Northwestern vs. Texas Tech
Dallas, TX, Cotton Bowl
Saturday, January 1, 2011 12:00 PM ET ESPNU
Laying the scene
Northwestern has been waiting for a bowl win for over 60 years. They won the Rose Bowl in 1949, their first and only bowl win. The Wildcats have played in seven bowl games since, losing all seven to bring its postseason bowl record to 1-7. For Northwestern (7-5), the inaugural TicketCity Bowl gives them the opportunity to cap a once promising season that saw them start 5-0 with a win to give them a little momentum heading into the offseason. Texas Tech will cap the year with an appearance in a lower tier bowl game after a somewhat mediocre regular season. They will be playing in a January bowl game for the fourth consecutive year, however, and have won six of their last eight bowl appearances.
What Northwestern has to do to win
Dan Persa will likely appear on several preseason Heisman Watch Lists next summer, but he won't have the opportunity to end his junior season in a bowl game. Persa will miss the bowl game with a torn Achilles' tendon suffered on November 13, leaving freshman Evan Watkins to lead the offense. Watkins has thrown one touchdown and four interceptions in his two starts since Persa went down, and Northwestern ranks 115th in the nation in sacks allowed, allowing 3.25 a game. The Wildcats will have wide receiver Jeremy Ebert to turn to, though. Ebert is the Big Ten's leading receiver this season.
It's easy to say that the rushing game must kick into gear, but the Wildcats' leading rusher, Mike Trumpy, may not play due to injury. Persa is the team's second-leading rusher, while third-leading rusher Arby Fields has decided to transfer. Senior running back Stephen Simmons is expected to play a big role in the offense even if Trumpy is able to go. Northwestern is put in the unenviable situation of relying on its 93rd ranked defense (85th pass defense) to stop the 17th ranked offense (8th passing offense) to put their offense that is suddenly vastly inexperienced at key positions in a position to win the game.
What Texas Tech has to do to win
Score points. Sounds easy enough for a team that ranks eighth in passing offense. Northwestern is likely to struggle to put points on the board with Persa unable to go and Trumpy possibly sitting out the bowl game. The Texas Tech defense is ranked 116th in the nation, however, and dead last against the pass, so things shouldn't be all doom and gloom for the Wildcats offense. Don't expect a 30-point performance out of Northwestern, but Texas Tech shouldn't head into this game expecting the win.
The game could be closer than some might expect, but if the Red Raiders, led by quarterback Taylor Potts and seven receivers who have over 200 yards receiving, are able to live up to their season average of roughly 32 points, they should be fine. The Wildcats have allowed 848 rushing yards over the last two games (519 yards vs. Illinois and 329 yards vs. Wisconsin), so the Tech running backs led by Baron Batch should have some success, too.
Texas Tech. Despite the worst pass defense (statistically speaking) in the nation, expect the Northwestern offense to struggle to score points with an inexperienced quarterback and a rushing game that could be slowed by injuries and Fields' transfer. Ebert should be a beacon of hope on the Northwestern offense, but with the offensive line struggling to keep the quarterback upright, the Tech defense, which averages two sacks a game, should be able to take advantage of the depleted offensive ranks to limit Northwestern enough to give the Red Raiders the win. - Danny Hobrock
Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.
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