Dec 12, 2020; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Auburn Tigers running back Tank Bigsby (4) runs the ball against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the fourth quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

No. 14 Northwestern, Auburn get postseason rematch in Citrus Bowl

Eleven years to the day after facing off in a thrilling bowl game, the Auburn Tigers and No. 14 Northwestern Wildcats meet again on New Year’s Day in the Citrus Bowl at Orlando, Fla.

The teams played in the 2010 Outback Bowl, with the Tigers pulling out a 38-35 overtime victory. Current Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka completed 47 of 78 passes for 532 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions for the Wildcats.

Northwestern scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes to tie the game, but the Tigers’ Wes Byrum kicked a 21-yard field goal in OT and the Wildcats were unable to equalize. Auburn went on to win the national championship the following season.

This year, the Wildcats (6-2) enter the bowl game coming off a 22-10 loss to No. 3 Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. Northwestern led the Buckeyes 10-6 at the half, but three second-half turnovers and a tired defense gave way to a potent Ohio State rushing attack.

“We just didn’t make the plays we needed to make down the stretch in the fourth quarter to be Big Ten champions,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “But to have the opportunity to represent the Big Ten in Orlando, we are ecstatic.”

The Tigers (6-4) haven’t played since Dec. 12, and in that time they fired head coach Gus Malzahn and hired Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin.

Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has stepped into the interim head-coaching role for the bowl game.

“These guys have been resilient,” Steele said. “They’ve shown a lot of character, leadership and just the ability to adapt. We’ve actually had an additional bump in the road that we had a change at the top for us, which is something that’s hard on a football program. And so we’re going through that.”

Both teams have their conference’s freshman of the year.

Auburn running back Tank Bigsby was selected the Southeastern Conference’s top freshman after rushing for 834 yards on 138 carries in 10 games. He added 300 kick-return yards and 84 receiving yards for 1,218 all-purpose yards.

Northwestern safety Brandon Joseph won the Freshman of the Year award for the Big Ten, the first strictly defensive player to win the award since Deion Barnes in 2012. Joseph leads the nation with six interceptions.

The game will also be the last in the career of Northwestern’s defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, who would reach 400 career wins if the Wildcats win the Citrus Bowl.

Hankwitz started his coaching career at his alma mater of Michigan and served as the defensive coordinator for Arizona, Western Michigan, Colorado, Kansas State, Texas A&M and Wisconsin before being hired by Fitzgerald before the 2008 season.

Hankwitz is a finalist for the Broyles Award, which goes to the best assistant coach in the country, and Fitzgerald believes Northwestern’s success on defense starts and ends with Hankwitz.

“You look at my head coaching career here and our success, I mean Mike Hankwitz is in the DNA, the fabric, the architect, take whatever you want to say,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m just so grateful for him.”

–Field Level Media

Dec 12, 2020; Starkville, Mississippi, USA;  Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers (2) makes a pass against the Auburn Tigers during the first quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Nix, Auburn defeat host Mississippi State

Bo Nix ran for a touchdown and passed for another and Anders Carlson kicked three field goals as Auburn defeated Mississippi State 24-10 in an SEC game Saturday night in Starkville, Miss.

Nix’s touchdowns came in the fourth quarter after neither team produced a touchdown through the first three quarters. He completed 15 of 32 for just 125 yards, but Tank Bigsby rushed 26 times for 192 yards.

The Tigers (6-4) had two interceptions of freshman Will Rogers, who completed 30 of 51 passes for 221 yards and one touchdown. Mississippi State fell to 2-7 heading into its season finale against Missouri next week.

Auburn led 6-3 at halftime, but Mississippi State threatened to score on the first possession of the third quarter. The Bulldogs drove 53 yards, but Brandon Ruiz missed a 40-yard field goal.

On the Bulldogs’ next possession, Smoke Monday intercepted Rogers and returned the ball 31 yards to the Mississippi State 38. That set up Carlson’s 45-yard field goal, giving the Tigers a 9-3 lead with 4:28 left in the third quarter.

When Auburn finally put together the game’s first touchdown drive, it did so by driving 95 yards in 10 plays.

Nix’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Seth Williams gave the Tigers a 16-3 lead with 10:03 remaining.

Lideatrick Griffin returned the ensuing kickoff 65 yards to the Auburn 29. That led to Rogers’ 8-yard touchdown pass to Austin Williams to get the Bulldogs within 16-10 with 8:24 left.

However, Nix ran three yards for a touchdown and threw to Ze’Vian Capers for a two-point conversion and a 24-10 lead with 6:03 remaining.

Carlson kicked a 27-yard field goal that gave Auburn a 3-0 lead about midway through the first quarter.

Roger McCreary intercepted Rogers, giving the Tigers the ball at the Bulldogs’ 46, but on fourth and four, Nix threw an incompletion.

Mississippi State drove to Brandon Ruiz’s 41-yard field goal, tying the score with 5:27 left before halftime.

Later in the half, Nix drove Auburn 37 yards in seven plays and Carlson kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired to give the Tigers a 6-3 halftime lead.

–Field Level Media

Dec 5, 2020; Auburn, Alabama, USA;  Auburn Tigers quarterback Bo Nix (10) drops back to pass against the Texas A&M Aggies during the fourth quarter at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn, Mississippi State look to pick up pieces

The season looked promising for both Auburn and Mississippi State when Southeastern Conference play got underway in late September.

The Tigers were ranked No. 11 in the preseason and climbed to No. 7 after beating then-No. 23 Kentucky in their opener.

The Bulldogs began the season unranked but soared to No. 16 after beating defending national champion LSU 44-34 on the road in their season opener.

Auburn and Mississippi State can take their frustrations out on each other Saturday night when they square off in Starkville, Miss.

The Tigers (5-4, 5-4 SEC) have lost consecutive games to No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 Texas A&M, with a goal of trying to salvage a winning record in their regular-season finale.

“Learning how to go through adversity is just part of the process,” Auburn quarterback Bo Nix said. “It’s not like we have a bad team by any means. All you can do is just move forward, make sure you finish the season how you’d like and not just let the whole season go to waste.”

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn tried to put the season in perspective after Tigers allowed 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter of a 31-20 loss to Texas A&M in the home finale last Saturday.

He suggested a four-loss season in a 10-game SEC schedule wouldn’t look as bad as a four-loss season in a normal schedule featuring eight SEC games and four nonconference games.

Fans on social media were critical of what they perceived as a lowering of standards at Auburn.

Malzahn tried to clarify what he meant about a season in which three of the Tigers’ losses have come against teams that were ranked in the top five at the time of the defeats.

“I want to make sure it’s very clear: Our expectations are to win championships here at Auburn,” Malzahn said.

The Bulldogs are just 2-6 overall and in the SEC, and even that opening victory doesn’t seem as impressive as it once did because LSU has stumbled all season. With just two games remaining, Mississippi State can’t get to .500 in coach Mike Leach’s first season.

Mississippi State has been short-handed in its past two games because of COVID-19 issues and it took a pair of 31-24 defeats, to then-No. 13 Georgia and in-state rival Mississippi.

“We’ve got kind of a thin squad,” Leach said. “You march into (Georgia) with 43 scholarship guys, and here we go. But we got better as a team. I’m disappointed we didn’t win, and it was there. We could have won that. I think we should have won it. I was really proud of the effort of our guys, probably as proud as I’ve been of any team I’ve ever coached.”

Stanford transfer K.J. Costello passed for an SEC-record 623 yards against LSU, but he has since been replaced by freshman Will Rogers.

“I think (Rogers) got progressively better,” Leach said. “I think he’s got to keep improving. I do think he’s ahead of schedule. I think he’s better than I would have expected. I think he’s played quite courageous, quite well for a guy his age.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2020; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond (11) looks down field to pass against Arkansas during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in College Station, Texas. Mandatory Credit: Sam Craft/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

No. 5 Texas A&M aims to stay in playoff hunt vs. Auburn

One could say that No. 5 Texas A&M’s normally high-powered offense was a lot like the weather in last week’s game against LSU — all wet.

Playing for the first time after a two-week layoff because of COVID-19 postponements, the Aggies struggled to produce points against a struggling defense. But their defense picked up the slack and enabled them to get by on something far from their best night, resulting in a 20-7 win.

Texas A&M hopes to look more like itself when it travels to Auburn on Saturday in search of an authoritative win that will keep it in the hunt for a spot in January’s College Football Playoff semifinals.

At 6-1, the Aggies need to win out and hope for someone in front of them to lose. The possibility also exists that current No. 4 Ohio State could eliminate itself by not being able to play one of the last two regular-season games, which would leave it below the minimum six-game threshold the Big Ten Conference set to play in its championship game.

If A&M can finish out a 10-game SEC schedule, the committee could look more kindly upon a longer body of work. But coach Jimbo Fisher hopes the updated resume as of Saturday afternoon includes a crisper effort by his offense.

“Way too inconsistent,” he said of the offense against LSU. “We didn’t block well up front, we didn’t protect the quarterback, he took a lot of hits. We still missed some throws we should have made, quite a few thtrrows.

“We didn’t get a rhythm going offensively, but our team found ways to win the game and that is what’s important. Our defense kept raising its game.”

The Aggies gave up just 267 yards against the Tigers and came within 43 seconds of pitching a shutout. The defense permitted LSU to convert just 2 of 16 on third down and even helped out with the scoring, as Buddy Johnson returned an interception 15 yards for a third-quarter touchdown.

As for Auburn (5-3), its hopes of a season-saving win at No. 1 Alabama ended fairly quickly last week in a 42-13 defeat. It was 21-3 by the middle of the second quarter, and the Tigers never found the end zone until a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Bo Nix with 4:39 left in the game.

However, Nix said the too-little, too-late score gave Auburn something to take out of the one-sided affair.

“It shows how we did keep fighting,” he said. “Even though the scoreboard wasn’t in our favor, we continued to try to move the ball and go down and score and we did that. I’m proud of the way our guys fought.”

A fair question for the Tigers might be what’s left to accomplish, given that high preseason expectations will result in no better than a 7-3 record to take to their bowl game.

“We’ve got two games left,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “This is an unusual season. We’ll need to rebound like we did earlier in the season.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 21, 2020; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Jase McClellan (21) scores a touchdown against the Kentucky Wildcats on a fourth down play at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser via USA TODAY Sports

Top-ranked Alabama trounces No. 22 Auburn

Led by Mac Jones’ five touchdown passes, top-ranked Alabama crushed its biggest rival Auburn, 42-13 at home in SEC play on Saturday.

The Crimson Tide (8-0, 8-0 SEC) avenged last year’s defeat against the No. 22 Tigers (5-3, 5-3) despite playing without coach Nick Saban, who tested positive earlier in the week for COVID-19.
According to the CBS broadcasting crew, it marked the first time Saban missed a game since 1973 (when he was a graduate assistant at Kent State) to attend his father’s funeral.

Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian handled the head coaching duties as Alabama’s potent offense (averaging 48.5 points through eight games) didn’t miss a beat.

Jones led Alabama, which now leads the all-time series 47-37-1, by completing 18 of 26 passes for 302 and tossing a pair of touchdowns each to receivers DeVonta Smith and John Metchie III.

Smith caught seven passes for 171 yards while Metchie caught six passes for 55 yards.

Auburn sophomore quarterback Bo Nix completed 23 of 38 passes for 227 yards, but was intercepted once each by freshmen defensive backs Malachi Moore and Brian Branch.

Nix’s 1-yard quarterback sneak with 4:39 left in the fourth quarter snapped a streak of 12 consecutive quarters for Alabama’s defense without allowing a touchdown.

Auburn did not produce a play longer than 20 yards until Nix found junior receiver Shedrick Jackson for a 37-yard completion with 12:35 left in the third. The play set up the second of Anders Carlson’s two field goals and cut Alabama’s lead to 21-6. But the Tide quickly answered when Smith caught a short pass from Jones and turned it into a 58-yard touchdown.

Senior running back Najee Harris was relatively quiet until late in the third quarter when he broke loose for his FBS-leading 17th rushing touchdown from 39 yards out to give Alabama a 35-6 lead. Harris finished with 96 yards on 11 carries.

Auburn freshman Tank Bigsby (hip) played, but finished with only 39 yards on 11 carries. Auburn amassed 120 yards rushing, led by freshman Mark-Antony Richards’ 57 yards on 14 carries.

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2020; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA;  Alabama quarterback Mac Jones (10) throws a pass at Bryant-Denny Stadium during the second half of Alabama's 41-0 win over Mississippi State. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr/The Tuscaloosa News via USA TODAY Sports

No. 1 Alabama, No. 22 Auburn set for 85th Iron Bowl

Unbeaten and top-ranked Alabama can earn some payback Saturday afternoon when it hosts Southeastern Conference rival Auburn in the 85th Iron Bowl.

The Crimson Tide (7-0, 7-0 SEC) are more than three-touchdown favorites against the Tigers, who have not triumphed in Tuscaloosa since 2010.

No. 22 Auburn (5-2, 5-2), however, knocked Alabama out of playoff contention last season in a 48-45 thriller – only the Tigers’ third win in the series in the past decade.

Oddsmakers don’t believe this game will be nearly as close as last season’s slugfest.

“This is going to be a very challenging game for us in a lot of ways,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We certainly need to play our best football of the season to be able to have success in this game.”

Both teams won last week following layoffs due to COVID-19 issues.

Alabama, which leads the all-time Iron Bowl series 46-37-1, routed Kentucky 63-3 in Tuscaloosa while Auburn won its third consecutive game by beating Tennessee 30-17 at home.

Alabama enters the game with the third-highest-scoring offense in the nation (49.4 points per game) and third-most-prolific passing offense, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Mac Jones at quarterback.

Jones made his third career start in last year’s Iron Bowl, throwing for 335 yards and four touchdowns, but he threw two costly interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.

In seven games this season, Jones has the third-highest passer rating in the nation (205.06), per, while averaging 12.1 yards per attempt and 346.6 yards per game.

“People are playing us different,” Jones said. “Maybe a little more conservative and rightfully so, but each week a team is going to have a different plan for us.”

Auburn sophomore quarterback Bo Nix is no slouch either, throwing for 1,627 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, with five interceptions.

But the key could be which team runs the ball more efficiently.

Auburn could be short-handed in that department if freshman Tank Bigsby (527 yards rushing, five touchdowns, 5.73 yards per carry) can’t play. Bigsby suffered a hip injury early in last week’s win over Tennessee and is questionable, according to Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. Right tackle Brodarious Hamm and left tackle Alec Jackson also are questionable.

Junior Shaun Shivers, who scored the decisive touchdown in last year’s Iron Bowl win for Auburn, would be in line to get more carries again, as well as sophomore D.J. Williams. The two combined for 131 yards and a touchdown last week.

Alabama’s run defense ranks 26th in the nation, according to, allowing an average of 118.9 yards per game.

“Obviously, it’s no secret right now that we’ve been beat up, up front offensively,” Malzahn said. “We’ll see if we’re able to get our tackles back. … It’s next man up. And just got to step up and get the job done. So that’s our mindset.”

Alabama’s rushing offense ranks 48th among FBS teams, averaging 182.4 yards a game; however, Auburn’s run defense ranks 64th, allowing 165.1 yards per game. Tide senior Najee Harris (137 carries for 797 yards this season) leads the nation with 16 rushing touchdowns.

Malzahn praised the way Alabama typically can make effective in-game adjustments to compensate for perceived weaknesses.

“If you hurt them with something, they’re going to have an answer right off the bat,” Malzahn said.

–Field Level Media

Nov 21, 2020; Auburn, Alabama, USA;  Auburn Tigers running back Shaun Shivers (8) carries against the Tennessee Volunteers during the first quarter at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

No. 23 Auburn shakes off sleepy start, tops Tennessee

Following a three-week layoff, the Auburn Tigers overcame a slow start to beat the visiting Tennessee Volunteers 30-17 on Saturday night.

The Tigers (5-2, 5-2 SEC), who had their game against Mississippi State postponed due to COVID-19 concerns following a bye week, rallied from an early 10-0 deficit to win their third consecutive game.

The Volunteers (2-5, 2-5) suffered their fifth consecutive defeat — all by double digits.

Auburn prevailed despite losing freshman running back sensation Tank Bigsby to a lower body injury in the first half. Bigsby landed hard on his left hip on the Tigers’ opening series. He re-entered the game in the second quarter, but exited after one play and did not return.

Auburn’s running game persevered led by sophomore D.J. Williams (11 carries, 66 yards, one touchdown) and junior Shaun Shivers (14 carries, 65 yards).

Tennessee sophomore Eric Gray finished as the Vols’ leading rusher (22 carries for 173 yards and a touchdown) and receiver (49 yards on three catches).

Senior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano ran for a 9-yard touchdown and senior kicker Brent Cimaglia connected on a 47-yard field goal with 13:42 left in the second quarter to craft Tennessee’s 10-0 lead. But Cimaglia missed two costly field goal attempts from 50 and 37 yards in the first half.

Auburn sophomore quarterback Bo Nix completed 17 of 26 passes for 220 yards and his 54-yard touchdown pass deep down the middle to receiver Anthony Schwartz provided the Tigers’ first points.

Kicker Anders Carlson made the second of three field goals with 7:25 left in the third to give Auburn its first lead, and junior defensive back Smoke Monday preserved it when he intercepted Guarantano in his own end zone and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown.

Auburn brought the pressure often on Guarantano as junior Jamien Sherwood, senior Daquan Newkirk, senior Big Kat Bryant, and freshman Colby Wooden combined for four sacks.

Freshman quarterback Harrison Bailey replaced Guarantano with 7:14 in the fourth quarter and directed Tennessee’s fourth quarter touchdown drive. Bailey completed 7 of 10 passes for 86 yards.

–Field Level Media