Through the first 12 games on the 2018 season, Auburn fans had wondered where did the offense go? Well, it made a dominate return in the Music City Bowl on Friday in Nashville, Tennessee. The Auburn Tigers defeated the Purdue Boilermakers 63-14 in a game that got ugly very quickly. Auburn broke the bowl record for most points in a half (56), and most points in a bowl game by an SEC team (63).
Jarrett Stidham is the MVP
It has been not only a tough season for the Auburn offense, but also for quarterback Jarrett Stidham. After announcing he would enter the 2019 NFL Draft no one would have been surprised if he had not even played in the Music City Bowl. What was to gain playing in the game? Well, Stidham got the opportunity to lead the Tigers once again and show the great potential he has. Stidham did regress this season but in Nashville, he could not miss.
Stidham went 15 for 21 with 373 yards with five touchdowns. That’s an average of 24.9 yards per pass. Stidham got the scoring started when he hit running back JaTarvious Whitlow for a 66-yard pass play. To close out a record-breaking first quarter, Stidham would then connect with Darius Slayton on a 74-yard pass play to go up 28-7. This was the start of a great game for Slayton, who finished with 160 yards on three catches. All three receptions resulted in touchdowns. The final throwing score for Stidham was in the opening possession of the third quarter when he and Ryan Davis connected for a five-yard touchdown. This was the first touchdown for Davis on the season despite his 69 receptions and would end the day for Stidham.
Purdue brought in a very explosive passing attack led by senior David Blough. The Auburn defense had other ideas though. The Boilermakers only were able to gain 263 yards and 184 passing. It was evident that the Auburn defensive line just over-matched the Purdue offensive line. The Tigers got to the quarterback three times and totaled nine hurries. Derrick Brown lived in the Purdue backfield with three tackles and one sack.
In the second quarter, Big Cat Bryant made sure that the offense was not the only ones getting in on the scoring action. With Auburn up 35-7 Bryant caught a deflected Blough pass to take it 20 yards to put up them up 42-7. Early in the first quarter Javaris Davis picked off Blough to set up one of the three Whitlow touchdowns in the first quarter.
Big Win for Gus Malzahn
Without question, it has been a tough couple of weeks for the Auburn head coach. Rumors and speculation began about Gus Malzahn after the loss to Tennessee in early October and got even hotter after the regular season concluded. Add in that offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey decided to take the same job at Kansas State, and he lost out on graduate transfer Kelly Bryant. With Malzahn taking over the play-calling duties the attention would be on the offense and their performance.
The Music City Bowl was without a doubt the best performance for Auburn all season. It was the most points they scored against an FBS opponent this season. (They did score 63 against Alabama State, but they are FCS) Also, Malzahn just looked more comfortable at the controls of the offense. It looked like an team with more cohesion and ran with the up tempo speed Auburn had in Malzahn’s early seasons. Only time will tell if this is a sign for next season, or it was just a product of playing the 103rd ranked defense in Purdue.
This defeat ends what was an up and down season for the Boilermakers. Yes, they beat Ohio State and other wins against ranked teams, but also lost some games they probably shouldn’t have. This loss will leave a bitter taste for Purdue as they head into the third season under Jeff Brohm. For Auburn, this gives a good feeling for what was a very disappointing season. The big question going into the offseason and spring will be who plays quarterback. With Stidham leaving it should be a competition with Malik Willis, Joey Gatewood, and incoming freshman Bo Nix.