Upon Further Review: Auburn’s Historic Win Over Purdue
MVP of the Music City Bowl, Jarrett Stidham threw for 373 yards and five touchdowns in a little more than two quarters of play (AP photo)
The Auburn Tigers surprised and amazed the college football world with their historic win over the Purdue Boilermakers in the Music City Bowl. The Tigers set or broke several offensive records on their way to a 63–14 blowout victory. Although Vegas had made the Tigers a 3-point favorite, many fans, including yours truly, were worried about a dangerous Boilermaker team.
The matchup had the makings of a potential trap game in favor of Purdue. The Boilermakers seemed to have momentum after exciting their fan base with a good showing in the Big 10 Conference and selling out their ticket allotment in less than 24 hours. Added to that was the feeling, as with last year’s Peach Bowl, that Auburn didn’t really want to be in Nashville.
As it turned out it the opposite was true. Both Gus Malzahn and his players were determined not to allow a letdown such as happened last year in Atlanta.
Players reported an energized Malzahn during bowl practices. But Gus was quick to give the players credit. “I mean it was a thing of beauty to watch the guys make plays,” said Malzahn. “When we make explosive plays and we play fast, we’re a pretty good offense, and today it all came together.”
And Auburn football finally gave the fans something to feel good about in 2018. While most were overjoyed with such a complete victory, some folks are never satisfied. Browsing comments on message boards and Facebook showed some wanted to downplay the win by implying Purdue was not a worthy opponent. Comments such as, “They were not any good, just a 6–6 team.” I don’t buy it.
I understand the naysayers pointing to the 6–6 record, but this was not your typical .500 ball club. After opening the season with a 4-point loss to Big 10 West champ Northwestern, followed by two losses by a combined 4 points, including SEC member Missouri, the Boilermakers went on to blow out Nebraska, Boston College and eventual Big 10 champ, Ohio State. In addition, it took Wisconsin 3 overtimes to get a win over the Boilermakers.
And that is precisely the reason most national pundits picked Purdue to win its bowl game, despite the Vegas line.
This Purdue team was by all accounts a team on the rise, until it ran into an Auburn team with a lot to prove. I really believe the Tigers could have played with anybody that day.
Talking with a friend after the game he pondered the same question many Auburn fans had, “They played with confidence like we haven’t seen since the opening game against Washington. Where did it come from?”
My answer was simple. To start with, there were no dropped passes. During the regular season, several critical drives were ended by receivers with the dropsies. In addition the an O-line that gave Jarrett Stidham protection, running backs were healthy, and play calling was not by committee—all of which is usually a recipe for success. And success always breeds confidence, which also can be contagious for your defense, causing it to play at a higher level.
The more success you have, the more the confidence grows as the game moves along. In contrast, the other team gets discouraged and out of sync.
One of the big parts of the winning formula seems to be Gus Malzahn’s getting back to his hurry-up roots. After the game Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said, “I’ve been part of games that were a bad outcome, but that one happened fast.”
Auburn running back Boobee Whitlow agreed, “I’m looking like, dang. We were just going in such a fast pace. Purdue couldn’t even adjust to it. I’m like, Well, hate it for y’all next year.”
Therein lies the big question. Can Auburn play like that next year? If it can, it will be fun football once again on the Plains.