Northwestern prepares for TicketCity Bowl, Texas Tech

Colin Becht

Please check back throughout Winter Break for continuing coverage of Northwestern’s preparation for the TicketCity Bowl.

Northwestern is headed to the TicketCity Bowl.

The Wildcats will face Texas Tech of the Big 12 in the historic Cotton Bowl in Dallas on Jan. 1, 2011, marking NU’s third-consecutive season playing in a bowl game.

“When I told the team tonight we were going (to the TicketCity Bowl), they were ecstatic,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Another opportunity for us to compete on January 1.”

Texas Tech finished its season at 7-5 with a 3-5 conference record. The Red Raiders won their last two games and three of their last four, including an upset win over then-No.14 Missouri.

“We did improve as the year went on,” Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. “We won some big games and we lost some games we probably had a chance to win, we just didn’t find a way to do it. The thing I liked, though, was they looked for a way to win each week.”

The Red Raiders rely on a pass-heavy spread offense, averaging 314.8 yards through the air on nearly 50 attempts per game.

“They remind me a little bit of our offense, they spread things out and like to throw it a lot,” senior defensive tackle Corbin Bryant said.

With this bowl berth, Texas Tech will make its 11th straight bowl appearance, the seventh-longest active bowl streak in the country.

“This is a program that knows how to win,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s going to be a huge challenge for us.”

Of course, hanging over the Cats’ is their own bowl streak, the 61 years that have passed since NU last won a postseason game.

“It’d be great to be starting a stepping stone for the program,” Bryant said. “We could say 20 years from now that we started the trend of winning bowl games. That’s the mission, the goal we have in our minds right now.”

NU should have an opportunity to establish its throwing game behind the young arms of redshirt freshman Evan Watkins and freshman Kain Colter. Texas Tech gave up over 300 yards passing per game and ranks last in the Big 12 in pass defense by over 30 yards per game.

While the transition from junior quarterback Dan Persa to Watkins and Colter has not gone as smoothly as the Cats might have hoped, Persa said his replacements were put in a tough spot.

“It’s always tough coming in as a young guy at the end of a Big Ten season,” Persa said. “For me, I was able to warm up with the nonconference season, but to get thrown into a Big Ten schedule is a tough deal for them.”

Junior offensive tackle Al Netter said the offensive line hadn’t made things easy for its new quarterbacks.

“Evan and Kain are both extremely talented quarterbacks if we give them the time, and I can’t say we did that the last two games,” Netter said. “We’re really taking it upon ourselves because if we can protect then our offense will flow.”

The Cats will have to prepare for what will essentially be a road game, facing the Red Raiders in their home state.

“Of course it’s in Texas and we’ve already played in the old Cotton Bowl stadium,” Tuberville said, referring to Texas Tech’s 45-38 win over Baylor in October. “I look forward to going back there and playing another game.”

Fitzgerald said he wasn’t concerned about getting NU fans into the stadium’

“We’ve got a lot of alumni in that area,” Fitzgerald said. “You saw (8,000) to 10,000 in that game at Rice so we’ll travel well.”

Athletic director Jim Phillips agreed that Wildcats fans had proved they would travel to Texas.

“We traveled so well to Houston earlier this year,” Phillips said. “So we felt really good about going anywhere in Texas.”

With the 11 a.m. Central time zone start time, the Cats will play in the very first college football game of 2011 The kickoff is an hour earlier than many of the other New Year’s Day bowl games.

“If history has anything to do with it, the last January 1 game we were in was pretty exciting,” Fitzgerald said.

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The Daily has finished print publication for Fall Quarter. It will resume Tuesday, Jan. 4. Until then, www.dailynorthwestern.com will be updated with breaking news and complete coverage of the TicketCity Bowl.

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