This Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl between Purdue and Auburn should be fun. Lotsa fun. Two teams with differing styles of play and from differing parts of the country. The Boilermakers and Tigers also are two teams that just beg you to put the car in overdrive and press the pedal to the medal and have some fun. Then again, when is the last time you went to Nashville and didn’t have a good time?
These are two programs that seem to be trending in different directions. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is on the hot seat after another five-loss season, resulting in 25 losses in the last five seasons. That’s not very acceptable to the rabid fans on the Plains. Meanwhile, Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm turned down a chance to return to his alma mater at Louisville to become their new head coach, giving the Boilers program a positive light for their preparations for this game. This also will mark the first back-to-back bowl appearances for the Boilermakers since 2011-12.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Purdue (6-6) vs. Auburn (7-5)
Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 28 at 1:30 p.m. ET
Where: Nissan Stadium (Nashville, Tenn.)
Spread: Auburn -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Blough vs. Stidham
Two very talented players and longtime friends will battle it out at the quarterback position so keep an eye on which one has the hot hand. David Blough has been a great find for the Boilermakers the last four years and he hit his stride this year, throwing for a career-high 3,521 yards and 25 TDs, including seven 300-yard passing games this season.
It hasn’t been the year Stidham had hoped for as nearly every statistic in the book has fallen off this year, including touchdowns (down from 18 to 13), completion percentage (66 to 60 percent) and passing yards (3,158 to 2,421). Despite not panning out to be the first-round draft darling people were expecting him to be, he already announced his intention to leave for the NFL after this game. So this will be one last shot for him to impress the professional scouts in a live game situation. Beware if Stidham is pressing too much or trying too hard to make things happen, forcing more mistakes.
2. Auburn’s running game
Granted, the Tigers’ ground game hasn’t been much of an “attack” to be honest. They averaged just 140 rushing yards average in their 11 games vs. FBS opponents, and only 120 per game in SEC play in the regular season. Their top rusher is JaTarvious Whitlow, who ran for 777 yards and four touchdowns. Take away breezy blowouts against FCS opponent Alabama State and FBS newcomer Liberty and the Tigers’ running game has topped the 130-yard mark just twice and was held under 103 yards five times this year.
Purdue will be a little undermanned on the defensive line going into this one as defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal hurt his ACL in the season finale against Indiana and will miss the Music City Bowl. Defensive end Giovanni Reviere will slide into Neal’s position but it’s difficult to make amends for Neal’s toughness and experience. Look for the Auburn running game and pass protection to get a boost.
3. Defensive big plays
Auburn was third in the SEC with 35 sacks in the regular season, led by defensive end Nick Coe’s seven, and also picked off 12 passes, returning two for touchdowns. Coe and defensive leader Deshaun Davis have combined for 27 tackles for a loss on the year. Those two are the anchors for a defense that can be really solid at times, and also can face-plant at times as well. But if the Tigers get their big-play machine going early, this one could be a boat race for the team from the SEC. The Boilermakers’ O-line must play its best game of the year and keep Blough upright the entire game.
Purdue definitely has some issues on defense, but the Boilermakers also have the horses to go toe-to-toe offensively with the Tigers. Freshman Rondale Moore was fourth in the nation in all-purpose yards, averaging 171 yards per game, leading his team with 103 catches and 12 touchdowns. His athletic ability will need to play up in this one, especially in the return game to help flip the field when possible.
Bowl games are always a crapshoot if you consider who is excited to be there and who is just going through the motions because the season did not work out in their favor. If that’s the case, advantage Boilermakers. Not only will this be just their second bowl game in the last six years, but as mentioned above Purdue is excited to retain head coach Jeff Brohm for this game, after Louisville made a hard push to get him to come home. That’s a huge shot in the arm for the Boilermaker program.
Auburn has lost three of its last four bowl games, despite being favored in three of them. And everyone remembers last year’s Peach Bowl loss to UCF where the Tigers were 10-point favorites and lost 34-27 to a fired-up bunch of Knights that were out there to prove a point. A big key will be the first quarter. Auburn likes to jump on opponents right away, having outscored the opposition 103 to 32 in the first quarter alone. If the Tigers continue to do that, this could be a long day for the Boilermakers.
Prediction: Auburn 31, Purdue 27
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.