The SEC has several appetizing games on the Week 10 slate, but none may hold as much intrigue and drama, on and off the field, as the showdown between the Auburn Tigers (6-2, 4-1 SEC) and the Texas A&M Aggies (5-3, 3-2) Saturday afternoon in College Station.
The last time Auburn touched the field, the Tigers walked off victorious after pummeling Arkansas 52-20 in Fayetteville heading into a bye week. The Tigers offensive line opened running lanes for 345 yards while allowing Jarrett Stidham to pass for 218 yards. The defense was stifling, limiting the Hogs to 303 total yards. The bad news: Auburn’s leading rusher against Arkansas, Kamryn Pettway, is out with a fractured scapula. Pettway was out-touched 21-11 by Kerryon Johnson but still ran for 90 yards and three scores against the Hogs.
The late-season panic for Aggie fans that normally arises in November has come early this year after a 35-14 home loss to Mississippi State last weekend. The Bulldogs smothered A&M’s offense, allowing just 285 total yards. The A&M run game produced only 96 yards, and true freshman quarterback Kellen Mond had a second consecutive bad game, connecting on 8-of-26 passes for 56 yards with two interceptions and two sacks. Mond was replaced by opening-game starter Nick Starkel, who showed some rust but completed 8-of-13 passes for 133 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
The rumor mill is floating end-of-era stories about Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin. Unhappy fan bases could call for the dismissal of either coach following another loss in 2017, making this a must-win game for both coaching staffs.
Auburn at Texas A&M
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Texas A&M +15
Three Things to Watch
1. The production of Kellen Mond
About the only person left believing in Mond (above, right) is head coach Kevin Sumlin, who is giving Mond the start over Nick Starkel. Mond has completed 51 percent of his passes for 1,281 yards with seven touchdowns against six picks. The dual threat is not using his speed in the pocket effectively, taking 17 total sacks. After back-to-back eight-completion games against Florida and Mississippi State, Mond now faces an Auburn defense that is one of the best in the country, allowing just 178 passing yards a game.
Worth noting: A&M averaged 255 passing yards per game last season but is now ranked No. 89 out of 129 FBS teams with 196 passing yards per game. How long will Sumlin wait to give Mond the hook for Starkel if things go south quickly?
2. The production of Jarrett Stidham on the road
The offensive production and responsibilities placed upon Stidham (right) on the road becomes restricted, either by design or by circumstance. But with Kamryn Pettway out, Stidham will need to take some of the offensive burden off the shoulders of standout Kerryon Johnson in the run game.
A&M is vulnerable against the pass, giving up 232 yards per game through the air. Over the past three games, the Aggies have limited teams to 131 passing yards per game, but that is because the run defense is allowing 234 per contest over the same span. Expect Stidham to be around 250 yards passing if all is going Auburn’s way.
3. Texas A&M’s rushing attack
Wanted posters of the Aggies’ missing run game are spreading throughout College Station. For the first five games of the season, A&M was punishing the opposition on the ground, averaging 256 yards per game. The decline has been dramatic, as the Aggies have averaged just 83 yards per game on the ground in the last three contests. In conference games, if Kellen Mond does not rush for at least 52 yards, his team loses. Trayveon Williams leads the team with 472 yards but has been held below 72 yards in each of his last six games.
Auburn is not the team you want to face if you're struggling to find a ground attack. The Tigers have the SEC’s fourth-best run defense and No. 24 overall, holding the opposition to 124 yards.
A&M could catch a break if Auburn starts looking ahead to next week’s home game against Georgia, but outscoring the Tigers will be a challenge. Barring a rash of Auburn turnovers or the Aggies adding scores on special teams or from their defense, how will A&M put points on the board? Auburn is lighting the board up for about 36 a game, while A&M has not scored more than 24 points in any of the last four conference games played. The Tigers have the nation’s No. 9 scoring defense, holding the opposition to 16 points each time out.
Since 2012, this series has alternated winners, with the visitor winning each time. The trend continues.
Prediction: Auburn 38, Texas A&M 17
— 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 and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.