The 2018 Music City Bowl will be the first ever match-up between the Auburn Tigers and Purdue Boilermakers on the gridiron. The two squads will meet on Friday, December 29th at 1:30 PM (ET), and the game will be broadcast on ESPN. Both teams had very up and down seasons that saw both struggle toward the end of the season. Auburn ended the season losing two of three, and Purdue did the same. The difference being Purdue won the last time they took the field, and Auburn has to pick itself back up after two blowout losses to Georgia and Alabama.
The season for the Boilermakers was a very uneven campaign to finish 6-6. They started the season going 0-3 with losses against Northwestern, Eastern Michigan, and Missouri. A run of four straight victories would follow with wins against Boston College, Nebraska, Illinois, and Ohio State. Boston College was ranked at the time, and the 49-20 victory over Ohio State prevented the Buckeyes from making the College Football Playoff. The Boilermakers finished 2-3 but did win their season finale against in-state foe Indiana 28-21. This will mark the first time that Purdue has played in the Music City Bowl. The Boilermakers will also be looking to win consecutive bowl games in back to back seasons since the 1997 and 1998.
Purdue is led by an explosive passing attack led by senior David Blough. On the season, Blough threw for 3,521 yards and 25 touchdowns with only eight interceptions. The Purdue passing game ranked second in the Big Ten only behind Ohio State. In the upset over the Buckeyes, Blough and the Boilermakers had their best offensive performance of the season. Blough threw for 378 yards and three touchdowns. Leading rusher D.J. Knox rushed for 128 yards and three scores in the victory as well. For Knox, though, it was just a flash. He only totaled 868 yards for the entire season. Purdue may need a great offensive performance like that against Auburn due to the poor defense of the Boilermakers. Purdue had the 8th worst scoring defense in the Big Ten and struggled against the pass. They gave up an average of 276.9 yards a game through the air. They were not much better against the ground attack giving up 165 yards per contest.
This will be just the second Music City Bowl appearance for Auburn and the first since 2003. That season was also one with high preseason expectations that saw the Tigers ranked in the top 10 to begin the season. It also would not be a season in Auburn without some drama. Since the Tigers blowout loss to Alabama, Auburn has seen Jarrett Stidham declare for the draft, Kelly Bryant chose Missouri, and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey left for Kansas State. There was also some concern whether Gus Malzahn would be brought back as well.
A question fans and media will not have is who will be calling the plays on offense. With the hiring of new offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham, Malzahn announced he will take over the play-calling for the bowl game and the 2019 season. That is the side of the ball that really struggled for Auburn. Stidham showed obvious signs of regression, and the offensive line struggled the entire season. Unless JaTarvious Whitlow has a game for the ages, Auburn will not have a 1,000-yard rusher for the first times since the 2008 season. The Auburn defense was great to start the season but did struggle at times against the run towards the end of the season. With the rest though, that side of the ball should be ready to go for the bowl game.
With Stidham declaring for the draft and wanting to show pro scouts he is a top prospect, expect him to try to come out and put on his best performance. Also, the offense should show some new wrinkles with Malzahn taking over the playcalling. On the defensive side of the ball for Auburn, they should be able to outplay the Purdue offensive line and impose their will. Auburn wins over Purdue 34-14.