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Know thy Opponent 2018: Auburn Tigers

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Purdue has a stiff challenge against an Auburn team loaded with talent.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten-SEC battle for football supremacy has rarely involved Purdue. The Music City Bowl will only be our 21st game against an SEC opponent. Of those 21, it is only the 5th one since the year 2000. It is also a game against a big name opponent, which can be pretty rare for us. Notre Dame has been off the schedule for a while. We lost at home to Michigan last year and thumped Ohio State this year. Outside of the conference (or Notre Dame), however, it has been a while since we have faced as big of a name as Auburn. You would have to go back to our bowl games against Georgia, and even they aren’t a recent National Champion like Auburn is.

That’s what makes this game so interesting. For Auburn, they are a preseason top 10 team that has had a disappointing year. They were supposed to compete for the Playoff, but the Music City Bowl is a disappointing consolation prize. It is not quite as dramatic as when we faced Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl 20 years ago, but the disappointment is similar.

For Purdue, this is a chance to once again top a roller coaster of a season with a positive coda. Beating a team like Auburn after keeping Jeff Brohm, destroying Ohio State, and signing a game-changer of a recruiting class would have expectations sky high going into 2019. The Tigers have a ton more talent than us, but with the way we have exceeded our talent level and they have played below theirs, this should be interesting.

Auburn Tigers

2018 Record: 7-5, 3-5 SEC West

2017 Record: 10-4, 7-1 SEC West

Bowl Result: Lost 34-27 to Central Florida in peach Bowl

Blog Representation: College & Magnolia

Series with Purdue: First Meeting

Head Coach: Gus Malzahn (52-27 in 6th season at Auburn, 61-30 in 7th season overall).

This Season for the Tigers:

I touched on Auburn’s season in an earlier post, but it is one that began with a ton of promise and ended, ultimately, in disappointment. The Tigers started the season at No. 9 in the polls and got a huge 21-16 win over then No. 6 Washington. The Huskies went on to win the Pac-12, so at the time this was viewed as a huge plus for Auburn’s playoff hopes.

Those hopes lasted two weeks. After a drubbing of FCS Alabama State the Tigers dropped a heartbreaker to LSU 22-21. They then beat Arkansas and Southern Miss before consecutive losses to Mississippi State and Tennessee ended any SEC title hopes. They beat Mississippi, Texas A&M, and Liberty to close the year, but also lost to SEC title game participants Georgia and Alabama.

Overall they played a very tough schedule, like most SEC West teams do. In Washington, Georgia, and Alabama they played three of the best teams in the country and even managed to win one of those games. The only loss that could truly be considered a bad loss was against Tennessee.

Auburn Offense

The Tiger offense has been pretty average for much of the year. They were 97th nationally in total yardage and 72nd in scoring at 28.3 points per game. As far as rushing goes they were 68th at 164.1 yards per game. The passing game was 87th at 209.5 yards per game, but our own pass defense has been a major issue all season long.

Jarrett Stidham, who started his career at Baylor, has decided to declare early for the NFL draft. His numbers aren’t exactly eye-catching though. He threw for 2,421 yards and 13 touchdowns against only five interceptions. He did rush for three touchdowns, but his rushing total for the season is -5 yards.

The running game has had basically three ballcarriers. JaTarvious Whitlow leads the team with 777 yards and 4 touchdowns. He is a bigger back at 6’, 216 pounds, but after what Johnathan Taylor did to us a few weeks ago anyone else is a relief. Kam Martin (400 yards, 1 TD) and Shaun Shivers (338, 3 TDs) are good at spelling Whitlow. Anthony Schwartz also has 4 touchdowns on 199 yards and is versatile as a receiver too with 19 receptions for 307 yards and two more scores.

Ryan Davis leads the team in receiving with 64 receptions for 523 yards, but he did not find the end zone all year. Darius Slayton (32-510-2) and Seth Williams (24-479-5) are their bigger play outside threats. Sal Cannella is the goal line threat at tight end. He has only 11 receptions for 95 yards, but three of those catches have gone for touchdowns.

The Auburn offensive line has also been average this year, giving up 23 sacks in 12 games. Given our own dearth of a pass rush I’d expect Stidham to be fine. Since Lorenzo Neal is out for the bowl game our defensive line is at an even larger disadvantage.

Auburn Defense

I feel like this game will be decided by Purdue’s offense against their defense. The Auburn defense is 18th in scoring nationally at 19.6 points per game. They gave up about 140 yards rushing per game (39th nationally) and the pass defense was 58th at 222 yards per game. They had a tendency to give up yards, but not many points. Things are skewed slightly by a few results. They shut out Liberty, gave up only three points to a bad Arkansas team, and gave up just 9 to FCS Alabama State. In their last game they gave up 52 5o Alabama. That is, of course, Alabama.

One of the top players we need to watch is Nick Coe. The sophomore DE has been solid all year with 7 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. The return of Grant Herrmanns on the edge will help, but Coe will be after David Blough all game long. Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson also are excellent defenders up front. Look for Big Kat Bryant to come off the edge as well.

At linebacker Deshaun Davis is an excellent tackler. He leads the team with 107 stops on the year and he also has 2.5 sacks. He also leads the team with 14 tackles for loss. He is an experienced senior linebacker that will be looking to go out in his final game in a big way. Darrell Williams, another senior, Is excellent at linebacker with 71 tackles. This is an experienced group that is very, very talented.

In the secondary Daniel Thomas, Jeremiah Dinson, and Jamel Dean each lead the team with two interceptions apiece. Thomas is second on the team with 72 tackles as well. As a team Auburn has 12 interceptions, while Noah Igbinoghene has an impressive 11 pass breakups. Javaris Davis also has 8 pass break ups as part of an active secondary.

Auburn Special Teams

Igbinohene also returns kicks and is dangerous with his speed. He averages almost 30 yards per return and had one he took back 96 yards for a touchdowns. Ryan Davis has done well on punt returns with a 10.14 yard average per return. Given Purdue’s struggles in the return game, especially in the Iowa game, this could be an equalizer.

Arryn Siposs is an excellent punter, averaging more than 44 yards per kick with 17 downed inside the 20. The field goal kicking unit is a little shaky. Anders Carlson is only 15 of 25 on field goal attempts with a long of 53 yards, but most of his misses (2 of 9) have come from beyond 50. Inside 40 yards he was 10 of 11.

Game Outlook

On paper Auburn has loads more talent than we do. Every recruiting class they have represented on the roster rates in the top 15 with three of them in the top 10 nationally. We’re still relying on recruiting classes that were in the 60s and 70s from under Hazell, and even Brohm’s first full class with Rondale Moore was only 49th.

We saw what that talent differential can mean on October 20th, however. Ohio State came to West Lafayette with mostly top 5 recruiting classes and left with a 4-touchdown loss on their hands. Coach Brohm and Co. can definitely event he playing field a bit, but Auburn has not been as good as Ohio State has been this year.

I think part of this game comes down to how badly the teams want to be here. Auburn had a lot higher expectations at the beginning of the year than we did. They fired their offensive coordinator and Stidham already has an eye on the NFL. How dialed in will they be? Conversely, Purdue has been up and down all season, but reaching a bowl game was still a solid achievement, especially after the 0-3 start to the season. They want to get a big name win to build momentum going into next season.

Way-too-Early Prediction

It’s a bowl game, so let’s have some fun. Open up the playbook and let Blough finish his career on a high note. Purdue 34, Auburn 31