BEATDOWN: Auburn erupts for record-setting Music City Bowl performance with Malzahn calling plays
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The biggest question going into Friday’s Music City Bowl was how Auburn’s offense would look now that head coach Gus Malzahn is the one calling the plays again.
The biggest question at halftime was whether the Tigers would put some of their backups into the game or keep the starters in and try to hang 100 on Purdue.
They eventually went with the former, and didn’t get all too close to the latter. But they probably could have if Malzahn wanted to do so.
Auburn went into halftime with 56 points and left Nissan Stadium with a resounding 63-14 shellacking of the over-matched Boilermakers.
It’s the program’s first postseason victory since the 2015 Birmingham Bowl and second of the Malzahn area, improving his mark to 2-4 as Auburn’s head coach.
The Tigers matched or set all sorts of scoring records in the process — their 28 first-quarter points matched a program-best (done twice before against Kansas in 1987 and 1988); their 56 first-half points mark the most in program history and most in any half of any bowl game (previously 49 by West Virginia in the 2012 Orange Bowl); and their 63 points total marked the most for any SEC team in a bowl game and were 14 more than any winning team had scored in Music City Bowl history.
The onslaught began on the game’s third play from scrimmage. Facing third-and-1 from the Purdue 34, Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham faked a play-action dive, then hit running back JaTarvious Whitlow for a 66-yard touchdown on a wheel route.
That was the first of eight consecutive touchdown drives for Auburn to open the game, a streak that was interrupted only by a kneel down to end the first half. The Tigers reached the end zone on their first drive of the second half, too. Six of those nine drives took less than five plays to complete and lasted no longer than 63 seconds.
Whitlow’s 66-yard receiving touchdown was his first of three. He scored the other two on his next two touches, runs of 2 and 1 yards out of the Wildcat formation, becoming the first player in program history to score three rushing/receiving touchdowns in a bowl game.
Stidham’s pass to Whitlow was his first of a career-high five touchdowns. He very nearly had a sixth on a rush, but it was overturned on replay.
The junior quarterback completed 15 of 21 passes for 373 yards in just two-and-a-half quarters during the final game of his collegiate career before he enters the 2019 NFL Draft. He’s the third player in program history to throw five touchdowns in a game, joining Chris Todd (2009) and Daniel Cobb (2001).
Junior wide receiver Darius Slayton scored three of those touchdowns on just three catches, which went for 74, 52 and 34 yards, respectively. He’s the first player in Auburn history to catch three touchdown passes in a bowl game.
It’s only one game, and the Big Ten West’s Purdue probably doesn’t even half the talent or speed as any of the SEC West teams Auburn has on its schedule in 2019.
But in Malzahn’s first game owning play-calling duties outright since early in the 2016 season, Friday’s Music City Bowl win was a good start.