When SEC West foes Auburn (4-4, 1-4) and Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2) take the field in College Station on Saturday, the game will feature offensive geniuses and defensive masterminds squaring off against one another on alternate sidelines, but the play on the field will highlight two programs seeking positive results going forward.
Of the two programs, the Aggies still have a quality season to play for with a 10-3 record in 2015 within reach. The Aggies’ coaching staff, for now, is set with offensive-minded Kevin Sumlin at the helm, coordinator Jake Spavital calling the plays, and John Chavis directing a much-improved defense from a year ago.
In Week 9, A&M put together an offensive show, coming up with 544 yards of offense en route to a 35-28 home win over South Carolina. The Aggies defense was gouged for 445 yards but only allowed the Gamecocks to convert 5-of-13 third down attempts, stuffed one lone fourth-down try, and came up with two Perry Orth interceptions showing enough signs of life to get the win.
Auburn on the other hand is two games shy of being bowl eligible but are running out of opponents to hit the needed six win mark. After traveling to A&M, Auburn faces Georgia, Idaho, and Alabama all at home putting a greater emphasis on sneaking out of College Station with a “W.”
The Tigers have dropped their last two games, against Arkansas (54-46 in OT) and then- No. 19 Ole Miss (27-19). Auburn has made the switch from junior Jeremy Johnson under center to freshman Sean White. White has proven to be slightly more accurate than Johnson but the freshman has had trouble finding the end zone with his arm. In 125 pass attempts White has just one touchdown pass coming against Ole Miss last week.
Auburn at Texas A&M
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Coverage: SEC Network
Line: Texas A&M -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Auburn Rushing Offense vs. Texas A&M Rush Defense
The Tigers have been a ground rushing juggernaut under head coach Gus Malzahn finishing 2014 as the No. 13 unit in the country averaging 256 yards a game. This season, without running back Cameron Artis-Payne and quarterback Nick Marshall, a collective 2,406 yards of ground production from last season, Auburn has slipped to picking up an average of 174 yards a game.
The Aggies have not had success stopping the run, allowing 207 yards a game. If Auburn can exploit A&M’s weaknesses up the middle, taking pressure off Sean White to win the game with his arm, a road win could be in play. Trouble is Auburn’s top rusher, junior running back Peyton Barber (787 yards), was held to 17 yards on eight carries against Ole Miss before leaving the game with an undisclosed injury. Barber has been at practice this week but Malzahn has not offered details on the injury nor the extent of Barber’s participation in drills.
Junior college transfer Jovon Robinson stepped in against Ole Miss living up to some preseason expectations rushing 18 times for 91 yards.
2. Freshman QB Kyler Murray vs. Auburn’s Defense
If one complete game is a big enough sample size for projecting the next Johnny Manziel or Robert Griffin III, then Kyler Murray is the man. Murray picked South Carolina apart hitting 20-of-28 pass attempts for 223 yards with one touchdown tossed. The true freshman also ran 20 times for 156 yards with another score but more importantly did not turn the ball over. South Carolina is not a defensive powerhouse this season, and neither is Auburn, so Murray should have another highlight reel kind of game to add to his resume come Saturday.
Auburn is allowing 194 yards a game on the ground per contest. Aggies running back Tra Carson had his second highest output of the season with Murray under center rushing for 122 yards on 21 totes against USC. If defenses are crossed between stopping the Aggies’ passing attack and Murray running the ball, Carson could finally get some easier running lanes going forward.
A&M Game Notes: True freshman Christian Kirk needs just nine receiving yards to set new Aggies’ true freshman record held by Uzoma Nwachukwu in 2009 with 670 yards.
3. Auburn’s Offensive Line vs. Texas A&M’s Pass Rushers
White got off 28 pass attempts against Ole Miss but three times could not complete the play taking a sack. One thing Texas A&M does as well as any other team in the nation is get after the passer. Defensive end Myles Garrett has not had a sophomore slump coming up with 10.5 sacks this season, one complete sack shy of his 2014 total of 11.5. On the other side of Garrett, Daeshon Hall has had a standout junior season coming up with six sacks.
Auburn’s front of LT Shon Coleman, LG Alex Kozan, OC, Austin Golson, RG Braden Smith, and RT Avery Young will have their hands full with Garrett and Hall. Auburn has given up 14 sacks this season, tied for 49th in the nation. White has taken nine of those sacks in five games played.
The Aggies are looking for their first win over the Tigers at Kyle Field and are hoping to keep a struggling Auburn team from gaining positive traction. A year ago Kyle Allen shocked college football, leading A&M to a 41-38 upset win over then-No. 3 Auburn. The Aggies (453 yards) were outplayed by Auburn (582 yards) in Jordan-Hare but the Tigers turned the ball over three times.
White and Barber come into the game with various nagging injuries while A&M looks fresh and refocused. Auburn needs this win if they want to take an easier path to securing a bowl berth while A&M has an easy stretch with Western Carolina and Vanderbilt coming up before traveling to Baton Rouge to face LSU to end the regular season.
All the momentum and energy are backing the Aggies, plus the 12th Man.
Prediction: Texas A&M 38, Auburn 28
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.