Played December 30, 2005.
Sun Bowl, El Paso, TX. Attendance: 50,426 (capacity).
Northwestern's 2005 regular season record: 7-4 overall, 5-3 conference. Third
place, Big Ten.
Coach: Randy Walker.
NU/UCLA series record (prior to bowl): NU led 3-2.
NU: FG Joel Howells 33 Yd, 7:53. Drive: 13 plays, 7 yards in 06:13.
NU: TD Kevin Mims, 30 Yd interception return (Joel Howells kick Failed), 6:27. Drive: 0 play, 81 yards in 0:55.
NU: TD Mark Philmore, 19 Yd run (Joel Howells kick Failed), 5:36. Drive: 4 plays, 36 yards in 00:39.
NU: TD Nick Roach, 35 Yd interception return (Joel Howells kick is good), 4:21.
UCLA: TD Kahlil Bell, 5 Yd run ( kick is good), 0:14. Drive: 11 plays, 80 yards in 04:07.
UCLA: TD Ryan Moya, 58 Yd pass from Drew Olson ( kick is good), 13:57. Drive: 1 play, 58 yards in 00:10.
UCLA: TD Kahlil
Bell, 6 Yd run (Drew Olson pass to Marcedes Lewis for 2 Pt.
Conversion), 8:26. Drive: 5 plays, 90 yards in 1:47.
UCLA: TD Marcus Everett, 8 Yd pass from Drew Olson ( kick is good), 0:29. Drive: 10 plays, 65 yards in 02:27.
UCLA: TD Michael Pitre, 5 Yd pass from Drew Olson ( kick is good), 9:04. Drive: 5 plays, 18 yards in 02:06.
NU: FG Amado Villarreal 31 Yd, 4:40. Drive: 11 plays, 21 yards in 04:24.
NU: TD Mark Philmore, 8 Yd pass from Brett Basanez (2 Pt. Conversion Failed), 2:29. Drive: 9 plays, 71 yards in 01:11.
UCLA: TD Brandon Breazell, 42 Yd kick return ( kick is good), 2:26.
NU: TD Shaun Herbert, 5 Yd pass from Brett Basanez (Amado Villarreal kick is good), 0:23. Drive: 16 plays, 84 yards in 1:50.
UCLA: TD Brandon Breazell, 45 Yd kick return ( kick is good), 0:17.
That was the lead Northwestern found itself owning, and then wasting,
as the 'Cats went on to fall to UCLA in the Sun Bowl, 50-38. The
game was Northwestern's fifth straight bowl loss.
To put NU's 22-0 start, and eventual loss, in perspective: no
Northwestern football team, in the program's illustrious 129-year
history, has ever come back from a deficit of 22 or more points to win
a game. Never-- not in 1996, and not in 2000. But the
Bruins did just that, thanks in part to a stunning turnaround for UCLA
quarterback Drew Olson, a dramatic performance by Bruin running back
Chris Markey, and disturbing breakdowns by the Wildcat ground offense and
The Wildcat defense, however, began the game looking like the Chicago
Bears' defense. NU forced UCLA to go three and out to start the
match, with Barry Cofield and Kevin Mims providing key stops.
After a Joel Howells field goal, UCLA tried to answer, but Mims
intercepted the usually-perfect Olson and ran the ball back for a
touchdown. The Sun Bowl crowd, just a couple hundred short of a
sellout and overwhelmingly composed of Wildcat fans, went berserk, and
Northwestern enjoyed a 9-0 lead. However, the Great NU Special
Teams Disaster of 2005 began in earnest on the point after try, which
Before the Wildcat faithful could retake their seats, Olson threw
another interception, this time to Bryan Heinz. Heinz, who had
just returned to the team from an injury that forced him to sit out the
regular season, packed an entire season into one catch, coming up with
the critical pick on the UCLA 36-yard line. With a short field,
NU quarterback Brett Basanez had little trouble carving up the Bruins,
and Mark Philmore punched in the 'Cats' third score with just over six
minutes to go in the first quarter.
Once again, Howell's extra point attempt failed, and the 'Cats' Special
Teams Disaster had left two points on the field. However, the
'Cats did have a 15-0 lead, their largest lead in a bowl game ever.
NU would add to that lead less than two minutes later.
Unbelievably, Olson threw his third interception, equaling his picks
for the entire season. This time Nick Roach grabbed the ball, and
this time Roach streaked to the endzone and gave NU a 21-0 lead.
Howell's extra point was good, and NU had a seemingly commanding 22-0
lead and was clearly eyeing its first bowl win since 1949.
And then the Bruins turned off the lights.
On its next drive, UCLA methodically drove 80 yards in over four
minutes-- all of its yards on the ground. It took UCLA Coach
Dorrel nearly the entire first quarter to figure it out, but when he
did, the game was over: NU cannot stop the Bruins' rushers. And
so Chris Markey and Kahlil began vivisecting the Wildcats with
abandon. With the NU defense now panicking to try to stop the
newly-launched Bruin ground game, Olson was free to regroup, collect
himself, and start over.
Olson responded by throwing a 58-yard touchdown bomb, and NU's lead was
slashed to eight. The wheels were coming off. Basanez and
company drove down the field, but Basanez and his receivers never quite
found the synch they had established and enjoyed for much of the
season. On the drive's ninth play, from the UCLA 14-yard line,
Basanez was intercepted, and the Bruins resumed their deadly rushing
It took UCLA just five plays-- again, all of them on the ground-- to
race 90 yards and erase Northwestern's lead for good. Markey and
Bell simply tore through the Wildcat defense, and NU had no answer, no
means, no way to stop the bleeding.
NU's Special Teams Disaster continued on the following drive.
Gerald Hamlett muffed the UCLA kickoff and recovered on the Wildcat
eight-yard line. But Basanez, with help from Tyrell Sutton and
wide receiver Ross Lane (who had a fantastic game), rallied the 'Cats
and drove to the UCLA 20. Predictably, Howell's kick for the lead
was blocked. The S.T.D. unit had now left five points on the
UCLA, however, was leaving nothing on the field. The Bruins took
the lead for the first time, and took it for good, on the next
drive. NU linebacker Tim McGarigle was impressive, flying around
the field to make stops, but one player simply can't contain 11, and
UCLA began to balance its attack, throwing and rushing
effectively. Northwestern had a shot at a field goal at the end
of the first half, but with confidence in the S.T.D. unit scraping
zero, the 'Cats were forced to take a shot at the endzone and came up
A Sutton fumble in the third quarter set up the kill shot for UCLA, as
the Bruins quickly scored and went up 36-22. With NU's offense
not firing on all cylinders, and NU's defense and S.T.D. unit reeling, the
UCLA lead was, indeed, safe.
Basanez and the Wildcat offense then drove 72 yards but could not reach
the goal. Forced into another kicking situation, NU offered up
redshirt freshman Amado Villarreal, who successfully booted a
31-yarder. It looked like momentum might actually shift toward
NU, and the Wildcat defense held UCLA to midfield on the next
drive. Faced with a fourth down and one from midfield, UCLA
decided to go for the first down, but McGarigle stuffed Markey at the
line of scrimmage for a huge turnover on downs. Unfortunately,
dropped balls to Jonathan Fields and T.J. Jones doomed the drive, and
The 'Cats got another opportunity in the fourth quarter, when Adam
Kadela forced Markey to fumble near midfield, but again the Wildcat
offense stalled. After swapping punts, the 'Cats were able to
drive for a score with under three minutes left. Basanez, Sutton
and Philmore got into gear and moved the ball to the Bruin eight-yard
line, where Basanez found Philmore for the touchdown. However,
Basanez was intercepted on the two-point conversion, and NU remained
five points down.
That's when the Special Teams Disaster Unit took center stage. NU's onside kick went
straight to UCLA's Brandon Breazell, who returned it for a touchdown,
and delivered what appeared to be a knife in the Wildcats' last shot at
a bowl win. The Wildcats, however, responded as they did so often
this season, tearing up the field wildly on offense. Basanez
completed passes to Lane, Philmore and Shaun Herbert, and NU scored
again to come within five points of UCLA.
However, this time NU had only 24 seconds left to perform a successful
onside kick and throw a Hail Mary. The S.T.D. made its last
appearance, kicking the exact same onside kick that it executed just
two minutes earlier. And, just like two minutes earlier, Brandon
Breazell caught the ball and returned it for a UCLA touchdown.
With the extra point, UCLA posted 50 points and the win. For
Northwestern, the end provided and unfortunate finish to a remarkable
NU had put together a season with six or more wins for the third time
in a row, the first such series of seasons since 1931. It enjoyed
wins over ranked teams, and-- for the first time since 2001-- it was
itself ranked in the A.P. Poll, for two weeks. It cracked the BCS
rankings, stayed in them for four weeks and appeared in the final BCS
rankings for the first time ever. It offered up Zach Strief, the
team's first All-American in five years. It made it to the
school's sixth-ever bowl game. But then, it...
Twenty-two points. A big number. But not nearly as big as 57 years.