The Purdue Boilermakers take on the Auburn Tigers in the Music City Bowl in Nashville on December 28. Auburn has been installed as four-point favorites here, and the posted total sits at 54.5.
Purdue got some amazing news when Jeff Brohm turned down Louisville and stayed at Purdue. The work Brohm has done here has been nothing short of tremendous. Many Auburn fans want Gus Malzahn to be out, but his buyout is massive, and for now he’s still here. Malzahn was the offensive coordinator for Auburn when they won it all in 2010. He was the head coach when they lost to Florida State in the title game in 2013. Malzahn is a great offensive mind, but you have to give Purdue the coaching advantage in this game. Brohm is also aided by a tremendous defensive mind in Nick Holt.
With this game being in Nashville, I won’t be giving either team a home field advantage here. I think Purdue is the more motivated fan base, and they should travel well here. Purdue won the Foster Farms bowl last year. Purdue has a lot to be excited for with Brohm saying he’ll stay in town. Auburn clearly wanted to be in a much better bowl game than this one. Will the Tigers still put in a maximum effort? I give Purdue the motivational edge in this one. I would also wonder if there might be some Auburn defensive stars who sit out this game.
Purdue beat Indiana in their final game to become bowl eligible. The Boilermakers played the seventh toughest schedule in the country according to Jeff Sagarin. Purdue started the season 0-3 before going 6-3 the rest of the way. The signature win was clearly their blowout win over Ohio State in primetime. Purdue lost four games by four points or less, so they could have entered this game with a much better record. The triple overtime loss to Wisconsin at home was a particularly painful loss. Winning the Old Oaken Bucket on the road in Bloomington was a great way to finish out the regular season.
The Purdue offense finished 14th in the country in yards per play at 6.53. The Boilermakers did have some problems with turnovers. Purdue turned it over 17 times this year, and turnovers were the sole reason they lost a couple of key games this season. Rondale Moore is the star for this Purdue offense. Moore torched the Ohio State secondary like it was nothing, and Moore’s versatility makes him a major weapon. How versatile is he? He just won the Paul Hornung award. Moore led the nation in receptions with 103. He also had a whopping 2,048 all-purpose yards this year. That was the second most in school history. David Blough did a great job as quarterback of this offense. Blough completed 66.6% of his passes, and he threw for 25 touchdowns. Purdue’s rushing offense has been less reliable, and that has caused Purdue to settle for a lot of field goals in the red zone. The Boilermakers are only scoring a touchdown on 58.33% of their trips into the red zone. Brohm is a great offensive mind, and this Purdue offense is much improved.
Nick Holt and Anthony Poindexter are the co-defensive coordinators. Holt has a long track record of helping defenses overachieve. Purdue lost nearly everything from a year ago on defense. The defense allowed 6.2 yards per play two years ago before this coaching staff showed up. They improved all the way up to 5.3 yards per play allowed last year. They allowed 5.84 yards per play this year, but that is better than many would have expected. This team returned only four starters on defense. While Purdue’s offense has struggled in the red zone, Purdue’s defense has done a great job making it tough for opponents to score in the red zone. Purdue is only allowing a touchdown on 54% of trips into the red zone. This isn’t a great unit by any means, but they have held their own.
Auburn was expected to be great this year. After all, this team was ranked number nine in the preseason AP Poll. To say that this year has been a disappointment would be an understatement. The offense has been the primary problem. Auburn is averaging only 5.47 yards per play (83rd in the country). The Tigers haven’t been the least bit explosive on offense. Auburn has just 45 plays of 20 yards or more all year (114th in the country). Auburn is converting on only 35.76% on third down also. Their offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey has left to be part of Les Miles’ staff at Kansas.
Many thought Jarrett Stidham would be a good fit in Malzahn’s system, but it hasn’t worked out. There’s certainly plenty of blame that can be placed on the offensive line. Auburn’s offensive front went from a strength the last couple years to a big weakness this year. Still, Stidham doesn’t seem confident in this offense. Malzahn’s offense works best with a running quarterback (think Cam Newton and Nick Marshall), but Stidham has -5 yards rushing this year. He seems capable of scrambling for some yards, but he doesn’t appear to want to run. The offensive line weakness appears to have bothered him quite a bit. Stidham only threw for 13 touchdowns and 2,421 yards this year. He threw for 3,158 yards last year.
Auburn was hurt badly by having no Kerryon Johnson or Kamryn Pettway in the backfield. The Tigers ran for only 4.28 yards per carry this year (72nd in the country). This was a combination of the offensive line weakness and less talent at running back.
The Auburn defensive line is the strength of the team. Auburn’s defensive numbers were great early in the season, but they tailed off some late. Auburn allowed 5.24 yards per play (39th in the country). The area where Auburn was tremendous defensively was in the red zone. The Tigers allowed only 11 touchdowns out of 28 opponent trips into the red zone. They only allowed opponents to convert on 34.28% on third down. The Auburn secondary has been up and down, but the front seven is very good.
Free Pick: Purdue +4
Purdue should be highly motivated in this one. The Boilermakers knocked off multiple top teams this year. They are clearly capable of big things. Purdue actually played a tougher schedule than Auburn as well. Purdue isn’t the same team they were in the first three games of the year. Auburn isn’t showing that kind of improvement late in the year. The Tigers have no real reason to be motivated for this game. This is one of those motivational edges in a bowl game that I can’t look past.