HOUSTON - DECEMBER 31: Head coach Pat Fitzgerald of the Northwestern Wildcats watches the replay board as the Texas A&M Aggies score in the third quarter at Reliant Stadium on December 31, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
A look at the stats that mattered in Texas A&M's 33-22 win over Northwestern in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, from Jeff Fuller's heroics, to a ferocious A&M pass rush, to a stunted collapse.
2.7: Average Northwestern gain in plays before its two late touchdown drives. In the first three quarters, the Wildcats gained just 146 yards in 55 plays, punted eight times and fell behind by a 30-7 margin. With the way A&M had struggled to protect leads in 2011, there probably weren't many viewers who truly thought the game was over, but to that point, Northwestern had shown no signs of life. For the game, passes to star receiver Jeremy Ebert found the mark just four of eight times for 35 yards. Passes to quarterback-slash-receiver Kain Colter: 3-for-5, 12 yards. The only Wildcat receiver who had a worthwhile game was Demetrius Fields (7-for-8, 73 yards), and the running game was nonexistent. They got rolling with a series of Colter runs and brief passing success, but it was too little, too late.
8: Texas A&M sacks. Poor Dan Persa spent a good portion of his final game on his back. He completed 25 of 37 passes for 213 yards, which is neither an amazing nor terrible total, but he was also sacked seven times for 55 yards. Colter was sacked once, too, in four attempts. Seven different Aggies reached the quarterback, and for the game Northwestern averaged just 3.4 yards per pass attempt, including sacks. At that rate, it would have taken Northwestern 95 pass attempts to match the net total of 322 yards that A&M's Ryan Tannehill produced in just 41 attempts. What do you have to say about that, Pat Fitzgerald?
12: Yards gained in the three Texas A&M drives during Northwestern's fourth-quarter comeback. We all enjoy a little comfort and reliability in our lives, things we know are going to happen, beyond a shadow of a doubt. It makes us feel like we have some semblance of control in this completely uncontrollable world. So when A&M began to falter in the fourth quarter, it just felt right. One last collapse in a season of collapses. And if it happened, A&M fans couldn't really even feel too badly about it -- they've already got a new coach lined up next year, and there will already be a decent amount of turnover in on-field personnel. Next season will see a new team regardless, so why not go out with a bang? And for about ten minutes, it looked like that was exactly what would happen.
After Texas A&M went up, 30-7, they followed up with a three-and-out possession. Northwestern did the same, but on their first play from scrimmage in the fourth quarter, Tannehill was picked off by Brian Peters at the A&M 40. Nine plays (and a two-point conversion) later, it was 30-15. A&M went three and out again, and Northwestern followed with a 10-play, 80-yard drive. With 5:22 left, it was indeed a one-possession game.
29: Length of the third-and-6 pass that sent Jeff Fuller, Ryan Tannehill and Texas A&M out as winners. Really, two passes were key to A&M's saving of face. After an incompletion (which stopped the clock), a short pass out of bounds (ditto), and a false start, the Aggies faced third-and-13 from their 28, and Tannehill found Uzoma Nwachukwu for a huge 21-yard gain. Two plays later, Northwestern used their second timeout to prepare for a third-and-6 (or basically, third-and-ballgame) play; Tannehill found Fuller along the left sideline for 29 yards to the Northwestern 18. That was more than enough for the Aggies to run the clock down, then send Groza Award winner Randy Bullock on for his fourth field goal of the day. Ballgame.
I've been hard on Jeff Fuller from the moment he began to receive "potential All-American" billing. He disappeared far too much for my liking last year. This year, he never really had a chance; nagging injuries rendered him ineffective (and for a while, benched), but he went out with a fantastic game, catching seven of nine passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. He and Ryan Swope (8-for-11, 105 yards) gained as much as Northwestern's entire receiving corps.