ORLANDO, Fla. — Peyton Ramsey threw three touchdown passes and ran for a score, and No. 14 Northwestern’s defense made it stand up in a 35-19 victory over Auburn in the Citrus Bowl on Friday.
Ramsey, a graduate transfer, totaled 291 yards passing and 50 yards rushing for Northwestern (7-2), which won its fourth straight bowl game. Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Brown, John Raine and Riley Lees had touchdown catches for the Wildcats, who bounced back from an ugly loss to Ohio State on Dec. 19 in the Big Ten championship game.
Bo Nix threw for 292 yards for Auburn (6-5) but was often frustrated by Northwestern’s defense, which came in allowing 15.5 points per game, ranked fifth in the nation. Auburn was led by interim coach Kevin Steele following the Dec. 13 firing of Gus Malzahn and was missing several key players.
The Tigers got within 14-13 when Nix hit Elijah Canion for a 57-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter. But Ramsey responded with a 30-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.
Linebacker Paddy Fisher, the nation’s active leader in tackles coming into the game, drilled Nix for no gain on fourth-and-1 on the second play of the fourth quarter. Cam Porter had seven carries on the ensuing drive, including a 1-yard plunge into the end zone that put Northwestern comfortably ahead 28-13. Porter rushed for 98 yards on 33 carries, and the Wildcats offense finished with 457 yards and 25 first downs.
The Tigers failed to convert 10 of their first 11 third downs, were unsuccessful on their first two fourth-down tries and mustered 361 yards and 18 first downs. For the game, the Tigers were 2 of 13 on third downs.
Ramsey put Northwestern ahead 14-0 on first-quarter TD passes of 35 yards to Chiaokhiao-Brown and 6 yards to Raine. His final touchdown pass, to Lees, put the Wildcats ahead 35-13 midway through the fourth quarter.
Both teams were without major contributors because of COVID-19 protocols, injuries and opt-outs. Auburn running back Tank Bigsby didn’t make the trip for medical reasons, and top wideout Anthony Schwartz and defensive back Roger McCreary opted out to prepare for the NFL draft.
COACHES OLD AND NEW
The game was the final one in the 51-year coaching career of 73-year-old defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, who spent the past 13 seasons at Northwestern. Hankwitz was a part of 400 victories throughout his career at nine schools and was the defensive coordinator for Colorado’s 1990 national championship team.
Bryan Harsin, hired out of Boise State to replace Malzahn, was on the field before kickoff and watched the game from a suite.
Auburn: Harsin will have plenty of talent to build his offense around with Nix and Bisby expected back next season.
Northwestern: Coach Pat Fitzgerald has established the Wildcats as a consistent contender in the Big Ten and the future should be bright despite losing Hankwitz and several key players. The first priority for Fitzgerald: Finding a replacement for Ramsey, who had a solid season after transferring from Indiana.
Auburn: Opens its season at home against Akron on Sept. 4.
Northwestern: Hosts Big Ten rival Michigan State on Sept. 4.