Chicago Sun-Times
with Tina Akouris

Lamenting what could have been for Persa, Wildcats

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           Dan Persa deserved way better than what he got New Year's Eve at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

            Even though the Northwestern quarterback ended his college career as the NCAA's all-time leader in pass completion percentage, Persa deserved to go out a winner. Instead, the Wildcats lost to Texas A&M 33-22 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl -- a record ninth consecutive bowl defeat.

            And next year if the Wildcats go to a bowl game, they can trot out a stuffed monkey wearing a No. 64 jersey representing 64 years since NU last won a bowl game: the 1949 Rose Bowl.

            "We failed in that regard and we let everybody down and we know it," Persa said. "But, hopefully, the foundation of hard work we laid and that work ethic will show up in the offseason and in the kids that are still around, and it will push this team over the hump."

            Persa deserved to win maybe more than most of his teammates and possbily more than his fellow seniors, who became the program's all-time winningest class this season, and who started their college careers with the sudden and tragic death of coach Randy Walker punching them in the face back in the summer of 2006.

            Yes, Persa should have won. It would have been an emotional way for him to go out, both with the NCAA record and that elusive bowl victory. The 6-1, 210-pounder from Bethlehem, Pa., who was nicknamed Iron Cat for his strength in the weight room, overcame the doubters his junior year when he took over for the graduated Mike Kafka -- only to have a spectacular season end with a ruptured Achilles tendon while throwing the winning touchdown against Iowa.

            He started his final season with Heisman hopes, as the NU marketing and athletic departments spearheaded the Persa Strong campaign. But Persa Strong proved to be Persa Human and he couldn't start the season's first three games because he wasn't fully healed.

            Then Persa helped turn around a dismal season where the Wildcats played far below expectations and weathered a five game losing streak. Fortunes turned around Halloween weekend when the Wildcats started a four-game winning streak that included an upset at Nebraska and a bowl-eligible sixth victory over Minnesota.

            But the Aggies were just too much and the Wildcats' defense couldn't hold down much of the A&M offense.

            "We instilled in the younger guys that this has to be the end of [the losing streak]," senior offensive lineman Al Netter said. "They need to work harder in the offseason and do something different, because what we're doing isn't working and the monkey is still on our backs. We've been looking at a material object all week [to remember] that we haven't won a bowl game in 63 years."

            If Kain Colter is to be Persa's successor next season -- and there is no doubt that he will be -- the defense has to improve and the NU coaching staff will need to try and recruit better players. They took a first step in that regard over the weekend, when they received a verbal commitment from four-star linebacker/defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo of Centerville, Ohio. According to Scout.com, this is the Wildcats' biggest recruit in recent memory.

            Understandably, the Wildcats are handcuffed to an extent by the school's academic standards, but besides trying to get more blue-chippers on defense maybe there needs to be a shakeup schematically. Or maybe if the Wildcats are bowl-eligible next year there need to be changes to their bowl prep.

            Anything to get rid of that stuffed monkey.

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This page contains a single entry by Tina Akouris published on January 9, 2012 12:12 PM.

Aggies dominate second quarter vs. Northwestern was the previous entry in this blog.

Will Kyle Prater become a Wildcat? is the next entry in this blog.

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