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Auburn Set For Outback Bowl Battle With Another Big 10 Opponent

By on December 10th, 2019 in Football 7 Comments »

Minnesota's huge offensive line may be a challenge for Auburn in the Outback Bowl (Photo:USA TODAY Sports)

For the second time under head coach Gus Malzahn and the fifth time overall, the Auburn Tigers will travel to Tampa to take on a Big 10 opponent in the Outback Bowl. The Tigers’ most recent Big 10 opponent, Wisconsin, took down the Tigers in a high-scoring overtime affair following a Daniel Carlson missed field goal.

In that 2015 New Year’s bowl game, Auburn could not stop the Badgers, specifically Melvin Gordon, who racked up 251 rushing yards and three scores. Despite collecting three interceptions, the Tigers’ defense was completely gashed by the Badgers’ run game in the second half. 41 points were scored in the second half, and Wisconsin added a field goal in the first overtime possession. The game ended on Carlson’s miss, and Auburn’s defensive coordinator, Ellis Johnson, was let go after a two-year tenure.

Even though Auburn had a high scoring offense, the 2014 season was defined by missed offensive opportunities such as back-to-back turnovers against Texas A&M. The defense simply could not get off the field that season.

Following the 2014 season, Malzahn put emphasis on having an elite defensive coordinator on the sideline, hiring Will Muschamp for a year followed by the current coordinator, Kevin Steele. The defense began to turn around under Muschamp but really hit its stride under Steele, whose units have been among the country’s best. This current unit may go down as one of the best in Auburn history. 

On the other side of the ball, Auburn’s offense has been anything but consistent the last few years, dating back to the 2015 decision to hire Muschamp as the DC. There have been moments of greatness under Malzahn, but almost every such moment has been followed by head-scratching letdown games.

These include the embarrassing losses to Oklahoma in the 207 Sugar Bowl and the University of Central Florida matchup in the 2018 Peach Bowl. The Oklahoma loss could be pinned on mounting offensive injuries, specifically at quarterback, but the UCF loss came down to motivation. Leading up to the game, it was easy to see that UCF was motivated to prove it was overlooked by the playoff committee. Auburn, coming off a letdown against Georgia in the SEC Championship, had nothing to play for, and it showed throughout the game. 

Malzahn’s two bowl wins have come against completely out-matched teams in meaningless games. Auburn thumped Memphis in 2016 and destroyed Purdue in the Music City Bowl this past season. In many ways, the upcoming game against the Gophers straddles that line.

Minnesota was on the precipice of making an improbable CFP appearance but ultimately came up short against Wisconsin, which then lost to Ohio State in the Big 10 Championship game. Coach P. J. Fleck has certainly made the Gophers relevant.

Fleck has been a hot name in coaching for several years, thanks to his ability to get the most out of his players and his catch phrases, such as “Row the Boat.” Western Michigan became a non-Power Five staple under Fleck. The Gophers went 5–7 in 2017 and 7–6 last season, including a bowl win against Georgia Tech. 

Auburn’s fan base expected a championship-level year, but losses to Florida, LSU, and archrival Georgia derailed that. A win against bitter rival Alabama assuaged some feelings, but it remains that a win against one of those would have Auburn in at least a New Year’s Six game.

Motivation is going to be the story for both teams but for different reasons. Minnesota may not have made the Big Ten championship game, but Fleck is one of the best motivators in the game; the chance to beat an SEC school is essentially every non-SEC team’s ultimate goal. This is especially true of the underdog Gophers. And on top of that, Minnesota doesn’t have the NFL talent that leads to worry about players sitting out the game. 

Auburn is playing for a ten win-season, which alone should be motivation. Buts, will Malzahn have his team ready to play, and who will those players be? It will come as no surprise if Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown sit out the bowl game, and no one should blame them if they do. Brown is a first-round lock and has the potential to be a Top Ten overall player. Brown loves Auburn and is a competitor, but he’s played a lot of college games. After seeing what has happened to other players of his caliber, it makes business sense to sit this one out. Davidson is a fringe first-day draft pick, and a great bowl game would certainly help his chances, but so could sitting out and adding a strong all-star type game. 

Hopefully, Auburn will be able to get several playmakers, such as Anthony Schwartz, healthy. Gus showed an ability to adapt in the Iron Bowl, winning without jet sweeps and bubble screens. It will be interesting to see if that continues. 

The Gophers have a balanced attack that features a 3,000-yard passer in Tanner Morgan,  a 1,000-yard rusher in Rodney Smith, and two 1,000-yard receivers in Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson. They are balanced in scoring with 28 passing TD’s to 24 rushing scores. Morgan completes 66 percent of his passes even though he has taken 30 sacks. The Gophers’ glaring weakness is scoring, where they are ranked at 151st in the country in points per game while allowing 24 ppg.

The layoff benefits Auburn, which has so much untapped talent that an extra month of practice will benefit the young players.

The Tigers and Gophers kick off at noon in Tampa on January 1st. 


  1. neonbets says:

    Sorry Zach–but the commentary on Fleck is amusing. As if ‘Row, Row, Row The Boat!’ is going to get more out of his players. He had his lucky season. The play for him is to parlay it into a more prestigious gig while blowing smoke up everyone’s arse how he’s all about Gopher football and the players.

    But, if he doesn’t get that prestigious gig, he’ll be back at Minnesota–staring at a 7-6 season. The Gophers are simply another Big Ten anomaly–just like last year’s Purdue team. Next year, Fleck’s schtick will have worn thin and everyone will just want to move on. Fleck is terribly overrated and annoying.

  2. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..Bowl games are tough for this Auburn offense. Teams have time to really scout what Auburn does, and if Auburn comes in with predictable packages, the other team will see and react. At least the good ones do.

  3. zotus zotus says:

    “… if Auburn comes in with predictable packages …”

    Say what?

    Fact is, Ol’ Gus always comes in with predictable offensive packages.

    History tells us that against good, well-coached teams that’s a sure fire way to get you beat about 18 out of 25 tries.

    WDE! Keep hope alive.

  4. wpleagle wpleagle says:

    I totally disagree, Zach, with your take on Brown and Davidson as with any other player that sits out a bowl game. If the schools had not given the players an opportunity to demonstrate their skills plus the coaching that honed those skills, they would be NOWHERE: NOT NFL, NOT ANYTHING!!! I believe the players owe it to their schools to play with everything they have as long as they’re eligible and on the team.

  5. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..I think honoring one’s commitments is important. Also, when they remember back years later, they might regret not playing in every game that they could. That said, the rules are what they are right now, and sitting out is a possibility.

    …..Interesting analogy… I’m retiring from my real job this Friday. We had a difficult labor-intensive issue this Monday, where I rolled my sleeves up and helped hand-stack a pallet out of a crash. I was asked why I went to that trouble, when I was leaving in less than a week. Answer? I’m still the same employee I was before, and I’ll do my job to the best of my ability through this Friday.

  6. neonbets says:

    I’m with Zach on Brown and Davidson. And I’m coming from the position where Derrick Brown is probably my favorite player to ever wear an Auburn uniform. As a person and a player, Brown represents the highest ideal of an Auburn Man and an Auburn Tiger. I imagine the same could be said for Davidson too.

    But doesn’t what I just wrote support the notion the notion that they should be playing? How can these guys represent the highest ideal of an Auburn Tiger while sitting out the bowl game out of self-preservation?

    I have no idea. I can only write from my perspective. In other words, I can’t (or won’t) pretend to step into the shoes of a 22 year-old, and then state with authority what he should or not be be doing.

    And from my perspective, as an alumnus and fan–I say, ‘Do Not Play.’ This game is an exhibition. It’s practice for next year–nothing more and nothing less. It’s not the Iron Bowl–a game that flows though our blood like, well…iron. This is the Outback Bowl. It’s a nondescript exhibition to tout a sorry steakhouse and to allow teams to get a head start on next year.

    I say to Derrick Brown–you have a young child. That’s where your top loyalty lies. There is no conceivable way this game helps either you or Auburn–(as payouts are guaranteed win or lose). None. But it could be devastating for you—and you only.

    You’ve been exemplary in every way as a representative of this University. Sit it out. If roles were reversed, and Auburn would be on the hook financially for potential losses from terrible injury, guess what? Auburn wouldn’t even let you travel with the team.

    No, sit it out. Get paid. Support the University that you love going forward. All the best to you and yours’. It’s been a privilege watching you and Davidson perform over these past four years.

  7. friedca friedca says:

    You got to figure what happened to Tua has had an even bigger affect on how these guys view bowl games. Saban may have ended a mans career to make his blowout of inferior opponent look better to a committee that had little reason to put a one loss Bama in. That injury looks even worse now with two loses. Most of these guys (if lucky) have 1-3 years in the league to make millions. If they are smart they will bank as much as possible to set them up for a comfortable life after. Injuring themselves in what basically amounts to an exhibition game isn’t worth it. While ultimately won’t feel one way or another if they decide to play, if I’m a coach I would be thinking of putting in my guys that will play next year. Where else are you going to get them that exposure to a good opponent with nothing really on the line. If your guys going to the NFL want to play, put them in as much as they want but rotate those young dudes in to get them some practice before next year.

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