"Unfortunately we melted down a little bit there in the second quarter and gave up some plays and then we were playing catch-up," coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
After struggling down the stretch in the regular season, sloppy play continued for the Wildcats into the first annual TicketCity Bowl played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas.
Even with the loss, Northwestern showed a lot of fight, coming back from 21 points down to get within 7 points and a chance to tie as time expired.
"I challenged the guys to walk out with their heads held high and feel great about the success that they have had," Fitzgerald said. "These last few games haven't been the way that we have wanted to end up on the scoreboard, but I think it's created a solid foundation for the future of our program."
"We always talk about responding," freshman quarterback Kain Colter said. "Texas Tech hit us in the mouth a couple times. We just came out and responded and stuck to it. I feel like it showed our character today, but there are no moral victories."
Fitzgerald stated multiple times in the post-game press conference that he wasn't a fan of moral victories either, but there sure were some positives to come out of this year's bowl game.
"I really challenged that group (juniors) at the beginning of bowl prep and I thought we responded pretty well today," Fitzgerald said. "Obviously we've got to play and coach a lot better, but I thought we came here to fight and we came here to battle, but we just didn't find a way to win."
Losing in heartbreaking fashion for the third straight year is obviously something that is hard for fans to stomach, but a new wave of young talent showed itself in today's bowl game, giving hope for the future.
Freshman quarterback Kain Colter showed big flashes of playmaking ability, rushing for over 100 yards and a touchdown. With quarterback Dan Persa set to return for his senior season, Colter could be used as a change-of-pace offensive weapon next season, adding another dimension to what should be a talented offense.
"We don't want to come in with that feeling in our stomach ever again," Colter said. "We just need to fight next year to win a Big 10 championship, a Rose Bowl, anything we can do."
Fitzgerald also looked ahead to next season, saying that he had already talked to the next senior class about what he expects from them and what they need to do to compete for a Big 10 title next season.
"As we look at our junior class, it is one of the most successful in our program. There are starters across the board and it is time that they step up," Fitzgerald said with a passionate tone. "If we want to win championships, if we want to win these kinds of football games, that class has got to step up. They've got to start making more plays. They've got to start leading."