Well, that was wild.
For the second straight year, Northwestern went to overtime in its bowl game. And once again, the Wildcats came out on the short end of a wacky contest with Auburn. NU made two amazing comebacks and received one of the truly unique performances from senior quarterback Mike Kafka, but special teams once again hauntSteed the Wildcats, as Stefan Demos missed two field goals.
The Wildcats seriously might be cursed in the postseason.
The Big Ten falls to 1-2 in bowls.
How the game was won: Both teams committed costly mistakes, combining for nine turnovers. Northwestern made a furious rally in the final minutes, scoring two touchdowns in the final 3:20 and getting the ball back with a chance to win at the end of regulation. But Demos hooked a 44-yard field goal, while Auburn's Wes Byrum converted a chip shot in overtime. Demos missed a 37-yard attempt in overtime but was roughed, giving Northwestern new life. The Wildcats couldn't get into the end zone and tried a fake field goal for the win, but Zeke Marskhausen was brought down short of the goal line.
Stat of the game: Kafka's stat line qualifies here. He went 47 of 78 passing for 532 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions. He also had 20 rushes for 29 yards and a score. Northwestern outgained Auburn 619-425.
Player of the game: It's got to be Kafka. Sure, his interceptions put Northwestern in a big hole early, but he proved to be extremely clutch on both comeback attempts. The Wildcats had no run game today, so everything fell on Kafka's shoulders, and he made a ton of big throws. A team rarely has a chance to win when its quarterback throws five picks, but Kafka and an opportunistic defense kept NU in the game.
Second guessing: Northwestern's offense was in a nice rhythm at the end of regulation, but the Wildcats went deep on second-and-long when they might have been able to set up a shorter field-goal try. I didn't mind the fake field-goal attempt for the win in overtime, but the Wildcats should have thrown to the end zone at least once after the gift roughing-the-kicker penalty set up first-and-goal from the Auburn 9.
Unsung heroes of the game: So many to name for Northwestern. Wide receiver Andrew Brewer and tight end Drake Dunsmore combined for 16 receptions, 247 yards and three touchdowns. Cornerback Sherrick McManis had an incredible interception and a fumble recovery at the end of regulation. Auburn's Walter McFaden (2 INTs, 1 returned for TD) also deserves a mention.
What it means: Northwestern's bowl losing streak continues, and this one will be very hard to swallow. Until special teams no longer becomes a liability, it's hard to see the Wildcats winning in the postseason. But they never give up, as they showed today and for much of the season. The program might not truly gain national respect until it wins a bowl game, but there was some measure gained today against Auburn. Northwestern loses several standout seniors but should be in decent shape for a third consecutive bowl run in 2010.