JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Mississippi State offense didn't give the defense much of a chance Tuesday afternoon.
They answered the call for the most part, but it wasn't enough as No. 21 (Associated Press) Northwestern (10-3) beat the Bulldogs 34-20 in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl at EverBank Field.
"They gave up some drives but made some big stops in the red zone and created a couple of turnovers," MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. "(They) made some big plays."
The Bulldog defense had to deal with three turnovers in the first half, but held Northwestern to only 13 points in the opening half. MSU only trailed 13-10 going into the locker room at halftime.
Mullen decided to let co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Geoff Collins do the play calling instead of co-defensive coordinator Chris Wilson. Wilson had called defensive plays all year long.
"It came up the day we got here," Collins said. "Melvin (Smith) was in charge of of substitutions most of the time and we do a lot of substituting with the defensive line. He was just letting me call it and Chris handle the defensive line substitutions. For the most part, it was good."
Smith, the cornerbacks coach, left the program before the bowl game for a similar job at Auburn.
The Bulldogs only gave up 357 yards of total offense. Only 196 of those came through the air and 161 on the ground.
"It wasn't really different," MSU junior defensive back Nickoe Whitley said of Collins calling the plays. "We're always still going to have to look to the sideline to get the call no matter who's calling it. He's been calling them all week at practice, so we were use to it."
Whitley had two interceptions, while junior defensive lineman Denico Autry had one.
Autry returned his interception to the Northwestern 15-yard line to give the offense a chance to score in the second quarter.
"That was one of the things we had worked all week on," Collins said. "That was one of their series that they did every now and then. We had the perfect play called, he did exactly what he was supposed to do on that play, got cut, knew the play, got the pick and I think if you just look at how Denico has played the last four to five games, he arguably might be one of the better defensive ends in the SEC."
Autry was on the ground before the interception.
"Initially, I got cut, so I just hopped up and found a running back," Autry said. "He threw the ball right into my hands, and I just ran."
The Bulldog defense stood strong for most of the game without their best player. Senior defensive back Johnthan Banks was injured in the first half and saw limited action in the second half.
"I'm not one to make excuses," Collins said of the Jim Thorpe Award winner. "He's a great player. Looking out there as a play caller and not having (No.) 13 out there kind of changes your mindset a little bit. He's a great player, (and) a great ambassador for the school. He's just a pleasure to coach."
Senior linebacker Cameron Lawrence ended his last year with the Bulldogs with 120 tackles.
"I'm just proud of the way the guys fought," Collins said. "(With) Cam Lawrence, John Banks, Dewayne Cherrington, Josh Boyd, (and the other) seniors, I can't say enough good things about what an honor and a pleasure it was to coach those guys. I'm trying not to break down now talking about Cam like I did on the radio show. Just who he is as a person and who he is as a player. I think the people love Cam Lawrence so much -- and this university -- for the right reasons. He goes hard all the time and at this program, especially at my position with the linebackers, can emulate what Cam Lawrence has done for four years, there's no telling how good this program and this team could be."