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Austin Carr gets one last ride for Northwestern

Austin Carr is picking up the awards this offseason after a stellar season for the Northwestern Wildcats. His bowl game should be just the cherry on top.

Austin Carr probably never expected all of this.

Not attending the College Football Awards as a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, as one of the best wide receivers in the country. Not getting named to All-America team after All-America team, including the AP Second team. Not getting named the Big Ten receiver of the year.

This was a guy who was an unassuming walk-on at Northwestern. Someone playing football as a true extra-curricular activity.

He was always the one lost in the shuffle of Northwestern’s batch of wide receivers and relatively poor passers. He was stuck in Northwestern’s offensive quagmire. But slowly working his way up the totem pole through hard work and untapped ability.

The Wildcats offense faced big questions this season after being one of the worst in the entire nation last year, despite a 10-win season. Clayton Thorson needed options to throw to. He needed an outlet.

And again and again this season, Carr was that outlet. The constant outlet. The only one Thorson would find open in double and triple coverage. His rise from team walk-on to star receiver was an incredible journey.

Carr’s numbers speak for themselves. He caught 84 passes for 1,196 yards, scoring 12 touchdowns. His 1,196 yards represented 40.2 percent of the Wildcats’ passing yards this year and his 84 catches represent 32.4 percent of the Wildcats’ completions.

It was not just that Carr was racking up yards at an incredible rate, it was that he was Northwestern’s only real option at times.

And this all comes with one last game — at the Pinstripe Bowl in New York on Dec. 28 — against one of the worst pass defenses in the country. Pitt is ranked 84th in Pass Defense S&P+ and, on a raw number basis, gave up the second-most passing yards in the nation.

That could mean a lot of opportunities for Carr — and certainly a lot of opportunities for Thorson to try to spread the ball around as Northwestern has become more pass friendly as the season has gone on.

But Carr is still the focal point. He will get his catches. He always does.

Even in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten, Carr has received ample attention. Yet every time he seemed to break free. In Big Ten play, Carr averaged 7.3 receptions per game for 101.4 yards per game and 10 touchdowns. This was against Big Ten defenses.

On mostly Carr’s ability alone, Northwestern rose to 67th in the nation in S&P+. He will again be the focus heading into the bowl game.

Even when it was clear the Wildcats would run out routes or corner routes, Carr beat double coverage. And Clayton Thorson, to his credit, placed the ball perfectly in his hands.

Carr just finds a way to squeeze into the gaps in the defense. And if a team leaves him in single coverage, he beat sit. And Thorson is always looking to him first.

Carr’s career has been totally unexpected. His senior season was completely unexpected.

A player who looked like he would be a bit player — a slot possession receiver for short-yard gains and the occasional big play — became something much more. He was the story of the season for the Wildcats.

It has been an incredible season for Austin Carr. One that has earned and deserved the awards he has received since that last game against Illinois.

His final game with the Wildcats will be a special one. The culmination of an incredible ride to the top from an unlikely player.

Carr may very well get drafted to the NFL. But his last ride in a Northwestern uniform will be a special one. All signs point to another big game. And even if he finds himself covered, Carr will find a way to get open and make an impact.

Philip Rossman-Reich is a Northwestern alumnus and former contributor Lake The Posts. He also writes for Orlando Magic Daily and The Step Back.

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