Here are three keys for Northwestern heading into its TicketCity Bowl matchup against Texas Tech.
1. Help out Evan Watkins: I think Northwestern got a little too comfortable letting Dan Persa work his magic on offense. Then when Persa got hurt, the Wildcats didn't have enough options to contribute around backup quarterback Evan Watkins. Northwestern needs a big game from its veteran offensive line and must establish the rushing attack with Adonis Smith, Stephen Simmons or, if cleared to play, Mike Trumpy. Players like wideout Jeremy Ebert and superback Drake Dunsmore also must help out Watkins in the pass game.
2. Tackle in space: The Wildcats' tackling left much to be desired at times this season, especially in blowout losses to Illinois and Wisconsin to end the regular season. The pre-bowl layoff allowed Northwestern to get healthy and refocus on its fundamentals, but Texas Tech's dynamic spread offense will test the Wildcats' tackling ability. NU needs veterans like linebackers Quentin Davie and Nate Williams and safety Brian Peters to prevent explosion plays.
3. Avoid special teams miscues: Northwestern's perfect ending Saturday calls for kicker Stefan Demos to end the team's 62-year bowl drought with a game-winning field goal. Demos missed a game-winning kick in the 2010 Outback Bowl and had a punt returned for a touchdown in the 2008 Alamo Bowl. Special teams have cost Northwestern too often at critical times, and the Wildcats need strong performances from Demos, return man Venric Mark and others on Saturday.