I will preface all of this by mentioning I was drinking heavily during the game, so my recollections may be a bit hazy.
- It was a disappointing end to a disappointing season for Dan Persa. He had a solid season, but clearly wasn't 100% recovered from the torn Achilles. And in his final career game, he averaged just 5.8 yards per completion and rushed for -39 yards on 10 carries (this was largely due to eight sacks). He was decent, but failed to deliver the type of extraordinary performance that would have been necessary for NU to win this game.
- The offensive line is a major concern going forward. It has been bad in pass protection the last two seasons, and four year starters Al Netter and Ben Burkett are both gone. I am no expert on offensive line play, but I feel like the problem goes well beyond talent. Against Texas A&M, there were countless times where no NU lineman picked up an Aggie blitzer and said blitzer had free run at the quarterback. Meanwhile, NU's blitzers were usually picked up or at least slightly disrupted by the Aggie offensive line. Also, the NU coaching staff didn't make any adjustments to the relentless pressure, such as calling for screens or three step drops.
- As expected, the secondary was a disaster, as the Aggies picked on whichever hapless corner was filling in for Jordan Mabin. Next year, both those two will probably be starting at corner. Be afraid, be very afraid. Ibraheim Campbell seems like a promising player at safety, but that's about it.
- Many angry NU fans are demanding the firings of defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz and secondary coach Jerry Brown. They appear to be part of the problem, but to me a bigger problem is the complete lack of talent on defense. Are there any future NFL players on the defensive side of the ball right now? Maybe Vince Browne I guess, and he had a very disappointing senior season. I believe NU's current recruiting class is the best of the Fitz era, so that's at least mildly encouraging.
- I think the future looks bright at quarterback next season with Kain Colter. Certainly his passing needs work, but both Mike Kafka and Dan Persa have made effective transitions from run-first QB to accurate passer in Northwestern's system. Plus, all the snaps he's been taking at wide receiver have to take away from his development as a quarterback this season. With how effective he is as a runner despite the defense essentially knowing a run is coming, I think Colter has All-Big Ten upside as a quarterback. Trevor Siemian has thrown the ball in limited duty but I think Colter so talented that he needs to have the ball in his hands all game long.
And finally, a couple points on Pat Fitzgerald:
- He needs to become a better game manager. Taking a delay of game and punting rather than going for it on 4th and 8 from the 37 yard line was bad. His clock management at the end of the first half was idiotic for the second straight game. I can sort of understand deciding to go conservative on 2nd and 10, but once you've run the clock down, you have to run the ball again on 3rd down and make Texas A&M use their last timeout. The lack of a logical thought process is what's most concerning about the entire thing. Ok, we'll come out throwing. Nope, never mind, we'll go to the half down ten. Wait a minute, let's go back to throwing with 30 seconds left and one timeout from our own 30. Huh? Northwestern is unlikely to be able to out-talent the top Big Ten teams, so they need to be smarter than them, and Fitz has made way too many mistakes managing the game over the past few seasons.
- I didn't learn of this monkey-on-the-back nonsense until I got home from the game, and I'm glad I didn't see it live because I likely would have lost it. The Northwestern players are well aware of the bowl losing streak, and Fitz should be able to motivate them without embarrassing the program with that kind of puerile buffoonery. We're talking about a grown man who thought it was a good idea to put a custom made jersey on a stuffed animal in public. The monkey stunt was supposed to be for the player's benefit, but it seems to me that the pressure of the bowl losing streak is weighing more on Fitzgerald than anyone else. What's next year, a live 300 pound gorilla in a cage on the sidelines? Get it together.