Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Outback Bowl Preview

I haven’t devoted much time to football discussion since basketball seasons started since this site was started as a basketball blog. However, I want to take some time today and offer my own preview for Northwestern’s matchup with Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

The Wildcats (8-4) take on an Auburn Tigers (7-5) team that offers perhaps NU’s best shot at a bowl win in recent memory. Much has been made of NU’s 60 year bowl win drought, but the ‘Cats have played some very good teams in their bowls since 1995. Auburn isn’t a bad team (no bowl team really is), but they don’t have a Heisman winner or a number 1 draft pick at QB either. The strength of Auburn’s team is a diversified spread offense. The Auburn spread is similar to the early versions of NU’s spread that featured a run first mentality despite being in a passing formation. The tailback Auburn uses is Ben Tate. Tate is a big back at 5-11 218 lbs. who rushed for 1,254 yards and 8 TDs this season. In terms of Big Ten opponents he is most similar to Wisconsin back John Clay. The Wildcats did a good job stopping Clay. The big difference is Auburn’s spread allows for a little more creativity in getting the ball to Tate than Wisconsin’s straight ahead power game.

If Northwestern concentrates on stopping Tate, Auburn will have to go to the air. When NU stopped Clay, Wisconsin had some success passing, but the ‘Cats DBs made just enough stops to pull out the victory. I suspect a similar game against Auburn. QB Chris Todd leads the Tiger passing attack. He has thrown 21 TDs and only 6 INTs this season. Last year he struggled with turnovers. NU’s Sherrick McManis might be the best defensive back in the game, but he’ll need help from Jordan Mabin, Brad Phillips, and a now healthy Brendan Smith in order to contain Todd.

NU’s biggest advantage in the game will be the Wildcat passing game led by QB Mike Kafka against an Auburn secondary which has been less than stellar. Kafka tossed only 12 TDs, but his 65.7% completion percentage shows how accurate he was in running NU’s spread. He should also be close to 100% physically and potentially able to add to his 7 rushing TDs this season. That versatility could make a difference. If Auburn tries to commit to stopping Kafka on the run, it will be even easier for him to hit open receivers. I do think NU will need some running game from the running back position, but with Kafka’s accuracy and healthy legs, I don’t think NU needs a 100-yard rusher to win. They simply need their collection of tailbacks to keep the defense honest with enough solid runs that the Tigers don’t start dropping eight men into coverage every play.

With the offenses both these teams feature I’m expecting a high scoring game. In fact, I think this might be NU’s highest scoring game of the year. I believe Kafka will be finding open receivers all day, but I also think Chris Todd will take of advantage of NU’s efforts to stop Ben Tate and pick on Jordan Mabin and the rest of NU’s non-McManis pass defenders. However, I think NU’s defense will have just enough to stop Auburn when it counts on enough third downs. On the hand, I believe Kafka’s ability to convert third downs to Zeke Markshausen and Drake Dunsmore will keep NU drives alive. In a high scoring affair I think the Wildcats pick up their first bowl victory since beating Cal in the 1949 Rose Bowl. Northwestern, 38 Auburn, 34

News and Notes: Thanks to a tip from a reader I was alerted to the fact The Sporting News Today's Mike DeCourcy has NU men's hoops ranked 2nd in his Big Ten power rankings. If you're a TSN Today suscriber you can read the article at this link: http://today.sportingnews.com/sportingnewstoday/20091229?pg=27#pg27


LansingCat said...

Best football post by a BBall Blogger :)


Ryan said...