Rapid Recap: Northwestern 35, Auburn 19


Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Peyton Ramsey runs with the football. Ramsey finished with four touchdowns in the Cats’ bowl victory on Friday.

Greg Svirnovskiy, Reporter


Northwestern entered Friday’s Citrus Bowl matchup against Auburn with a chance to meet two statistical benchmarks: a fourth straight bowl game win for the first time in team history and retiring defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz’s 400th career victory.

He coached his last game in collegiate football Friday, capping off an illustrious 51-year career which has seen him develop 47 all-conference players, 14 All-Americans and capture a national championship as DC for Colorado in 1990.

Behind a lights-out performance by senior quarterback Peyton Ramsey and another defensive masterpiece led by a trio of linebackers who call themselves the Irish Law Firm, the Cats (7-2, 6-1 Big Ten) defeated Auburn (6-5, 6-4 SEC) 35-19, gifted Hankwitz win No. 400, and a late-game gatorade shower, avenging a 2010 loss to the Tigers in the Outback Bowl.

The Cats started off rolling. Senior quarterback Peyton Ramsey found senior wideout Ramaud Chiakhiao-Bowman for a 35-yard score in the Cats’ first offensive drive. It was a culmination of a 9-play drive orchestrated by Ramsey — an up-tempo march up the field which took all of three minutes and twenty eight seconds.

Chiakhiao-Bowman found himself free when two Auburn defenders ran into each other; he escaped man coverage and hit paydirt on a Ramsey pass for the fifth time this season.

What followed were two mostly fruitless offensive possessions for each team: a three-and-out for Bo Nix and the Tigers and then a 4-play, one minute long drive for NU which ended in a punt for senior Derek Adams.

The Cats would go up 14-0 late in the first quarter when Ramsey found senior tight end John Raine deep in the red zone. Raine’s six-yard run capped off a ten-play, 68-yard drive that saw Ramsey complete five more passes, including a 19-yard chip play to Chiakhiao-Bowman which set off the drive.

That’s how the first quarter ended. Ramsey was dominant at the outset, completing 11 of 14 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns. On the other side, Nix struggled, connecting on just five of nine pass attempts and leading three failed offensive drives.

The Tigers put their first points of the game up late in the second quarter. A 50-yard field goal by kicker Anders Carlson capped off a 7-play, 20-yard drive which started around midfield.

Auburn continued to inch back into the game and the second quarter was largely a reversal of the first. NU struggled to build on the offensive momentum they built early on. The running games were rendered mostly ineffective. Auburn, led by Nix’s 30, walked into halftime with 48 rushing yards to NU’s 21. But the Tigers chipped away. Carlson hit on his second field goal with just seventeen seconds to go in the first half.

Auburn would score first in the second half, as Nix connected with wide receiver Elijah Canion for a 57-yard touchdown, the last 33 coming on a ranging run by Canion, who stiff-armed sophomore cornerback AJ Hampton throughout the end of his journey to the endzone.

A promising but ultimately ill-fated NU drive followed. The Cats would move the ball forward 8 times for 39-yards before being stopped on a fourth down Riley Lees-led passing trick play. Auburn got the ball at midfield with an opportunity to take the lead for the first time all game

But the defense forced a three and out before giving the offense the ball back deep in their own territory. And then, Peyton Ramsey took matters into his own hands. He scrambled for 30 yards to put the Cats on the board for the first time since this first quarter. It capped off a 72-yard, ten play drive in which NU earlier capitalized on a 30 yard connection between Ramsey and Raine. NU would head into the rapidly approaching fourth quarter up 21-13.

The Cats would end Auburn’s next drive with a fourth down stop at midfield, giving the ball back to an offense that was finding its second half mojo. That’s when freshman running back Cam Porter made his presence felt. He ran the ball on all seven plays of the drive, accounting for fifty yards and nabbing his fifth touchdown of the season to put Northwestern up by 15.

NU would capitalize on an Auburn fumble on the ensuing possession, with senior defensive back Earnest Brown getting the ball back to the Cats’ offense in likely his final collegiate game. NU would make it count; Ramsey found senior Riley Lees in the corner of the endzone for the wideout’s ninth and final touchdown of a long Northwestern career. He’d been in and out of the injury all game before coming onto the field and hitting paydirt to put the Cats up 35-13.

Auburn tacked on another touchdown, but it was too little, late.


1. Northwestern’s offense needs Ramsey and RCB to come back for another year

Pat Fitzgerald was onto something when he brought in Peyton Ramsey to exercise his NCAA granted extra year of eligibility and come back to Northwestern next year. Maybe he should be campaigning as hard for a Chiaokhiao-Bowman return.

The two have been the lifeblood of Northwestern’s offense all season. Chiaokhiao-Bowman, who this year set career highs in catches (38), offensive yards (447) and touchdowns (5), came to life in NU’s win over Purdue in November, when he exploded for three catches in the endzone as the Cats won by less than a touchdown. Ramsey, who went 24 for 35 in the game and combined for four touchdowns on Friday, stabilized a Northwestern offense that struggled mightily last season. After averaging under 17 points per game last season, the Cats, keyed by Ramsey, came into the game scoring over 23 a contest. Against Auburn, they got 35. RCB caught three passes in the game, going for 61-yards and grabbing the touchdown which put the Cats on the board first.

2. Cam Mitchell is a grown man

With Greg Newsome out after declaring for the draft and Cam Ruiz riding the pine, it was freshman cornerback Cam Mitchell who got the start in NU’s secondary against Auburn. He was involved in two Bo Nix throws to the end zone as the Cats held the Tigers to a field goal in a late second quarter drive.

Both times he matched up against superstar wide receiver Seth Williams; both times he kept the Auburn wideout from scoring without taking a penalty or really even breaking a sweat. With departures expected all over Northwestern’s secondary after this game, Mitchell will feature prominently in the defense next season. He, Travis Whillock and Brandon Joseph, who jabbed all day with Bo Nix, will lead this defense into the future.

3. Seniors on defense making the most of their last appearances together

It’s unclear whether senior linebackers Chris Bergin and Blake Gallagher will exercise the extra year of eligibility granted for all seniors by the NCAA. It is clear that Paddy Fisher, the best of NU’s linebackers and the undisputed leader of the Irish Law Firm trio, will be plying his trade in the NFL last season.

He’s been a superstar for Northwestern, and came up with some big plays down the stretch of this one to keep Northwestern up early. Earnest Brown IV, who recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter, also likely played his last game in purple and white. The seniors, and defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, helped engineer one of the top defenses in college football this season. It showed against Auburn. They limited Bo Nix and the Tigers offense to 361 yards of total offense.

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