It is safe to say that Nashville for the Music City Bowl was not where most Auburn fans would have expected the 2018 season to end.
By Matt Zemek
Head coach Gus Malzahn is on the hot seat after 25 losses over the last five seasons, a number that is simply not good enough while in-state rivals Alabama barely lose at all. Auburn, and Malzahn in particular, needs a big bowl game here to avoid an offseason of discontent.
Here are the three keys:
Jarrett Stidham has to produce
When Stidham came to Auburn as a transfer from Baylor he was expected to be the final piece in the puzzle to push the Tigers over the edge and into College Football Playoff contention. While he has been far from a total failure, Studham has not had the success at Auburn that most were expecting.
His numbers are actually down year on year, with Stidham in 2018 putting up 13 touchdown passes (18 in 2017), a 60-percent completion percentage (66-percent in 2017), and 2,421 passing yards (3,158 in 2017). The fact that Stidham is even playing in the game given the number of high end quarterbacks that are skipping bowl games to prepare for the NFL draft shows you that this has not been how this marriage was supposed to play out.
It is now or never for Stidham at Auburn. The Purdue defense is solid, but it can be beaten through the air. If the quarterback can find his groove for basically the first time in 2018 then Auburn will win.
Stop Rondale Moore
Rondale Moore is so much fun to watch as long as he is not playing the team you follow.
Moore is fourth in the nation in all-purpose yards as he averages 171 yards per game. He does most of his damage in the receiving game where he has 103 catches and 12 touchdowns on the season, often turning short passes into huge gains with his ability to make people miss in the open field. Whether Moore is in the slot, in the backfield, or spread out wide, the Auburn defense will need to know where he is and how the coverage is going to stop Moore from being in a position to do his usual damage.
Moore has a solid connection with quarterback David Blough, but if the Tigers can handle the freshman wide out then the Purdue offense becomes very limited.
The defense must step up
While the Auburn offense hasn’t been all that impressive in 2018, the defense has been a big play waiting to happen. The problem is that when the big plays haven’t been happening, the defense is entirely capable of having a bad day at the office.
The Tigers picked up 25 sacks during the season, a number third best in the SEC, as they often got on top of their opponents early and controlled the flow of the game. There were also two interception returns for touchdowns from the Tigers 12 interceptions, showing that when the defense does turn the ball over it knows how to make things happen.
The Auburn offense should have enough to win this outright, but a defensive score or a couple of big turnovers certainly wouldn’t hurt as this team looks for a big win to kick on into 2019.