            Net/net 1986 the audacious thought NU COULD win a bowl creeped in.. After the Rose Bowl in 95, it became a passion point for me.. Remains so going forward as well..

    • James Klock

      Even DT is happy? Holy hell, this IS a big day!

  • GoNU_MPB

    Does any one have info on a welcome back at the stadium when the team gets back to Evanston?

    • sailingcat

      Yeah, keep us posted!

    • Ira

      They say tomorrow around 12:30 pm

  • http://twitter.com/jayrutz Ken Rutsky

    Great day for wildcat nation. Just doesn’t get better than that. I will now crush my stop state at 28 button. ( an all time low, if u can remember back that far

    • NUMBalumDave

      Had my Stop State at 28 button pinned to my hat. “Remember”

      • http://twitter.com/jayrutz Ken Rutsky

        Thats a nearly 30 y/o button. Well done!

        • NUMBalumDave

          I rummaged through the spirit box and found it along with: Homecoming 77 (Paul Lynde), 78 (People who need Purple), my John Anderson button, my “I;m Wild about the Cats” button, among others. I will never give up my SS@28 button. Too much history.

  • http://www.northwesternmix.com/ NUMBSpiritLeader

    Russell’s leading receiver for the Gator Bowl? The Northwestern Defense with 4 receptions – one more than their #2 receiver (Clark).

    • nwujames

      Ouch! :) Loved every one of them (and the 5th that could have just as easily been ruled a turnover instead of an incompletion).

  • NUMBalumDave

    Many memorable moments – but I will recall one in particular: end of the game, team leaves the band area and goes over to the main group of fans to sing Go, U! and there is Bo Cisek leading them all with the band’s purple lightsaber.

  • Mark

    Cats! Cats! Cats! Woo Hoo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! A great day for the team and the program. Salute to the seniors for their leadership and example, e.g., Q Williams!!!!

  • David

    I am really proud of this team. #1 APR, #1 Academic BCS, 10 wins, 3 wins
    against other Bowl winners, Gator Bowl Champions, no off field issues.

    In this game I was surprised by the lack of reviews. Vitale’s long catch down by the goal line
    should have been ruled incomplete. He
    caught the ball while going to the ground and stretched for the endzone and
    lost the ball when it hit the ground. Go
    back and look at the replay. When really
    caught a break.

    I think MSU caught a break on their first TD. He got his
    foot down…but appeared to b

    Bobble the ball when he hit the ground. Neither play was reviewed.

    Then the play they did review, Carpenter’s Int/or not, the
    angles were horrible. It looked like
    cameras were mounted at the top of the stadium.

    Also, that hands to the face was a bad call that lead to a
    TD for MSU.

    I am curious what others think.

    • James Klock

      I think that, with six bowl games today alone, the Gator Bowl drew the 5th-string officials and ESPN crew… MSU got away with at least 3 very clear unnecessary roughness moments (not a huge deal– our athletes handled the unwarranted handsiness with aplomb), and there was a lot of non-calling, on both sides.

      Honestly, I think that the refs were, at least, balanced in what they blew, and were unusually cautious about calling things (with the exception of the hands-to-the-face call, which was about the most marginal call they made). Frankly, I’m fine with that: play the game, not the refs.

    • http://www.facebook.com/j.r.mcc JR McCullough

      I was surprised by the lack of trick plays on our part. I was also surprised that Mark did not have a big game and that the dreaded three-man rush actually worked. We actually got a sack from that formation!

  • BeNWildcat14

    Beautifully said. Just an overall great start to what should be a very exciting new 2013 year for NU football. Loved the new helmets and the execution by our team. This team really impressed me this season, yes we had 3 heartbreaking losses, but the team took a huge step up this year as LTP said and won the bowl game, and what an impressive win it was! 63 year curse broken!

    Let us not forget though, the Cats put an SEC team in their appropriate place…..the losing column.

  • Hank

    Go Cats!! I’ve got a nice tan on my left side and no voice left.

  • polymersic

    Nice post LTP. Great win for the Cats and what a way to start 2013! Go Cats.

  • UVA Cat

    Great win today! Are the posts in the St. Johns River yet?!?! :-)

  • http://twitter.com/booksradley Bijal

    Just an incredible day to be an alum.

  • Stephen Zgrabik

    so awesome to be at that game!!! NU 2, SEC 0 this season! Can’t wait to get next year’s season tix! Don’t think I’ll be able to talk for a couple of days as my voice recovers.

  • PBRCat

    After ten bowl game trips, I have finally witnessed an Northwestern victory! It is difficult to describe the thrilling spectacle. The Wildcats won in their own maddening fashion with the same bad habits on full display. I will take it with pleasure! It is hard to rate the 2012 team. It was a strange season in the B1G conference, but to their credit the Cats seized the opportunity it what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.With a few more plays, this team might hae been in a BCS game. I only wish more fans were jn attendance. There were acres of empty seats.

    Was the Johnny Cash song “Starkville City Jail” the unofficial MSU fight song?

    • DT

      PBR– Impressive you made all 10 games in person… The beauty of this one, is you can now hoist a Pabst in celebration– not to drown your sorrows!

      Enjoy it… Well deserved..

      • PBRCat

        Yes, I began my bowl game streak in Pasadena and made every subsequent trip. I thought that I was jinxed until today. Go Cats!

        • http://twitter.com/LakeThePosts Lake The Posts

          Wow. Really happy for you. Not even I have made it to all ten.

  • Purple to Pasadena

    Congrats to the Cats on an awesome season capped off by a huge exclamation point with the Gator Bowl win. A lot has been said on this blog and elsewhere about the uptick in talent in the program, and it is noticeable. I thought that we matched or exceeded the talent of all of our opponents this year. So, hats off first and foremost to the players. But the coaching staff also deserves high praise. This was the most disciplined NU team in years, which consistently won the turnover battle and committed few penalties. And a defensive staff that has been raked over the coals put out a great unit this year.
    Enjoy the offseason, players and coaches, and we look forward to seeing you back in action next fall.

  • http://www.facebook.com/prossmanreich Philip Rossman-Reich

    The monkey is no more…

    http://twitpic.com/brn9dp

    • http://www.facebook.com/PlunkettDavid David Plunkett

      Oh, sweet Jesus, that is awesome!

  • Icehockeycat

    Great win – been waiting a long time for this. Good chance we end the season as the highest ranked B1G team (OSU not eligible..). Never would have thought that when the season started……

  • NJcatsfan

    LTP, I’d guess the crowd was closer to 15,000 for NU…which is still pretty damn impressive. One of the reasons for the small overall crowd was that there were very few locals. Almost the entire crowd was partisan one way or the other.

    • http://twitter.com/LakeThePosts Lake The Posts

      Fair. Absolutely brutal local turnout by average fans. Obviously not big name teams for JAX, but still – you’ d think they’d get some locals. It was all NU or MSU fans. Period.

  • bandcat

    Nice Pick to Click LTP. This will be the first of many Gatorade showers for Fitz. We put another brick in the wall today. Keep building on it.. They will come! Go Cats! Loved Trevor on the give,get and go option.. That was sweet..

  • vaudvillain

    When he was up on the podium, Fitz made a point of honoring every player who has ever worn the Purple and White. Classy move. Well done, Coach — and congrats to the Cats! 10-3 overall, 5-3 B1G, 2-0 SEC. Not bad. Not bad at all.

  • ranewton

    can’t stop smiling!! what a way to start the year!

  • NUinNY

    So many things to be excited about. Man, though, Siemian’s passing … I felt like I was watching Steve Schnur on some of those drives. It’s going to be exciting to see how he grows over the next two years.

  • FurtiveCat

    Having lived, and mostly died, with the Cats since 1985, this is sweet. And isn’t it odd to think that the pre-season Top 25 polls should feature NU, Stanford and Vandy.

  • Henry in CT

    Leave it to me to say something negative but… MSU gave the game away. I’m real happy for NU but the B1G had a bad day and although we won would we have beaten Oklahoma St, Georgia, South Carolina or Stanford? Not likely. There is a long road ahead or like Churchill said after El Alemain… this is not the end, nor is it the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning.

    • nwujames

      I disagree. We traditionally have played to the level of our opponents, and that’s what you saw today. Keep in mind Michigan could have just as easily beaten S. Carolina today as we could have beaten them earlier this season.

      Unlike the old days of the Cardiac Cats where we trail most of the game and find a win in the last minutes, we were in control of our destiny ALL season. We’ve been leading our opponents for ~90% of game play this year (I’m guessing – I don’t know the actual number, but I suspect I’m not far off). I 100% agree that there’s work to be done and plenty of opportunity to improve, but I don’t think your pessimism is warranted.

    • JP

      What an idiot. They beat the team put in front of them by 2 TD’s. What more do you want? Life must really suck when you can’t enjoy the pleasures it has to offer.

      • Henry in CT

        I’m happy that we won but realistic enough to know that it was because of the opponent we drew. I think Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin would have also beat MSU but that is not saying much because none of them could beat a decent bowl opponent.

    • ruizhe

      Not Stanford and definitely not UGa, but we would have beaten OKState and SC would have been a toss-up. We only lost on a lucky play to Michigan and they were one play away from knocking off SC, so I don’t understand why you drank the ESS-EEE-SEE kool-aid.

    • NUMBalumDave

      OF COURSE it’s because of the opponent we drew. Even Fitz said early in the season that this team could not carry the conference. We are not a top ten team, and we drew a fairly even opponent from the vaunted SEC, and we won. What it not to like about that? We won’t get the national championship because we did not deserve it, but so what?

      About errors and ‘giving the game away’: give the team credit for forcing errors and taking advantage. We had some giveaways, too, but survived.

      I see no negative in winning against our opponent while not playing a higher ranked opponent, especially if the opponent was considered an even match.

    • http://www.northwesternmix.com/ NUMBSpiritLeader

      The Vegas point spread was NU by 2 (or so). The result was NU by 14. Not only did the team win, they beat the point spread by a lot.

      NU did get the best draw IMO, but those are the breaks. Going 2-0 versus SEC bowl teams this year is better than the performance of some SEC teams.

      Is there room for improvement? Yes – and we all know it. But for now, let’s all smile along with DT, LTP, PRR, and all the rest on LakethePosts.

      Go Cats!

      PS: Judging by the various ESPN chat boards, the SEC is taking the Northwestern loss especially hard.

  • Jackschuf

    Not an alum, but an Evanston native who used to sneak into games with the rest of the kids and sat thru most of the 35 game losing steak. If there was ever a better fit between a coach and a school as we have with Fitz and NU I haven’t seen it.

    I sat at the Blake Street Tavern in Denver Today at 10 am with 60 other Cat fans and cheered ourselves horse. My NU flag is flying over my house on Jackass Hill in Littleton, Colorado for all to see.

    A great day for all!

    Jack Schufreider and family

    • NUMBalumDave

      Jack, we need lots more fans like you. Thanks for the post.

  • Nate

    So happy that the drought’s finally over. And, selfishly, I’m happy NU was the only B1G winner on New Year’s Day. This conference will have its day in the sun again next year when OSU is back, so let NU have the stage to their own for once. Curious who got the MVP award (even though there were multiple MVP’s) and how full the stadium appeared percentage-wise at it’s highest capacity (I’ve heard that there were some empty sections). Wish I could’ve made it down there but didn’t have the means to embark on the journey (poor college student problems). I hope to find a way to Pasadena next January. So excited after the win, that I already can’t wait for next season!

    • NUMBalumDave

      The upper deck was completely empty. The endzones were spares except under the south end boxes. It was hard to gauge the attendance on the B1G side from where we were sitting but there was one empty club level section about 30-40 yard line north, which I guess was an NU allotment section that went unsold. MSU side, which I guessed would be packed, was not much fuller than NU’s side. All in all, a pure guess, the stadium was half full. I’d say 20-25K for MSU, maybe 15K for NU. Pure guess.

      It is amazing how quickly MSU’s side cleared out when we got the ball on downs with 1:42 left. There was no one left but the band at 0:00. This is a fantastic facility, and the staff were superior. A major league sports venue, IMO.

  • sailingcat

    Is our game still going to be on espn2? My tv shows the duke game in that timeslot.

  • SteveR

    For all Wildcat fans near and far who are old enough to have enjoyed very good teams in the 1960′s and early ’70′s – then to suffer the heartbreak of two generations of the Dark Ages – this one feels particularly sweet. Remember what it felt like around the water cooler when you either took the insults and incessant ribbing, or like many of us, you just shut up and didn’t even mention you were from Northwestern? Finally, we can all “act like we’ve been there before”…because we have. Great job by everyone connected with the program. I’m a Northwestern alum and damn proud of it!

West Division

TeamsW (Overall)L (Overall)W (B1G)L (B1G)
Minnesota1000
Purdue1000
Iowa1000
Nebraska1000
Illinois1000
Northwestern0100
Wisconsin0100

East Division

TeamsW (Overall)L (Overall)W (B1G)L (B1G)
Rutgers1000
Penn State1000
Michigan1000
Michigan State1000
Ohio State1000
Indiana1000
Maryland1000