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Staff Picks - #8 Auburn @ #16 Texas A&M

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Road underdogs, time to kick this season off.

NCAA Football: Kent State at Auburn Julie Bennett-USA TODAY Sports

So, we’re 3-0. Cool. Couple of wins over Kent State and Tulane followed the big victory over Oregon, but now it’s time for SEC play.

Candidly, the College and Mag group chat has been nervous this week. There were times when we didn’t have a ton of confidence in the Tigers as they head out to College Station. However, if you think we’re not collectively Barning Hard, you’re sadly, sadly mistaken.

#8 Auburn @ #16 Texas A&M (-4) (O/U 48)

Here we go, folks. Auburn’s first real test. Yes, the opening week battle in Arlington mattered, and Oregon is certainly a great team that tested Auburn to its limits. However, nothing matters more than SEC wins, and nothing prepares a true freshman quarterback for his first game in a hostile environment. Bo Nix will be behind an offensive line that may not have great chemistry. He’ll have to overcome communication issues. I would expect a few false starts and delay of game penalties.

Auburn has one of the best defenses in the country, including (probably) the best defensive line. Kellen Mond had a QBR of 73 and 87.3 against Lamar and Texas State, respectively. However, against Clemson, that number dropped all the way to 59.8. I don’t think he’ll ever get comfortable enough to throw with ease against our line. However, this take depends on the health of Derrick Brown. Auburn’s superstar, future first rounder needs to have an impact tomorrow night. Auburn will need him at 100%. Auburn 30, Texas A&M 28.

-Josh Dub

It’s a huge weekend for both Auburn and Texas A&M. Auburn looks to silence the many critics from the fanbase while A&M looks to avoid it’s 2nd loss after 4 weeks. This is the first road environment that Bo Nix will face as a collegiate. We saw signs of the running back being more efficient last week but can they do that against an SEC defense? Will the Offensive Line be able to block for Boobee Whitlow, Bo Nix and others? On defense, I would expect Derrick Brown to play but if not, Tyrone Truesdell has stepped up big time along with Marlon Davidson and others on the D-Line. There’s no Trayveon Williams at Running Back but there is Kendrick Rogers at Wide Receiver. How will Iggy and Roger McCreary matchup on him and the other Aggie receivers? Clemson held them to 10 points and I think Auburn can do just enough to come out of College Station with a huge win! Auburn 27 Texas A&M 21.

-Will McLaughlin

In my pretend expert opinion, there are 3 swing games that will determine whether this is a good, average or bad year for the Tigers

@ A&M

@ UF

vs UGA

As of today, it’s hard to feel great about Auburn’s chances winning on the road in Baton Rouge or beating Bama. That’s not to say they can’t or won’t do either. It’s just recognizing that AU hasn’t won in Death Valley in 20 years and Alabama’s offense having the pieces to exploit some vulnerabilities in Auburn’s defense. The rest of the games SHOULD be wins even if they end up closer than we like. That leaves those 3 contests as vitally important.

Go 3-0 and all of a sudden those other two look very winnable or at least you got a 10 win regular season. 2-1 is what I am expecting which would likely lead to a 9+ win regular season giving AU chance at a 10th win in a bowl. 1-2 is danger zone and puts Auburn in the worst place. A coach sitting on possibly another 8-4/7-5 season with a buyout that isn’t necessarily reasonable to make a move on. 0-3 and it’s time to fire up the coaching hot boards.

As for A&M, this game holds similar importance. Only the Aggies and Gamecocks can challenge Auburn’s claim for toughest schedule in America. A&M has already gone on the road and lost to Clemson. They still have to host Alabama and finish the season with road games in Athens and Baton Rouge. Lose this game and Jimbo is staring down the barrel of a 7-5 year at best. They didn’t pay him that ungodly contract for more Sumlin success.

All that to say, I expect both teams to empty every round they have in their chamber to ensure they come away with a victory. Gus has undoubtedly put some things on film to setup big plays down the road. Pull em out now if you got em. Starting the SEC gauntlet with this type of a win can be the energy shot you need to go onto have a special season. Lose and you have to wonder if you got what it takes to compete against the best this season.

Matchup wise, I expect this game to be dominated by defense. A&M and Auburn both have outstanding front 7s who excel at smothering the opposing rushing attack. The Aggies are down their starting RB, have an inconsistent QB, some questions still on the offensive line and a case of the dropsies at wideout. Auburn has an inconsistent OL, a true freshman QB starting on road for the first time, questions at running back and could be down their best wide receiver. If either team reaches 30 points I will be shocked.

Before the season I had this penciled in as a loss. First road game for Bo vs a defense that dominated most of last year’s matchup before Jarrett Stidham caught fire. Add in Gus’s general struggles to be ranked teams on the road and it’s easy to see why the Aggies would be the favorite.

BUT WE BARN HARD HERE DAMNIT

Until this team falls on their face I am going to keep believing. I actually trust Bo more than Mond in the big moments and I think Auburn’s defense will prove more elite than the Aggies’. Nix leads another remarkable 4th quarter drive to put AU up late and the defense stands tall to seal the victory. AU escapes College Station with a very important first SEC win. Auburn 23 A&M 20.

-AU Nerd

At first blush, I really don’t like this game. Yeah, yeah, true freshman, first road start, salty d-line vs French Army-esque Offensive line trying to protect said freshman, blah blah blah. The main thing I will be watching for is to see if Seth Williams and Derrick Brown are both in the game and can give meaningful minutes to both sides of the ball. I am going to go against my better judgement because I want to believe and get hurt again. Auburn straight up and take the under. Tigers 24-16.

-Drew Mac

There are so many unknowns for Auburn in this game. Do Derrick Brown, Seth Williams, and Tega play? Do none of them play? You could argue those three guys are the most irreplaceable players on the roster, and Auburn will need all three of them to win. Is Bo Nix ready to stand up to an SEC pass rush? Oregon gave him trouble a few weeks ago in his first career start, but A&M will probably do a better job of shutting down the run game than the Ducks, putting the offense in Bo’s hands. Ultimately, this is an early season elimination game for these two teams. The winner will cement themselves as a contender in the West with LSU and Alabama, and the loser will more than likely become the #4 team in the division. And trust me, either team that loses this game will have a restless fan base.

I’m a firm believer in Auburn’s defense right now. The few busts they’ve made in the last two games have been when the secondary is over-aggressive in chasing interceptions, something I think will begin to pay off soon. Mond has thrown a pick in every game so far this season, and if the defense can pull one in with good field position, that will be the difference in the game. Otherwise, Arryn Siposs will have his hands (legs?) full trying to win a punting battle with A&M punter Braden Mann, a battle I’m not sure we can win. Auburn’s not losing to Aggy, though. 24-14 Tigers.

-Ryan Sterritt

This feels like an impossible pick. My head is telling me one thing and my heart is pulling hard for another. I look at this game as a continuation of what I’ve said for the first three games of the year…what Auburn does will dictate victory or defeat.

Texas A&M is a quality opponent with a QB in his second year of a complex, successful system that is known for one thing above all others…getting that QB paid in the NFL, deserving or not. Kellen Mond is a far cry from some of Jimbo’s better QB’s at FSU, but he is absolutely capable of making enough throws to beat some of the better teams in the SEC. A&M’s rushing attack has taken a hit with the loss of Vernon Jackson, who is likely to never play football again. I expect A&M to still attempt to establish the run early, and build in the play-action game and 3-5 Mond runs to attempt to keep the Auburn defense honest. I have no idea what to expect from A&M’s defense aside from a strong inside presence at the line of scrimmage. GOOD THING RUNNING INSIDE HASN’T BEEN A PROBLEM FOR US OR ANYTHING!

Here’s where I’m at with my head…Auburn’s rushing attack is mindlessly frustrating to watch. The play-calling has been fine in my opinion, it’s simply that the execution has been lacking due to proper personnel to run even the Inside Zone, a staple of Gus’ offense. Bo Nix has been coached to not read the entire field by this point as we’re trying to bring him along at a pace that limits his ability to go full Favre and force throws that can cost us a game. And Auburn’s defense has struggled mightily early on in games against a scripted offense. This game is on the road in an environment that is far less daunting than people like to recognize because it’s not as loud as you’d think. Playing at A&M is like playing at Arkansas or Alabama. They get loud but they don’t stay loud. I’m never going to be accused of being totally objective, but if I was going with my head I would take A&M 24 Auburn 16, as I expect our offensive line to struggle and Bo Nix to have to put the team on his back yet again. He’s capable, but it’s starting to ask a lot of a true freshman if he doesn’t have any help on the ground.

Fortunately for you, dear reader, and for my sanity’s sake, I’m not picking with my head. Reason being is that there are so many keys to this game that can very easily push us over the top that my heart believes we will check off just enough of these boxes to get the W. That being said, here are Auburn’s keys to victory:

Rush for 150 yards or more – Just give us something of a push in the middle, OL, and we dictate this game.

The presence of a true alternate every down back in DJ Williams. Whitlow needs some help, and DJ is the best shot we have to add a spark in the ground game. I’d like to see him get 5-8 carries to spell Boobie and give us more than a change of pace back there.

Defense needs to impose their will up front early, play smarter on the screens, and get off the field on 3rd down…especially early in each half so that we force the Aggie sideline to get off the script and actually work to sustain drives. If we win battles with our defense early, it’s going to be a good day.

Give Roger McCreary some snaps in place of Javaris Davis on the outside. He’s earned it and has been the more consistent of the two these past 3 weeks.

GIVE US SOME HANG TIME…punt coverage is poor. Don’t give them a chance.

Involve Joey Gatewood in the game with the 1’s and LET HIM THROW 2-3 PASSES. Bo is our starter. That’s not going to change and I don’t think it should. But Joey provides us a spark and gives us something on the ground that can extend plays/drives. He needs to be more involved on Saturday.

Anthony Schwartz needs to be targeted in multiple routes this week to free up some double coverage on Seth and/or Eli. Also, if there was ever a time for a crossing pattern to rejoin the Auburn offense, this weekend would be a good time to start.

Don’t put out kicker into a position where he’s kicking outside of 45 yards. With this defense, a punt to pin Mond and Co. deep is not the worst option.

HANG ON TO THE DADGUM FOOTBALL FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE BOOBIE I CAN’T TAKE SEEING YOU PUT ANOTHER ONE ON THE GROUND OR ELSE I MAY LOSE MY MIND.

Honestly, if Auburn checks off boxes 1 & 3 from above they win this game. It’ll be close, but that’s what has to happen for us to get out of Aggieland with a W and set this season up for some real, legitimate hope. I’m not ready to give validity to tweets from a literal crazy person out in California about a member of the Board of Trustees. I’m not going to get into a mindset of thinking Auburn needs to make a change. I believe this program is doing the best it can on the field, and I’m going to believe that our personnel issues are fixable, both in this season and beyond. This football season is too dang young for all of that negative nonsense. Furthermore, the grass on this side of things is greener than some want to admit. We’ve never lose in College Station, and that enabling, lying, snake of a head coach over there may be getting rich off of A&M’s stupidity, but it sure doesn’t mean he should have another day of happiness at our expense. We’re going to win this game and it is going to give us some serious momentum to survive the next few weeks. Auburn 24 Texas A&M 20.

-Josh Black

This is the first(or second if you count Oregon) in a long line of real tests Auburn will face this season. If they come out of this one unscathed, it will say a lot about the TIgers’ prospects for the rest of the season. I say this not because I think Texas A&M is particularly good, but because they have a strength (defensive line) that is matched up against our biggest weakness (offensive line). This is also a huge test for Bo Nix. Kyle Field is loud. Not nearly as loud and wild as advertised (I was there in 2013, in field level, in their student section, so I feel pretty comfortable with my sample size) but still loud. This could be pretty daunting for a true freshman. However, Bo is not your average true freshman and I think he goes on the road and continues to show the unflappability he’s shown all year and the good guys get the win. Tigers 28 - Fake Military Bros 17.

-AU Chief

Gus’ record in “big games” is something his fiercest detractors (read:idiots) usually bring up. The problem is, the goalpost of “big game” is often moved after Gus wins the game. This is a big game. It’s a big game just like Oregon was a big game. Win this game and the probability that Auburn wins 9 or more games this season goes way up. I’m not josh dub, but I’m pretty sure that’s true. If Auburn loses this game, it will need to beat some teams a sight better than the aggies to get to 9 wins. Guys, 9-10 wins is the goal. An unbiased observer would look at this Auburn schedule and think a 9-10 win season would earn a parade through Toomer’s corner. If Gus goes 2-0 through the first two tests of this young season then buddy we have a chance for this to be a special year.

I think Aggy will score on us. Not like 40 points or anything, but I don’t see us shutting them down to two scoring drives or anything like that. Mond is real good. He’s gonna get his. Often times, you have to take away the weaker aspect of a team in order to limit the damage the stronger aspect can do to you. This is one of those times. If Auburn can’t completely shut down Aggy’s ability to run the ball at all, making them one-dimensional, then I think Auburn can score enough on offense to keep up.

On offense, I think this is the game Bo Nix is let loose. Or at least I hope it is. Auburn can’t afford to get one dimensional itself, and Bo Nix finding five or six different receivers this game might be what Auburn needs. I hope he can do it. I hope he’s allowed to do it.

I’m picking Auburn because I genuinely think the defense is great and because I hate the aggies. Auburn 30 Aggy 23.

-Son of Crow

I think Auburn has more talent and has the best “group” in the matchup (their defensive line). The reason’s for concern is whether or not Auburn’s running game is really coming around, and Auburn starting a true freshman quarterback. I think Gus keeps things close to the vest, leans on the running game and a (LORD I HOPE) improved punt game than the first two weeks. If this goes over, it’s because Auburn had to cut the offense loose and the defense didn’t get enough stops. Auburn 23, Texas A&M 17. (Auburn wins and covers, UNDER)

-James Jones

In much the same way that Oregon was kind of our first test of the year, it’s so hard to put a ton of stock into first games. Last year, we beat Washington and lost a couple weeks later to LSU. This A&M team isn’t as good as that LSU team, but we’re on the road this weekend. There are still a ton of questions about Auburn, and I don’t know if we’ve seen ample answers through the previous two games, wherein I’m positive that Gus Malzahn sharpie-d out like 95% of his playbook because he knew he wouldn’t need it.

We need to just flip to the back half of it for tomorrow, and let Bo run the dipsy-doodle and the kitchen sink and the razzmatazz zoomberry express. If he makes a mistake, it means he learns now instead of later. It’ll likely happen anyway, so let’s get it out of the way, and who knows... it could end up great. I’m hoping that we’ve been getting him used to the college game and now we’re going to let him show what he can really do with the full capability of this offense. Of course, the offensive line and skill position injuries could be a problem. Ugh.

Defensively, I don’t think Clemson’s defense is much better (if at all) than ours, so I’m confident that we can hold A&M to two touchdowns or less. I think the offense gets two or more touchdowns, and as much as Ryan Sterritt loves Aggie punter Braden Mann (weird idol, Ryan), I like Christian Tutt more. We get a special teams touchdown and a couple field goals, and it’s a more comfortable win than we expect. Auburn to 4-0 with a 27-14 win.

-Jack Condon