The Northwestern Wildcats controlled the 2021 Citrus Bowl for most of the afternoon and defeated the Auburn Tigers 35-19. The Wildcats were led by quarterback Peyton Ramsey and his MVP performance with four touchdowns on the day. The Auburn offense struggled to get any consistency as they had for most of the season. The run game was mostly nonexistent with just 61 yards, and Bo Nix had to put the ball in the air 42 times. Auburn came into the game without receiver Anthony Schwartz, running back Tank Bigsby, and defensive backs Roger McCreary and Christian Tutt.
Northwestern Wins 2021 Citrus Bowl
Northwestern in Control Early
The Wildcat offense came out in the first quarter firing on all cylinders. On the opening drive, Ramsey went five for five and connected with Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman for a 35-yard touchdown. The absence of McCreary and Tutt was vastly noticeable early on. After three punts combined by both teams, the Wildcats would go on a 10-play, 68-yard drive to add to their lead. It was another terrific set of plays by Ramsey. This time he went six of seven and ended the possession with a six-yard touchdown pass to John Raine with 3:14 left in the first quarter.
Auburn Narrows the Gap
To close out the quarter, Auburn moved into Northwestern territory but stalled out. Auburn was hurt by an offensive pass interference penalty and a failed fourth-down conversion at the Wildcats 34. To open the second the Wildcats would do the same and the two teams would exchange punts at the midway point of the quarter. Auburn would get on the board with their first points when Anders Carlson connected with a 50-yard field goal with 6:03 remaining in the half. The Tigers defense stepped up once again to force a point, and the offense went on a 15-play, 72-yard drive. Unfortunately, the possession only resulted in three points with another Carlson field goal with 17 seconds left until halftime. This time he hit from 27 yards to get the score to 14-6 in favor of Northwestern.
Momentum for the Tigers
Both teams struggled with the ground game in the first half. Auburn had 48 and Northwestern totaled 21 rushing. That trend continued for one of the two in the second half. The third quarter opened with both teams punting on their opening possessions. With Auburn being without Bigsby and Schwartz, it was a difficult task to get chunk plays. An unlikely player changed that and gave the offense a jolt. With 8:32 in the third, Nix connected with Elijah Canion for a 57-yard touchdown to get within 14-13. A huge stiff-arm down the sideline enabled Canion to get free for the touchdown after making the catch. At this point, momentum seemed to be on the Tiger’s side.
On the following possession by the Wildcats, Auburn would make a stop on fourth and two when they held Riley Lees to a no gain. Then, perhaps the play that changed the game. On a third and 1 play, Auburn went with a wildcat play with tight end J.J. Pegues, instead of a more traditional play. This was something that had worked earlier in the season, but Northwestern was ready and stopped it for a two-yard loss. Auburn would punt following the play, and lost momentum.
Northwestern Takes Control
Early in the game, the passing of Ramsey hurt the Tigers and led to a 14-0 Northwestern lead. Ramsey showed the Tigers towards the end of the third he can run as well. On a third and ten from the Tigers 30, Auburn did a great job on coverage but did not have someone paying attention to the quarterback. Ramsey escaped the pocket for a 30-yard touchdown run with 1:34 left in the third to go up 21-13.
After a turnover on downs by Auburn, the Wildcats would go with the ground game. Cam Porter ran for 51 yards on seven carries on the drive and closed it with a one-yard run to go up 28-13 with 12:13 in the fourth. Porter only rushed for 98 yards the entire game, and it had been a struggle on the ground up until that point. Auburn would turn it over due to a bad exchange between quarterback Cord Sandberg and Shaun Shivers three plays later. Nix was out of the game due to a leg injury that took him out for a few plays.
Northwestern took the ball at the Auburn 24, and six plays later Ramsey connected with Lees for an eight-yard touchdown pass to put the Wildcats up 35-13 with 7:49 remaining. That score for Northwestern put the game out of reach for Auburn. Nix did return on the final possession for the Tigers and led them on a 10-play drive that ended with D.J. Williams scoring on a 2-yard touchdown. Auburn failed on the two-point conversion and the ensuing onside kick attempt. Northwestern would run out the remaining 4:41 left on the clock and clinch the 2021 Citrus Bowl 35-19.