Aggies, Tigers renew acquaintances with both teams just one win away from bowl eligibility
College football fans are in for a treat on Saturday when the No. 20 Texas A&M Aggies (5-3, 3-2 SEC) square off against the Auburn Tigers (5-3, 2-3) at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The SEC West showdown pits two tenacious defenses lining up against two differing styles of offenses with both teams aiming for a strong finish to the 2018 season.
The Aggies head to Auburn seeking to rebound from a disappointing 28-13 road loss in Week 9 to Mississippi State. Confronting an angry Bulldogs squad, A&M played from behind the entire game, giving up two fourth-quarter Nick Fitzgerald touchdown runs in the defeat. MSU’s defense was stifling, limiting the Aggies to 293 total yards of offense keeping the ground attack quiet with 61 net yards.
Auburn put the skids on a two-game losing streak last weekend, upending Ole Miss 31-16 on the road. The Tigers controlled the game with their offense, steamrolling the Rebels for 484 total yards, with 269 yards coming on the ground thanks to JaTarvious Whitlow’s 19-carry, 170-yard performance. The usually tight Tigers defense was worked over by quarterback Jordan Ta’amu for 324 passing yards and a touchdown. When it counted, Auburn was able to keep Ole Miss out of the end zone, forcing the Rebels to settle for three field goals while blocking a 40-yard attempt in the first quarter.
Texas at Auburn
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 3 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Auburn -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Auburn’s rushing attack
When the Tigers' offense is working as designed, the ground game is eating up big chunks of yards and clock and opening up the passing lanes. JaTarvious Whitlow got a season-high 170 yards against Ole Miss, but it may have come with a cost. The freshman tailback is reportedly nursing a shoulder and leg injury, leaving his status for Saturday’s game questionable. If Whitlow is limited or unable to go, this would put the ball back into Kam Martin’s hands. Martin has been a forgotten weapon in Auburn’s offensive game plan over the last three games.
Even though A&M allowed a season-high 143 rushing yards against MSU, the Aggies' run defense is still among the best in the country, ranked fifth (89 ypg) in FBS.
2. A&M RB Trayveon Williams
Trayveon Williams had his worst performance of the season against MSU’s fierce front seven, toting the pigskin 10 times for 26 yards. SEC games are won in the trenches, and some semblance of a run game is needed to keep drives going. Adding to the run game’s woes, guard Jared Hocker is expected to miss this week's game due to an unspecified injury. If A&M cannot run the ball, the Aggies will have a hard time claiming a victory.
The Auburn defense has shown signs of wear and tear, but statistically the run defense is very good. Auburn is holding the opposition to 126 yards per game on the ground, ranked No. 27 nationally.
3. QB Kellen Mond vs. QB Jarret Stidham
On paper, A&M dual threat Kellen Mond and Auburn field general Jarrett Stidham line up evenly with plus and minuses each way. Mond has thrown for 2,032 yards with 11 touchdowns but has tossed six picks and taken 25 sacks. Stidham has just one 300-yard passing game this season, against Tennessee, and has a season-best two touchdown passes in two separate games — Southern Miss and Tennessee. Both quarterbacks are completing 60 percent of their pass attempts.
Auburn has proven to be slightly better against the pass, with the opposition netting 223 yards per game verses A&M’s 242 yards. The Tigers pass defense is slipping after giving up back-to-back 300-plus yards against Tennessee and Ole Miss. A&M’s defense has been steady against aerial attacks but has not been challenged by a true passing attack since playing Alabama on Sept. 22, when they gave up 415 yards and four touchdowns.
There may not be two teams more evenly matched, with capable defenses and guided by well-respected offensive minds. Ground games for both teams can be kept in check with passing attacks that ebb and flow without great consistency. The momentum of this game can swing play by play for all four quarters.
This is a must-win game for Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. An Auburn victory puts the team in line for a bowl berth, but a loss could mean a six-win season with a “gimme” game on Nov. 17 against Liberty plus trips to Athens and Tuscaloosa. This is A&M’s third consecutive and final regular-season road game before returning to College Station for a three-game homestand.
Prediction: Auburn 27, Texas A&M 24
— 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.