- David Ubben, College Football
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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.
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