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The Outback Bowl: Wildcats on the menu

December 31, 2009

First of all, a very Happy New Year to the Joe Auburn family and our supporters. I’m personally looking forward to beginning 2010 with an Auburn win, and if you’re reading this, I’m assuming you do too. You also can’t feel too shabby about the news today of Cameron Newton’s commitment and intent to enroll this January. We’ll see what impact this has to Neil Caudle, et al going into Spring.

Next, apologies for the delay in new posts these past two weeks. Sometimes real life gets in an Auburn blogger’s way and well, wanting to write and getting to write grow leagues apart.

Lastly, the reason we’re all huddled in front of our favorite internet connected, Joe Auburn blog right now is to see what thoughts are out there regarding the New Year’s Day meeting of the Northwestern Wildcats and our Auburn Tigers. The topline says Auburn should win, and the odds are by about one touchdown. However, Northwestern has surprised many in the Big 10 (11) and I wouldn’t be surprised if Auburn starts sluggish and plays from behind. One, it is a very early game – 10 am Auburn time (no need to comment to the average Auburn fan how disastrous this usually turns out), and two, Northwestern is playing with a chip on their shoulder after hearing repeatedly they can’t hang with a SEC team.

On offense, Auburn holds a marked edge in the running game. Ben Tate and Onterrio McCalebb are both healthy, rested and well fed. The Tiger O-line, save the ridiculous penalties of the regular season, has played well. We have a solid 1+2 punch in Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery, and even though no one has stepped up behind them, the dynamic duo have done some serious damage to opponents. All appears well at hand for the Orange and Blue….

….but hold the line. Someone forget to tell the Northwestern Wildcats our offense should send them scurrying into the bowels of Chicago to hide.

The Wildcat Defense features two All Big Ten secondary players, B. Phillips and S. McManis patrolling beyond the line of scrimmage and disrupting downfield passing attacks. They also have a very competent and aggressive linebacking corps and their own version of terror at D-end in C. Wootton. Northwestern has gotten notoriety for their passing offense, but their defense hasn’t lost them a game this year based on my quick scans. How this all matches up with Gus’s attack should be interesting. On the one hand, the Wildcats should neutralize Adams and T-Zach and control the AU rushing attack by at least keeping our runners in front of them. On the other hand, Northwestern hasn’t played an offense yet that resembles Auburn’s. Most SEC followers have stereotyped the Big Ten into lumbering midwest hybrids who carry more cement in their shoes than Tony Soprano’s enemies. Auburn should win the speed battle, but if Northwestern’s defense comes to play and executes, this will be a tough day for the AU O.

On defense, Auburn hopes to have a fully healthy Eltoro Freeman and some additional help in the secondary. Northwestern hasn’t rushed well all year and instead they have relied on a steady passing attack and a running QB to carry the day. It might be tempting to ignore the Wildcat running game and focus instead on stopping the pass. Come to think of it, I just might dial-up that plan for Ted Roof tonight! By mid-day tomorrow though, every Auburn fan will know who Mike Kafka is: capable passer, credible runner, excellent game manager. He doesn’t lose games and he’ll be a stiff test for our D in Tampa.

On special teams, we have an edge in return yards, but again *ahem* I doubt seriously Northwestern has faced a major team this year with as poor a kick/punt return squad as they’ll see in Raymond James Stadium on Friday. One of my resolutions is going to be to start if we enter 2010 the way we played in 2009 on special teams. Ugh.

Overall, the Wildcats will probably jump out fast and furious. They’ll surprise us all with how well they throw the ball around the field and I wouldn’t be too shocked to see them up 14-0 in the first half. Our D will adjust, the coaches will shake off the collective steak comas and hangovers and yes, the USS Tiger will sail to victory.

Northwestern 28, Auburn 34

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