We’re here now and we’re here to stay, Northwestern finishes off Miss State

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Pat Fitzgerald took the microphone at the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl trophy presentation. He thanked the bowl committee, he thanked the sponsors, he thanked the opponent, he thanked the fans. He said typically in moments of triumph like this, you act like you have been here before.

Except Northwestern had not been here before. Not in 63 years.

Fitzgerald told the crowd David Nwabuisi had told him that Northwestern was here now… and they were here to stay.

Tuesday’s win was very much that kind of a statement — an imperfect all-around game as LTP noted postgame. The Wildcats obliterated that monkey hanging on their back (and apparently secretly carried that stuffed monkey around before obliterating it and leaving its stuffing all over the floor of the team’s locker room at EverBank Field. A 34-20 victory over Mississippi State at the Gator Bowl gave Northwestern all the firsts that LTP mentioned previously — first bowl win since 1949, first 10-win season since 1996, a new first in all-time wins with Pat Fitzgerald passing Pappy Waldorf.

This game though felt like destiny from the beginning. On the third play of the game, Quentin Williams ducked underneath the route and intercepted it, returning it to the Northwestern-painted end zone and sending the fans to the first of many frenzies this game.

The Wildcats defense forced four interceptions, including two that occurred in the Bulldogs’ red zone. Eventually the mistakes became too much for Mississippi State to overcome.

Yes, the Bulldogs started gashing the Wildcats with runs as Ladarius Perkins and Josh Robinson each rushed for 91 yards, breaking containment and cutting back to the open space. That enabled Mississippi State to tie the game at 13 in the second quarter.

This would have been as good a time as any for Northwestern to get down on itself and let the worst happen. The always nervous Northwestern fan base might have thought that was coming too.

Each time though, the defense would stand tall. Mississippi State would drive deep and NU would find a sack or a pass breakup to maintain control. The offense began picking up the pace with three straight completions from Trevor Siemian, including a 3rd-and-10 completion to Rashad Lawrence that prevented a three and out. That drive was the response the team needed to giving up 13 unanswered points and gave NU the lead for good.

Siemian was 3 for 4 for 73 yards on that drive, the biggest contribution to his superb 12-for-20, 120-yard performance.

The fact we can call that superb should tell you how strange an offensive day it was. Kain Colter passed for 76 yards and threw two picks, while rushing for 71 yards. Venric Mark had 13 carries for 56 yards and a touchdown, rarely finding space to get free and get going against a physical Mississippi State defense looking to stop the speedy back. The Bulldogs did a good job turning him and not allowing him to get up to speed.

No, Northwestern won this game with a methodical offense that set the team up with good field position — Mississippi State’s average starting field position was its own 28-yard line. The Wildcats defense again found ways to stand tall, holding long drives to field goals on many occasions or bailing themselves out with a big turnover.

This was not your typical Northwestern win.

But as LTP said, that did not matter. What mattered was that the Wildcats won. They won with their defense making stand after stand and keeping the Bulldogs off balance. They won by controlling possession when they needed to and speeding up when they needed to.

At the end of the game and a 7-point lead, NU went for the kill. The team came out throwing the ball and trying to aggressively keep things moving and score again (perhaps). That drive ended in t a three and out but it was another sign Northwestern did not view the game as over. The defense proved that too in getting its fourth interception and setting up the game-sealing touchdown.

From there, the defense brought the heat, recording two sacks on that final drive for Mississippi State and allowing only one more first down the rest of the game.

Quentin Williams started it with that interception return and he finished his career with a sack on the defense’s final play. Mississippi State allowed Northwestern to kneel the ball and revel in the victory for two minutes without any nail biting or worry.

  • hudhaifa3

    Being a military member I was wondering if anybody had the story behind the pregame speech? Class Act, Class Program………….

    • kinsella316

      I am also interested in that back story. That was a helluva a speech.

      • Jay

        Per the TV broadcast, it was from one of the Navy SEALs that was at Camp Kenosha this summer. Before the game, Chief Rob Stella gave them 2 flags, one that flew in Iraq and his personal flag that he took with him on each mission, which was the one that Cejda was holding during the game. If you have the game recorded, they talk about at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

        • kinsella316

          Thanks. I’ll check my DVR!

        • Robert Stella

          The flag given to the team was actually flown in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the one Cody Cejda carried was on my person during all missions in Iraq, and Afghanistan. It was also brought to London by our Olympic team this past summer.

    • http://twitter.com/NUHighlights NUHighlights

      Chief Robert Stella has been involved with the program since the Navy SEALs training back in August. Fitz had relayed messages from Stella to the team in pregame speeches throughout the year.

    • hudhaifa3

      Received this message from Coach Fitz’s facebook 45 min after I sent it. Thanks for answering below. It just sounded like maybe something had happened to one of the SEALS but that wasn’t the case…………..

      Pat Fitzgerald
      Navy seal trained our guys this summer- he asked us to take his flag into our game- it was special

  • zeek

    This has to go down as one of the most surprising seasons in my years following this program.

    I had us pegged for 4-6 wins and a shot at a lower bowl like the Dallas bowl if everything went right.

    Most of us said before the season that the 2013 and 2014 seasons were going to be our targeted years given the recruiting classes that we’ve tucked away the past two or three years and the upward trajectory of recruiting over the past two or three years.

    It’s a big credit to Fitz and the rest of the coaching staff that they were able to make all of this happen a year or two early and to have the program primed for perhaps a special run over the next two or three years.

    Either way, it’s perhaps a bigger statement than anything that we could have this kind of year in what most pegged as a “rebuilding” year. That’s probably the best indicator for the future.

    • AdamDG

      Paul Myerberg had his “dream season” scenario for us as 9 wins!

    • Nate

      My expectations shifted once I saw their defense hold down Vandy and BC under 20 in back-to-back weeks. While BC had another down yr, Vandy had another good one and probably deserved to be NU’s Gator Bowl opponent. Once I was convinced that the D was not going to allow 30+ ppg, I knew there was an opportunity for 8+ wins.

      • zeek

        That’s a good point about the Vandy game. That was probably the biggest barometer of the season, and it was true to form.

  • Chasmo

    Perhaps I am in the minority for feeling this way but wasn’t NU’s victory over Mississippi State a VERY TYPICAL Northwestern win?

    NU beat an unranked team — as all its victories this season have been — in part because that unranked team played poorly. Had MSU played its best game of the season and NU still won, then one could argue “this was not your typical Northwestern win” but that was not the case.

    Nevertheless, this victory remains an important milestone in the development of NU’s football program. Let’s hope a 10-win season capped by a bowl victory combined with plans for a new practice facility will improve recruiting.

    Stanford will always have the advantage of its northern California weather over Chicago’s Big Ten team but once the practice facility is completed, NU will be on an even footing in all other factors vs. the Cardinal. Stanford has been able to sign three or four top 200 players in each of the past few years and if NU can sign two or three every year, then NU victories over Top 20 teams will become much more commonplace.

    GO CATS!

    • zeek

      The ranked v unranked thing isn’t a great way to see it. We went 10-3. Our 3 losses included 2 losses to ranked teams including that 29-28 loss to Nebraska and the disaster finish in Ann Arbor. So basically we only had opportunities for wins over two ranked teams out of 13 on the schedule, and we lost them in excruciating fashion at the end of the games.

      Here’s our 3 quality wins other than the bowl victory:
      Syracuse won 8 games (including its bowl win over WVU).
      Vandy won 9 games (including its bowl win over NC State).
      Michigan State won 7 games (including its bowl win over TCU).

      That’s 3 quality wins right there; not ranked teams, but all those teams are going to be considered top 35-40 teams, and Vandy should finish just a bit outside the rankings.

      As for typical versus atypical win, Northwestern took a punch and held its own without losing the lead. The team stepped up after flatlining to start the 3rd quarter and then took a 2 touchdown lead.

      At the end of the game, they played a lot more aggressively than in other games and didn’t give up a score.

      How many times in the past have we given up a freebie touchdown at the end of games because of passive offensive play followed by passive defensive play when we have 2 score leads? Yet this time, the offense ate up a ton of clock and the defense then locked down.

      Yeah, their quarterback had a bad game, but Mississippi State had a monster rushing attack and had a chance to take the lead in the 3rd quarter; they played like a solid 8 win team (although in fairness they have no wins of any quality worth speaking of…).

      • JM

        This isn’t golf. Tyler Russell wasn’t putting. He had a bad day because our defense confused and rattled him. Period.

    • skepticat

      The ESPN blog has the same Gator Bowl wrap-up posted on the SEC and Big Ten blogs, but the comments for each are different. It’s eye-opening, and probably typical, that the SEC comments are “NU wasn’t better: the MSU quarterback had a bad day and, if not for poor coaching, should’ve been benched.” In other words, even when an SEC team loses, they don’t.

      To which I say: I’d like to think MSU having a bad day had something to do with the other team on the field.

      In the game I watched, NU was clearly the better team and won without caveat. There’s absolutely no shame in that.

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

        I have thought the same thing reading various articles and blogs. The line of thought is “Tyler Russell had a bad day” NOT “Northwestern’s defense made big plays.” No matter. The final score tells the tale.

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

        Having just watched the Florida game with my Gator-crazed family, this is exactly the case. If it isn’t SEC, it doesn’t count. And apparently Miss State, Vandy, etc. are not in the SEC. Makes no sense.

      • NUMBalumDave

        Good point. Watching the NIU-FSU game the announcers made me sick. They always have a narrative that they push. The SEC narrative keeps the rabid fans as happy as possible. Sour grapes.

        • DR

          except FSU is not in the SEC…

          • NUMBalumDave

            Yes, of course, but SEC per se was not my point. My point was that the narrative is completely for the consumption of the fans. It’s as much about selling the reporting as it is about the reporting itself. ESPN knows that if it salves the feelings of the MSU fans (‘just a bad day, NU is not all that good’) then the fans will come back and consume their product a lot more than if they report what happens (‘Northwestern beats MSU by two touchdowns’).

            I was just using the egregiously bad commentary of the NIU-FSU game as a case in point.

          • skepticat

            I will give the media props for one thing though: they’ve mentioned several times the successful year that the small private schools have had this year: NU, Stanford, Duke, and Rice all in bowls, with all but Duke pulling off victories. I guess ND theoretically belongs in there, though the “U” part almost seems an afterthought….

            But otherwise, yeah. The post-Sugar Bowl analysis was laughable, with a round-table of “analysts” all but slack-jawed in disbelief that, OMG!, #3-in-the-country, SEC-powerhouse Florida got whupped by “only” #12 Louisville. Even Herbstreit, who usually seems pretty balanced, went on a near-rant about “how could Florida not show up and so thoroughly embarrass themselves?!” At no point did I hear anyone mention Louisville actually being, you know, maybe the better team, or that “strength-of-schedule” rankings based largely on perceptions of how good a conference is ultimately doesn’t mean anything.

    • Cliff Garstang

      They weren’t ranked, but they were favored; ‘Cats were underdogs in too many games this season even when we had the higher ranking

      • Sasser

        Incorrect — Vegas had Northwestern -2 at the start of the game. MSU was actually the underdog yesterday.

        • CliffG

          Didn’t know that. A day or two before MSU was favored. What changed?

          • vaudvillain

            The line opened with MSU favored by 2-ish, but by a day or two before the game, the line had flipped and NU was the favorite. I don’t think anything specific happened…just that people had time to actually investigate the respective resumes of the teams and get past the knee-jerk SEC > B1G reaction. Either way, it stayed under a field goal, so it was essentially pick ‘em.

    • Nate

      Agree 100% on the facilities thing…heard Fitz on 670 AM here in Chicagoland twice today, and he mentioned that plans for the facilities are ahead of schedule…I can’t wait to see what this football program will look like 5-10 years down the road. Hey, if NU can make the folks in South Bend nervous, I’d say progress has been made.

  • Catatonic Joe

    I would like to give a shout out to Freshman Eric Olson. I was a half dozen rows behind Eric all year at Ryan Field and a couple rows back in Jax. He was the most consistent, visible sideline spark plug for fans all year, waving that towel and getting the NU fans on their feet to make some noise. Eric, I am looking forward to seeing you log some big minutes on the field, but you did a great job where you were. Thanks.

  • Nate
    • Cliff Garstang

      I enjoyed that interview a lot. Thanks. I noticed that Fitz hinted about some big news coming. It was just after they’d talked about the fundraising for the new facility and the $55 Million already pledged. I wonder what that news is . . .

      • Nate

        Your welcome. Wednesday was a fun day taking in all the reaction to the Gator Bowl win. The goal is to get 47,130 for every home game, and I think NU moved a bit closer to that goal after Wednesday.

  • NUOtter

    Does anyone know if the purple “Champions” shirts that were sold at the game are available online somewhere? They’re a little different than the ones now being sold on the Gator Bowl and NUSports websites.

    • Joe U NU

      Maybe the one you’re talking abou can be found here: http://www.footballfanatics.com/Gator_Bowl_Merchandise

      See the purple Champions tshirts

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

      I couldn’t find them on NU’s Web site. Was a little disappointed how quickly they ran out of sizes but it is great we all snapped them up. I did manage to find the Miss State champions shirts (they were in boxes outside the stadium, completely unguarded). It is the wrong color (and wrong team), but I still smile when I see it.

  • DR

    Apologies if this link has been posted. It’s from the NYT before the Gator Bowl win. It was nice to read then, but even nicer now, and provides a bit more context to Fitz…..

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/01/sports/ncaafootball/pat-fitzgerald-and-northwestern-hope-to-end-bowl-losing-streak.html?emc=eta1&_r=0

  • zeek

    http://www.dodgeglobe.com/article/20130101/NEWS/130109986/1020/SPORTS

    Good article about NU fundraising and the man behind it.

    He says there’s a multiple-billion dollar fundraising effort about to be launched with more than $300 million of athletics fundraising possibly…

    • cece

      looking forward to him building relationships with all of the fans. all of them.

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