USA TODAY Sports
It's shocking enough that Northwestern won a bowl game, but the way they beat Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. is even more surprising.
I've gotta say: I expected a Northwestern win, but I didn't expect it to happen the way it happened. Go back and read some of the things I wrote about this game, and then peruse the game tape. I was completely wrong about everything. Venric Mark didn't lead Northwestern in rushing. Northwestern had scores by Quentin Williams, Tyris Jones, and a running touchdown from Trevor Siemian. They intercepted the ball four times after only having done so nine times all year, and Siemian and Kain Colter threw three picks after only throwing four combined all year.
How did that happen?
I'll tell you: it's 2013, and Northwestern football is capable of winning games when they aren't able to play to their strengths. The guys who played their best and the ways Northwestern excelled were not the same people and strategies that got Northwestern their first nine wins, but this squad was complete, and earned a bowl win without their best stuff. Really, really encouraging, and I'm already excited about next year.
- I hate writing stuff like this, but Northwestern's MVP was Tyler Russell. I feel for the kid: we heard great stuff about him all through the bowl run up, and he came out and lost Mississippi State a football game. He'd thrown six interceptions coming into the game, and left with ten. He showed his talent with a few nice passes, but the execution was off all day. He didn't see Quentin Williams on the pick-six threw into multiple coverage on his third and fourth throws, with one getting tipped by Williams for Chi Chi Ariguzo's pick and the other floating a good four seconds for Nick VanHoose, 15 yards behind his receiver. (Ibraheim Campbell's pick was a nice play jumping the route, but still shouldn't have been made.)
- And he wasn't the only player helping Northwestern. Loved the false starts in the red zone.
- That said, give a million credits to Northwestern's defense. Good of Jared Carpenter to get the MVP on a day he played well, but he was the fifth-or-sixth most deserving guy. Williams doesn't wow with his physical skills, but he was everywhere he needed to be all day, with a sack, a vicious TFL, the pick and score, and the deflection on the other pick. Tyler Scott had two sacks, just beasting past his blockers, including one when he was being double-teamed in three-man coverage. Chi Chi had himself a game, VanHoose was big in coverage, really shutting down Chad Bumphis, the linebackers stopped the run and rarely did the team get beat in the pass. Northwestern scored 34 points. Let's give the defense credit for at least 20 of them.
- Kain and Trevor both had sub-par games, but I really liked the way both were used. Kain made some of his nicest passes of the year when not throwing some silly picks, and also broke loose. And I'd been waiting all year for Trev to get out on a zone read like he did. And the throws he made on the drive after Mississippi State tied the game up at 13 - a big pass rolling left on third-and-ten that I never thought he could make, and a strike down the middle of the field in the seams of Mississippi State's deep zone that almost led to a TD - wow. The defense was huge, but Trevor Siemian also helped win that game.
- Boy, is Dan Vitale gonna be a player for this team or what? I shied away from the Drake Dunsmore comparison earlier this year, but it does ring true. The true freshman led the team in catches and set up a pair of scores with big gainers.
Not much else to say. This team played well, was well coached, and the best part is we get most of the best players back.
I came into this year expecting six wins from a team with a strong offense but a struggling defense. Ten wins later, I'm praising the effort of the defense in a dominant bowl win. This will feel good for a long, long time.