This year’s Vrbo Citrus Bowl is set for 1pm ET on New Year’s Day. The 6-4 Auburn Tigers face off against the 6-2 No.14 Northwestern Wildcats. It is the second meeting all time, the first being a thrilling overtime game 10 years ago in the Outback Bowl. Auburn was came out on top 38-35.
Auburn Tigers (6-4)
At 6-4 Auburn had a less successful season than their record would lead to believe. The Tigers had bad losses to Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. They had two games gifted to them from poor officiating against Arkansas and Ole Miss. And they let a fourth quarter lead get away against A&M in another loss.
The result ended in the firing of Gus Malzahn. Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele will coach the bowl game in his place. Auburn has used a strong defense that allows 23.7 points per game and is very good against the pass to get to six wins this year. The offense has mostly been a disappointment again with too much inconsistency and stalled drives.
Tank Bigsby has been one of the lone bright spots on the offensive side. The freshman runningback has four games of 100+ yards including a season high 192 yards in the season finale against Mississippi State. He’ll be hoping to reach the endzone for the first time since Halloween night.
Auburn’s defense has been sound this year particularly against the pass. They rank third in the SEC with 237.8 passing yards allowed per game. The Tigers appear to potentially be without some key defensive players including secondary players Jamien Sherwood and Christian Tutt.
No.14 Northwestern Wildcats (6-2)
Northwestern was coming off a 3-9 2019 season, the lowest win total in head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s 15 year coaching career. They were the surprise of the conference this year after starting the season 5-0 and playing in the B1G Championship game for the second time in school history.
Defense was the prime reason for the Wildcats’ success. They ranked atop the B1G in scoring defense and were second against the pass. They force a lot of turnovers and allow the fewest passing scores in the conference as well.
Freshman Brandon Joseph has been a ball hawk in the secondary. He’s tied for the lead across college football with six interceptions, including an impressive pick in the endzone off Heisman candidate Justin Fields. NFL prospects Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher lead a formidable linebacking core. The pair lead the team with 74 tackles each along with a combined two sacks, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles and fumble recoveries.
Offense is a struggle. Northwestern ranks 10th in the B1G with 23.4 points per game and are most effective running the ball with 162.4 yards per game. The Wildcats use a trio of runningbacks, none of which have turned too many heads. Quarterback Peyton Ramsey suits up for the final time and will need to limit mistakes. The senior has one touchdown and four interceptions in the last three games.
The Citrus Bowl is sure to be a defensive battle, even more so due to the poor offenses. Northwestern’s defense should be able to frustrate the Auburn offense enough to give their offense enough opportunities to defeat an Auburn team without several key players.
Auburn: 13, Northwestern: 17
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