TicketCity Bowl Preview
Dec. 22, 2010
Northwestern (7-5, 3-5) will play in a third straight bowl game for the first time in program history when the school participates in the inaugural TicketCity Bowl, one of the Big Ten's newest bowl destinations. The Wildcats' third consecutive bowl bid surpasses the previous record of two straight postseason outings set when current head coach Pat Fitzgerald led the program to bowl games while playing linebacker during the 1995 and 1996 campaigns. Northwestern will take on Texas Tech (7-5, 3-5 Big 12) of the Big 12 on Saturday, Jan. 1, at Noon ET in Dallas, Texas. The Wildcats will play in their fourth bowl game in the state of Texas after taking part in the 2000 and 2008 Alamo Bowls in San Antonio and the 2005 Sun Bowl in El Paso. After making only one bowl trip in its first century of college football, the program will be appearing in its eighth bowl since the 1995 season. Fitzgerald has led Northwestern to three straight bowl games, including narrow overtime defeats in the 2008 Alamo Bowl and the 2010 Outback Bowl.
Texas Tech is making its 11th straight bowl appearance in what is its 18th consecutive year of bowl eligibility. Only six other schools have longer active bowl streaks than Texas Tech and just three schools (Florida State, Florida and Ohio State) have been bowl eligible longer than Tech's current streak of 18 years.
The Red Raiders, who will be meeting Northwestern for the first time, enter the bowl season as the reigning Alamo Bowl champions after defeating Michigan State 41-31 last season and the Ticket City Bowl will be the fourth consecutive January bowl game for TTU. Texas Tech will be participating in a first-year bowl game for the first time since 2000 when Tech faced off against East Carolina in the then galleryfurniture.com Bowl (now named the Texas Bowl).
Despite suffering the devastating season-ending loss of its All-Big Ten quarterback Dan Persa on Nov. 13, Northwestern heads into the postseason ranked third in passing (242.6), fifth in total yards (392.4), seventh in rushing (149.8), and eighth in scoring (25.4). In their final two games, NU struggled to a 48-27 loss to Illinois and a 70-23 blowout to Wisconsin in the finale. In his first two games at starting QB, Evan Watkins was thrown to the wolves so to speak, facing two of the best defensive units in the Big Ten. In those contests he was a combined 23-of-42 for 228 yards with four interceptions and just one touchdown. Tailback Mike Trumpy has begun to carry to load in the backfield, averaging 48.2 rushing yards on the season with four touchdowns, but he missed the Wisconsin game with an injury following a 129-yard performance against the Illini. All-Big Ten wideout Jeremy Ebert led the conference with 76.6 receiving yards per game while ranking fifth in receptions per game with 4.92. He is tied for fifth on NU's single-season receiving touchdown list with eight this year while currently sitting 81 yards shy of becoming the third Wildcat in program history with 1,000 receiving yards in a single season. Junior superback Drake Dunsmore was a consensus All-Big Ten honorable mention selection, ranking second for Northwestern with 39 receptions and five touchdown catches. WR Venric Mark turned heads in the season finale, setting NU's single-game kickoff return record with 273 yards on nine returns (30.3 ypr average).
On defense, the Red Raiders were eighth in their conference in rushing (157.0), 10th in scoring (30.3), and last against the pass (306.1) and in total yards allowed (463.1). The unit is anchored by second-team All-Big 12 lineman Colby Whitlock, as well as honorable-mention selections Bront Bird, Cody Davis, Brian Duncan, and DJ Johnson. Bird rated ninth in the conference with 8.4 tackles per game, while Davis was 21st at 6.6. Duncan was team’s top pass rusher, registering 7.0 sacks and 12.0 tackles for loss this season, both of which tied for sixth in the Big 12. In the secondary, Bird and Johnson posted three interceptions on the year, trailed only by teammate Jarvis Philips, who ranked third in the league with four picks. Bird entered his senior season without a single interception in his first three seasons as a Red Raider, but has helped TTU this year to 13 total INTs.
Texas Tech’s offense ranked third in the Big 12 this season in passing (314.8), fourth in total yards (452.6), sixth in scoring (32.1) and 10th in rushing (137.8). The Red Raiders enter the bowl contest having scored a combined 99 points in their past two outings, but those games were not played against Big 12 opponents. After a conference finale on Nov. 13, in which TTU struggled in a 45-7 loss to Oklahoma, the Red Raiders topped Weber State 64-21 and Houston 35-20. Under center is senior quarterback Taylor Potts, who went over the 3,000-yard passing mark in Tech's regular-season finale. On the year he ranked third in the conference with 279.8 passing yards per game, with a 65.9 completion percentage and 31 touchdowns to just nine interceptions. Detron Lewis has hauled in five of those TDs and ranked fourth in the conference in receptions (6.58) and seventh in receiving yards (66.9) per game. Receiver Lyle Leong is also a player to watch as he hauled in 17 touchdown catches this season, while rating sixth in the Big 12 with 67.3 receiving yards per contest. Senior Baron Batch, who earned All-Conference honorable mention honors for the third-straight year, is looking to end this year the way he did last season when he capped the 2009 campaign with a 100-yard, two touchdown rushing performance in the Alamo Bowl win over Michigan State.
Defensively, NU is seventh in the conference in scoring (27.7), eighth in defending the pass (230.5), ninth against the run (185.2), and 10th in total yards allowed (415.7). In those two aforementioned games against Illinois and Wisconsin, Northwestern surrendered 118 points, 848 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns, including an eye-opening 330 yards on the ground to Illinois’ Mikel Leshoure. Defensive end Vince Browne and safety Brian Peters are both All-Big Ten second-team honorees. Browne ranked second in the conference in sacks (7.0) and third in tackles for loss (15.0), while Peters ranked seventh in the Big Ten in both tackles per game (8.1) and interceptions (3). Two other NU defenders – defensive lineman Corbin Bryant and cornerback Jordan Mabin – earned honorable mention honors from the league. Bryant ranked third for Northwestern with 8.0 tackles for loss while also registering an interception, six quarterback hurries, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble on the year. Mabin led the Big Ten with 13 passes defended and ranked fourth on the team with 58 tackles including 46 solo stops.