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TicketCity Bowl Trip Report (and quasi-recap)

Yes, I was one of the few NU fans who actually made the trip to Dallas this weekend,and even though the travel costs were unreasonably high, the weather sucked, and Northwestern lost as usual, I mostly enjoyed my weekend in the greater Dallas area. Let's get right into it.

- My flight left for Dallas about an hour after the basketball game vs Purdue, so I got to the airport early and camped out in some random Legal Seafoods bar (there wasn't much in the way of choice). Rodger already recapped that one, I'll just say that it was my first time watching an NU sporting event with captioning on the screen, and whoever was transcribing the audio was clearly a Purdue fan; he could spell "E'Twaun" and "JaJuan" correctly, but had no idea what to do with "Murr Kah Vick" and "Cah Poe See". Also, during the game I ordered a cup of clam chowder and two beers (the first half made me switch from water). Total cost: $20. Outrageous, even by airport standards. I feel like Lisbeth Salander in the Zimmertal Hotel.

- New Year's Eve in downtown Dallas. It was a great time; sadly the events of the night are completely unprintable. All I'll say is this: beware of spray tans.

- I was pleasantly surprised by the Cotton Bowl as a venue. I was expecting a complete dump, and while it wasn't exactly the Taj Mahal, there were plenty of positives. It was easy to drive to it, there was plenty of parking, and the sight-lines were good. There was a lot of complaining about the aluminum bleachers, but for me it brought back fond memories of Foxboro Stadium. Also, they served beer at the game, which I wasn't expecting since they apparently don't serve beer when Texas and Oklahoma play there during the regular season. The worst part of the stadium experience was the cold weather, the temperature in Dallas shouldn't be the same as the temperature in Boston.

- I was also surprised (in a good way) by the performance of the Texas Tech fans. I attended the game with two Texas Longhorns fans, and they warned me that Tech fans were dumb, obnoxious, belligerent, and generally the worst in the entire Big 12. In fact, neither of them wore burnt orange to the game out of fear of being attacked by crazy Tech fans. Instead, most of the Tech supporters I encountered were well-behaved, and a few were even friendly and polite. I'm sure the 11 AM kickoff was a key factor (not enough time to get hammered), but I'll certainly take it. The only thing even approaching a confrontation came when an older Tech fan asked me to watch my language after Fitz kicked a field goal on 4th and goal from the one yard line down by 18 points.

- More on that 4th down decision. It was strange, because in the first half, Fitz made the correct decision twice on 4th down, going for it on 4th and 7 from the Tech 33 yard line (which shocked me, I was expecting a field goal attempt or a punt), and then going for it on 4th and 1 around midfield. So here I was, thinking Fitz had actually wised up in the past month and finally realized he was being too conservative, and then he decides to kick an 18 yard field goal down by 18 points with a crappy defense and a suspect field goal unit (the 'Cats had already botched a PAT attempt in the game, making this the FOURTH straight bowl game in which they've missed at least one PAT).

Over the long history of dumb Pat Fitzgerald fourth down decisions, he will probably never top the Duke debacle in 2007, when, in the 2nd quarter, he took a made field goal off the board so he could go for it on 4th and 3 from the 11 yard line (to newer NU fans, I swear to God he did this, as unbelievable as it may seem). But he came pretty close with that field goal on Saturday. Kicking an 18 yard field goal is very rarely a good idea regardless of score, but doing it down by 18 points, with a defense that clearly wasn't going to hold Tech down the rest of the game, is so obviously a bad decision that it really makes me worried about Fitz going forward.

It's particularly frustrating because it's so easy to assess 4th down decisions as a fan. I know I could never be a good football coach; I couldn't give a great pregame speech, or teach a kid how to be a great linebacker, or make subtle schematic adjustments at halftime to push my team over the top. But one thing I can do is a simple EV analysis. Even assuming a 100% success rate on an 18 yard field goal, NU would only need to score a touchdown 3 times out of 7 to make going for it the right play, and even the NU offense sans Persa has to be at least 50% to get one yard. Not to mention that even if you dont make it, Tech gets the ball on their own 1, far worse field position than they'd get after a kick-off. This is so obvious that I shouldn't have even had to type it out, and it's more than a little alarming that Fitz and company were so incompetent that they thought kicking was the right play.

- Fortunately for Northwestern, Tommy Tuberville somehow managed to outdo Fitz by attempting an onside kick up 38-17. About the only way the 'Cats were getting back into the game there was a quick touchdown, and the failed onsides left them in a great position to do just that.

- I liked the offensive game plan for the most part, 31 points on offense was a lot better than I expected going in, even vs. a suspect defense. Kain Colter in particular looks like he'll be able to contribute to the offense right away next year in a Kordell Stewart Slash type manner. One thing that did puzzle me was keeping Evan Watkins in the game as a WR when Colter was under center; why not put a receiver the defense actually has to worry about instead? Still, there were some very nicely designed plays; I particularly liked the successful 2-point play where Colter rolled right and threw back to the left corner of the end zone.

- Obviously, the defense was awful. Everyone I've read seems to be blaming the coaching staff, and yeah, Hankwitz didn't come up with much of a game plan, but a lot of the blame has to fall on the players. Even on blitzes, the front 7 couldn't come anywhere near Potts, and that's the players' fault for not being better at rushing the passer. Quentin Davie has been MIA since the non-conference season; remember back then when we thought he could be an All-Big Ten performer? Yeah, that didn't quite happen.

- Attendance was better than expected (I lost a prop bet on it, betting the under on 36,000), but obviously it's annoying to play a game in a stadium that's much less than half-full. I'd guess there were maybe 2,000 NU fans there, tops; we were outnumbered at least 10 to 1 by Tech fans. "Raider Power" chants consistently drowned out the occasional "Go U NU" from the Wildcat corner, pretty feeble effort. I totally understand why people didn't go; I'm not gonna be one of those blowhards who calls out other fans for not sharing my passion, those people are annoying. Still, it didn't make for the best atmosphere.

- After a much needed post-game nap, we headed 75 miles north to the Winstar Casino. Wow, worst casino in the history of casinos. I guess if you're into slot machines (meaning you're over 50 years old and/or female), it's great, but that's pretty much all they had going for them. Almost no table games in the entire place, meaning all the tables were packed, and worst of all there was no waiting list, so in order to play some blackjack  I would have had to stand behind a table and root for someone to go bust and leave. And while you're standing there waiting, they wouldn't give out free booze the way every other casino on the planet does. What a debacle.

So we went in search of a bar to hole up in until the table games cleared out a bit, and we stumbled upon on a place that, judging from the slurred, off-key singing we heard as we walked in, was a karaoke bar. Once we were seated, we realized that it was actually a piano bar; the singer/piano player was just awful. Brutal.

Once it got late enough, we finally found some seats at a blackjack table. I buy in, place my bet, and the dealer tells me I have to pay 50 cents a hand in antes. What the hell is that about? Blackjack is a -EV game already, you dolts, and now you're making it even worse? That just can't be a wise business move, you might make more money in the short term, but people are going to stay away from your casino if you make the games so -EV that it's difficult to actually book a win. Just awful.

There was some discussion about the stupid ante at the table, and someone else at the table claimed the ante was in place only because Winstar needed it to maintain a profit. Incredible. I was reminded of The Departed, when French is demanding a percentage of some guy's action and the guy claims there's no money in it for him if he has to pay. French replies with "This is America. If you can't make money, you're a fucking douchebag." Precisely, French. If you own a casino and can't make money on table games without charging an ante, then you're so inept at business that you should probably consider a different career path.

- My flight wasn't until Sunday night, so we spent the afternoon watching the NFL games at a great wing place called Pluckers. Definitely check them out if you're ever in Texas, and get blue cheese with your wings, best blue cheese I've ever had.