NASHVILLE, TN (WSFA) - We’re closing in on the Music City Bowl match-up between the Southeastern Conference’s Auburn and Big Ten Conference’s Purdue. It’s a game that may seem like an easy pick, but the numbers show it could be closer than people think.
Coming in, Auburn has two wins over a ranked opponent (Washington, Texas A&M) while Purdue has three (Ohio State, Iowa, Boston College).
Even their records are nearly similar. Auburn enters 7-5 and Purdue at 6-6. Purdue won six of their nine final games of the regular season to become bowl eligible.
Sticking with the Boilermakers. They are lead by Jeff Brohm who’s 13-12 in his two seasons at Purdue. He’s led them to two straight bowl game appearances and is looking for his second bowl win.
He certainly has the offensive weapons to make that happen. Purdue enters averaging 31.1 points per game and are led by a senior quarterback and freshman wide receiver duo.
David Blough tosses the pigskin and freshman receiver Rondale Moore catches it.
Moore leads not just the Big Ten, but the entire country in receptions with 103. 12 of those receptions have gone for scores, good enough to land him in a tie for seventh in the nation. He’s fourth in all-purpose yards at 2,048 and 11th in receiving yards with 1,164 of them.
His QB, Blough, possesses the arm strength to get him the ball. Blough averages 293.4 passing yard per game and has thrown for over 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2018.
Purdue will need the combination of Blough and Moore to come up big against one of the nation’s top defenses in Auburn.
As well as offensive production, Purdue will need to be able to tackle in space to combat Auburn’s barrage of screens. Luckily, they have just the guy.
Junior linebacker Markus Bailey is eighth in the country in solo tackles with 74 of them.
Auburn’s season has been less than ideal. The Tigers began the season ranked in the top 10 before falling completely out of the top 25 before season’s end.
At one point the Tigers lost 3 out of 4 SEC conference games and failed to produce a 1,000-yard back for the first time this decade and for the first time in a decade.
Controversy surrounded the security of head coach Gus Malzahn’s position at points of the season. He lost to LSU for the second year in the row after holding a sizable, double-digit lead in both games. He was also unable to defeat Georgia or Alabama, and lost to a Tennessee team still getting their bearings under a new head coach. Perhaps the worst loss came against Mississippi State when the Tigers managed just nine points and 90 total rushing yards.
The positives for Malzahn? He’s got the Tigers in a bowl game for the sixth time in as many years as the head coach.
The Auburn team itself sits at the top of a lot of defensive stats. Namely its ability to stop the other team from scoring.
The Boilermakers won’t find it easy to get the 31 points it averages as Auburn only allows 19.6 points per game; good enough for the 18th-best mark nationwide.
Purdue may move the ball and get to its average of 459.0 yards per game, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll result in points.
Not only do the Auburn Tigers know how to get after the quarterback, but they also have blocked their fair share of kicks and punts.
The Tigers lead the nation with seven blocked kicks and have four blocked punts as well.
Sophomore Nick Coe leads a talented D-Line unit with seven sacks and senior linebacker Deshaun Davis is the heart.
Davis, a First-Team All-SEC selection, leads the conference in total tackles with 107 and is always around the ball.
Quarterback Jarrett Stidham announced his intentions to enter the NFL Draft in April, but he’ll look to carve up a not-so-good Purdue defense before he departs The Plains.
The junior gunslinger has thrown for over 5,000 yards in his Auburn career that spans just two seasons. Over 2,400 of those yards have come this year.
Stidham’s favorite target? The sure-handed Ryan Davis. Davis, Auburn’s all-time receptions leader, caught 64 passes this season for 523 yards. He does most of his damage in the open field, making quick cuts and leaving defenders to pick up their ankles in the dust.
Seth Williams and Darius Slayton provide a vertical threat down the field. Williams with his size, and Slayton with his speed and ability to slither behind defenders allow for Stidham to make the big throws downfield.
This will be the first meeting between Auburn and Purdue on the football field. Purdue has never played in the Music City Bowl, but Auburn has. Back in 2003, the Tigers defeated the Wisconsin Badgers 28-14.
The Music City Bowl will be Auburn’s eighth bowl this decade, and the 42nd in its history. The Tigers are 3-4 in bowls since 2010.
Purdue is playing in just its fourth bowl this decade and its 14th in 22 years. The Boilermakers are 2-1 this decade.
Auburn and Purdue will kick things from Nissan Stadium, home to the National Football League’s Tennessee Titans, Friday at 12:30 p.m.