Northwestern held Missouri's star QB Chase Daniel to 197 yards and three interceptions. The Wildcats held the normally prolific Tigers to one offensive touchdown in regulation. They even got Tigers kicker Jeff Wolfert, the most accurate kicker in NCAA history, to miss a potential game-winning field goal.
Yet somehow, the Wildcats still managed to lose Monday night's Alamo Bowl, 30-23 in overtime, extending what was already a 59-year bowl-victory drought for at least another season. The good news for Northwestern fans is that their once-miserable program is now a semi-regular bowl participant (six appearances since 1996). The bad news: they keep losing them.
On paper, few expected the Wildcats to even hang with the Tigers. Vegas installed Big 12 North champ Missouri as one of the biggest favorites of the entire bowl season (13 points), and I for one figured it would be an even bigger blowout than that. While Northwestern had achieved a commendable 9-3 season, the only offense it had faced with comparable skill and athleticism to Missouri's was Ohio State. The Buckeyes won 45-10.
Instead, the Alamo Bowl wound up being the most closely fought postseason game to date. From the get-go, the Wildcats' much-touted defensive line seemed to rattle Daniel, who threw two first-half interceptions, while Northwestern counterpart C.J. Bacher worked his way to a season-high 303 yards. A Jeremy Maclin punt return represented Missouri's only touchdown of the first half.
The Wildcats continued to keep pace for most of the second half, going ahead 23-20 with 31 seconds left in the third quarter.
But one extremely costly injury seemed to change the course of the game. Northwestern's All-Big Ten defensive end Corey Wooton, a future NFLer, went down with an apparent knee injury with just under five minutes remaining. From that point on, Daniel looked more like himself, standing patiently and finding open receivers to set up Wolfert's game-tying field goal, the near game-winner at the end of regulation and, ultimately, a beautiful 7-yarder to Maclin to go up in overtime.
Missouri sealed the deal when linebacker Sean Weatherspoon -- a standout all night -- sacked Bacher and forced a fumble on third-and-goal that resulted in a 24-yard loss. With that, the Tigers joined UCLA (2005 Sun Bowl), Bowling Green ('03 Motor City), Nebraska ('00 Alamo), Tennessee (1997 Citrus) and USC ('96 Rose) among the Wildcats' modern bowl conquerors.
Though it wasn't his finest performance, Daniel, arguably the greatest player in Missouri history, got to cap his career with a dramatic bowl victory. The game likely marked the end of an era for the Tigers, which will also lose offensive coordinator Dave Christensen (now the head coach at Wyoming), tight end Chase Coffman and, most likely, Maclin.
The good news for Northwestern is that the program seems to be genuinely on the rise under upstart coach Pat Fitzgerald. Expectations for the Wildcats will be higher next season than they have in many years. Their No. 1 goal: End the darn bowl hex.