Post-Game Analysis: Texas Tech
by Jonathan Hodges

Despite putting up a valiant comeback effort minus their undisputed leader and MVP Dan Persa, the Northwestern Wildcats (7-6, 3-5) fell to the Texas Tech Red Raiders (8-5, 3-5) in the inaugural TicketCity Bowl by a final score of 38-45.  True freshman QB Kain Colter gave just about everything he could by rushing for 105 yards and 2 TDs as the 'Cats clawed their way back from a 9-31 deficit in order to get within one touchdown on multiple occasions; unfortunately, NU was never able to get closer than that in the second half and the bowl win drought continues for Northwestern as the bowl losing streak now stands at eight heading into 2011.

First Half Summary

The early part of the game went pretty much as expected for NU: not much going on offense early and Texas Tech taking an early lead.  The Red Raiders were forced to punt on their first drive, but they scored a field goal and then a TD on their next two drives as TTU QB Taylor Potts began to warm up and the NU defense began to wither.  That gave Texas Tech an early 10-0 lead and once again the 'Cats found themselves behind early - something that has almost become the norm over the past couple of seasons.  The offense certainly didn't help their cause early as the rotating QBs (Colter and redshirt freshman Evan Watkins) had trouble finding any rhythm and NU had trouble determining its offensive identity.

It was clear that the coaching staff wanted to use Colter with his running ability but it was also clear that either he lacks the ability to throw accurately on a consistent basis or the coaching staff doesn't trust him to do so.  So, they routinely left Watkins on the field either lining up at wide receiver and blocking or taking the snap on obvious passing downs.  Although it was great to see the coaches show some flexibility in order to get playmakers on the field, it was clear that this hampered the offense early until NU went with Colter on a more consistent basis, which in the end allowed the 'Cats to rack up 229 net rushing yards, their most on the ground since the beginning of the 2008 season.

Around the midway point of the second quarter, NU finally got the ball moving thanks to Colter, who accounted for 3 of the 6 first downs on the drive and finished it off himself with a 1 yard TD run for his first collegiate score to get the 'Cats on the board.  Unfortunately a mishandled extra point hold left NU down 10-6, but it was nice to see the Northwestern offense moving the ball relatively well with a true freshman able to lead the team.

Unfortunately that was about the time that the defense caved in.  From this point until just 7 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Texas Tech did not punt.  There is a lot of blame to go around, but a good amount can be directed at the defensive front who almost never got any pressure on the Texas Tech QB, Potts, and therefore allowed him to stand by and watch for a receiver to come open, which they almost invariably did.  On the day, NU had no sacks and just 2 QB hurries, and that was after NU came into the game ranked 104th nationally in sacks.  While the defensive secondary's performance was disheartening, it's not like they had much of a chance having to chase around 5 receivers virtually all day long with no help up front.

TTU tacked on 2 more TDs before halftime, one on a trick play pass-back to Potts who ran it in for a score, and the other on a Potts pass just 11 ticks before the end of the second quarter.  Both came on drives of 70 or more yards as the Red Raiders, who racked up 552 yards of offense on the day, showed that they could do what they wanted when they wanted.  Those last 2 scores put TTU up 24-6 going into the break and the 'Cats needed as many breaks as they could get to get back into the game (fortunately, they got some of those).

Second Half Summary

NU played one of its best offensive quarters in some time as they took advantage of Texas Tech mistakes and/or poor decisions in order to get 18 points on the board and get back into the football game.  It all started with a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half by TTU that NU's Charles Brown recovered, giving the 'Cats the ball at the TTU 30 yard line.  The Wildcats drove all the way to the Texas Tech 1 yard line before NU ran a questionable QB sneak on 3rd and goal - not questionable because of the play call but because the fact that Watkins, not the more elusive Colter, was the one running the sneak.  NU opted for the points and Stefan Demos made his only FG attempt of the game (note that Demos hit his final 4 FGs as a Wildcat) to cut the deficit to 24-9.

The NU defense, who has pretty well bottled up the Texas Tech run game for most of the day, decided to take a play off.  Unfortunately, it was right after the 'Cats kickoff coverage team pinned the Red Raiders deep in their own end, and on a first down run up the middle TTU RB Eric Stephens took off for an 86 yard score as NU watched its just-seized momentum go running away.  Removing that run, the NU defense would have held TTU to under 100 yards rushing and just 3.5 yards per carry, but, that run did indeed happen and the 'Cats found themselves behind by 22 points, 31-9.

The NU offense did respond on the ensuing drive, though, as Colter and fellow true freshman Adonis Smith combined for 62 yards on the ground, leading NU down the field for another TD, this one on a Colter 13 yard run where he lost the ball at around the 1 yard line but then quickly found his footing and dove on the football in the end zone for the score.  Although Colter did come off the field multiple times during the day where he appeared to be winded, his running ability definitely gave the Wildcats a fighting chance in this one and he has the ability to be a significant offensive threat in the future for Northwestern.  Colter then found Josh Rooks on a pass for the 2-point conversion to cut the TTU lead to a manageable 14 points, especially with over 6:00 left in the third quarter.

But, once again, the NU defense couldn't help out the offense by getting a stop; instead, the defense allowed the Red Raiders to drive 82 yards in 12 plays to once again take a 3 score lead off of yet another Potts TD pass, one of his 4 on the day as he hit 76.8% of his pass attempts and was rarely challenged either up front or in coverage.

At that point, Texas Tech made a very questionable call by trying for an onside kickoff: they were ahead by 21 and NU's defense was clearly unable to stop them.  But, they tried it and NU's Jeravin Matthews fortunately pounced on the football for an NU recovery (TTU was also flagged for being offsides on the kick, which was tacked on after the point of NU's recovery).  The Wildcats made the most of the fortuitous opportunity and ran a trick play with a lateral from Colter to WR Jeremy Ebert who then paused and passed back across the field to the versatile Colter who took it 32 yards down to the 4 yard line to give the 'Cats first and goal.  On the following play, Watkins came in and somehow beat a Texas Tech linebacker around the edge to punch it in for an NU score to cut the Red Raider lead to 38-24 just before the start of the fourth quarter.

The NU momentum continued as Texas Tech went three-and-out and NU got the ball back going into the fourth quarter.  With a mix of Colter and Watkins, NU moved quickly down the field and reached the Texas Tech 18 yard line before facing fourth down.  A field goal certainly wouldn't help NU's cause at this point with the way TTU was moving the football, so the 'Cats wisely went for it on fourth and four.  Watkins dropped back and found Demetrius Fields who darted in for a score and, despite allowing the Red Raider offense to go wild, the 'Cats were somehow in this game, trailing only 31-38.

But, in what was likely the decisive drive of the game, the NU defense was unable to replicate their effort on the prior TTU possession and the Raiders drove 69 yards in 10 plays and capped that off with Potts' final passing TD of the day as they re-took a 14 point lead midway through the 4th quarter.  And on NU's following offensive possession, the 'Cats had their own three-and-out after losing one yard on three plays, forcing a punt that put the 'Cats into desperation mode.

Texas Tech tried to run the ball and NU was determined to get the ball back, taking 2 timeouts to stop the clock.  On third and 9 at their own 27, Texas Tech decided to do what they do best: pass the football.  Fortunately NU's Jordan Mabin had what was probably the best pass coverage for Northwestern all year as he tipped the ball into the air, grabbed it for the interception and returned it all the way for a touchdown to pull the 'Cats within 7, 38-45.

Next came a questionable but understandable decision by Pat Fitzgerald.  Down by 7 and with 5:31 remaining in the fourth quarter, NU elected to kick deep.  While Northwestern wasn't able to stop the Red Raiders for much of the day, it was still more likely that the 'Cats could get a stop (especially with TTU likely running the ball at that point) than recover an onside kick.  Plus, a Texas Tech recovery of an onside attempt would essentially end the game.  So, Texas Tech started at its own 27 yard line and had just about five and a half minutes to bleed while the NU defense needed one final stop to try and get NU in a position to tie.

After a 1 yard gain on the ground, TTU did elect to throw and got 7 yards to set up 3rd and 2, but they got just enough on the ground to convert.  On the next set of downs, it came down to third and 1, and, once again, the Red Raiders got the exact right gain to achieve the first down.  With the clock bleeding, NU knew this was its last chance and after picking up 3 on the ensuing first down, the 'Cats took their final timeout.  After two more short runs, TTU bled as much of the clock as possible and took a timeout before punting with 34 seconds left in the game.

NU got the ball back and it was essentially too little too late: the first pass was caught for 9 yards (after review; initially it was called an interception after Fields went to the ground with the ball and threw it up in the air quickly), and after spiking the ball Watkins completed it to Ebert for a first down.  After another spike it essentially gave NU enough time for one last play with just 9 seconds left and the ball on Northwestern's 42 yard line.  Watkins heaved the ball down the field, but it was intercepted at the TTU 16 and after a return, presumably to wind the clock down, the game was over.

Player of the Game

Texas Tech QB Taylor Potts (43-of-56 passing for 369 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT; 2 rushes for 19 yards, 1 TD)  It would be difficult to give the game ball to anyone else in this one.  Despite getting off to a relatively rough start, Potts came back with a very nice game through the middle of the game in order to give the Red Raiders a big lead that they wouldn't relinquish.  Northwestern never really got close to touching him and he could therefore sit back and pick apart the NU secondary, and his 76.8% completion percentage was most definitely a result of that.

What Happened

"NU will not be facing a formidable defense, so the opportunity to move the ball is definitely there... he 'Cats have proven over the past two bowl appearances that they can put together game plans to make them competitive."

The Wildcats did find a way to move the football, and that was with a ground-based attack featuring Kain Colter, as NU accumulated 229 yards on the ground (4.6 yards per carry) and indeed put together a game plan that made this a competitive contest.  Unfortunately some of the aforementioned experimentation early in the game by rotating QBs didn't allow the NU offense to get into rhythm until they were already well behind, and that was a significant contributor to NU's loss.

"the Red Raiders are favored by a big margin.  If Texas Tech is allowed to run their offense without disruption, this may prove to be the case"

Texas Tech was indeed allowed to run their offense as scripted for the majority of the day, and Potts' stat line sure showed the result.  While NU found a way to make up some ground in the second half it was clear that the Red Raider offense was doing whatever it wanted, and that essentially spelled the end for Northwestern.  They key seemed to be a complete lack of pressure up front by Northwestern; trying to sit back and defend that attack certainly wasn't effective.

Northwestern Honorable Mentions

QB Kain Colter (3-of-6 passing for 38 yards; 18 rushes for 105 yards, 2 TDs; 1 reception for 32 yards)  Colter was very effective as a runner, gaining 5.8 yards per carry and hitting paydirt twice.  He was serviceable as a passer although he honestly didn't throw it enough to get a very good taste for that part of his skillset.  A significant downside, though, was his conditioning (or lack thereof) which forced him off of the field multiple times on the day, severely limiting the Northwestern offense's threat during those times.  Hopefully a full offseason's conditioning and more practice time under his belt will help NU utilize this weapon in the 2011 season.

What to Work on

Defense.  Everything on defense needs to be reworked for the Wildcats heading into 2011.  The 'Cats completely fell apart on that side of the ball down the stretch despite not losing any player for a significant period of time.  Sure, there were bumps and bruises, but it wasn't like this team lost an NFL caliber player (like last year's unit did with Corey Wootton and/or Sherrick McManis missing significant stretches of time).  NU needs significant work up front in order to generate a pass rush and close running lanes, the linebackers need to fill gaps better and make tackles, while the secondary could use improvement in pass coverage.  DC Mike Hankwitz looked like a genius with the way his defenses performed in 2008-09, but this year's squad left 'Cats fans scratching their heads, especially with Fitz espousing the depth of the team particularly on D.  Wildcat fans certainly hope that Hankwitz and Fitz find a way to turn things around again next season.

Replacing Seniors:  Now's the time for the 'Cats to figure out who will replace some of the seniors lost to graduation.  On offense, there honestly aren't that many holes to fill.  At QB, Dan Persa looks to be on the road to recovery and should be ready to practice some in the spring.  There are a handful of running backs returning along with a slew of WRs, so there should be no significant changes there.  And on the OL, the 'Cats will come in with some very experienced players and can field a unit that has previous starters across the line (of course, the line could use better play, but that's another story).

On the other side of the ball, NU must replace one senior on the line (Corbin Bryant), although the 'Cats have a few players who have been rotating in at DT, including Jack DiNardo, Brian Arnfelt, and Niko Mafuli.  As mentioned above, the DL as a whole could definitely use a step up in the level of play even though the rotation will look much the same as it did this year.  The linebacking corps may have lost the most, with Nate Williams and Quentin Davie gone after this season; Williams was a tackling machine and Davie had a broad skillset that allowed him to make some big plays.  Fortunately, the 'Cats get Roderick Goodlow back from a knee injury while Damien Proby, Ben Johnson, and David Nwabuisi will all return with some starts and/or significant playing time under their belts and looking to contribute.  And, in the secondary, Mike Bolden looks to be the guy in line to replace Justan Vaughn at CB, otherwise everyone else will likely return (and hopefully Hunter Bates will recover from a knee injury sustained during the bowl game).

Finally, on special teams, Pat Hickey will have to take over full time long snapping duties (he had some experience early this season that didn't go that well) and Jeff Budzien will likely take over placekicking for the departing (and oft-maligned although still relatively reliable) Stefan Demos.  Look for Steve Flaherty to take on some role in the kicking game, likely on kickoffs.

Random Observations

Most Points in the 2010 Season

Despite playing without Dan Persa, the Wildcats put the more points on the board, 38, than they did in any 2010 regular season game (previous high was 37 against Illinois State).  And, over the 3 games during this absence, NU has averaged 29.3 points per game, compared to 25.5 with Persa, although it is worth noting that NU scored non-offensive TDs in each of the last 3 games (7.0 ppg), which would reduce the average to below that with Persa.


Although NU P Brandon Williams had one of his worst days punting (averaging just 35.6 yards per punt), Texas Tech actually performed worse, averaging just 31.0 yards per punt.  It's a good thing that the teams didn't punt a whole lot because neither team was getting off booming kicks.


Penalties once again hurt the Wildcats as they racked up 7 for 52 yards (and that didn't include some that were declined).  3 of those (and 1 more that was declined) were offsides by the NU defense, seemingly the only way that the NU DL could get by the Texas Tech offensive front.

Final Thought

Once again the Wildcats found themselves in a big hole to a favorite in a bowl game and found some way to fight their way back into it before succumbing in the end.  Fitz and the Northwestern coaching staff showed that they could come up with a game plan to be competitive in the bowl game but couldn't find a way to get the proverbial monkey off of their back and actually notch that first bowl win since 1949; the bowl losing streak has now reached 8.

It's now time to regroup and prepare for 2011, when NU will have a rather experienced and senior-laden team, and the opportunity will be there for the Wildcats to make some noise in the new Legends division of the Big Ten conference.  As the season wrap-ups are written we all go into the hardest part of the year: the time with no college football.

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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