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No. 14 Northwestern rings in 2021 with 35-19 victory over Auburn in Vrbo Citrus Bowl

By Brian Murphy
Florida Citrus Sports

Quarterback Peyton Ramsey accounted for four touchdowns as the No. 14 Northwestern Wildcats bested the Auburn Tigers 35-19 in the 2021 Vrbo Citrus Bowl from Orlando on Friday.

Ramsey completed 24 of 35 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns. He gained 50 yards and another touchdown on the ground en route to earning Vrbo Citrus Bowl MVP honors.

“I thought our guys came down here to play physical, Big Ten football, and I think we put our brand of football on display for the entire country and made a pretty strong statement against a team that was ranked in the Top-10 earlier in the year,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

The Wildcats’ offense got off to a fast start with Ramsey throwing touchdowns on two of his team’s first three possessions. Auburn had to settle for a pair of Anders Carlson field goals before halftime, but got the scoring started in the third quarter when quarterback Bo Nix found wide receiver Elijah Canion for a 57-yard touchdown, the game’s longest play from scrimmage.

Canion racked up a game-high 80 receiving yards. Nix went 25-for-42 for 292 yards and that one touchdown for the Tigers.

Canion’s score cut the Wildcats’ lead to 14-13, but Northwestern would score the next 21 points to effectively put the game out of reach. The stretch was highlighted by a six-play drive that saw Northwestern running back Cam Porter carry the ball on every play, gain 50 yards and finish with a direct-snap touchdown run from one yard out. Porter recorded 98 rushing yards on a career-high 33 carries.

“They are a really, really smart football team,” Auburn interim head coach Kevin Steele said of the Wildcats. “They have talent, but they are well, well-coached, and hats off to them.”

With a fourth consecutive bowl victory, Northwestern finished its season at 7-2. Auburn wrapped up with a 6-5 record.

Ramsey rolls

A graduate transfer from Indiana, Ramsey tallied four touchdowns for the first time all season and for just the second time in his five-year college football career. His 291 passing yards were a season-high, and his 30-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter was the third-longest run of his career.

“He stayed poised, he was gritty and when he needed to make plays, even with his feet, he was decisive,” Fitzgerald said of his quarterback. “That scramble touchdown there at the end was huge.”

Hitting 400

Friday’s win was the 400th and final victory for Northwestern defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, who is retiring after this season, his 51st as a coach. He spent his final 13 seasons as Northwestern’s DC. Hankwitz has been on the sidelines for 580 games, the most of any coach in college football history. His 400 wins are the most by any active Division I coach, according to Northwestern.

“I felt like we were going to win this game one way or another, and I wouldn’t have cared if it
was 35-34,” said Hankwitz, who received the first Gatorade bath of his long career as the clock expired. “I’m going to remember that for the rest of my life, this group of young men, and the resolve they had to win this game.”

Better late than ever

The true freshman Porter carried a heavy burden on offense over the final three games of the season. Including his Vrbo Citrus Bowl performance, Porter recorded 301 yards and four touchdowns on 73 carries. Prior to that three-game span, he had just eight carries, 32 rushing yards and one touchdown this season.

Bowl streaking

The Wildcats’ four-game winning streak in bowls is the longest in program history. They are tied with Minnesota for the longest active bowl winning streak among Big Ten programs.

Opportunity seized

Auburn true freshman wide receiver Elijah Canion caught three passes for 80 yards and one TD. Prior to Friday, he had played in just one game this year and had not accumulated any stats. That 57-yard touchdown pass was Auburn’s second-longest scoring play of the season.

Getting stops

Northwestern’s third-down defense came in ranked 12th in the nation and second-best in the Big Ten, allowing a conversion rate of just 31.4 percent. It was even better in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl as the Wildcats stopped Auburn on 11 of its 13 third-down tries.

Just for kicks

Auburn junior kicker Anders Carlson went 2-for-2 on field goals. He made 20 of 22 field goals attempts this season. Those 20 makes are tied for the second-most in the FBS, and his 90.9 field-goal percentage ranks as the second-best for a single season in Auburn history.

Points piling up

The 54 total points represent the highest-scoring Citrus Bowl since 2014, when South Carolina and Wisconsin combined for 58 points in what was then known as the Capital One Bowl.

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