Auburn football 2018 ends today one way or another, and we hope it’s going to be with a win over Purdue in the first ever meeting between the two teams.
The 2018 Music City Bowl kicks off this afternoon, and until this week, there’s been a surprisingly low amount of buzz about the game and the buildup since the matchup was announced. Maybe it’s a combination of the tepid end to the season (or the season overall) and the fact that Auburn basketball has been so good. Maybe Auburn fans wanted a bit of a split from the football team after another breakup from the preseason top ten. Whatever the reason, Tiger fans haven’t been as excited despite the fact that the game is within driving distance of the vast majority of the fanbase.
There are a couple things that are for certain, though... today should be interesting either way. First of all, Auburn gets to cross Purdue off of the list of teams that it’s never played. That’s always fun, and the Boilermakers are a spicy little team despite the 6-6 record. They’ve got the up and down season that we’re all too familiar with on the Plains, and they have some of the most interesting individuals taking center stage today.
Most importantly, Rondale Moore is the guy that we can’t allow to run wild. When Auburn basketball played Murray State last Saturday, we said that we could allow their star Ja Morant to go for his usual 25, just not explode for 45. Moore is similar. He’s going to get his, most likely. We can let him go for 100 yards and a score or two, but he can’t get 200 yards and three scores. That’ll spell doom for the Auburn defense that’s had trouble with super-athletic guys in the last couple of losses. This is also an experienced Purdue team with a bunch of seniors, so while they may not have as much talent across the board as Auburn, they’re a good deal more seasoned. A good, solid defensive effort is needed from the Tigers today, and with a month to get ready, I expect that they’ll be fine.
The flip side is where we’re all a little more curious.
First, Gus Malzahn is calling plays for the Auburn offense again. The last couple of times that he did this full-time, Auburn was pretty good on that side of the ball. I don’t know if you remember the Cam Newton and Nick Marshall-led offenses, but they were fun, and fully a Gus Malzahn creation. Now, he’ll have his first complete game as play-caller in quite some time (although we’re not sure exactly when that last time was). Some of us wrote in our Staff Predictions that Gus may go full mad scientist and call all of his old favorites once again. Why not? Purdue doesn’t have a lot of that on recent film.
And speaking of the Boilermaker defense... they’re, uh... not great. Purdue ranks 103rd in the country in total defense (445 ypg), and 80th in yards per play (5.9 ypp). They have the 5th-worst passing defense in the country based on yards per game (allowing 280 ypg through the air), so this may be a chance for Jarrett Stidham (or others) to have a big day to cap the season.
The bottom line here is that this game doesn’t really matter. Sure, it’ll be nice to get a win to cap off the season and go into 2019 feeling just fine. In fact, if that happens, the comparisons to 2003/2004 will be out of control this offseason. That year, Auburn underperformed, beat a Big Ten team in the Music City Bowl, finished 8-5, and went undefeated the next year. No less than 50 articles will be written comparing the two if that happens again.
What’s more important is the fact that Auburn got the extra practices and the staff got to work in a new offensive coordinator while looking at the players of the future. We got to let Gus be Gus and either live or die with the results. It’s time for Auburn to double down on Auburn and let the chips fall where they may. Let’s finish up 2018 the right way, and send Purdue back to the pre-steam age. War Eagle!