Well, that was entertaining. Despite an exciting comeback, Northwestern couldn't draw even with Texas Tech and its bowl drought continues for at least another year.
Here's a quick look at the Wildcats' 45-38 loss to Texas Tech in the TicketCity Bowl.
How the game was won: Northwestern mounted a spirited second-half comeback behind true freshman quarterback Kain Colter, but it couldn't overcome season-long defensive woes against the powerful Texas Tech offense. The Wildcats rallied from a 31-9 third-quarter deficit to close within a touchdown, but they couldn't get the defensive stops they needed. Colter and the offense did enough to give the Wildcats a chance, but a defense that allowed 118 points in its final two regular-season games didn't make any strides during bowl practice.
Turning point: Northwestern twice cut its second-half deficit to seven points, but couldn't make a defensive stop to give the offense a chance to tie. After drawing to within 38-31 early in the fourth quarter, Northwestern let Texas Tech march 69 yards in 10 plays to the end zone. Then, after a pick-six by cornerback Jordan Mabin, the Wildcats couldn't get off of the field on third-and-short as Texas Tech bled the clock.
Player of the game: Texas Tech's Taylor Potts. The senior seemed locked in from the get-go and shredded Northwestern's defense with his complement of pass-catchers. Potts finished the game 43-for-56 passing for 369 yards and four touchdowns with an interception. He took advantage of holes in the Wildcats' secondary and, aside from one throw in the fourth quarter, made sound decisions.
Stat of the game: Northwestern ranked third in the Big Ten in pass offense in the regular season, averaging 242.6 yards per game. The Wildcats had just 145 pass yards against Texas Tech.
Unsung hero of the game: Colter made major strides during bowl practices and spurred Northwestern's second-half comeback. The true freshman eclipsed 100 rushing yards and scored two touchdowns, running mainly the option attack. He likely will challenge Evan Watkins for the backup quarterback job next fall.
What it means: Northwestern just can't get over the hump in a bowl game, although the Wildcats avoided what looked to be an embarrassing performance with the second-half rally. The defense simply had too many problems this season, from tackling to discipline to lack of leadership, and Texas Tech's offense posed a bad matchup. Things could have been different had starting quarerback Dan Persa remained healthy, but the warts on defense showed up all fall. Northwestern has high expectations for 2011 and returns a good core, but it needs to make major upgrades on defense. It's still hard for folks to see Northwestern as a legit program until it wins a bowl game.