I had a post written out for this game by the first half. It was a rather brutally sarcastic piece titled "The System Worked: Northwestern Loses Badly to Auburn, 35-7." Yeah, that's how bad NU's play was until about the mid 3rd quarter. It really looked as though they had done no preparation for this game, that they had no plan coming in, other than to let Kafka fling the ball around willy-nilly in the spread, coverage be damned.
A funny thing happened while I was writing. In the mid-third quarter, I started getting really negative in my tone. I was upset. I had been talking up Northwestern's chances to my friends for weeks, and they were looking like a certain Division III team from Hyde Park. I had food on the line, and Kafka was attempting to match his season long interception total in 30 minutes of play. I was. Not. Happy. And as I got more negative, as the bile built up in my wordpad, Northwestern woke up. Kafka threw an amazing 35 yard strike to Andrew Brewer for a TD - score, 21-14. Only down by seven now. I kept writing. Auburn went three and out. More writing. Our blog isn't exactly a family website, but the things I was saying about my team couldn't even be printed here. And then - Drake Dunsmore broke a tackle and practically dragged another defender into the end zone with him to tie the game.
Wow, I thought. This reverse psychology stuff really works - even at a distance!
The game had gone from dull to thrilling in less than five minutes. Little did I know what was in store...Of course, Northwestern being who they are, they had to shoot themselves in the foot, kneecap, and elbow before the game clock could wind down to :00. A mintue into the 4th quarter, and Kafka throws his fifth interception of the game. Fifth! He threw seven all season! This INT set Auburn up at midfield. Chris Todd promptly threw the next play about five times - an over the middle medium distance pass that Northwestern, despite only rushing three guys, couldn't ever seem to cover. Frustration set in. Ben Tate, he of the SEC Speeeeeed, then ran the ball into the end zone to put Auburn up 28-21.
Cue a resumption of the negative writing.
Unfortunately, my powers of persuasion seemed to have waned in the intervening minutes. Stefan Demos rugby punted off the side of his foot and the ball ended up on the Northwestern 35, a 16 yard punt. You read that right - 16 yards. Memo to Northwestern: NOW can we let the rugby punt die the long slow death it deserves? Has it not hurt us enough this season?
Once again, Auburn turned the short field into points, regaining their 14 point lead to make it 35-21. Ugh. Northwestern looked dead. Done. Roasted. Cooked. Fricasseed.
Well, I thought, 7 minutes left to go in the quarter and they have two timeouts. They can at least make a gasp at it. A foul on Ben Tate for excessive celebration resulted in the kickoff being downed at roughly the NU 42. Okay field position. Let's go.
Something in Mike Kafka clicked, and he reeled off pass after pass. Northwestern marched down the field. Auburn managed to stop Northwestern a few times, putting them into four downs. Fail to convert, and that's pretty much the game. But somehow... some way... they did it! Three fourth down conversions in one drive! Ridiculous! And then it was 2nd and Goal at the 2 yard line.
"Please don't throw it Mike... Please don't throw it..." I thought. No more end zone interceptions. He'd already thrown two in the game - and one had been returned for an Auburn TD. Fortunately the offense decide a short QB run was in order, and he was in! For a TD!
Okay, maybe, this won't be so embarassing in the end. But Demos had his extra point blocked. Sigh. 8 point lead. Even if they recover an on-side... a two point conversion would be needed. Tough. Very tough.
The resulting kick happened and it was perfect - for Auburn. Well, if we stop them here, then maybe we can have a minute or so to try it. Then somehow they forced Ben Tate to fumble... and..... NU RECOVERED! OKAY! Not dead yet! I love you Sherrick McManis!
Still have to march down half the field though... Kafka completes a few passes, but it's 4th and 3. Ick. And then Auburn gets a monster pass rush... they've got Kafka retreating... no mike... no... a sack... and there's the game.
A flag! A flag! The Auburn player (may) have committed a facemask! Personal foul! Automatic first down at the 18 yard line!
The number of penalties in this game was really, really absurd. For both sides. Northwestern had 25 yards worth of penalties - still far too much for my liking. But Auburn... Oh Auburn. Ye of undiscplined nature. Throughout the course of the game and in OT, Auburn was penalized 12 times for 139 yards. More than once, NU drives were revived because of personal fouls on Auburn. A few times, Northwestern was granted good field position because of excessive celebration post Auburn-scores. Some of those calls may have been bad - but there were bad calls against NU too. And so many replay reviews. It seemed like any time a big play happened, the replay officials wanted further review. The funny part was, they confirmed the calls all but one time. Way to trust your field crew, booth guys.
So, we're back to the game. On the Auburn 18. First and 10. I'm thinking they should go for the down and get closer. But wait... pass to Sidney Stewart! 18 yards! TD! It's a two point game!
Okay, they have to go for the conversion. Man, I don't know... They line up... snap goes to Brewer... he's being chased uh-oh... oh no.... OH YES! HE COMPLETES IT TO BRENDAN MITCHELL! IT'S GOOD! TIE GAME!!!!!
Whew. Okay, not over. Have to keep Auburn out of FG range. Good deep kickoff... but... ugh, missed tackle after missed tackle. Auburn is taking out to midfield! Oh no! Wait! Fuuuuuuuuumble! NU RECOVERY! AH!
The play is being reviewed. If it's overturned, then crap. But... they can't tell if his knee is down before the ball is out. It's confirmed. NU ball... midfield. Get into FG range and maybe you win it in regulation.
Well, they managed to drive a ways. Then out of downs. It'll be a 44 yard try for Demos. He missed a 48 yarder earlier wide to the left. They set up..... and he kicks it. Oh no. It's just barely right. Sigh. Okay, overtime.
We've been here before. Last year. We can do it this time. We can win.
NU wins the toss, and elects to go second. Even despite a few good runs by Ben Tate, NU forces Auburn to kick a field goal. Now it's up to them. Field goal and 2nd OT, TD and you win.
Okay, starting on the 25. A few plays and another 1st down. Good, so far. No end zone ints please. Ugh... a sack... and.... he lost the ball! NOOOOOOOO! Auburn wins?!
Wait. It's under review.
Oh. He's down. Whew. His elbow is clearly down. They have got to overturn that. And they come through, nice.
Okay, 2nd and 24. Incomplete. Ugh. 3rd and 24. Markshausen for.... not enough. 35-ish attempt for Demos for the tie. He can do this. I know he can.
But he doesn't. It hits the goal post. It's not good.
Wait. No. Flag is on the field. There is a flag on the field. Roughing the kicker has been called, and Demos is rolling on the ground in obvious pain.
Oh Demos...... poor Stefan Demos.... I wasn't happy with you for single-handedly losing the game twice, but you took a hit there buddy. Way to take one for the team. Good job.
Well, that's a personal foul, and sets NU at the 9 yard line with a fresh set of downs. No end zone ints. Please. Markshausen for 3... Kafka rush for 2... rush for 2... Not enough. Okay, they'll just run the frosh kicker out there for the FG. Give him a chance and.......
The game is over? What? What happened?
They ran a trick play? A fake? Direct snap to Markshausen? To the short side of the field? And..... he was forced out of bounds...
No flags this time.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville - mighty Fitzgerald has struck out.
So, a whimper ending to an absolutely rolicking exciting game. Northwestern - what heart! What drive! They were out of this game in the third quarter and they came back, scored 14 points to tie it. Then they let Auburn get their lead back, but once again, once again they came back. Fourth down conversions. Fumble recoveries. Interceptions. They came back. Missed a chance to win it, but they forced OT and held Auburn's offense to a field goal. Nearly fumbled the game away, and missed their own field goal, but went at it again.
Fitz's call will be pored over by many after the conclusion of this game. I really don't know about it. I wanted them to just give the Frosh a chance. It was a short kick... At least try. And even if they ran a trick, why not run it to the open side of the field? It seemed like they overthought themselves. A bit too much smart football today, I think.
Comments on Mike Kafka... well... what can you say? The guy throws for 532 yards... Scores 4 TDs, three on pass and one on rush. And yet also throws five interceptions. At least three interceptions directly led to Auburn scores. One of the interceptions was not his fault - a tipped pass on the first drive of the game, but the others... for the most part, he just forced throws when he shouldn't have. Maybe if the NU offensive plan had included some of the running backs for more than a play or two, he wouldn't have had to do that. I have three theories as to why Kafka threw so many INTs:
1. He was freaked out about the wet turf, and reluctant to run for downs because of his previous leg injury
2. He heard about Case Keenum's five interceptions, and was determined to break a record today.
3. Jay Coulter of Track 'Em Tigers let him know about our food bet and promised to share his delicious Chicago style hot dogs with Kafka if Kafka threw the game to Auburn
Which one is most likely? I don't know...
Bottom line is, Northwestern made a lot of mistakes in this game. They really did. But they showed such determination... getting up from the floor again and again. They may have lost, but I don't think anyone can seriously call them "just Northwestern" this time.
For the first three quarters, it looked like the Outback Bowl may have regretted their decision to select Northwestern over Wisconsin. It looked like they were outclassed by a mushy middle SEC team. But then they managed to turn this game into what will undoubtedly challenge the Idaho / Bowling Green matchup in the Humanitarian Bowl for the most excitement this bowl season. Plus, Northwestern sold out their 11,000 ticket allotment. Completely sold out. The fans travel well and the Wildcats are clearly good for tv excitement. If Northwestern can continue to turn in good seasons, I don't think they will have to worry about getting passed over for bowls in the near future.
So, disappointed, but refreshed is how I find myself. The Big 10 is now 1-2 in bowl games, and I sincerely hope that Penn State and Ohio State can take care of business today to help out the conference reptuation but... man
What a game. What a game.
I'll have post mortem articles on this season within the next few weeks, so check back frequently. The season may be over, but our blog isn't going into hibernation. Until next time,
GO U! NU!!