On the first day of the new year, the Auburn Tigers will face off against the No. 14 Northwestern Wildcats.
The Tigers will be looking to find a way to win after their former head coach, Gus Malzahn, was fired after the end of the regular season.
Auburn will be coached by interim head coach/defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, while newly-hired head coach Bryan Harsin serves in a supporting role.
Meanwhile, Northwestern is coming into the game after a loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game and will be looking to put that loss behind them.
Auburn is 1-0 all-time against Northwestern, having won its most recent match-up, 38-35, in the 2010 Outback Bowl. Now, a decade later, Auburn will be taking on the same team in the 2020 Vrbo Citrus Bowl.
Auburn comes in at 6-4 with wins over Kentucky, Arkansas, Ole Miss, LSU, Tennessee, and Mississippi State and losses to Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, and Texas A&M.
Northwestern comes in at 6-2 with wins over Maryland, Iowa, Nebraska, Purdue, Wisconsin and Illinois, and losses to Michigan State and Ohio State.
Offense: Run the ball
It is a simple game plan but one that Auburn has not always been able to execute.
Tank Bigsby has been the star of the Auburn offense this season, with a team high six yards per carry. If Auburn is able to run the football, then Bo Nix is freed up to run the play action pass.
Early on in the season, offensive coordinator Chad Morris made it clear he wanted Nix to be a dropback passer, but that’s just not what Nix is comfortable with. Nix wants to move, and play action has been his most successful play of the season.
Bigsby allows for play action to succeed as well as opens up other runners, like Nix or receiver Anthony Schwartz, to get carries as well.
To win the game, Auburn’s offense must score and not turn the game into a defensive stalemate. Offensively, Northwestern is nothing to be worried about, but they have statistically the best defense in the Big Ten, allowing an average of only 15 points per game. Auburn’s defense should be able to hold off Northwestern’s offense, but Auburn needs to score to be able to find a win in this game.
Defense: Do the basics well
It is no mystery that Northwestern’s offense is nothing to behold. The squad averages only 23 points per game, and is ranked No. 11 out of the 14 offenses in the Big Ten. Auburn’s defense has not been up to standard this season, but they have still kept Auburn in some games that they shouldn’t have been in.
The Tigers' defense also halted the Ole Miss and LSU offenses, which are two of the top offenses in the SEC. Northwestern doesn’t pass or run well, averaging just three yards per carry and six yards passing.
If Northwestern scores against Auburn it will not be because Auburn’s defense is outmatched, but because they shot themselves in the foot. In order to win the game, Auburn’s defense needs to hold off the Wildcats and give their offense as many chances as possible to score.
Overall: Find a reason to be motivated
On paper, the Auburn Tigers should be the better team, but games take place on the field for a reason.
Auburn’s biggest issue on New Year’s Day won’t be a mismatch in talent, but rather a motivation for winning.
The Tigers just lost their long-time head coach a few weeks ago, and as of now they don’t know what the future will look like under the incoming Harsin, although performing well while their new coach watches may be motivation enough.
Auburn also fell short of their own expectations this season, and should they not find the motivation to play, it could be a long start to the new year for Auburn.
However, should the Tigers find the right motivation, be it pride, for the new coach or for the seniors, the Tigers should be able to take home a Citrus Bowl win.
Northwestern will face Auburn in Camping-World Stadium with kickoff set for noon on ABC.