Auburn and Texas A&M first took the field against one another back in 1911, with the Aggies winning 16-0 in Dallas. After that, the two programs did not meet again until 1986 (a 36-16 A&M win), then not for a third time until last season.
Now that Texas A&M has slid from the Big 12 and to the SEC West, the two should become fast acquaintances. The Aggies, on the strength of Johnny Manziel’s fast feet and strong arm, handily won the matchup a year ago, 63-21. The 2013 Auburn Tigers are a totally rebuilt squad, however, with a new coach, quarterback, and top 25 ranking.
Will all of that be enough to knock off the division’s biggest sensation and reaffirm the Tigers’ place atop the SEC West?
If first-year coach (and former offensive coordinator) Gus Malzahn’s game plan is any indication, Saturday’s affair will involve quite a bit of scoring. However, that does not necessarily mean all his team’s points will be scored through the air. Three junior running backs boast more than 300 rushing yards through Auburn’s first six games. Tre Mason picked up just where he left off last year, leading the team with 515 yards and seven touchdowns. Cameron Artis-Payne has compiled 389 and Corey Grant boasts 331. Each have collected three rushing scores apiece.
Then there is quarterback Nick Marshall. The former Georgia passer/defensive back dropped down to the JUCO level before resurfacing at Auburn. He has passed for 902 yards, rushed for 288, and has six total touchdowns to four picks.
These four offensive studs could make life extremely difficult for an A&M front seven that has struggled with stopping the run. In fact, the 1,207 yards allowed on the ground by the Aggies slot them at No. 100 in the nation. Its allowance of 5.75 yards per attempt stands even worse, at 118th in the country. Yikes.
Then again, it just doesn’t seem to matter when Johnny Football is involved. Whereas Marshall has been very good for Auburn, Manziel continues to be a revelation in College Station. Through six games, the reigning Heisman Trophy has already passed for more yards than he did as a freshman (1,835 to 1,680). He has also posted a higher completion percentage through the same amount of games as last year (73.2 to 67.3).
Where Alabama failed earlier in the year, does Auburn have the defensive front to give Manziel fits? Dee Ford, Gabe Wright and freshman Carl Lawson all tallied two sacks apiece in a surprising win over Ole Miss. They then held Western Carolina to three points on Saturday.
At the moment, it looks like Auburn has a gaggle of talent among front seven, while also trotting out high-caliber defensive backs to compete against the Aggies’ receiving corps. Robenson Therezie has recorded a team-high three interceptions. Jonathon Mincy, Ryan Smith and Jermaine Whitehead are all stars in the making at the position as well.
Can Mike Evans (737 rec. yards) get open against this group? If not, can Manziel find the likes of Derel Walker, Malcome Kennedy and Sabian Holmes?
On paper, it looks like Auburn has the type of skilled tools to give A&M a run for their money on Saturday. But will they actually put it together?
This is a team that only won three games a year ago. This year its only loss was to LSU. The Tigers included, Malzahn and Co. have not faced anyone nearly as talented as Manziel and the rest of coach Kevin Sumlin’s bunch.
Will they be able to hang around long enough, or put up enough points to pull off the upset?
We have no idea what the answers to any of these questions are, but perhaps you do.