A quick look at Auburn’s 38-35 overtime victory against Northwestern on Friday in the Outback Bowl:
How the game was won: After seemingly winning the game on two previous occasions, Auburn finally survived when defensive back Neiko Thorpe slammed Northwestern’s Zeke Markshausen out of bounds and kept him from getting into the end zone on a fake field goal attempt in overtime. The Wildcats had the ball at the 5, but had already missed three field goal attempts – one that would have won the game at the end of regulation. So they tried to win it in regulation with a little trickery, but the Tigers weren’t fooled.
Turning point: Auburn had a 35-21 lead with 7:32 to play in regulation and appeared to be cruising to a win. But the Tigers turned the ball over twice in a span of two minutes. Ben Tate lost a fumble at the Northwestern 31, and Demond Washington lost a fumble at midfield after a long kickoff return. The Wildcats were able to score a pair of touchdowns in the final three and a half minutes of regulation to force overtime.
Turning point II: Walter McFadden’s 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter changed the whole complexion of the game. It looked like Northwestern was about to tie the game at 7-7. The Wildcats had a first-and-goal at the 4. But on third down, McFadden tipped a pass to himself in the end zone and raced untouched down the right sideline for the touchdown to give Auburn a 14-0 lead.
Stat of the game: Where do you start? The two teams combined for 1,074 yards of total offense and 53 first downs. Northwestern had 35 first downs, and the Wildcats’ quarterback, Mike Kafka, passed for 532 yards. But Kafka, who threw a Big Ten-low seven interceptions this season, was intercepted five times by the Tigers.
Stat of the game II: The Tigers overcame 12 penalties for 139 yards, including a couple of personal fouls toward the end of regulation and in overtime.
Player of the game: McFadden had two of Auburn's five interceptions. His first pick set up the Tigers' first touchdown, and he returned his second pick 100 yards for a touchdown to give Auburn a 14-0 cushion.
Unsung hero: Auburn receiver Darvin Adams capped a big sophomore season with perhaps the best game he played all season. Adams finished with 12 catches for 141 yards and made several plays to help keep drives alive.
What it means: Getting to eight wins in Year No. 1 under Gene Chizik has to be considered a success on all fronts for Auburn, which also stopped the bleeding. The Tigers (8-5) closed the regular season by losing five of their last six SEC games. Still, the way Northwestern moved the ball up and down the field is a reminder that Auburn still needs to upgrade its depth on defense and its talent on that side of the ball if the Tigers want to be a player in the Western Division race over the next couple of seasons. That’s where these next couple of recruiting classes come in.