Offense: B +
With star quarterback Dan Persa watching from the sidelines, true freshman Kain Colter did his best impression of him, running all over the field and keeping the Texas Tech defense off-balance. Colter was the star of the game for the ‘Cats, running for 105 yards and showing a grit that will make fans excited for his future in the program. Redshirt freshman Evan Watkins played better than he did in his first two starts, but still seemed to have little awareness in the pocket and failed to make a number of throws. With that said, Watkins came up with a huge touchdown pass to Demetrius Fields on fourth down in the fourth quarter to pull the Wildcats within a touchdown of Texas Tech.
Northwestern’s run game produced its most potent rushing attack of the season, with senior Stephen Simmons and true freshman Adonis Smith taking the bulk of the carries. Between Colter’s elusiveness, Watkins’ change of pace and the ability to run the football with success, the offensive attack was NU’s brightest spot at the Ticketcity Bowl. The game plan was well formulated and well executed by Colter and Watkins, which maximized the potential of both QBs and the offense as a whole. The 38 points the ‘Cats posted was the only reason Northwestern was able to hang around in the ballgame, and with a little more luck, Colter and company could have been the ones to end NU’s bowl drought.
The Northwestern defense allowed over 40 points for the third straight game, and appeared to be extremely unprepared for a very talented Texas Tech offense. They failed to put any pressure on QB Taylor Potts, giving him all kinds of time in the pocket to survey the field and find open receivers. The short passes over the middle worked all day for Texas Tech, while defensive backs Justan Vaughn and Jordan Mabin continually played 7-to-10 yards off the line of scrimmage. Potts and his unit seemed to pick apart the secondary without much effort, and NU did not make the proper adjustments in order to slow down an explosive offense.
Potts threw for 369 yards while his go-to receiver, Lyle Leong, caught 10 passes for a total of 118 yards. It’s hard to win a football game when your defense allows the opposing QB to throw 43 completions, while averaging 8.6 yards per completion on the day for four touchdowns. The ‘Cats also left a huge hole open for running back Eric Stephens in the third quarter, allowing him to break off an 86-yard TD run, extending the Texas Tech lead to 31-9.
The unit failed to make big stops when the ‘Cats were in striking distance of a tie ballgame. They allowed Texas Tech to pull away early and never gave NU’s makeshift offense a real opportunity to catch up. With the exception of a tremendous pick-six by Mabin late in the fourth quarter, it was an extremely disappointing day for the defense. Missed tackles, missed opportunities, and poor discipline was the story of the day as the ‘Cats defense showed they have a lot of things to figure out before next season.
Special Teams: B -
If you were expecting a Stefan Demos gut-wrenching kick performance on Saturday, you didn’t get it at the Cotton Bowl Stadium. Northwestern’s special teams were not a huge factor in this one, with Demos’ attempting his only field goal in the third quarter, an 18-yarder. He’ll end his college career with a very quiet bowl game; the unit did botch an extra point attempt in the first quarter, as well. Return man Venric Mark was unable to muster anything special in the kick return game, while Brandon Williams had a fairly good day punting the ball, averaging 35.6 yards per punt.
Coaching: B -
It was a tale of two sides of the football for Pat Fitzgerald and his coaching staff. From an offensive standpoint, Coach Fitz and offensive coordinator Mick McCall formulated a game plan that maximized the abilities of both Evan Watkins and Kain Colter. McCall had a clear plan of running the football from the outset with Colter and an assortment of running backs, keeping the Texas Tech defense off-balance all afternoon. The offensive strategy was the sole reason NU was able to hang around with the Texas Tech offense, giving the ‘Cats a chance to win with a miracle on their final possession. Give a lot of credit to the Northwestern coaching staff for using their bowl practices to devise an offensive scheme that would maximize the potential of their backup quarterbacks.
On defense, the ‘Cats seemed terribly unprepared while defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz and his players failed to make any adjustments to an explosive Texas Tech offense. NU defenders committed far too many offside penalties and appeared to be confused by Texas Tech’s hurry-up offense and formations. The defensive backs insisted on playing well off the line of scrimmage against a terrific group of wide receivers and let Taylor Potts have his way over the middle of the field all day long. At a certain point, you would assume that the ‘Cats would have begun to play those receivers tighter, but they failed to make any adjustments. The ‘Cats defensive unit got lit up for the third straight game in what was the icing on a very disappointing finish for Hankwitz and his crew. The defense has a lot of work to do if the ‘Cats are to have a special season in 2011.