Rapid Reaction: Northwestern grinds out Citrus Bowl victory over Auburn
It wasn’t always pretty, but that’s Northwestern football after all.
The Wildcats held off a brief Auburn comeback to win the Citrus Bowl 35-19 on Friday, wrapping up one of the best Northwestern seasons in recent history and giving Pat Fitzgerald the first New Year’s 6 bowl win of his coaching career.
Northwestern looked like it was going to easily run away with things before the 1st quarter even came to a close, as the Wildcats rolled up a 14-0 lead on a pair of touchdown passes from Peyton Ramsey to Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman and John Raine.
Auburn, which was without several starters including running back Tank Bigsby, the SEC Freshman of the Year, struggled out of the gate. On its first two drives, consecutive 3-and-outs, Bo Nix faced continual pressure behind an injured offensive line. The Tigers found some modest success with short passes and QB runs in the second quarter, but were unable to finish any drives with a touchdown as Northwestern took a 14-6 lead into the half.
Ramsey played arguably his best half of football this season in the first two quarters, completing 15 of his first 21 passes for 193 yards and 2 touchdowns.
While Auburn could have packed it up for the second half with eyes for the future, the defense played some inspired football in the 3rd quarter with some huge hits from Smoke Monday and Zakoby McClain.
Nix completed a game-long pass to Elijah Canion for a 57-yard score that was Canion’s first career catch to cut the Northwestern lead to just a point, but that would be as close as Auburn would come.
Ramsey ran in a 30-yard touchdown two drives later, and the Wildcats’ defense came up with a huge 4th-down stop on a Nix sneak before Northwestern iced the game with a few more touchdowns and an Auburn turnover.
Cord Sandberg replaced an injured Nix briefly in the 4th quarter.
The Wildcats’ run defense, which had been gashed the game before for 399 rushing yards by Ohio State, held Auburn to fewer than 100 yards rushing for just the third time this season.
With Northwestern’s win the Big Ten is now 2-0 in bowl games while the SEC dropped to 2-2.