After missing out on the postseason in 2019, No. 14 Northwestern prepares for its matchup with Auburn in the Citrus Bowl on Friday, as the Wildcats look to secure their fourth consecutive bowl win. Facing the Tigers for the first time in 10 years, here are three things to know about NU’s final opponent of the season.
Auburn fired its coach after a 6-4 season
The Tigers have not played since December 12, but on December 13, AU athletic director Allen Greene announced he would send head coach Gus Malzahn (68-35) packing with a $21 million buyout. Malzahn spent eight seasons with the team, six of them as head coach.
The Auburn athletic department announced the hiring of Boise State’s Bryan Harsin on December 22, but defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will serve as the interim head coach for the Tigers in the Citrus Bowl.
Sophomore QB Bo Nix has under-delivered in 2020
Last fall, Bo Nix did something that had not been done since 1946: he started at quarterback for Auburn as a true freshman. Malzahn was all-in on Nix, the son of legendary Auburn QB Patrick Nix, during a season in which he won SEC Freshman of the Year and led the Tigers to two impressive wins over Oregon and Alabama. However, 16 months later, the sophomore signal caller has hardly made any progression.
The former five-star recruit averaged just 6.7 yards per completion over his two seasons in the SEC. He did not have a single multi-touchdown game this season and was sacked 20 times. One bright spot has been his rushing game, notably this crafty escape against a highly touted Texas A&M team. Still, the sophomore only ran for about 35.6 yards per contest this season.
Malzahn remained optimistic about Nix, despite the fact that his quarterback was unable to find any offensive rhythm. Even though the Tigers have plenty of talent in the wide receiver position, Nix did not find Seth Williams or Anthony Schwartz in the end zone as often as one might expect, as he threw one or fewer touchdown passes in eight of his last nine games.
The run game will be key on both sides of the ball
SEC Freshman of the Year Tank Bigsby has been nearly unstoppable for the Tigers. The Hogansville, Georgia native rushed for 834 yards on 138 carries over 10 games and has tallied four 100-yard rushing games, notably passing Bo Jackson for the second-most rushing yards by an Auburn freshman. He has excelled after contact and forced a whopping 14 missed tackles in AU’s win over Arkansas.
Tigers have struggled on defense this season, putting up the worst numbers of Kevin Steele’s tenure as the team’s defensive coordinator. The team allows an average of 4.4 yards per carry and just over 400 yards per game. A big reason for these defensive shortcomings can be seen in Auburn’s third-down defense, which allows opponents to convert on 54.6% of third-down attempts, the fifth-highest conversion rate in the nation.