ORLANDO, Fla. – Northwestern capped off a successful campaign with the program’s fourth-straight bowl win and defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz earning his 400th-career win in a 35-19 victory over Auburn.
Hankwitz’s defense was masterful against Auburn, highlighted by senior linebacker Paddy Fisher leading all players with 12 total tackles, bringing his career output to 404 career tackles, the most of any FBS player. He is the sixth player in program history to reach at least 400 tackles, and the first since NU’s current LB coach (and all-time FBS leader in total tackles) Tim McGarigle. Fisher also recorded double digit tackles alongside fellow senior linebacker Blake Gallagher for their seventh time in their careers. Northwestern allowed only one red zone touchdown by Auburn, they will end the season with only eight red zone touchdowns. The ‘Cats are tied for the lowest allowed in the nation by teams that played at least eight games.
Northwestern’s 16 point margin of victory was its largest ever in a bowl game, as well as the largest against an SEC school in program history. The ‘Cats converted three of five fourth down attempts, putting them at 51 of 88 on the season, their best performance since 2017. Northwestern notched 457 yards, the most in any game this season and the third time with 400+ yards. 291 of those yards were passing, the most graduate transfer Peyton Ramsey has thrown as a Wildcat.
Ramsey had a career game against the Tigers, throwing his longest pass of the season for a touchdown on the opening drive. He posted his most rushing yards this season, with 50, and tied his career highs in total touchdowns, with one rushing and three passing. Ramsey finished the game with a quarterback rating of 166.7, completing 24-of-35 passes
Northwestern opened up the game with a 35-yard touchdown reception by senior Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman. This marks Bowman’s fifth touchdown of the season and is the longest scoring play of his career. Led by offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, NU scored on its opening drive in five of its nine games this season.
Auburn could not find any give from the Northwestern defense, going three-and-out on its first two possessions. Ramsey’s offense was able to get back on the field for another touchdown in the final minutes of the quarter. Graduate transfer John Raine hauled in his second touchdown of the season, extending the Wildcat lead 14-0.
The Tigers punched back in the second quarter, but were unable to find the end zone as the Wildcats held the lead, 14-6. This is the third-straight game where the Wildcats did not allow a touchdown in the first half. Northwestern outpaced Auburn with 214 yards in the first half, led by Ramsey throwing for 193 of those yards–his most in a half this season.
Northwestern’s defense came out of the locker room after half-time firing on all cylinders, easily forcing Auburn to go three and out on their first possession. Adetomiwa Adebawore batted down a pass on third down, marking his second PBU in two games. The ‘Cats did not allow a point on the first defensive possession of the second half in any game this season.
Auburn finally found the end zone halfway through the third quarter. Raine fired back for the Wildcats, hauling in a 30 yard reception, his longest as a Wildcat. Bowman followed, fighting two linebackers in the next play for a key first down. Ramsey capped off Northwestern’s longest scoring drive of the game with a 30 yard rushing touchdown. This is his second 30+ yard rushing touchdown of the season.
The ‘Cats began the final quarter with a 21-13 lead. Auburn attempted to convert a fourth down early, but the Northwestern defense halted their efforts and got the offense back on the field at the 50-yard line. First-year Cam Porter ran the ball for the remaining 50 yards to earn his fifth touchdown of the season. Porter has found the end zone in four consecutive games to close out the season.
First-year Jordan Butler forced his first career fumble on the next Auburn drive, which was recovered by senior Earnest Brown IV, his first of the season and the second of his career. This marked the 19th takeaway by the ‘Cats this season, 14 interceptions and five fumble recoveries, the most through nine games since 2013. Northwestern turned defense into offense, and in just six plays and 24 yards, Riley Lees hauled in his ninth touchdown as a Wildcat.
Auburn attempted a two-point conversion and an onside kick, but the Northwestern defense shut the Tigers down. First-year Brandon Joseph recovered the onside kick at the Auburn 43, giving the Wildcats possession for the last four minutes of the game to secure the win.
Raine led the Wildcats with six receptions for 76 yards. First years Bryce Kirtz and Wayne Dennis also grabbed some catches for 20 and 23 yards respectively. Porter ran for 98 yards and a touchdown to lead the Wildcats on the ground.