It's Official: Auburn vs. Northwestern in Outback Bowl

Matt NunneleeContributor IDecember 7, 2009

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 27:  Head coach Gene Chizik of the Auburn Tigers against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 27, 2009 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

According to www.outbackbowl.com , it will be the Northwestern Wildcats that Auburn will face on New Year's morning.

This will be the first ever meeting between the two teams.  Northwestern (8-4, 5-3) is led by talented senior quarterback Mike Kafka, who has thrown for nearly 3,000 yards with 12 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Kafka also boasts 7 rushing TDs, but only averages 2 yards per carry.

The Wildcat's leading rusher, Arby Fields has rushed for 294 yds with 5 touchdowns.

After starting the season 2-0, Northwestern lost it's next two games to Syracuse and Minnesota. They went 2-2 in October, falling to Michigan State and Penn State. Following the 34-13 loss to the Nittany Lions, NU finished strong with big wins over Iowa and Wisconsin.

The Wildcat defense gives up an average of 123.5 rushing yards per game, while allowing 220.8 through the air. They have 16 interceptions, which is tied for ninth in all of FBS (The Auburn defense has 12 picks).

I know the Big Ten is known for hard-nosed, physical running games. So giving up 123 rushing yards per game is nothing to scoff at. But the Wildcat defense has not seen an offense like Auburn's.  The Tigers will spread you out and move at a lightning fast pace, and while Ben Tate is considered a power back, he can pop it outside and be off to the races before a slower, possibly fatigued defense knows what hit them.

Throw in all the misdirection and speedy skill players like Mario Fannin and a (surely) healthy Onterio McCalebb, along with the ever dangerous Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery, the Wildcats could be in for a long morning (10 a.m. EST, you kidding?). I'm not sure the Wildcat defense can move laterally on the field like Auburns offense. But the same can certainly be said for the NU offense and the extremely thin AU defense.

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This game, like many others, will depend on how well Chris Todd plays. If he can manage the game and be patient, Auburn could score at will. If not, well, I think we know how that could look.

Of course, how well the O-line protects Todd and stays somewhat penalty-free is always a huge factor. That phase of the game is a toss up, as it has been all season.

This looks like an interesting match up against a solid Big Ten team. While the rushing game does not look very impressive, the fact that the Kafka has seven rushing TDs but only 265 rushing yards and a two yard average makes me think that he can take off, but he would rather scramble around, buy some time and wait for a WR to pop open. 

The Auburn defense should be prepared for anything, since a mobile, even semi-mobile quarterback can cause major headaches for a speedy, fast pursuing defense like the Tigers. 

Now here's the part where I say that I'm a little relieved Wisconsin is out of the picture.  I am. Partly because that running game scares me, and partly because I am sick of Auburn playing them in bowl games.

But I'd be surprised if throughout the next couple of weeks we don't hear several good things about this Northwestern squad. I'm sure they sling it around alot to many different receivers.

This is where Auburn's lack of defensive depth could be a serious problem. Though I have become more and more confident in those young defensive backs, the linebacker situation is not so promising.  With receivers and tight ends running crossing patterns and a dual-threat quarterback, good linebacker play will be imperative for the Tigers to be successful. Let's hope their Iron Bowl showing is a sign of things to come January 1st.

However, just as when I thought Auburn would be playing the Badgers, if the Tigers  play with half the passion and intensity they had against Alabama, there won't be any issues.  We all know that's easier said than done, but I think this bunch is going to show up and finish.


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