Here's a look at three keys for Northwestern during Saturday's Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas game against Texas A&M:
1. Protect Persa: One thing the Aggies do as well as anyone is get to the quarterback. They tied for the national lead in sacks per game this season, paced by junior linebacker Sean Porter. Northwestern's offensive line, which allowed 34 sacks this year, needs to hold the fort for quarterback Dan Persa. If he has time, he should be able to exploit a very shaky Texas A&M pass defense. Several quarterbacks had huge days against the Aggies in 2011, including Arkansas' Tyler Wilson (a school-record 510 passing yards), Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden (a school-record 438 passing yards), Baylor's Robert Griffin III (a school-record 430 passing yards) and Kansas State's Collin Klein (281 passing yards and 103 rushing yards). A fully healthy Persa and his favorite target, Jeremy Ebert, can put up similar big numbers if Persa is not running for cover.
2. Pass coverage: Good luck trying to get pressure on Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, as his offensive line allowed only eight sacks all season. That's tied for fewest in the nation. So the Wildcats' defense is going to have to excel in pass coverage, which won't be easy without injured starting cornerback Jordan Mabin. Northwestern allowed way too many big plays in the passing game all season even with Mabin, and freshman Daniel Jones got torched when he was pressed into service in the season finale against Michigan State. That puts more pressure on players like corner Jeravin Matthews and safety Brian Peters. The Aggies have a balanced offense that's one of the most explosive in the country, and the Wildcats will have to figure out how to take something away.
3. Just hang around: One way to beat Texas A&M is just to weather the early storm and wait for an Aggies collapse. They led Oklahoma State by 17 points in the first half and lost. They led Arkansas by 18 points and lost. They led Missouri by 11 points and lost. And they led Kansas State by 10 points with six minutes left and lost. If Northwestern can keep this game close in the second half, then you have to wonder about the Aggies' psyche, especially as they're playing for an interim coach. The Wildcats have come up just short in their past couple of bowl games. This time, they just might have the advantage if the game goes down to the wire.