Music City Bowl preview: Can Purdue put up points vs. Auburn's stout D?
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Music City Bowl
Purdue Boilermakers (6-6, 5-4 Big Ten) vs. Auburn Tigers (7-5, 3-5 SEC)
When: Friday, Dec. 28, 1:30 p.m. ET
Where: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.
Odds: Auburn -3.5
Over/Under: 55.5

Tale of the Tape

2018 STATS Purdue Auburn
Points Per Game 31.9 (43) 28.3 (T-71)
Points Allowed/Game 27.3 (T-67) 19.6 (18)
Rush Yards/Game 141.2 (102) 164.1 (T-68)
Pass Yards/Game 317.8 (10) 209.5 (86)
Total Yards/Game 459.0 (24) 373.6 (94)
Rush Yards Allowed/Game 164.6 (67) 140.7 (39)
Pass Yards Allowed/Game 276.9 (123) 222.4 (58)
Total Yards Allowed/Game 441.5 (103) 363.1 (45)
Third-Down Offense 38.7% (71) 35.8% (102)
Third-Down Defense 35.3% (34) 34.4% (28)
Red-Zone Offense 91.7% (8) 83.0% (T-75)
Red-Zone Defense 82.0% (55) 82.4% (59)
Team Sacks/Game 2.08 (T-66) 2.92 (T15)
Turnover Differential -3 (T-85) +7 (T-22)

(Division I rank in parentheses)

Season review


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What a year for Purdue! The school shellacked Ohio State in one of the most emotional games of the season. The Boilermakers also managed to keep head coach Jeff Brohm away from the clutches of Louisville, and they even inked a top-30 recruiting class. Everything is trending up.

Has a school ever taken more momentum into an offseason on the back of a 6-6 campaign that included a loss to Eastern Michigan? I don’t think so.

Brohm has done a masterful job as the CEO of the program. Purdue plays smart and stays within itself on both sides of the ball while executing the little things to earn wins.

One of the most explosive offenses in the country leads Purdue. Brohm runs a dogmatic smashmouth-spread system rooted in old-school power-running plays from spread formations.

It’s an intricate offense that requires plenty of experience. Four of Brohm’s starting offensive linemen are seniors, including three fifth-year players. The team’s two top running backs are both seniors as well, along with the quarterback.

That shows up on the field often, as Brohm’s offense finished seventh in the country in explosive runs and 20th in chunk-play rate during the 2018 season. The Ohio State win was no aberration. Purdue played well every week, against every team, with four of the school's six losses coming by one score.

Friday’s bowl game will pit strength against strength, as Purdue’s high-scoring offense faces off against Auburn’s suffocating defense. May the most engaged side win.


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Heading into each season, Auburn has three goals: beat Alabama, clinch the SEC West, and reach the playoff. Gus Malzahn’s team failed at all three this year, leading to another round of the annual questions about the head coach's future.

Any year without success on at least one of those objectives is considered a disappointment for the Tigers, though finishing 18th overall in S&P+ is good by pretty much any other program's standards.

The collapse of the Tigers' offense has been the most puzzling. Splash plays have long been a hallmark of Malzahn’s program, with his offense featuring funky motions, creative formations, and wide-open holes with running backs tearing into space. But Auburn finished 100th in explosive plays this season.

The team's offense has been pedestrian at best. The passing game, behind returning starter Jarrett Stidham, has been labored and slow. Considered a legitimate pro prospect prior to the season, Stidham tanked his draft stock with a disappointing junior year.

Malzahn has already announced he will take back play-calling duties next season. Stidham, who will forgo his senior year and enter the NFL draft, will be hoping he gets off to a rollicking start in the team’s bowl game, the 22-year-old's last chance to boost his draft value.

Players to watch

Purdue RB D.J. Knox

Purdue has rolled through a rotating cast of characters in its backfield this year. Knox has led the way while averaging 5.8 yards per carry with nine total touchdowns. He's also recorded 28 catches.

Purdue LB Cornel Jones

Auburn’s offensive line has been almost comically bad this year. The unit creates zero surge and is prone to mental errors against stunts, twists, and delayed blitz designs. Cornel Jones, a bouncy Purdue sophomore who lives behind the line of scrimmage, can take advantage of some mismatches.

Jones possesses excellent diagnose-and-attack instincts and lives to shoot gaps. Auburn’s front will give him plenty of opportunities to wreak havoc.

Auburn DL Derrick Brown

The 2018 college football season has been the year of the interior defender, with Ed Oliver, Quinnen Williams, Jeffery Simmons, and Christian Wilkins leading the way.

Don't sleep on Derrick Brown. Auburn’s three-technique defensive lineman is an interior menace who seemingly enjoys not just rushing the passer, but also taking the soul of his blocker en route to the backfield.

Brown has racked up 16.5 run stuffs, 9.5 tackles for a loss, and 3.5 sacks this season. He single-handedly demolishes plays:

Brown often makes plays without actually making the play in the box score. Teams have tried many little tweaks to slow him down, including double-teams, wham blocks, or moving the launch point. None of them have worked.

Brown seems to fall in the pecking order in the national consciousness behind the Tigers' other springy edge rushers. But the big man on the inside leads the unit.

Auburn WR Seth Williams

Auburn’s passing offense has been pitiful this season. No receiver recorded a 1,000-plus-yard year.

Seth Williams is the most likely to pop a big play. He’s averaged over 20 yards per catch and grabbed five touchdowns. If the defense gives him space, Williams can burn any defender. If he's pressed, he has the length to uncover instantly.

Biggest mismatch

Auburn’s defensive line vs. Purdue's offensive line

Purdue's offensive line has been solid this season. The unit has done a nice job carving open holes for the team’s trio of running backs to scoot through. But the linemen play a positional leverage game, angling their bodies in the right direction to open rushing lanes. They aren’t blowing anyone off the ball.

And they certainly aren’t pushing Auburn's defensive line back. The Tigers' defensive front goes beyond just Derrick Brown. as Nick Coe, Marlon Davidson, and Dontavius Russell round out a formidable unit.

Coe, who is moved around the team's line, is the pick of the bunch. The sophomore has posted 13 TFLs, seven sacks, and 15 run stops this year while winning trench battles with a combination of speed and power.

Purdue's keys to victory

Win 1-on-1 in space: Part of Auburn’s defensive struggles this year are due to poor tackling in space.

Brohm likes to use power-running plays to the boundary, and emphasize speed in the open field. He'll direct the strength of the offensive formation toward the short side of the field, then use quick-hitting gap-scheme runs.

Purdue runs a version of this play repeatedly from a variety of different looks:

It’s a guard wrap, which looks a lot like a classic "power” run. The difference is the guard pulls outside of the tight end's shoulder rather than coming across the line. The play is a nifty, idiosyncratic change-up. Sometimes Brohm adds a quarterback option or a run-pass read.

The Boilermakers also run a lot of nub formations - a running formation to one side, and a passing formation to the other - to create width between defenders and force the defense to commit to stopping either a run or pass.

Everything Purdue's offense does is predicated on getting a blocker engaged with a linebacker on the far side of the field, or a running back charging toward a safety to the short side. Few offenses stress the tackling ability of every defender like Brohm’s unit, which is a giant hurdle for Kevin Steele’s group to overcome.

Hit some big plays: This game is set up for Purdue to churn out chunk yardage. The Boilermakers have one of the most explosive offenses in the nation, and Auburn’s defense is among the worst at defending big plays. If Purdue hits three or four chunk plays, it won’t matter if Auburn’s defensive line starts to take over.

Auburn's keys to victory

Force third downs: Auburn’s defense has been suspiciously excellent on third downs this season (and in the red zone). On first and second down, however, the defense has mostly stunk. If Auburn’s defensive line can slow down Brohm’s spread-to-run attack on early downs, the team has the artillery to tee off and dominate the money down.

Finish drives: Auburn’s offense hasn’t been explosive or efficient this year. It churns out long, laborious drives, and then the Tigers struggle to finish. Auburn concluded the regular season in the bottom 20 in red-zone offense. It's tough to beat good teams playing like that.


Purdue 35, Auburn 28


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Music City Bowl preview: Can Purdue put up points vs. Auburn's stout D?
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