Auburn falls to Northwestern in Citrus Bowl

Auburn falls to Northwestern in Citrus Bowl
(Source: Raycom Media)

ORLANDO, Fla. (WSFA) - In the first game of the post-Gus Malzahn era, the Auburn Tigers celebrated the new year at the Citrus Bowl with a chance to finish the season 7-4.

However, a lack of veteran presence and slow start in the first quarter set the tone for another mundane performance by the Tigers this season, and despite a fight to the finish, Northwestern defeated Auburn 35-19.

“We came out in this game and struggled a little bit in the first half offensively,” said interim head coach and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. “Defensively we were out of sync.”

The Wildcats scored 14 unanswered points in the opening quarter behind quarterback Peyton Ramsey.

Auburn didn’t score in the first, but Anders Carlson was perfect on the afternoon, banging out a 50 yarder and a 27 yarder in the second to make it a 14-6 game at halftime.

The team didn’t find the end zone until the third quarter; a 57-yard haul from true freshman Elijah Canion. It was his first career touchdown and just his second catch in an Auburn uniform.

Steele said that score provided the team with a spark.

“That big play offensively put points on the board that we needed desperately, but it also energized the whole football team,” he said.

But, it wasn’t bright enough to carry them to the end.

The Wildcat offense continued to pile on the points, while the Tigers just couldn’t seem to stay in the groove. After failing to convert on fourth and inches in the fourth quarter, Northwestern tacked on seven more, making it a 15-point deficit with time winding down.

And then, a forced fumble on the 24-yard line led to the nail in the coffin; an eight-yard touchdown from Riley Lees made it 35-13.

Quarterback Bo Nix left late the final quarter with an unknown injury, but returned to lead the Tigers in one final drive that ended in a DJ Williams score. Nix went 25/42 in the loss, throwing for 292 yards.

In the end, missing key players on both sides of the ball proved to be the biggest challenge for the Tigers.

“Those little things that we missed, you know, from our two starters that were gone to the guys that were inexperienced and that was the biggest thing, some of the guys that were just inexperienced,” said defensive end Big Kat Bryant.

Despite the loss, the Tigers said they have plenty to be proud of, and a lot to look forward to in the future, including the young faces that stepped up in Friday’s contest.

“We are Auburn Football. We are never going to make excuses or for who is out there, who is not out there,” said Steele. “Doesn’t matter, COVID, injury, opt-out, we don’t do that. It’s next man up. We had some young guys go out and do some really good things and it’s going to help with the future of this program to play in this game and as many snaps as they did.”

“When I was a freshman, just getting playing time, and for them to actually start, man, that is a big thing and something they will probably never forget throughout their life,” added Bryant.

New head coach Bryan Harsin was in Orlando for the game, and while he didn’t coach, he told the commentators during the game it was a good chance to see how to improve in 2021.

“I like him and I really think, you know, he has the right coaching philosophy to lead this team to one day win a championship and I really do believe that,” said Bryant about the future head coach.

Auburn finishes the season 6-5. Harsin will now officially take over coaching duties.

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