Big 12: Dan Persa

Instant analysis: Texas A&M 33, NU 22

December, 31, 2011
12/31/11
3:24
PM ET

After a rough season that included the death of teammate Joey Villavisencio last week and the firing of coach Mike Sherman, the Aggies got a bowl win. It's been an emotional year at Texas A&M, but it will end in fine fashion with a good win over Northwestern.

The Aggies did it without top rusher Cyrus Gray, too. Gray missed his second consecutive game and the final game of his career with a stress fracture in his shoulder that he suffered early in a win over Kansas.

Here's some instant analysis.

How the game was won: Texas A&M was the better team and proved it for the first three quarters, but like we've seen all year, the team swooned in the second half. This time it came in the fourth quarter. The Aggies survived via two huge third-down catches from Uzoma Nwachukwu and Jeff Fuller to keep the ball out of Northwestern's hands in the final minutes. This season, the Aggies blew leads of 18 (Arkansas), 17 (Oklahoma State), 14 (Missouri), 13 (Texas) and 10 (Kansas State). They avoided a sixth loss in extravagant fashion this season with a clutch late drive to close out the Wildcats.

Turning point: Trailing 7-3, Texas A&M scored on its final three drives of the first half, highlighted by a vertical, 26-yard touchdown catch by Jeff Fuller from Ryan Tannehill. The Aggies took control and the Wildcats weren't able to get within realistic reach the rest of the game. The Aggies scored the first 10 points of the second half for a 30-7 lead.

Player of the game: A&M receiver Ryan Swope. Swope continued his tear this season with eight catches for 105 yards and broke a few tackles on a 37-yard catch-and-run to set up an early touchdown that put the Aggies ahead for good. Fuller had a huge catch late to seal the game, but Swope kept the A&M offense humming in the first half while it built the big lead.

Unsung hero: Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter. He spelled what looked like a gimpy Dan Persa and ran for 65 yards and a touchdown in a nice performance.

What it means: One epic bowl losing streak ended while another lives on. Northwestern had lost five bowl games going back to 1949 and made it a sixth. Texas A&M ended its eight-game bowl losing streak dating back to 2001. The Northwestern streak was represented on the sidelines by a monkey wearing a No. 63 jersey, the number of years since the Wildcats won a bowl.

Well wishes: Coryell Judie. The Aggies' kick returner and cornerback finally returned to full health against Texas on Thanksgiving after missing a handful of games with a hamstring injury. However, he suffered a fractured wrist during his final collegiate game. It's a rough break for a huge talent, but he'll hear his name called next April in the NFL draft.

Record performance: With his first field goal midway through the first quarter, kicker Randy Bullock broke Texas A&M's single-season scoring record set back in 1927. The Lou Groza Award winner surpassed Joel Hunt's record of 128 points and finished the season with 139 points after making three field goals and three extra points on Saturday.

Car Care Bowl: Three keys for Texas A&M

December, 30, 2011
12/30/11
2:30
PM ET
Texas A&M and Northwestern will kick off the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas on Saturday at noon ET at Reliant Stadium in Houston, but here's a look at what the Aggies have to do to grab the win.

1. Be extra careful in those third quarters. It seemed like a fluke at first. Clearly, it was not. Every time, it seems like it's been something different. The common denominator in most of the second-half meltdowns, though, has been turnovers. Limit those in the second half, and Texas A&M should be fine. The Aggies are the better team here. Take care of business, and they win.

2. Make sure Dan Persa is one-dimensional. Persa's a good quarterback, and hasn't run nearly as much this year as he did in 2010 before he suffered a torn Achilles tendon. Still, the Aggies have plenty of speed at linebacker to keep Persa contained, and his arm won't be better than ones the Aggies have already seen, though they've struggled against some. Brandon Weeden, Tyler Wilson, Landry Jones, Robert Griffin and Seth Doege all have better arms than Persa, and all but perhaps Doege have better teams around them. Making sure Persa's legs are a non-factor should be enough for the defense to get the job done.

3. Play with a purpose, whatever that is. It's easy to see this game doesn't have much meaning for the Aggies. What could have been a season for the history books became a forgettable one very fast. At 6-6, the Aggies would seem to be the team that doesn't want to be here. There's plenty to play for, though. A loss would be one final indignity before leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, and a losing season with one of the most talented teams in College Station in a long time. Additionally, these guys could play as a tribute to a well-liked coach, Mike Sherman, especially the seniors. Maybe younger players can play to impress new coach Kevin Sumlin. Teammate Joey Villavisencio was killed in a car accident last week, too. He'd want nothing more than to see his team play its best game of the year. There's no reason to not give 100 percent in the preparation and in-game performance, even if that might seem like the case. If the Aggies show up and play like they're capable of playing, they win this game.

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
11:25
PM ET
Texas A&M (6-6) vs. Northwestern (6-6)

Dec. 31, noon ET (ESPN)

Texas A&M take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: The Aggies are in a state of turmoil. They have no coach and the players are understandably shaken up about it. Mike Sherman was loved around College Station, and his super classy exit press conference showed all the reasons why. Ultimately, Texas A&M's much-ballyhooed second-half failures ended Sherman's tenure as the head Aggie. The numbers are well-known by now, but still staggering. They tell the story of how a preseason top 10 team with as much talent as any in the Big 12 ends up at 6-6. Five halftime leads of double digits and another by nine against rival Texas. All were losses.

That doesn't change the talent on the field. Running back Cyrus Gray will likely return from injury, as will quarterback Ryan Tannehill with top targets Ryan Swope and Jeff Fuller. They'll play with an offensive line that has some legit NFL talent, a credit to Sherman's recruiting acumen as a coach with an offensive line background. Texas A&M is already assured of leaving the Big 12 with a bitter taste en route to the SEC next season, but a bowl win might help ... if only a little bit.


Northwestern take from Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern will play in a bowl for a team-record fourth consecutive year, but the Wildcats are still looking for that elusive postseason win after a disappointing 2011 campaign.

As players and coaches often are reminded, Northwestern hasn’t won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose. The Wildcats have come close the past three seasons, particularly in the 2010 Outback Bowl, but they’ve fallen short each time. While Texas A&M’s motivation might be a question mark after its recent coaching change, Northwestern will be geared up.

The good news is that unlike last year, Northwestern will have top quarterback Dan Persa on the field for its bowl. Although Persa didn’t look nearly as dominant this season as he did in 2010, he still led the Big Ten in passing (240.3 ypg) and completed 74.2 percent of his passes with 17 touchdown strikes and seven interceptions. Persa and the offense will need to put up points as Northwestern’s defense has struggled mightily this season and in the recent bowl losses. The Wildcats will be without top cornerback Jordan Mabin against Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill and his talented group of receivers.

This will be a virtual road game for Northwestern in Houston, as Texas A&M fans will pack Reliant Stadium. But Pat Fitzgerald’s teams often play better on the road than at home, as they are 14-8 on the road since the start of the 2008 season.

Texas A&M headed to Houston for bowl

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
5:26
PM ET
Texas A&M will face Northwestern at Reliant Stadium in Houston for the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Houston, the university announced on Sunday afternoon.

The game kicks off on Dec. 31 at noon ET.

Wildcats quarterback Dan Persa, aka PersaStrong, will face the very talented, but underachieving, Aggies who are now without a head coach after firing Mike Sherman earlier this week. Tim DeRuyter will handle the interim coaching duties.

Who are you taking in this matchup?
The Big 12 got off to a good start on New Year's Day, moving to 2-4 in postseason play with Texas Tech's 45-38 win over Northwestern in the TicketCity Bowl.

How the game was won: Texas Tech's offense put up big points like most expected them to, but only played one quarterback for most of the game. Taylor Potts played well and the Red Raiders' offense rolled for most of the game. Instead, it was the Wildcats who went with a two-quarterback attack, rotating Evan Watkins and Kain Colter often but neither found a rhythm to help Northwestern's offense until the Wildcats trailed by 22. Colter ran the ball well late in the game, but it wasn't enough to make up for Texas Tech's early cushion.

Turning point: Texas Tech led 24-6 at halftime, but fumbled the opening kickoff, handing the ball back to the Wildcats deep in Red Raiders territory for the game's first turnover. The Wildcats couldn't capitalize, botching a quarterback sneak and settling for an 18-yard field goal. On the next play from scrimmage, Texas Tech running back Eric Stephens broke an 86-yard touchdown run to take a 31-9 lead, the Red Raiders' biggest of the day. Northwestern got to within seven late, but the early lead was enough for the Red Raiders to hold on.

Stat of the game: Texas Tech notched its second 45-38 win of the season in the Cotton Bowl stadium. Back in October, the Red Raiders beat Baylor on the neutral field, 45-38.

Player of the game: Potts. He finished with an impressive 369 yards and four touchdowns on 43-of-56 passing, pacing the Red Raiders' offense that struggled to run the ball for most of the day. He also caught a pass and ran it in for a touchdown, but it was later reversed to a run after officials determined the pass went backward. Northwestern took away the run game, opening up short underneath routes, and Potts capitalized. He had lots and lots of time to throw, a credit to the offensive line, but he was as accurate as he's been all year. Without that, it would have been a very different game.

Best call: Potts threw Austin Zouzalik what looked like a routine screen to the sideline, but Zouzalik tossed it back to Potts, who was escorted into the end zone by a trio of offensive linemen, helping the Red Raiders take a 24-6 lead at halftime. Tommy Tuberville didn't want to run it, but told ESPN heading into halftime that he got outvoted by his fellow coaches.

Second-guessing: Texas Tech strung together an impressive 82-yard drive in 12 plays to take a 38-17 lead, but tried for the onside kick and a possible knockout punch against a Northwestern defense that hadn't stopped them from reaching the end zone on the last four drives. The Red Raiders were offside, however, and gave Northwestern the ball at the 36-yard line. The Wildcats needed just two plays to score and cut the lead to 14, keeping the game still somewhat in doubt. Texas Tech had to punt on its next possession, and Northwestern scored a touchdown to bring the game to within 38-31.

There was a little bit of upside to the curious decision, but with Northwestern's offensive inconsistency throughout, it seemed pretty unnecessary, and cost the Red Raiders momentum.

Record performance: Matt Williams' booming 24-yard field goal that opened scoring is the longest in the history of the TicketCity Bowl. Gotta love inaugural bowl games.

What it means: The exit of Texas Tech defensive coordinator James Willis from the program days before the game didn't hurt them badly enough for a loss. The Red Raiders looked good early, and though Northwestern's quarterbacks struggled to complete passes with consistency, Texas Tech didn't make it very easy on them. The way the offense played, the defense didn't need a big performance, but they got one for long enough in the first half, and as a result, the Red Raiders held on. They entered Saturday's game ranked 116th nationally in total offense, giving up over 460 yards a game. Northwestern's undermanned offense without quarterback Dan Persa managed just 374 yards.

Texas Tech and Northwestern will kick off the New Year's Day bowls from Dallas in the inaugural TicketCity Bowl from the Cotton Bowl at the State Fair of Texas. With the appearance, Texas Tech stretches its streak of no losing seasons to a Big 12-best 18 years.

Here's a look at the matchup.

WHO TO WATCH: Quarterbacks Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield. These two have been intertwined all season, and it won't change on Saturday. Coach Tommy Tuberville says both will play, which isn't necessarily anything new for the Red Raiders. In fact, both played during Texas Tech's best win of the season. Steven Sheffield got his only start of the season against Missouri, but struggled and was replaced by Potts. He rallied his team from a double-digit deficit and helped Texas Tech win three of its final four games to reach bowl eligibility.

WHAT TO WATCH: Texas Tech's defense. The Red Raiders struggled for most of the year defending everything, but especially the pass, where they rank last in the Big 12. Texas Tech is at the bottom in total defense, too. Northwestern will be starting Evan Watkins in place of injured, do-everything quarterback Dan Persa, but if the Red Raiders can right the ship against the inexperienced Watkins, they could win easily. Northwestern was blown out by Illinois and Wisconsin in its final two games. Complicating matters for Texas Tech is its situation at defensive coordinator. Defensive line coach Sam McElroy will take over for this game after James Willis left the program on Sunday.

WHY WATCH: There should be plenty of what fans like to see: offense. Even though Northwestern was blown out in those two games, it scored 27 and 23 points, giving up 48 and 70. Texas Tech's offense hasn't been consistent all year, but against the Wildcats defense, the Red Raiders should have some success. Potts has a pair of 800-yard receivers in Detron Lewis and Lyle Leong, and an 800-yard rusher in experienced senior Baron Batch.

PREDICTION: Texas Tech 38, Northwestern 27. I have my doubts about Watkins' ability to make plays in big spots like Persa did this year, and against a playmaking offense like the Red Raiders have, converting a few of those inevitable third-and-longs is necessary. Texas Tech should be able to do it. Northwestern won't.

Big 12 on the spot: TicketCity Bowl

December, 23, 2010
12/23/10
2:30
PM ET
Seven wins weren't what Texas Tech envisioned with 15 starters returning from a 9-4 team in 2009, but the transition from Mike Leach to Tommy Tuberville wasn't a simple one.

The Red Raiders kept alive the Big 12's longest streak without a losing season -- Texas Tech last did it in 1992 -- and figure to improve in 2011 under Tuberville. Before that happens they'll need to win a second game this season in Cotton Bowl Stadium, when they face Big Ten opponent Northwestern in the TicketCity Bowl.

Who needs to play well for the Red Raiders to do it?

Receivers Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis. Without injured quarterback Dan Persa, Northwestern was blown out by Illinois and Wisconsin, averaging just 25 points in the two games.

Illinois and Wisconsin are both primarily running teams, but the Wildcats rank 85th nationally against the pass. That means opportunity for Texas Tech's top two receivers. Leong and Lewis both topped 800 yards receiving, and Leong was second nationally with 17 touchdown catches. Add a few more, and the Red Raiders should be able to get the win.

They haven't been able to run the ball with a lot of consistency, but outside of a disastrous outing at Oklahoma, quarterback Taylor Potts made it look easy in wins over Missouri, Houston and Weber State, throwing for 10 touchdowns and two interceptions in Texas Tech's three wins to close the year.

Lewis and Leong can help that continue, and if they do, Texas Tech should be able to earn its seventh bowl win in nine seasons.

Ranking the Big 12 bowl matchups

December, 16, 2010
12/16/10
4:15
PM ET
Not sure what to expect with the Big 12's bowl slate over the holidays? It's a somewhat underwhelming slate. Here's who I'd like to see. Those aren't happening, but here's how I'd rank what we've got on the matchup sexiness scale:

1. AT&T Cotton Bowl, Jan 7: Texas A&M vs. LSU. They say defense wins championships. That's not always true in beauty contests like these, but I'll take these two disciplined, hard-hitting defenses at Cowboys Stadium over the high-octane offenses elsewhere on this list. Plus, if it's close late ... Les Miles is involved.

2. Texas Bowl, Dec. 29: Baylor vs. Illinois. Zone-read enthusiasts, your day has arrived. Robert Griffin III and Jay Finley of Baylor should run it more than a few times. Nathan Scheelhaase and Mikel Leshoure at Illinois will do it even more. Expect lots of points from two good offenses, but Baylor's Griffin has a big edge when it comes to putting the ball in the air. The Illini secondary better be well-prepared to face the Bears, who have five receivers with at least 40 catches.

3. Valero Alamo Bowl, Dec. 29: Oklahoma State vs. Arizona. The Cowboys secondary will get a tough test from the Wildcats' Nick Foles-led spread attack. And Oklahoma State fans will get another chance to yell at a Stoops.

4. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 1: Oklahoma vs. Connecticut. I can't believe this game is this high, but Oklahoma is really in a no-win situation. Win big, and you do what everyone expected. Win by less than two possessions, and the BCS streak ends, but the talk about Bob Stoops-coached teams in BCS bowls won't. That could provide for some drama late.

5. Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, Dec. 30: Nebraska vs. Washington. We may have seen this before, but we haven't seen a healthy Taylor Martinez in a long time. This could be our last chance until next season. Don't expect him to run all over the Huskies, but this defense isn't anything like the ones he faced against Texas A&M and Oklahoma.

6. Insight Bowl, Dec. 28: Missouri vs. Iowa. Suspensions have sapped some of the energy out of this one; Iowa's Ricky Stanzi is running out of talent around him, but the Tigers will see a defensive line from the Hawkeyes unlike anything the've seen in awhile. That could mean trouble, and a one-dimensional offense.

7. TicketCity Bowl, Jan. 1: Texas Tech vs. Northwestern. The same goes for this one. The Wildcats lost their mojo without do-everything quarterback Dan Persa, and somehow it even transferred to the defense. But the 48 and 70 points Northwestern gave up to Illinois and Wisconsin came in a very different manner than how Texas Tech will try to score.

8. New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 30: Kansas State vs. Syracuse. The novelty of playing on a baseball field was lost a bit during the season, but some snow could make for a pretty old-school game. Daniel Thomas was built for nasty weather.

TicketCity Bowl

December, 5, 2010
12/05/10
9:08
PM ET
Northwestern Wildcats (7-5) vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (7-5)

Jan. 1, noon ET (ESPNU)

Northwestern take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern’s season will officially end Jan. 1 in the inaugural TicketCity Bowl against Texas Tech. The bigger question: Did the Wildcats’ campaign already come to a close back on Nov. 13?

Northwestern has looked extremely shaky since losing star quarterback Dan Persa to a season-ending ruptured Achilles’ tendon in a Nov. 13 win against Iowa. Not surprisingly, the Wildcats have struggled on offense as backup quarterback Evan Watkins goes through some growing pains. The more shocking backslide has come on defense, as Northwestern surrendered 118 points, 848 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in losses to Illinois and Wisconsin. Missed tackles became a big problem down the stretch, and Pat Fitzgerald’s crew needs to get things rectified against a Texas Tech squad that ranks among the top 20 in both passing and total yards.

Bowl practices will be valuable for Watkins, who had attempted only seven passes before taking over the starting job on Nov. 20. The redshirt freshman could use a boost from the ground game, although top running back Mike Trumpy is questionable for the game after fracturing his wrist against Illinois. Northwestern needs to find a way to establish an offensive rhythm and keep the high-powered Texas Tech attack on the sideline.

After two near misses in bowls the last two years, Northwestern aims for its first postseason victory since the 1949 Rose Bowl. This one would qualify as an upset.


Texas Tech take by Big 12 blogger David Ubben: Early in the season, a bowl game was no guarantee for the Red Raiders. A loss to Oklahoma State landed them at 3-3 and 1-3 in conference play, but the transition year from Mike Leach to Tommy Tuberville didn't result in the end of the Big 12's longest bowl streak. Texas Tech is the only team to qualify for a bowl game in every year since the birth of the Big 12, and that wasn't going to end in the final year of its existence as a 12-team league.

The Red Raiders offense has been inconsistent this season, but it still boasts two experienced, senior quarterbacks in starter Taylor Potts and backup Steven Sheffield, who saw time this year and a start, despite losing a preseason quarterback battle. Receiver Lyle Leong is also a player to watch; his 17 touchdown catches are second only to Biletnikoff Award finalist Justin Blackmon.

The in-state Red Raiders should have the advantage in an atmosphere with a substantial amount of alumni not needing to leave the Dallas city limits to see Texas Tech play. They’ve already played in the Cotton Bowl once this season, facing Baylor back in October.

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