Instant Analysis - Outback Bowl
Auburn 38 ... Northwestern 35
What team should I root for? That’s one of the most common questions I get from fans when it comes to teams and conferences other than their own. Nothing against Auburn, but if you don’t have a rooting interest the other way, Northwestern is one of those teams that you should want to succeed if you’re a fan of what (cliché warning) college football should be all about.
Northwestern players really are student athletes who have to use all their resources, all their skills, and all their brains to compete at such a high level. I’ve always fought the good fight against the erroneous notion that the SEC and teams from the South are always faster and more athletic than the supposedly slow and stodgy Big Ten, but that really is the case when it comes to Northwestern. The Wildcats have some NFL prospects and some solid players, but they don’t have nearly as many athletes as a team like Auburn has. Thanks to the attitude of head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who doesn’t give his team any excuses and demands that his team believes it can beat anyone at any time, Northwestern carved out a great season and came back time and again to come within a decent field goal kicker of winning the Outback. But after the way Auburn had to fight back through adversity, go ahead and root for Auburn, too.
How many times can a team get its heart broken only to come back and make the plays needed to go on? Running on the field twice thinking the game is over, only having to come back on the sidelines, gear it up, and try to get the intensity back is too much to ask of any team. Auburn should’ve won this game midway through the fourth quarter and should’ve lost it in regulation, but give credit to the team for never quitting when Northwestern got red hot and had all the momentum going its way. And also give credit for being smart enough to sniff out the fake at the end, showing that while Northwestern might be athletic enough to hang around with the SEC, Auburn has some brains to not be outsmarted by the Mensa types.
After a crappy decade and a lousy bowl season, 2010 couldn’t have started out better. If this game doesn’t make the list of the 50 greatest of the upcoming decade, we’re in for a fun ten years of college football.
So close to partying like it’s 1949.
It’s been 61 years since Northwestern has celebrated a bowl victory. Thanks to a slew of mistakes, including five interceptions and three missed field goals by Stefan Demos, it’ll be at least one more year of postseason futility for the Wildcats. Although they battled for four hours against a more talented opponent and twice overcame two-touchdown deficits in the second half, don’t expect anyone in Evanston to be chalking up a moral victory. Northwestern squandered too many chances to pick up a signature New Year’s Day win over an SEC opponent to take much consolation from a 38-35 overtime loss.
As for Auburn, you ought to consider yourself very lucky to get out of Tampa with a W. The Tigers searched for every possible way to blow this game and darn near succeeded until Neiko Thorpe wisely snuffed out the Wildcats’ last ditch effort on a fake field goal attempt. A New Year’s resolution for the program? How about using your heads once in a while and playing with a little more discipline in 2010? A truly complete team would have closed out Northwestern long before this game reached an extra session. Auburn isn’t even close to being a complete team yet under Gene Chizik. An excessive celebration penalty, a costly facemask penalty, and running into the kicker all occurred late in the game and all helped keep the ‘Cats alive when it looked as if the game was over. You don’t see that sort of mind-numbing sloppiness down in Tuscaloosa, which is why ‘Bama is playing for a national championship and Auburn was fortunate to escape a mid-level Big Ten opponent in the Outback Bowl.
1) The 2007 Fiesta Bowl was crazy in an epic kind of way, with some mistakes but far more feats of jawdropping guts and clutch playmaking. The 2010 Outback Bowl was not a high-quality game, and no one should dare think that Northwestern-Auburn represented a supreme display of football excellence. In terms of pure entertainment value, however, Wildcats-Tigers exhausted the supply of themes one can apply to a narrative which unfolded in real time, and not in the mind of a certain Czech novelist.
Agony; ecstasy; apparent victory lost; apparent defeat washed away; resilience rewarded; hubris punished (Ben Tate); guts personified (Walter McFadden); creativity under fire (Northwestern’s tying 2-point try); youth thrown into the fire (Wildcat backup kicker Steven Flaherty, who watched the game end on a run fake stopped by Auburn); balletic grace (Northwestern’s amazing receivers); mind-numbing stupidity (Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley’s late face-mask penalty); stubborn persistence (Northwestern as a whole); uncommon persistence (Auburn’s defense in the overtime period)… and that’s just scratching the surface. This game featured everything about the human condition not covered by the Urban Meyer and Mike Leach-Craig James soap operas which unfolded earlier in the week. It was positively … hey, there really isn’t any other word for it, in this case… Kafka-esque.
2) If anyone has ever said that it would take an act of God for Northwestern to win a bowl game, those people were proven wrong today on two levels. First of all, God performed about 29 different miracles to keep the Purple People in this pigskin passion play, so a Wildcat win would have been the result of 28 divine interventions more than originally expected. Secondly, Northwestern didn’t even win the Outback Bowl. God tried his best, but still came up short. The late Charlton Heston – Northwestern man from 1941-43 – reminded the Man Upstairs about the good work he did as Moses in 1956. Evidently, Mr. Heston is on good terms with the divine, but even that 1-2 combo couldn’t lift the Wildcats to the winner’s circle in the first game of the new decade, which could very well turn out to be the nuttiest football festival we’ll see in the coming 10 years.
“Well, this is the ball game right here.”
I must have said that about 45 times in this ball game. Auburn won despite its coaching, despite its discipline and despite a fantastic effort from a relentless Northwestern team. Two days ago, Idaho vs.
Bowling Green was proclaimed as the best bowl game of the season, no matter what happened the rest of the way. Auburn and Northwestern obviously weren't listening.
It's no secret that Auburn's problem all season long has been depth, and it has never been more apparent. Gus Malzahn's offense produces yards and points, but not a lot of time of possession. Northwestern came back from down 14 points twice in the second half against, which can be directly attributed to ten Auburn drives of five plays or less in the first three quarters.
For Auburn to be successful running Malzahn's offense, they need to be deeper and better conditioned than any other defense in the SEC.
Right now, they are hurting in both of those categories. Their defense played an opportunistic game against Northwestern, forcing Mike Kafka into five interceptions. But you can't count on that every week – especially in the SEC.