By BEN WAIT
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Mississippi State was looking to extend its bowl winning streak to six games, while Northwestern was looking to win its first bowl game since 1949.
When the dust settled, the No. 21 (Associated Press) Wildcats (10-3) ended their nine-game bowl losing streak.
“Well selfishly, it’s very humbling,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “It’s about our young men, all the great young men that I’ve had the privilege to be their head coach and very privileged to helping them to grow and be the best they can.”
The Bulldogs (8-5) lost to the Wildcats 34-20 at EverBank Field in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl on Tuesday.
“I want to congratulate Northwestern,” Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said. “I know it’s a big win for them. I think it tailing to Fitz, I’ve known him for a long time and seeing him after the game, I know how important that was to him.”
The Bulldogs are now 2-1 under Mullen in bowl games. They beat Michigan 52-14 in the 2011 Gator Bowl and beat Wake Forest 23-17 in last year’s Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn.
“Obviously, bowl trips tend to be more fun when you come out on top,” Mullen said. “We had a great time here this week, but we talked about adjusting back to the speed of the game. I do give our guys credit, because they were focused in.”
The Bulldogs fell behind early after Tyler Russell threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. MSU never led in the game.
“They continued to battle back,” Mullen said. “They put themselves back into position, and made a couple of critical mistakes at the very end to define the end of the game.”
The MSU players are no stranger to playing in bowl games. Junior running back LaDarius Perkins said the players had the same mindset coming into this year’s bowl game as in others: Take advantage of the opportunity and show a desire to win the game.
“We always want this game,” Perkins said. “We always want a bowl game. We had fun down here. When it was time to lock-in and focus, we did, but we just came short on the losing end at the end of the day. Losing, I mean, it (stinks). But it’s happened, it’s life. You’ve got to move on after things like that.”
The Bulldogs have been accustomed to winning the last game each season under Mullen. This is the first time in Mullen’s four years the Bulldogs did not win their season finale.
MSU started off 7-0 this season but stumbled down the stretch, losing five of its last six games.
“We just felt sometimes we didn’t execute like we should in games,” Perkins said. “That’s what it comes down to: If you execute the plays you should be successful. But there were a couple of games we were in we didn’t execute like we should, we kept the defense on the field too long some games. But it all plays into a team game. It’s all our fault; we have to make sure we get better at that next year.”
For more game coverage, see page B-1.