Post-Game Analysis: Auburn
by Jonathan Hodges
After about 24 hours to collect myself after the craziest game I've ever seen, I
will finally give the post-game analysis a go, but I can guarantee that it will
not do that game justice. There have been many wild finishes in Northwestern
football history (many during the last decade), but this one takes the cake as
the wildest that I've seen. What a way to kick off New Year's Day 2010 but with
an epic in the Outback Bowl.
The game didn't start well for the
Northwestern Wildcats (8-5), to say the least. Two first quarter QB Mike Kafka
interceptions led to two Auburn (8-5) touchdowns (one of them a 100 yard TD
return by star Tiger CB Walter McFadden). NU would respond with a 39 yard bomb
from Kafka to WR Andrew Brewer (who had two 30+ yard receiving TDs on the day)
before the end of the first quarter.
NU senior S Brendan Smith
unsuccessfully defended Auburn WR Quindarius Carr as QB Chris Todd tossed a 46
yard TD pass to once again give the Tigers a 14 point lead, 21-7, which would be
the score going into halftime. Northwestern's turnover woes continued as Kafka
threw his third interception of the day, another one in the red zone, keeping NU
to just 7 points through two quarters despite racking up 289 yards of total
offense during that time (NU's Stefan Demos also barely missed a 48 yard field
The third quarter, though, was owned by Northwestern, with the
defense holding the Tigers to just 62 yards of offense in that period (and added
an interception of their own). Kafka sputtered again to start the quarter,
including throwing his fourth interception of the day, but responded with two
touchdown-scoring drives to tie the game at 21 going into the fourth
The game-tying touchdown featured an impressive catch-and-run
from SB Drake Dunsmore, who caught the quick screen for what looked to be a
small gain, then eluded a would-be-tackler and rumbled down the field. He was
met by Auburn's McFadden but broke his tackle as well as he skirted the sideline
and made it into the end zone, sending Wildcats fans into a frenzy.
fourth quarter saw Auburn turn the tide back in its favor, though, with the
Tigers going on an efficient 60 yard drive to score the go-ahead touchdown. The
Wildcats were looking to respond and appeared to have completed a first down to
the Auburn 11, but Brewer was flagged for offensive pass interference, setting
up a third-and-19 and effectively ending NU's scoring chance.
would make quick work of the next drive, including a 50 yard end around run that
set up a Tate seven yard TD run, and although he was flagged for unsportsmanlike
conduct (which would be assessed on the ensuing kickoff), NU found itself in
With just over seven minutes to play, Northwestern took
over at its own 42 after benefiting from that penalty on the kickoff, and moved
the ball down the field on a 15 play drive that included three gutsy fourth down
conversions (two were fourth-and-five or longer), which was capped off by a
Kafka TD run. NU PK Stefan Demos' extra point try was blocked, leaving NU down
by eight (35-27) with just over three minutes to play.
it needed the ball back and attempted an onside kick that was easily recovered
by Auburn. NU had three timeouts, but it looked like Northwestern was close to
sending its bowl losing streak to seven, with the first (and only) win coming in
the 'Cats' 1949 Rose Bowl appearance.
After Auburn rushed for one first
down, the craziness began. Auburn RB Ben Tate was stripped by NU S Brad
Phillips with the ball recovered by Wildcat CB Sherrick McManis, giving the
Wildcats one last chance to tie the game with just about two and a half minutes
left in regulation.
NU quickly drove to the Auburn 33 and faced another
fourth down (remember that they converted three-of-three on their last TD
scoring drive). The Tigers sent the blitz and Kafka was quickly chased
backwards and, once again, it looked like it was all over for the 'Cats. But as
he twisted and turned to avoid the tackle, Auburn's Nick Fairly reached up and
pulled Kafka's facemask, drawing a penalty from the onlooking referee, which
gave the Wildcats 15 yards from the previous spot, an automatic first down, and
new life once again.
The Wildcats wouldn't take any more chances, with
Kafka finding WR Sidney Stewart open in the end zone to pull within two, 33-35,
with a minute and a half to play in the fourth. NU would need to convert for
two points thanks to the blocked extra point after their last TD, so out came
the bag of tricks.
Kafka took the shotgun snap and began running right
and tossed to the reversing WR Andrew Brewer, who was quickly tracked down by
two Auburn defenders. Then Brewer (who started at QB for a few games at NU in
2006) tossed the ball to a wide open TE Brendan Mitchell in the end zone which
tied the game at 35 and once again caused the Northwestern fans to go wild.
Note that this play was called "Yankee" in homage to Northwestern alum and
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who was in attendance at the game and also has his
offseason office across the street from Tampa's Raymond James Stadium at the
Yankees' Spring Training center.
All Northwestern needed to do was
contain Auburn to get into overtime, something that seemed unlikely just five
minutes earlier. Things looked grim when Auburn's Demond Washington returned
the ball to near midfield, but Northwestern's David Nwabuisi made a huge play by
forcing a fumble that was fallen upon by Wildcat Jordan Mabin. The play was
challenged by the Tigers but was upheld, giving the Wildcats with the ball and a
chance to win in regulation.
NU quickly drove to the Auburn 28 before
having to set up the field goal with a RB Jacob Scmidt run, setting up the ball
at the 26, making it a 44 yard field goal attempt. Northwestern took its final
timeout to stop the clock with three ticks left, ensuing that this would be the
final play of regulation. Auburn took its final timeout to try and ice Stefan
Demos, who missed his only FG attempt of the day and had his last extra point
Demos got off what looked to be a good kick that had plenty
of distance, but it drifted just wide right, sending the game to overtime and
putting those Northwestern bowl win hopes on hold.
The craziness would,
of course, continue into overtime. The Wildcats won the toss and deferred,
giving Auburn the ball first. After just two plays, the Tigers had first and
goal at the nine yard line, but the Wildcat defense responded, holding them at
the four yard line and forcing a field goal that put Auburn ahead 38-35. Like
at the very end of regulation, things appeared to be in the 'Cats' favor as a TD
would win the game for Northwestern in their OT possession.
On second and
six, more controversy ensued when NU WR Zeke Markshausen, who had 12 catches on
the day, caught the ball then went to the ground, forcing the ball to pop out.
An Auburn player batted the ball backwards, drawing a penalty flag, and Kafka
recovered and carried the ball upfield for a net loss of two yards. The penalty
flag would have given NU a fresh set of downs and a half-distance to goal
penalty, but the play was reviewed and Markshausen was called down, setting up a
third and one at the 16.
Kafka went under center and tried the sneak up
the middle, but Auburn had a mass of players piled in the middle to stop the
initial sneak. But Kafka kept fighting, even getting some assistance from his
running back to keep moving forward as he squirmed and eventually found room to
get to the first down line. First down NU keeping their shot at the win
If all that wasn't enough, there was more craziness to come. On
the next play, Auburn once again sent the pass rush as Craig Stevens chased
Kafka backwards and sent him to the ground as Kafka was trying to unload the
ball, with the football coming loose at almost the same moment as Kafka hit the
turf. The ball bounced forward and Auburn recovered, sending their team
streaming onto the field believing that they won.
BUT, the referee sent
them off and went to review the play, which was overturned, as Kafka was called
down at the 29. An incompletion on second down put the Wildcats in a precarious
third-and-24 and needed to move the ball just to get into make-able field goal
range for the tie. Once again, Kafka went to Markshausen, who caught the ball
at the 19 and set up a 37 yard attempt for the tie.
Stefan Demos put the
ball in the air and once again pushed it just a bit too far to the right,
clanking it off of the upright, and for the second time in OT, sending Auburn
streaming onto the field in a victory celebration.
BUT, an Auburn
defender rolled into Demos' leg, drawing a roughing the kicker penalty and
giving NU the ball at the nine with an automatic first down. Demos had to be
helped off the field, though, with that leg suffering an apparent injury due to
After sending the Auburn players off once again, NU had the
ball first-and-goal at the nine with, once again, a legitimate chance to win
their first bowl game in 61 years. But the Tigers' defense clamped down,
forcing an incompletion intended for Markshausen on first down (that would have
gone for just two yards) and Kafka scrambles for just one and three yards on
second and third downs, respectively.
That set up the deciding play of
the game, fourth and goal from the five yard line. With Demos out due to an
injury that he suffered as he was roughed following his last field goal miss in
overtime, NU sent out Steve Flaherty, who boasts just one made extra point
(against Towson earlier this season) and one kickoff (following that same made
extra point) as the lone action in his collegiate career.
Wildcats would not go for the tie, instead running "Heater," a renamed version
of "Fastball," the fake field goal play that was successful for Northwestern
both against Wisconsin in 2003 (a first down run by Noah Herron) and Illinois in
2005 (a touchdown run by Gerard Hamlett). Unfortunately for the Wildcats,
though, Auburn was not fooled and was looking for the fake the whole way and
forced the ballcarrier, Markshausen, out of bounds at the two yard line, which
allowed Auburn to rush the field in victory for the final time.
was disappointing not to achieve the goal of winning the bowl game, the Wildcats
showed that they would never give up and gave it all when going for the victory
in overtime. It was an unforgettable and crazy game, to say the least, and one
that will undoubtedly go down in Northwestern history. As Fitz stated in the
postgame press conference, the team's performance made us all proud to be
affiliated with Northwestern and we'll look forward to "climbing the mountain"
next year in order to reach the pinnacle of that elusive bowl
Player of the Game
Northwestern QB Mike
Kafka (47-of-78 passing for 532 yards, 4 TDs, 5 INTs; 20 carries for 34 yards, 1
TD) Although Northwestern lost the game and he threw five interceptions,
Mike Kafka is deserving of the player of the game honors. He fought back from
those five interceptions and led Northwestern in a valiant comeback to tie the
game and force overtime then gave the 'Cats a chance to win it outright. There
was both good and bad, but nobody was the difference maker in the game like
Northwestern Wide Receivers
and Dunsmore all caught touchdown passes as the receivers did their part on
offense despite rain throughout the first half and slippery conditions
throughout the game. Not to mention two clutch fourth down receptions.
Markshausen tied the bowl record with 12 receptions on the day. Jeremy Ebert
added six receptions while both Arby and Demetrius Fields (no relation) added
one reception each.
Northwestern Offensive Line
the obvious fact that Northwestern was going to be throwing the ball all day
long (Kafka threw the ball 47 times and also had over half of Northwestern's
carries), the offensive line allowed just three sacks. Yes, the one negated by
the facemask penalty doesn't appear in the stat line and one of those came in
overtime, but three sacks out of over 50 drop backs is pretty darn good. Their
performance allowed Kafka just enough time to make things happen for much of the
Big Defensive Plays
Yes, the defense was gashed at
times, but stiffened when absolutely necessary and forced a huge fumble that
allowed the Wildcats to tie the game and even gave Northwestern two chances to
win with a fumble recovery on the final kickoff of the game as well as stopping
Auburn in overtime by forcing a field goal. NU also had three sacks (by Quentin
Davie, Nate Williams, and Vince Browne) that seemed to come at key times. Also,
the 'Cats came up with two huge interceptions of their own (both in the red zone
by Sherrick McManis and Brian Peters). They made adjustments and gave NU a
chance to win down the stretch.
What to Work
Stefan Demos had a day to forget,
missing all three field goal attempts (including a game-winning attempt and a
game-tying overtime attempt), having an extra point blocked (forcing NU to go
for two later on), and shanking two punts. He was also injured following that
overtime attempt. Add to that the fact that NU allowed a 46 yard return that
could have allowed Auburn to win the game in overtime, if not for a forced
fumble. Best wishes to Demos in his recovery, but look for Fitzgerald to shake
things up on punts and kickoffs to allow Demos to focus on placekicking, which
he has done well earlier this season.
pretty hard to overcome five interceptions, and it is admirable that
Northwestern almost did just that, as they miraculously tied the game and then
were in a position to win the game both in regulation and overtime. Then again,
five interceptions, with three converted into Auburn touchdowns, were very
costly and were what put the 'Cats into such a precarious position in the first
place. It was amazing how resilient Kafka was, leading NU to two separate 14
point comebacks after throwing four
Once again, Northwestern was on the
doorstep but couldn't close the deal. The Wildcats showed a huge amount of
heart in their comeback and even put themselves in a position to win the game
more than once, but couldn't make it happen. For a team that prides itself on
winning close games (24 wins in the last 31 games decided by one touchdown or
less), the inability to close this one out is a tough pill to
Relatively disciplined play by
NU (three penalties for 25 yards) and rather lax play by Auburn (12 penalties
for 140 yards) definitely helped Northwestern's cause, with two of those
penalties, both personal fouls, directly extending Northwestern's chances in
Points off Turnovers
Auburn has 21 points
off turnovers (including one TD directly off of an interception return), which
was a huge factor in the game. The Wildcats had just seven points off turnovers
and missed a field goal on the final play of regulation that was set up by a
Those points off
turnovers more than made up for the large advantage Northwestern had in total
yards, as the 'Cats racked up 625, exactly 200 more than Auburn. What is
amazing is that Kafka accounted for 91 percent of those yards, racking up 566
total yards himself, including a school-record 532 yards
All in all, 28 different Outback Bowl
records were tied or broken in this barn-burner, including the following by Mike
Kafka: passing yards, passing attempts, passing completions, passing touchdowns,
and total yards. The teams also combined for the most points, yards, and plays
in the bowl's history.
Red Zone Chances
3-of-4 in the red zone while the 'Cats went 2-for-5, with their failed scoring
attempts coming off of two interceptions and the final play of the
Here is a recounting of how
Northwestern stayed in this football game until the bitter end:
Auburn RB Tate scores a TD with 7:32 left in the game to put Auburn up
Response: Unsportsmanlike conduct penalty helps NU set up a
touchdown-scoring drive that included three fourth down conversions to stay in
2. Northwestern's extra point attempt blocked, trail by 8
(27-35) with 3:20 left to play.
Response: NU uses trick play "Yankee" to
convert for two following their next touchdown to tie the game.
NU's onside kick attempt at 3:20 in the fourth quarter is easily fielded by
Response: Brad Phillips forces a fumble from Tate that is
recovered by Sherrick McManis, giving the Wildcats new life with 2:37 to
4. Kafka sacked on fourth down with under 2:00
Response: Facemask personal foul on Auburn. Northwestern
scores a pass touchdown on the following play.
5. Auburn's Washington
returns the ensuing kickoff to midfield (Auburn had two timeouts
Response: NU's Nwabuisi strips the ball and Mabin recovers,
giving the 'Cats a chance to win in regulation.
6. Kafka tries to
sneak for the first down and is initially stopped...
stays on his feet, and with some help from his running back finds the first down
line to keep NU's hopes for an overtime win alive.
7. Kafka is sacked
for a 10 yard loss and fumbles the ball, recovered by Auburn (who rushes the
Response: Play is reviewed and Kafka is ruled down.
Demos' game-tying field goal attempt clanks off the upright (Auburn rushes the
Response: Roughing the kicker personal foul gives NU the ball
first-and-goal at the nine.
9. Fake field goal attempt named "heater"
is stopped short of the goal line.
End of game.
Another bowl game, another heartbreaking overtime loss
against a big favorite, but it's hard to keep going for moral victories when the
last (and only) Northwestern bowl win was in 1949. But, Northwestern fans can
take away the fact that this team did the university proud and fought valiantly
until the end and went down trying to go for the win.
The 2010 Outback
Bowl was also the craziest game that I've ever seen and was likely one of the
wildest finishes to any football game in recent memory. No, it didn't have
national implications, but it provided an entertaining start to New Year's Day
and gave a lot of attention to the Northwestern football program.
Auburn won the game and how close Northwestern was to the win (two yards) leave
a bitter taste in one's mouth, but the Wildcats' amazing comeback and attempts
at victory gave Northwestern a lot more attention than Auburn on the national
scene. Now Wildcats fans will continue to try and digest this game as we look
forward to signing day in February, spring practices in April, and the 2010
season in nine months.
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