NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham has put his NFL draft preparations on hold, hoping to help the Tigers get their first bowl victory since 2015.
Coach Gus Malzahn plans to make it worth Stidham's time now that he is sticking around for the Music City Bowl against Purdue on Friday. That means playing his quarterback.
"Bottom line is we're playing to win the game," Malzahn said Thursday.
Not that anyone thought they would be playing to lose, though Auburn has had its share of disappointing setbacks this season.
Auburn (7-5) is a long way from where it started this season — ranked in the top 10 nationally with visions of a return trip to the Southeastern Conference championship game. Instead, the Tigers limp into this bowl having lost two of their last three, though those losses came to Georgia and Alabama — the two teams that played for the SEC title.
This is a much different bowl than a year ago when the Tigers finished the season losing to UCF in the Peach Bowl. But with losses to LSU, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama , Auburn is back in the Music City Bowl for the first time since 2003.
"We have to finish strong," Auburn running back Kam Martin said. "Everything that happened this year, we've got to finish strong and go out and get a win."
Purdue (6-6) is in its second straight bowl with coach Jeff Brohm after fending off an offer from Brohm's alma mater in Louisville to keep him with the Boilermakers. Purdue needs another bowl win to finish with a 7-6 record, but these Boilermakers shook off an 0-3 start to go 6-3 down the stretch including a rout of then-No. 2 Ohio State.
Brohm has his own experienced quarterback in David Blough, who has the Boilermakers averaging 317.8 yards passing per game. But Stidham sticking around gives Auburn a quarterback who threw for 3,158 yards last season and 2,421 this season.
"Coach didn't ask me my opinion on that one," Brohm quipped about Stidham choosing to play this game. "He's a great quarterback ... had a tremendous year last year. He can see the field, he can throw the football, has a great arm, a good athlete. He's tough."
That said, upsetting a trio of ranked teams this season has given the Boilermakers plenty of confidence too.
"We have made some strides but this will be a true test for us," Brohm said.
Some other things to know about Auburn and Purdue:
Purdue has Tyler Trent as an honorary captain for this game, and Jim Irsay, owner of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, loaning the use of his plane for Trent to fly down to Nashville. Trent, 20, has been fighting bone cancer since the age of 15 and currently is in hospice care. Trent will take part in the coin toss.
"Tyler Trent is really an inspiration to our football team and really to be honest the entire nation," Brohm said.
Stidham will have a chance to pad a school record with Ryan Davis. They have connected for 149 completions, most in Auburn history and nine clear of the previous mark. Davis already has Auburn's career reception record with 174, and the senior has a catch in 26 straight games with 64 for 523 yards this season.
The Auburn duo will need to be at their best to counter Purdue's own dynamic combination. The Boilermakers have an All-American wide receiver in freshman Rondale Moore who led the nation with 103 catches and finished with 1,164 yards receiving and 12 TDs.
NOT SO TRICKY
Brohm promised to run at least 50 trick plays before this season started. The challenge of playing a game where the opponent has had nearly a month to scout tendencies makes that a bit more difficult, so Brohm says they have to pick and choose when to be tricky.
AUBURN'S NEW COORDINATOR
Kenny Dillingham will be in the coaches' booth after being hired away from the same job at Memphis. Malzahn will be calling the plays as he did for his first three seasons with Auburn and said Dillingham is still becoming familiar with the Tigers after being hired earlier this month.
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