Northwestern showed up and showed out against Auburn in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl Friday, winning by a score of 35-19. The ‘Cats had an all-around great performance, led by quarterback Peyton Ramsey’s four total touchdowns. This marks Northwestern’s fifth bowl win in the Fitz era and defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz’s 400th career win in his final game as a coach. Here are five takeaways from the impressive win.
Ramsey needs to come back next year
If this ends up being Ramsey’s last collegiate game, it was quite a way to go out. QB1 finished with 291 passing yards and four total touchdowns. Ramsey continually made timely throws and was able to push the offense forward when the rushing attack started slow.
On the ground, he showed his athleticism, picking up chunks of yards and scramble for third down conversions. He finished with 50 rushing yards and a terrific 30-yard run on third and long for the touchdown that began the runaway train in the second half. Ramsey was a key piece to Northwestern’s success this year and whether or not he returns will be impactful.
Lost starters did not hurt
Contrary to what the game broadcast guided one to believe, the ‘Cats had just as many key contributors out as the Tigers. The biggest holes came from the injury of star cornerback Greg Newsome II and team sack leader Eku Leota to the transfer portal. For the most part, the defense did not skip a beat.
Cam Mitchell filled in at corner and held his own. AJ Hampton, typically the slot corner, had a blown assignment in the third quarter covering outside receiver Elijah Canion, but outside of that blunder put out a commendable performance.
As for the defensive line, Northwestern allowed a mere 61 rushing yards and brought consistent pressure against Bo Nix. Defensive end Adetomiwa Adebawore finished with another solid performance and senior Joe Spivak ended with a sack.
Northwestern never quits
This may sound a bit silly since the ‘Cats never trailed, but it remains true. When Auburn scored the long touchdown to creep within a point, the game began to feel like the Big Ten Championship. Despite playing a great first half, they were only up eight and then surrendered the touchdown.
When the momentum seemed to be going Auburn’s way, the ‘Cats were able to counter and take control once again. The moment didn’t get too big for this group, and Ramsey’s run helped break the Tigers’ will.
Rushing attack still isn’t consistent
Looking at the final box score, it looks like Northwestern had little issue on the ground, finishing with 166 rushing yards. But Ramsey accounted for 50 of those, and things were ugly through the first three quarters.
Even though Cam Porter had emerged as the lead man over the past two games, the lack of running back depth without Drake Anderson and Isaiah Bowser meant offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian couldn’t feed the hot hand. Porter was able to turn it on in the fourth quarter and showed his receiving ability, and many eyes will be on his growth this offseason.
Maybe the SEC isn’t so great after all
Auburn came into this game unranked, sitting at a lowly 6-4 record and with an interim head coach. Yet the Tigers were still seen as a team that could come out with a win because they are in the ‘almighty SEC’ where it just means more.
Maybe the SEC wasn’t all that this year. It was incredibly top heavy, but how can we really judge teams and conferences with a season of conference-only play? A mediocre Auburn team earned a bowl berth meant for a quality, (normally) ranked squad like Northwestern. AU certainly had the more talented team, but talent alone doesn’t win games. That’s nothing new.