But I haven't said how I actually feel about the game, so, read about it after the jump.
When we got the ball: Not only does Auburn's defense not particularly scare me, I think it almost perfectly suits Northwestern's spread offensive attack.
You see, there's two people on Auburn's defense to be worried about. Defensive end Antonio Coleman, and Walt McFadden. Outside of those two, the pass defense has been shoddy, and the run defense was so bad that Auburn's strategy against Alabama was just to throw 8-9 guys at Mark Ingram. (It worked, but they lost.)
And don't get me wrong, McFadden seems like a great corner. A shutdown corner, if you will. But Northwestern's offense doesn't really prevent a player for Auburn to shut down. Who is our #1 receiver? Andrew Brewer? He's our best deep play threat, but then again, we've won games without getting him the ball once. Zeke Markshausen? Good for a seven yard reception any play, but does he have a catch downfield yet this year? It's a silly question... but do you know the answer? A few against Illinois, but I can't really recall any other biggies.
On any play, NU's passing trees branch out to give Mike Kafka somewhere between 3-5 options between 3-7 yards downfield, maybe one more than ten yards away. Walter McFadden is good - I mean, he shut down Julio Jones - but, the Tigers have no defensive backfield depth. And that'll hurt against Kafka. Look for the prototype Kafka game, five yards and no cloud of dirt for methodical, 70 yard drives several times during the game.
As for the run game, it's been 12 weeks, and Tyrell Sutton is still playing for the Panthers, so, we're screwed. You could argue Jeravin Matthews was our most effective running back all season on his limited carries, and now he's a cornerback. I genuinely couldn't tell you who I'd like to get the most carries tomorrow, and I genuinely don't care: anyone who can punch it in in a goal line set and keep Auburn's middling run defense honest twice a drive or so would be great. We're all still waiting for Crazy Legs to show up after the Minnesota game last year, so, here's to Mike Kafka being our leading passer, and rusher tomorrow.
When they got the ball: NU's defense looks to be the healthiest they were all year, unfortunately, I doubt this prevents Ben Tate from running absolutely rampant with a bit apperance from Onterio McCalebb.
I think NU looks to have a decent chance of shutting down Auburn's pass game. Wootton finally looks healthy enough to put pressure on opposing QB's and maybe even demand a double team. Sherrick McManis developed from a good corner to a murderous assassin killer somewhere along the line, so Darvin Adams, who was pretty much the only Auburn receiver worth throwing to for large stretches of the season, shouldn't be as potent as he normally is.
Meanwhile, Chris Todd went through a Kafka-esque metamorphosis over the course of the year (That's right. Seven months of Northwestern sports blogging, and I just busted out my first Kafka pun. I will accept your gratitude in the form of panties, standing ovations and/or straight cash sent to my 1835 Hinman dorm room.) He threw 12 TD's and one pick in Auburn's 5-0 start, and four scores and five interceptions in the five losses in Auburn's last seven games. According to those who watched him, he just reverted back into being a questionable quarterback with a weak arm who couldn't really do much unless his receiver was in a different zip code from a receiver.
Therefore, I wonder whether the question isn't so much whether NU can stop Ben Tate - most likely, we can't, he's good/great, and NU's rush defense has varied between poor and piss poor at points during the year with a weak/injured front four and middling linebackers - but whether if a day where Ben Tate has 150 and two touchdowns matters. Tate averaged 99 yards on 4.54 yards per carry in Auburn's five losses, and 108 on 5.66 in their seven victories. Is Tate's still very good average in both categories to blame for their losses? Nah. I mean, the dude ran for 184 and two touchdowns against Arkansas.
The problem is, when your running back accounts for more yardage than your passing game, as Tate did three times in three Auburn losses, you're going to have issues scoring. So I hope Mr. Tate and Mr. McCalebb accept Northwestern's gracious offer of 150-175 yards on an average of 4.5 yards per carry, which I'd consider a pretty good performance. As long as Chris Todd reminds me of a football version of Tim Wakefield, complete with 68 mph fastballs and wobbly, difficult to predict throws, we should be fine.
People to watch for: On offense: Obviously, Mike Kafka, but that's boring. Let's call it Sidney Stewart: Sid the Kid had issues catching at times during the year, but also had some spectacular grabs. He also got open for Mike Kafka downfield on mutliple occasions before Kafka learned how to throw a pass to someone more than 13 yards from him after the Minnesota game. Look for a team with no secondary to speak of to have issues containing NU's fifth receiving option behind Brewer, Markshausen, Dunsmore, and whoever's coming out the backfield.
When they got the ball: Obviously, Sherrick McManis and Corey Wootton, but that, also, is boring. I got two: Nate Williams and Jordan Mabin. I know I stressed that Auburn essentially only has one great receiver, and it doesn't matter how much they run for. But I think these two guys are crucial. First off, Williams, because he's going to have Ben Tate running at him a lot, and, although I just said this doesn't matter, it'll be on Nate to make tackles and decide whether Tate has four yards per carry or six.
And Jordan, because like I said, Auburn doesn't have much of a secondary receiving threat. Let's keep it that way. If they're going to beat us, have them beat us with their best stuff.
And now, my pick.
Northwestern, 36, Auburn, 31: It's going to be high scoring, and I honestly think we're going to win. I don't know how we're going to get 36, I just have a nagging suspicion that we will. We're the healthier team, we're the team that finished 3-0, they're the team that finished 0-2, 2-5, and 1-5 against BCS opponents. We're the team that's clicking, they're the team that's favored, and jesus h. christo, if you're a Northwestern sports fan and you don't know that WE DON'T DO GOOD WHEN WE'RE FAVORED, I'm going to need to see your purple license and registration.
Tell me how you feel bout it, and go Cats, yo!