More from TicketCity: Northwestern defense struggles to stop air attack

Jonah L. Rosenblum

DALLAS – Over the course of a chaotic game, it’s hard for football players to keep track of statistics. So when asked about the play of Texas Tech quarterback Taylor Potts, junior safety Brian Peters came back with a question, not an answer.

“I haven’t seen any stats or anything,” Peters said. “Was he that successful?”

He was, in fact, completing 43-of-56 passes for 369 yards and four touchdowns. With that in mind, it didn’t take long for Peters to reach a conclusion.

“Oh yeah, that’s not good,” Peters said. “It wasn’t anything special he was doing. We’ll point the thumb and take the blame for that.”

It certainly was not a good day for the Wildcats’ defense, which surrendered 552 total yards in a 45-38 loss to the Red Raiders in the TicketCity Bowl.

The problem wasn’t with defending the rushing game this time, like it was against Illinois and Wisconsin. Texas Tech was unable to get much going on the ground with the exception of an 86-yard run by running back Eric Stephens. That run aside, the Red Raiders averaged just 3.5 yards per carry.

Instead, most of Texas Tech’s total yardage came through the air. NU gave up 369 passing yards to the Red Raiders, a season-worst.

All of this, even though the Cats were plenty aware of Texas Tech’s passing prowess coming into Saturday’s game. The Red Raiders’ aerial attack averaged 319 passing yards per game during the regular season, the third-best total in the Big 12, behind two dynamic teams in Oklahoma State, which won the Valero Alamo Bowl, and Oklahoma, which won the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

“They’re like a 60-40 team,” Peters said. “We had to focus on the run but passing was our main priority. We were just inches away here and there from making a play, you saw (junior safety David Arnold) tip a ball. You saw a couple of other tipped balls.”

According to Peters, it was just one of those days.

“You saw ships passing in the night, I broke on a slant, and he slipped under me,” Peters said. “I guess it’s just not our day, I’ll throw it at that. We had the ability to win the game, and we didn’t.”

The defense suffered from several maladies Saturday, but according to Peters, long passes were not one of them. Instead, Texas Tech utilized the short pass, dissecting NU’s defense on its way to victory.

“They don’t do a lot of downfield passes,” Peters said. “I’d venture to say we won 90 percent of the downfield passes. It’s all that underneath route where we have got to be zone disciplined.”

It didn’t hurt that Potts had plenty of time to sit back and survey the field, as the Cats were unable to get any pressure on the Red Raiders quarterback. In fact, NU hasn’t recorded a sack since its November 13 victory over Iowa.

“I don’t think we touched his flag once,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We need to get that fixed if we want to be a championship-caliber team.”

Potts, who received the MVP award for Saturday’s game, gave much of the credit to his offensive line.

“Playing behind those five guys all season was surely a privilege,” Potts said. “They got so much better from the time we played SMU when I got hit eight or nine times, and I thought it was going to be a long season, to playing in the bowl game now where I didn’t get touched one time.”

With time on his side, Potts and his receivers were firing on all cylinders. The Cats surrendered touchdowns on six of the Red Raiders’ first 11 drives, and while the defense improved toward the end, NU was still unable to make the big plays.

“They seemed like they kept on converting at critical times,” junior cornerback Jordan Mabin said. “I don’t know what it was, I just felt like we couldn’t get off the field sometimes.”

Texas Tech was particularly effective on third down, converting on 8-of-15 third-down opportunities.

“Third down’s usually our down, and obviously we didn’t win that today, ” Peters said. “You can let the chips fall where they may, but that’s something we have got to take pride in winning on because if you can control third down, if you can control momentum, you can win a football game. And we just couldn’t quite finish off today.”

This was particularly true late in the fourth quarter, after a Mabin interception return for a touchdown brought the Cats within seven with approximately five-and-a-half minutes remaining in the game.

Seeking a quick three-and-out so it could get the ball back with enough time remaining to complete the comeback, NU forced a third-and-two, before allowing Stephens to plough ahead for two yards, barely enough for the first down. A few plays later, Stephens picked up a yard on third-and-one, which once again proved just enough to move the pylons. By the time the Cats got the ball back, there were 25 seconds remaining and they had no timeouts left.

“It was really frustrating to know that both times on third down they had to come out and measure it,” Mabin said. “Coming up half a foot short, ah man, it was killer, but you still got to back out and play the next play.”

After struggling towards the end of the regular season and against Texas Tech, the pass defense will look to improve next year under the senior leadership of Mabin and Peters. Freshman quarterback Kain Colter even said he’d be available to play on the other side of the ball if that’s what the team needs.

“I played a lot of DB in high school, actually got recruited a little bit as a DB,” Colter said. “So if they needed me to go to DB, I’ll go in there and play there. I just want to play where I can get.”

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