Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald relishes his team's Gator Bowl win Jan. 1 over Mississippi State. | AP photo
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Northwestern’s 34-20 win over Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl on Tuesday was the 50th of coach Pat Fitzgerald’s career, making him the winningest coach in school history.
Pappy Waldorf is second on the list with 49 wins. It was Waldorf who went to Cal after his successful stint in Evanston and coached against Northwestern in the 1949 Rose Bowl — the last bowl game the Wildcats won until Tuesday.
‘‘It’s very humbling, but if it was all about me, how selfish would that be?’’ said Fitzgerald, who’s now 50-39. ‘‘It’s about all the young men I’ve had a privilege to coach and our staff. We’ve had great continuity and consistency on our staff.’’
2-0 vs SEC
Fitzgerald and players grew weary of questions about how they would deal with the speed and athleticism of Mississippi State, a member of the Southeastern Conference. As it turns out, the Wildcats became the first Big Ten team since 1998 and only the ninth ever to defeat two SEC teams in the same season. They beat Vanderbilt 23-13 on Sept. 8.
‘‘The Big Ten can run a little bit,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘We proved that today. We can run. Enough said about that.’’
Jared Carpenter made 10 tackles and was named MVP, although several players were worthy of the honor, including defensive end Quentin Williams, who returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown, tipped a pass that resulted in an interception and had a sack and two tackles for losses totaling nine yards.
Defensive end Tyler Scott added two sacks.
‘‘That’s pretty much the way they have played all season long,’’ Fitzgerald said of his defensive ends.
Venric Mark had 118 all-purpose yards to finish the season with 2,166, just shy of Damien Anderson’s school record of 2,195 set in 2000.
The Wildcats rushed for 161 yards, giving them 2,938 for the season. The single season record of 3,062 was set in 2000.
Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks, the nation’s top defensive back, injured his leg returning a punt in the second quarter and did not return.
Northwestern junior safety Davion Fleming did not play because of an undisclosed injury.