It’s amazing how a football season changes. At one time, Texas A&M looked like potentially Auburn’s toughest game this year. Now, the Aggies come to Jordan-Hare losers of three straight SEC games. They narrowly escaped with a victory over Louisiana Monroe last week. To top it off, a true freshman will start his first conference game in Auburn on Saturday.
Though all signs point to a somewhat easy Auburn victory, this college football season has taught me otherwise. You simply can’t assume easy wins, especially in the SEC West.
Auburn must come down from the euphoric victory in Oxford last week and focus on the Aggies, resisting the temptation to look ahead to a showdown in Athens next week. One good thing for the Tigers is that this is the final SEC home game for an impressive group of seniors. I expect them to remain focused on the task at hand, which is to "survive and advance."
Auburn’s offense appears to be hitting his stride. Nick Marshall is playing better than he ever has, and he has a multitude of effective receivers. Cameron Artis-Payne now leads the SEC in rushing, in large part thanks to the development and cohesion of the newest set of five offensive linemen.
A&M may be slightly better on defense this year compared to the horrendous 2013 unit, but they still are not impressive. They’ve given up at least 28 points in every conference game and are vulnerable both on the ground and through the air. If Auburn is focused and executing, it’ll be hard for the Aggies to hold up.
On the other side of the ball, Kyle Allen is trying to jump start the Aggie offense. Kenny Hill is now suspended and was benched before that. With a new quarterback, Sumlin faces the dilemma of keeping their up tempo style or simplifying things for the young freshman. Last week, the Aggies looked like anything but a Kevin Sumlin coached team, featuring a power running game with multiple tight ends at times to defeat ULM.
This game presents an opportunity for Auburn’s defense to get back on track. Part of their recent struggles can be explained by facing two top five opponents on the road and Steve Spurrier’s impressive attack, but there have also been many communication and personnel breakdowns, especially in the secondary. The defensive line and linebackers are playing well against the run, and slowly starting to create more pressure. Can the Aggies exploit Auburn’s struggles on the back end?
Gus Malzahn hasn’t lost a game at home yet in his Auburn head coaching career. To keep it that way, here are three keys:
- Demoralize the Aggies with the run game – I’m not sure Auburn can reach 2013 levels with our running game, but with two more major road tests looming, it’d be great to build on the current momentum with our ground game. The offensive line gets better each week, while Marshall and Artis-Payne provide plenty of firepower with the ball in their hands.
- Early defensive stops – Nobody wants to see another shootout like the South Carolina game. Don’t allow the talented freshman quarterback to gain any confidence. A performance similar to what Auburn produced against Brandon Harris of LSU would do the trick.
- Solid tackling – Auburn’s open field tackling in the first month of the season was the best I have seen it in almost a decade. In recent weeks, partially due to elite talent, the tackling has become more suspect. A&M has plenty of playmakers in the open field, so Auburn needs to limit the big plays and get back to tackling well before facing Todd Gurley and others.
What are your thoughts on this weekend’s matchup? War Eagle!