A key SEC West showdown is on tap this Saturday in College Station, as Texas A&M hosts Auburn in a crucial game for positioning within the division. Alabama is the front-runner to win the West, but the Aggies hold a head-to-head victory over the Crimson Tide, and the Tigers still have to play their rival in the Iron Bowl later this season. Both Auburn and Texas A&M are very much alive for the division title (and in the top 15 of the initial College Football Playoff Rankings), but this matchup could be viewed as an elimination game.
New coach Bryan Harsin is off to a good start in his Auburn debut. The Tigers started 2-0 before falling at Penn State on Sept. 18. However, Harsin's squad has reeled off four wins over their last five games, including road victories versus LSU and Arkansas, along with a 31-20 win against Ole Miss last Saturday. At 3-1 in SEC games, Auburn still has a lot to play for in November. With matchups versus Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and Alabama remaining, Harsin's team can make a run at the SEC West title or a New Year's Six Bowl. Even if the Tigers fall short, getting to 9-3 or 8-4 would be a strong start to Harsin's tenure on the Plains.
A year after falling just short of the CFB Playoff, Texas A&M has experienced a roller-coaster ride of emotions through the first two months of the season. The Aggies opened the year with a 41-10 victory at Kent State but struggled in a 10-7 win versus Colorado after quarterback Haynes King was injured. Backup Zach Calzada has piloted the offense since that game, but this unit sputtered in back-to-back losses to Arkansas and Mississippi State. However, Calzada and coach Jimbo Fisher's team rebounded for one of the biggest victories of the season, defeating Alabama 41-38 on Oct. 9. Since then, the Aggies have dominated South Carolina and Missouri to move to 6-2 headed into Saturday's showdown versus Auburn.
Auburn holds a 5-4 series edge over Texas A&M since the Aggies joined the SEC. Also, the Tigers have won the last four in College Station.
No. 13 Auburn at No. 14 Texas A&M
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 6 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Texas A&M -4.5
When Auburn Has the Ball
A big reason for Auburn's success in SEC play has been the performance of quarterback Bo Nix. The junior was pulled in the second half of the Tigers' comeback win over Georgia State, but since then, Nix has delivered solid performances against LSU, Arkansas, and Ole Miss, posting at 300 or more total yards in those games. The junior seems to be finding his rhythm in Harsin's scheme, as Auburn's offense enters Saturday's game averaging 6.5 yards per play — up from 5.6 last fall. The Tigers are averaging only 25.8 points a game in SEC contests, but this unit has scored more than 30 points in back-to-back matchups. Receivers Kobe Hudson (28 catches), Demetris Robertson (26), and Shedrick Jackson (24) headline the list of weapons for Nix on the outside.
While Nix has played better recently, the strength of Auburn's offense is still its ground attack. Running back Tank Bigsby enters Saturday's game averaging 83.3 rushing yards a contest this year, totaling 666 yards and seven scores through eight contests. Bigsby rushed for a season-high 140 yards in last week's win over Ole Miss, while backup Jarquez Hunter has averaged a healthy 7.7 yards per attempt in a relief role this fall. Auburn has rushed for at least 163 yards in six of its eight games in 2021, but the going will be tough against Texas A&M's defensive front. The Aggies have limited SEC foes to 3.4 yards per carry and 109.8 rushing yards a game. Also, three of the five SEC opponents faced by Fisher's defense were limited to less than 100 yards on the ground.
Considering Auburn is likely to have trouble pounding away against Texas A&M's defense, winning in College Station is likely to hinge on how well Nix can perform. However, the Aggies are also tough against the pass (third in the SEC in pass efficiency defense), succeed at getting off the field on third downs, and don't allow many big plays. This defense is holding teams to just 16.1 points a game, so Nix will have to be patient and piece together long drives to score against this group.
When Texas A&M Has the Ball
Get ready for a big-time battle in the trenches here. The strength of Fisher's offense in College Station is a ground attack that features two of the SEC's best running backs in Isaiah Spiller (761 yards) and Devon Achane (608). This duo has combined for 10 rushing scores while helping the offense post 573 rushing yards over the last two games (Missouri and South Carolina). A young, but improving offensive line is also boosting Texas A&M's offense down the stretch, as this unit has averaged at least six yards per play in each of the last three games after reaching that mark in two of the team's first five matchups.
Auburn's defense enters Saturday ranked fifth in the SEC against the run and has limited teams to just 3.3 yards per carry. However, Georgia State put up 267 on this unit, and SEC opponents Arkansas and Georgia eclipsed the 200-yard mark. Despite these high yardage totals, Auburn has held seven of its eight opponents to 4.3 or fewer yards per carry. For the season, the Tigers are holding teams to just 5.02 yards per play and 19.8 points a contest.
Generating stops and putting the Aggies in long-yardage/obvious passing downs is crucial for Auburn's defense on Saturday. Texas A&M is converting just 36.2 percent of third downs in conference play (13th in the SEC), and Fisher would prefer to not have Calzada throw 35 times to win. Calzada continues to progress with each snap after replacing King and enters Saturday's matchup with 1,364 passing yards and 12 touchdowns to seven picks. The sophomore doesn't lack for weapons on the outside with tight end Jalen Wydermyer and receivers Ainias Smith and Demond Demas ready to test an Auburn secondary ranked eighth in the SEC in pass efficiency defense.
Don't expect a high-scoring affair here, but this should be a physical battle between two teams with plenty still to play for as the season enters its final full month of action. There are plenty of similarities here, as both Auburn and Texas A&M are holding SEC teams to around 22 points a game, and the offenses want to establish the ground game to keep the quarterbacks out of obvious passing downs. Whichever team is winning early downs and the turnover battle, along with landing a few big plays on offense is likely to come out on top. The Aggies should be fresh off the bye week, and a strong home-field edge at Kyle Field certainly doesn't hurt. Expect a close game, but Fisher's team finds a way to win in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Texas A&M 27, Auburn 24
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