For a team without its head coach and missing many of its best players, Auburn put up a fight Friday in the Citrus Bowl.

For awhile, anyway.

The Tigers’ brief comeback bid, however, fell well short as Northwestern never trailed in 35-19 victory, giving Pat Fitzgerald the first New Year’s 6 bowl win of his coaching career.

Auburn was without starters Tank Bigsby, Anthony Schwartz, Roger McCreary and Christian Tutt among others, not to mention its future head coach Bryan Harsin who made an appearance during the ABC broadcast in the 2nd quarter.

Northwestern looked like it was going to easily run away with things before the 1st quarter even came to a close as the Wildcats rolled to a 14-0 lead on a pair of touchdown passes from Peyton Ramsey to Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman and John Raine.

Auburn rallied to pull within 14-13 when Bo Nix connected with Elijah Canion for a 57-yard TD early in the 3rd quarter.

It was all Northwestern after that.

The Wildcats scored TDs on 3 consecutive possessions to bridge the 3rd and 4th quarter to make it 35-13.

Nix briefly was knocked out of the game during that stretch. He returned, though, and directed the Tigers on a 10-play, 75-yard TD drive to pull within 35-19. Auburn couldn’t convert the 2-point try and failed to recover the onside kick.

While Auburn could have packed it up for the second half with eyes for the future, the defense played some inspired football in the 3rd quarter with some huge hits from Smoke Monday and Zakoby McClain.

And Canion’s first career catch went for a TD, but as highlights go, that was about it.

Auburn finished its season 6-5 and will head into the offseason with numerous key questions to answer and several key positions to fill.

At the top of the list? Who will Harsin hire as the new defensive coordinator, and what does the future hold for Nix, once billed as the future of Auburn football.