So, let’s go back to March 2020. Week two. Auburn is getting ready to head to Nashville for the SEC Tournament. Everything is great. The weather is getting warmer, and Bruce Pearl just clowned Tennessee in Knoxville to give the Tigers a third straight 25-win season.
Everything got canceled. COVID destroyed the SEC Tournament, then the NCAA Tournament, and all spring sports. Football got delayed by three weeks, and we only got conference games. Auburn didn’t have to play North Carolina (which is a fantastic thing in retrospect), and only had ten SEC matchups to look forward to.
Auburn beats Kentucky, cool. Loses to Georgia in Athens, again. Then loses to South Carolina in Columbia. Oh no, thin ice time for Gus Malzahn. It’s cool though, nobody is getting fired in 2020 barring total collapse. Heh.
After that, Auburn messes up LSU really bad, before getting drilled by Alabama and blowing a late lead against Texas A&M. The last we saw of the Tigers, they were dancing with Gus in the glorious afterglow of a Starkville win. Only Ryan Sterritt has enjoyed that town more.
Gus Malzahn gets fired. Rumors of a coup abound, and tales are told of boosters and non-athletic department employees trying to influence the new coaching hire. Kevin Steele’s name is floated, and then everyone from Mario Cristobal to Bill Clark before Bryan Harsin is hired three days before Christmas.
That’s about it.
Now we get to play Northwestern in the... Citrus Bowl? I honestly had to look it up. I saw Northwestern and assumed it was the Outback Bowl. Eleven New Year’s Days ago, Auburn and Northwestern met in the Outback Bowl in Tampa for one of the wildest bowl games you’ve ever seen. The Tigers went up 14-0, with Walt McFadden returning a pick six 100 yards, and then the Wildcats set all sorts of records with 78 pass attempts from quarterback Mike Kafka (along with 5 interceptions). We somehow ended up tied at 35 at the end of regulation, when Auburn hit a field goal in overtime, Northwestern decided to make 2010 super stressful and try to win instead of laying down. They failed, and Auburn won 38-35.
That brings us to today. As far as I know, Auburn is going to get to experience Pat Fitzgerald’s pasty white legs since the Northwestern coaches have decided to embrace Florida weather and wear shorts.
News: Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern’s coaching staff will wear shorts for the Citrus Bowl, a source tells me.— Ella Brockway (@ellabrockway) December 31, 2020
NU is 5-5 in the UA era when Fitz wears shorts. A win would mean a fourth-straight bowl title and No. 400 for Hankwitz, but most importantly, above .500 in the shorts.
The wildest note there is that Northwestern coaches have worn shorts TEN TIMES. I don’t think Auburn’s coaches have ever worn shorts, and we’re living in a place where it’s actually warm.
That brings us to this gem. In the weight room. In the classroom. In the community.
Big Ten football is NOT just about Saturday, which is good, because this game is being played on a Friday. It’s impressive that the video above was created in 2012, and Pat Fitzgerald is one of only two remaining head coaches in the Big Ten during that time. The other is Kirk Ferentz.
Either way, Fitzgerald is a steady coach for his alma mater. Despite having a 3-9 season last year, the Wildcats have bounced back for a 6-2 record and a division title. They fell in the B1G Championship to Ohio State, but led for a large portion and only lost 22-10. Defensively, they’ll be tough. Offensively, well, there’s a reason that the over/under in this game is only 43.5 points.
What will happen today will end up being relatively immaterial for Auburn. Of course, even though we’re underdogs, we’re likely viewed as the team that’s supposed to win. With the number of opt-outs that we’ve got (starters nonetheless), and potential COVID cases, who knows what kind of a team will take the field. Furthermore, the team that does line up will have questionable motivation. How much do the players care about this game? It’s all up in the air, so that assuredly means that we’re getting another 2010 Outback Bowl with these Cats.
SERIES HISTORY: Auburn is 1-0 against Northwestern, winning the only meeting in the aforementioned 2010 Outback Bowl.
LAST MEETING: Same as above, Outback Bowl brah! Suck it, Cats!
KEYS FOR AUBURN:
- Start quickly. This isn’t the Northwestern team we saw a decade ago. They’re not going to throw the ball 78 times, let alone run 78 plays. The Wildcats had their best offensive output in the opener against Maryland, and then after that showed that they’ll pretty much score 20-27 points a game. Auburn can likely match that, but if the Tigers can hit a quick strike early to put them on roller skates, this could be easier than expected.
- Don’t forget the fundamentals. Northwestern’s offense isn’t going to be lighting things up like we touched on above. They got the majority of their rushing yards in two games this season, and really aren’t able to challenge opposing defenses down the field with the pass. Auburn’s pass defense finished third in the SEC somehow, so Northwestern’s attach shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. What matters here is wanting to be there. If you think you’re going to go in and have fun and get a little exercise, then you might get run by by a team that’s playing for something.
- Make your chances count. Northwestern wants to slow this game down, and they want to lull Auburn into sleeping at the wheel on offense. They want us to think we’re controlling the game, when it’s only a one-score game in the second half. Auburn needs to make every drive that goes past midfield turn into points, and they need to make every drive that goes into the red zone a touchdown. On defense, grabbing a turnover would help, because the Wildcats aren’t going to have many drives. Eliminating one of those makes this a much easier proposition.
Kevin Steele says CHILL, it’s just a New Year’s Day bowl game. War Eagle.