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 overmatched 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.
"It was very satisfying," Malzahn said. "Like I say, it was all about these guys executing. I mean, it was a thing of beauty to watch from the sideline, the guys make plays. When we make explosive plays, we play fast, we're a pretty good offense. Today it all came together. I really believe that will carry over to next season. "
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.
"That one snowballed faster than most," Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm said. "I've been part of games that were a bad outcome, but that one happened fast. Credit to them, they made their breaks. Every little thing that went wrong seemed like it could."
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 seven consecutive offensive 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 eight drives took less than five plays to complete and lasted no longer than 63 seconds.
"You could call any play the way they executed today and it would work," Malzahn said.
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.
"The mood? Oh, it was on then," Whitlow said of his first touchdown. "I was on a roll. I'm trying to go for six."
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 2 1/2 quarters during the final game of his college 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. His 160 receiving yards set an Auburn bowl record, and he's the first player in program history to catch three touchdown passes in a bowl game.
"I think for us, there were some opportunities that presented themselves throughout the game," Stidham said. "This guy right here (Slayton), I mean, he's about as fast as they can get. Just did a great job up front protecting. We just tried to make those explosive plays that we've needed all year. "
The Tigers finished the game with a bowl-record 586 yards on 75 plays, or an average of 7.8 yards per play.
They could have scored 70 points to tie the all-time bowl game record set by West Virginia in the 2012 Orange Bowl, too. Third-string quarterback Joey Gatewood rushed for 20 yards on fourth-and-11 from the Purdue 21 late in the fourth quarter, very nearly pushing his way into the end zone. Officials ruled him down, though, and he kneeled the ball twice to end the game.
"That’s what I felt was best and that’s how we operate here," Malzahn said. "We played very good. We won convincingly, and I felt like that was the right thing to do."
The only question afterward was where Malzahn would head for his postgame meal, especially after Waffle House tweeted him saying it was ready to prepare his usual.
In a minor upset, the head coach chose Chuy's. Though maybe that was fitting on a day full of firsts.
"I’ll get back to Auburn and we’ll make sure we go to Waffle House," Malzahn said. "This is too big a win not to."