It’s only natural that the murmurs and the backroom rumors begin after what happened last weekend. I personally didn’t take any pleasure in seeing us fail to score a touchdown in Tuscaloosa until late, and get blown out of the water from the start. Watching something like that never gives anyone any sick fun, and those that do enjoy it need to be on some kind of a list.
The only reason that an Auburn person may have enjoyed that game was if they had something against Gus Malzahn and wanted him to have another arrow in the back on the way out the door. We’ve all heard the chatter. Twitter “insiders”. Message board ruminations on Gus’ status. It gets a little tiring.
What’s always been the case, since the initial valleys of the Malzahn tenure, is that there’s been a moment. Maybe that moment is a month, or a game, or a drive. Whatever it turns out to be in the end, there’s a moment that Gus Malzahn has to overcome to buy himself a little more time, or a chance to turn the knob on his hotseat down to the left a bit.
Usually, it’s a loss to LSU, Georgia, or Alabama that turns out to be the water over the gunwale. Gus is set to bailing water, and an inordinate amount of times that fateful bucket back into the sea that stops the sinking has come against Texas A&M. Oftentimes it’s been the game that sets things in motion, whether good or bad.
First of all, Texas A&M was the opponent when Gus really got himself on the map in his inaugural year. Auburn was 5-1 heading into College Station to take on the reigning Heisman winner in John “Prolate Spheroid” Manziel, and the Tigers prevailed with a 45-41 victory. Auburn jumped form #24 to #11 in the rankings, and the storybook season was off and running.
A year later, it was lowly-ranked Texas A&M coming into Auburn to upset the apple cart and ruin Auburn’s Playoff chances with a 42-38 win on the Plains when the Tigers were ranked third in the land. Auburn repaid the favor the next season with a win that somewhat salvaged 2015, but the Aggies turned Sean White into a footstool in 2016 to flip fortunes again. Since then, however, it’s been an all-Auburn affair. In 2017, the Aggies were just a footnote on the fun end to the season. Kevin Sumlin was gone two weeks after getting blown out in College Station.
2018 saw Gus Malzahn win a “Gus-or-get-gone” game against Jimbo Fisher. Auburn erased a double-digit fourth quarter deficit and took down the Aggies 28-24. It was Gus’ first win against Jimbo, and the first meeting since that national title game in Pasadena. Auburn won, Gus stuck around.
Last year, the win over A&M was part of the fast start that vaulted Auburn into conversations as the nation’s best team. It’s weird how Auburn and Texas A&M, Gus Malzahn and Jimbo Fisher... two pairs that seem to have opposite fortunes and turn the forces of cosmic karma against one another.
However, it’s not like that’s going to happen this year. Jimbo is relatively safe. He’s got a top five team, with a loss only at Alabama, and with a little help he could find himself in the Playoff. Gus Malzahn is safe as well, for all of the reasons that everyone knows but doesn’t want to believe. Nobody’s paying that buyout this year, it’s horrible optics to pay that money for a football coach when a pandemic is going on. It’s not just the $20M+ either, it’s that plus assistant buyouts and whatever we’re going to pay for a new coach. You’re delusional if you think that any of that is going to happen. Besides — and the question has been asked a million times before — who do you hire?
So, here we are. We have a morning kickoff against Texas A&M. It’s, in all likelihood, a meaningless game. If Auburn wins, then the shot at a 7-3 season is there, and that’s a pretty solid year when you play an all SEC schedule. If you lose, then it’s 6-4 and you have to go into 2021 roaring. I mean, humming. A&M probably won’t make the big dance even if they finish and go 9-1, but they’re probably a New Year’s Six participant with either a 9-1 or an 8-2 mark. Today could end up being a completely meaningless game aside from the bragging.
We’d definitely love to keep Jimbo down, though.
SERIES HISTORY: Auburn and Texas A&M are tied 5-5 throughout the 10 games played between them all-time. The first meeting came in Dallas in 1911, a 16-0 A&M victory. The two didn’t meet again for 75 years, in Bo Jackson’s last game. Since then, we’ve met the Aggies each year since 2012, and the Tigers have three straight wins in the series.
LAST MEETING: Last year in College Station, Auburn controlled the meeting from the start with an Anthony Schwartz touchdown run on the first drive, and led 28-10 late before A&M started to make a furious rally in the fourth quarter. The Aggies posted 17 points in the final frame before Auburn closed out a 28-20 win to move to 4-0 on the year.
LAST WEEK: N/A for Auburn, while A&M beat LSU 20-7. The Aggies only posted 267 total yards and couldn’t seem to find any rhythm at all against the Bayou Bengals. Kellen Mond was just 11-34 for 105 yards in the win, while Isaiah Spiller carried the load with 141 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
KEYS FOR AUBURN:
- Get better on third downs, if not on defense overall. Oh boy, we got ripped up last week, but you could see the Kevin Steele plan. Try to take away one element of their offense. He chose the run, and Alabama burned us with the pass. We gave up one big run that turned out to be a killer, but overall we were solid. It was a reaction from the previous week against Tennessee when they gashed us on the ground (for more yards than Bama had overall, I might add). A&M can run the ball (see the Spiller note above), but Kellen Mond can be very, very bad. If Auburn can get that kind of a performance from him again, then however well the Aggies run may not matter. Still, A&M is 2nd in the nation in third down conversions, while Auburn is... 117th in the country on third down defense. Oh no.
- Find the home field magic again. Bo Nix has been fantastic at home recently. The two games against LSU and Tennessee were some of his best work as an Auburn quarterback. We should have the full complement of healthy receivers, and knowing that both Tank Bigsby and D.J. Williams are hobbled will likely turn the offensive staff into a more pass-oriented inclined bunch. We’ll see more of Mark-Antony Richards after his strong finish in Tuscaloosa, but they’ll probably lean on Bo and the receivers more than anything else in this one. A&M is a middle of the pack pass defense, and Auburn can take advantage of that. It certainly helps being at home.
- Remember 2013, and get angry. I want to see mad Gus. The man across the field is the reason that Gus doesn’t have a big, fat national championship ring as a head coach. Jimbo rode some of his predecessor’s talent to one of the most flawless seasons ever, and Auburn nearly upended it. Then, Jimbo abandoned Florida State (ya hate to see it, right?). Still, he’s shown that he’s the kind of coach who doesn’t fully seem to care. He’ll bolt. Beating Jimbo should fall under every Auburn’s fans interests. The Creeders, the Hard-liners, the anti-Gussers. We can all enjoy this. Just think back to how you felt around midnight that January evening in 2014, and project it onto the field tomorrow.