The 2020 Auburn football season ended on the first day of the New Year with more of a whimper than anything else. Auburn fell to Northwestern 35-19 in the Citrus Bowl, and it wasn’t even as close as the final margin might indicate.
Northwestern came in with a game plan to play clean, powerful football, and they put it to use perfectly against an Auburn Tiger team with no head coach, a roster of assistants who’ll likely be unemployed tomorrow, and a slew of players out for different reasons. The Wildcats had probably their best offensive game of the season, rolling up 35 points and 457 yards on the day while Auburn faltered time and again with many of the same problems we saw all year.
Without players like Tank Bigsby and multiple offensive linemen, Auburn was unable to establish the running game at all (only going for 61 yards on 26 carries), and left Bo Nix to run for his life nearly every time he dropped back to pass. Nix ended up throwing for nearly 300 yards in the loss, but it took 42 attempts and he was only able to connect downfield on a small number of occasions.
To start the game, Northwestern didn’t take long to score. The Wildcats’ opening drive went 75 yards in 9 plays and milked just 3:28 off the clock. It ended with a 35-yard scoring strike from Peyton Ramsey to Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman, thanks to two Auburn defensive backs colliding just after the snap to allow the open receiver.
Auburn couldn’t answer on either of its first two possessions, going three-and-out and gaining only 15 total yards, and then fell behind ever further when Northwestern put together a 10-play, 68-yard drive that ended with another Ramsey touchdown pass, this time to John Raine from 6 yards out. When the first quarter ended, Northwestern led 14-0.
Auburn’s defense settled in after the first period, and held the Wildcats scoreless in the second quarter, while the offense started to find its footing a little more as well. After going three-and-out to start the second quarter, Nix led the Tigers on a pair of scoring drives that both ended in Anders Carlson field goals (53 yards and 27 yards), and at halftime, Northwestern led 14-6.
Out of the halftime break, Auburn again started with a three-and-out, but followed that drive with the best one of the afternoon, going 75 yards in 6 plays as Nix connected with Elijah Canion for a 57 yard touchdown pass where Canion got behind the defense and stiff-armed a late defender inside the 10-yard line to find the end zone. After the extra point, Auburn trailed just 14-13 with 8:32 left in the quarter. However, Auburn’s defense began to falter like they had in the first quarter.
Northwestern went right down the field two drives later for an 87-yard possession that ended on a 30-yard Peyton Ramsey scoring dash down the left sideline. Auburn’s offense gained just 29 yards on the next two drives, while Northwestern scored two more touchdowns (Cam Porter 1-yard touchdown run, Riley Lees 8-yard touchdown catch), and established a 35-13 advantage midway through the fourth quarter.
Auburn was able to tack on one more score before the day ended, as the offense went 75 yards on 10 plays, culminating in a short D.J. Williams touchdown run, but it was too little too late. Northwestern was able to run out the clock on their next drive and secure a win for the Big Ten.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
It’s going to be Elijah Canion on offense. He had his first catches of his career today, and seemed to be a favorite target of Bo Nix on the afternoon. He finished with 3 catches for 80 yards and a touchdown, and showed off his size and speed which will bode well for next year.
On defense, our linebackers continued to do what they do well. Both Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe finished the game with 11 tackles apiece, combining for a sack and 2 TFLs as well.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Auburn freshman wide receiver Elijah Canion got his first career catch earlier today.— Matt Zenitz (@mzenitz) January 1, 2021
Now, he has his first career touchdown, too.
Auburn heads into the offseason with a ton of work ahead of the program. Bryan Harsin takes over now, and we’ll have to see the kind of staff he brings along with him. Clearly there were some deficiencies this season in many areas, and they weren’t blips on the 2020 radar, but sores that had festered for seasons. Recruiting, offensive line, quarterback development, offensive innovation... all of those areas need immediate help.
Meanwhile, the Tigers get to watch bitter rivals succeed in New Year’s Six bowl games and Playoff games, so the competition won’t be getting any easier. Spring practice isn’t that far around the corner, and new assistant coach hires ought to be imminent, so stay tuned.