Auburn got off to a brutal start in the first quarter of the 2021 Citrus Bowl. At the end of the first period, Northwestern had jumped out to a 14-0 lead and it looked as if it might be a long afternoon for Auburn fans. However, the Tigers clawed their way back into the game in the second and third quarters, eventually getting within a point of the Wildcats. Northwestern put the game on ice with a touchdown near the end of the third quarter and another two touchdowns in the fourth. Peyton Ramsey, who won game MVP honors, repeatedly hurt Auburn with his arm and his legs as the senior quarterback passed for 291 yards and ran for 50 while accounting for four total touchdowns. Auburn was missing seven starters for various reasons - COVID, injuries, and opt-outs. The short-handed Tigers played a large number of freshmen throughout the game and experienced some understandable growing pains throughout the game.
Northwestern took the game's opening kickoff and promptly drove 75 yards to take an early 7-0 lead on Ramsey's 35 yard strike to Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman. The Auburn offense struggled early in the game as they went three and out on three of their first four offensive drives. Northwestern added a second first quarter touchdown when Ramsey found his tight end, John Raine, from six yards out. Following the end of the first quarter until late in the third quarter the Auburn defense put the clamps on the Wildcats offense. During the entire second quarter and the majority of the third quarter, Northwestern only managed 98 total yards of offense. During this stretch, Auburn reeled off 13 unanswered points to get within one at 14-13. Anders Carlson kicked two second quarter field goals and then Bo Nix hooked up with freshman Elijah Canion from 57 yards out in the third quarter.
From that point on, it was all Northwestern until Auburn scored a late touchdown after the game was already decided. Peyton Ramsey scored on a 30 yard scramble late in the third quarter to extend their lead to eight going to the fourth quarter. On Auburn's first drive of the fourth quarter, a banged up Bo Nix was stopped short on a fourth and inches at midfield. This play was a huge momentum shift, as Northwestern came out and pounded the ball right down the field on the legs of Cam Porter. Up until the point when Ramsey broke off his 30 yard TD run, Auburn had limited the Wildcats to less than two yards per rush attempt. However, following the failed fourth down conversion attempt at midfield, Porter carried the ball 7 straight times for the 50 yards and a touchdown to put the Wildcats up 28-13.
On the next drive, Bo Nix appeared to hurt his left leg scrambling away from pressure. Cord Sandberg replaced Nix at quarterback and on third down fumbled the exchange with Shaun Shivers to give the Wildcats an extremely short field to punch in their fifth touchdown and go up 35-13. Nix did return on the next Auburn drive and led the Tigers to one final touchdown late in the fourth quarter to give the scoreboard its final standing: 35-19.
Nix passed for 292 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for 32 yards to lead the Tigers in rushing. DJ Williams scored the only rushing touchdown for the Tigers. Freshman Elijah Canion led the Tigers with 80 receiving yards and a touchdown. Seth Williams also had a nice game grabbing five catches for 72 yards. Auburn gained 361 total yards, 300 of those coming through the air. Northwestern gained 457 total yards, 291 through the air and 166 on the ground.
The game served as Mike Hankwitz's final collegiate game as a coach as he is retiring as Northwestern's defensive coordinator following this game. Northwestern's win gave Hankwitz his 400th career win as a collegiate head coach and assistant coach.
Auburn has now officially closed out the Gus Malzahn era finishing this COVID-altered year with a 6-5 record. The Tigers will now look ahead to next year and the beginning of the Bryan Harsin era on the plains.
The Auburn Tigers had a rough start to the season, not to mention the year. A worldwide pandemic has put a damper on the collegiate season as a whole, and to add onto that their star player was forced to sit for 11 games. But with Sharife Cooper finally on the court, what has he brought to the table for the Tigers?