Auburn will host Texas A&M on Saturday in what is almost certain to be an entertaining game. Both teams have coaches who are under pressure to win big this season. Kevin Sumlin has an offense capable of putting up a lot of points, while Gus Malzahn’s Tigers appear to be much better on the defensive side this season. Both A&M and Auburn were considered “dark horses” to make noise in the SEC West this year.
The Aggies started things off on a positive note, taking down a ranked UCLA team 31-24 in week one. Then, last week, they blasted Prairie View A&M 67-0 and put up more than 670 yards of offense. Quarterback Trevor Knight has been doing just what A&M hoped he would, making plays through the air and on his feet.
In week one, Auburn gave Clemson all it could handle before coming up just short of an upset victory and losing 19-13. But the Tigers bounced back last week with a dominant 51-14 win over Arkansas State. Most importantly, they got back to the traditional Malzahn offense, rushing for a whopping 462 yards and three touchdowns against the Red Wolves.
Since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012, the road team has won this matchup every season. For some reason, Auburn plays better in College Station and Texas A&M plays better at Jordan-Hare. The Aggies won 63-21 in their first trip to Auburn in 2012, then followed that up with a 41-38 win in 2014, so they’re familiar with the venue. Of course, Auburn won last year’s meeting at Kyle Field 26-10.
Texas A&M at Auburn
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Auburn -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Auburn’s O-Line vs. A&M’s D-Line
This will be a major key in the outcome of the game. The Auburn offensive line was in top form last week against Arkansas State. The front line held its own against Clemson as well. Thus far, the Tigers’ offensive line, led by guard Alex Kozan, has allowed running backs to average more than 270 yards on the ground. Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway both had 100-yard performances last week. But that A&M front four is astonishingly good. Myles Garrett is a sure-fire first-round NFL draft pick and is nearly impossible to block. On the other side, the Aggies have Daeshon Hall, another future NFL player, wreaking havoc. And don’t forget about Daylon Mack and Kingsley Keke on the inside. This A&M defensive line rotation will be hard for Auburn to deal with, but the Tigers have to be able to block the Aggies’ linemen to sustain success in the running game. If the Tigers can't run the ball, it's going to be a long night.
2. Trevor Knight vs. Auburn Defense
For the Aggies to get going on offense, it all starts with the dual-threat quarterback. Knight had a strong performance in the opener against UCLA, throwing for 239 yards and rushing for two touchdowns. He followed that up last week with a 344-yard, three-touchdown passing effort against Prairie View. So far, Knight hasn’t made many mistakes and he’s done a good job of distributing the ball to one of the SEC’s best receiving corps. But he probably hasn’t seen a defense as good as Auburn’s either. The Tigers are far better this year with Carl Lawson on the field. He’s a game-changer. Just as Auburn’s O-line has its work cut out, so does A&M’s. Fending off Auburn’s front seven will be crucial to A&M’s offensive success. They have to allow Knight and those wide receivers time to make plays. If they do, Knight should find success against the Auburn secondary.
Some will tell you it doesn’t exist, but momentum is an obvious part of the game — and part of the season, too. The highs are high and the lows are low in college football. This game will do a lot for momentum for one of these teams. It’s not that either coach is necessarily on the verge of being fired, but we’ll just say there’s added pressure. The seat is getting warm. Malzahn could use a quality win over a ranked team to show the Auburn fans that this team is a real contender, as opposed to last year, when the Tigers fell far short of the expectations. Texas A&M, on the other hand, is used to starting the season on a positive note and then faltering once it gets into the thick of the SEC West schedule. This could give the Aggies a jump. Whichever team comes away victorious will look much better going forward.
This is a captivating matchup. Usually, that’s the case when these teams play. The coaching pressure, the offensive philosophies, the talented players in the trenches and the fact that the road team always wins makes this one really interesting. Breaking things down, it’s clear that Texas A&M has an advantage on offense. Sure, Auburn looked good running the ball last week but that was against Arkansas State. Yet it could also be argued that Auburn is better on defense. After all, the Tigers did hold Clemson, one of the nation’s most potent offenses, to only 19 points in week one. This should be an entertaining game, and it will be close, but I’m sticking with the road magic and the better quarterback. Trevor Knight and the Aggies' receivers will be too much for the Auburn defense to handle.