By Scott Crumbly
SEC Digital Network
ORLANDO, Fla. – Texas A&M handled Auburn 63-21 in last year’s meeting between the Aggies and Tigers, but neither team can take much from that game into this year’s clash in College Station on Saturday. Under the leadership of head coach Gus Malzahn, the 2013 Tigers have a new look and a new approach that has the Aggies taking notice.
“They're very different from the team we played last year,” A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said of Malzahn’s squad. “They’ve got a lot of energy. In some respects, it’s a lot like where we were last year. They've got a new coach. They've got new players. […] That shows up, not only in their record, but in their approach as well.”
The new approach on the Plains has worked wonders so far this season, flipping Auburn’s record from 1-5 at this point a year ago to 5-1 heading into Kyle Field this weekend. When one examines the numbers, the difference is night and day.
Last year through six games, Auburn was averaging 287 yards of offense per game on 4.73 yards per play. The Tigers were averaging 125 yards per game on the ground and another 162 per game through the air while being outscored by opponents 26.5 to 16.1 per outing.
This season, AU is operating like a well-oiled machine. The Tigers are racking up 476 yards per game on offense with a 6.77-yard per play clip. The passing numbers are up to 187 yards per game, while the running game has exploded to 287 yards per contest, tops in the Southeastern Conference. Halfway through the regular season, Auburn is outscoring its opponents 34.3 to 18.8 on average.
The Aggie defense will have to buckle down to slow Auburn’s potent rushing attack, as A&M has not been strong against the run this season. The Ags are currently allowing over 200 rushing yards per game, which bodes well for the Tigers’ primary running backs Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne.
But just as the A&M ‘D’ will have its hands full stopping the Auburn attack, the Tigers must bring their A-game to contain Johnny Manziel and the Aggie offense, which is leading the SEC in total offense, yards per play and scoring offense.
Manziel has been brilliant in his sophomore campaign, once again sitting atop the league’s total offense rankings and cranking out touchdowns through the air and on the ground. While Auburn brings the league’s most prolific rushing attack to town on Saturday, the Aggies will try to counter with the conference’s top-ranked passing attack. In fact, the Aggies have not been held below 400 yards of offense in their last 18 outings, the second longest streak in the FBS.
The Tigers hope to set the tone early on Saturday after faltering in their first road game against a top-10 team this season at LSU.
"This is the second Top 10 opponent on the road," Malzahn said this week. "We didn't handle ourselves very well the first time, at least the first quarter. We got in bind and played uphill the rest of the game. Hopefully, we'll respond better this road trip.”
Both teams enter the game with one loss overall, each of which came in conference play. The two squads still have SEC Western Division aspirations and sit within striking distance, but with Alabama still undefeated and LSU also still in good position, the outcome of this one will have a significant impact on the race to reach Atlanta.
Kickoff from College Station is slated for 3:30 p.m. Eastern, 2:30 Central.
Saturday’s clash between Texas A&M and Auburn will mark the fourth meeting between the programs…The Aggies have won all three previous meetings with AU…It will be the first time that the Tigers have played at Kyle Field…The schools have faced off in the state of Texas twice previously, with both of those contests taking place in Dallas…The first meeting took place in 1911, with A&M downing Auburn 16-0 in the Cotton Bowl…The last meeting prior to 2012 was in the 1986 Cotton Bowl.
2012 – Texas A&M 63, Auburn 21 (Auburn, Ala.)
1986 – Texas A&M 36, Auburn 16 (Dallas, Texas)
1911 – Texas A&M 16, Auburn 0 (Dallas, Texas)
A LOOK AT THE LAST MEETING
No. 20 Texas A&M followed the lead of redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel to an emphatic 63-21 win over Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Manziel was sensational against the Tigers, racking up 350 yards of total offense and accounting five total touchdowns, three of which came through the air. Texas A&M wasted no time seizing control, scoring six touchdowns in the first half for a 42-7 lead at the break. As a team, the Aggies churned out 352 rushing yards in the win and they converted on nine of their 11 third downs. Ryan Swope went for 140 receiving yards and two touchdowns for A&M, while Tre Mason picked up 80 yards and a score on the ground in the loss for Auburn.
PLAYMAKERS – OFFENSE
Texas A&M – Johnny Manziel, Quarterback, Redshirt Sophomore
The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner has continued to dazzle this season, ranking among the nation’s top five players in total offense. Through six games, Manziel leads the SEC in total offense with 377 yards per game, maintaining a 60-yard per game lead in that category over Aaron Murray in the conference. Johnny Football has churned out 2,262 yards of offense through the first half of the regular season and has accounted for 19 total touchdowns (14 passing, five rushing). He’s had three outings with 459 yards of offense or more, including a 562-yard performance against Alabama and a 459-yard day in a gritty effort against Ole Miss on the road. The Auburn defense, which ranks fifth in the SEC in yards per play allowed (5.46), will have its work cut out in College Station against Manziel, who is averaging a stellar 9.23 yards per play by himself to lead the Texas A&M offense to the top of the conference and sixth overall in college football.
Auburn – Tre Mason, Running Back, Junior
Auburn enters this weekend’s game as the leading rushing team in the SEC and Mason is the Tigers’ go-to back, possessing a combination of speed and explosiveness that makes him a great fit in Gus Malzahn’s offense. Through six games, Mason is averaging 5.6 yards per carry and has found the end zone seven times, and he is the league’s sixth-leading rusher in terms of yards per game (85.8). Along with fellow junior Cameron Artis-Payne, Mason is an integral part of a potent one-two combo in the Auburn backfield that has combined for over 900 yards, 10 scores and a 6.2-yard per carry average. Artis-Payne provides a nice change up for the Tigers and is currently averaging over seven yards per carry with three touchdowns on 54 attempts. The Aggies have struggled to stop the run this season, ranking last in the conference in yards per rush allowed (5.75), so stopping Mason and his comrade Artis-Payne will be a priority at Kyle Field on Saturday afternoon.
PLAYMAKERS – DEFENSE
Texas A&M – Defensive Front Seven
Although Texas A&M sits at 5-1, the Aggie defense has not played particularly well this season: The Aggies are near the bottom of the SEC and in the lower half of the FBS against the run and the pass. The front seven will have to come to play against Auburn, which features a formidable rushing attack and a stout offensive line that has allowed just four sacks in 2013, the fewest in the conference. The loss of Demontre Moore, who notched 12.5 sacks for A&M in 2012, has been evident as the Ags have only recorded five sacks thus far in the year, and no player has recorded more than one individual sack. Nick Marshall has played fairly well at quarterback for Auburn in his first year of action, but generating some pressure and limiting the run game would go a long way for the Aggies on Saturday. With a high-powered offense on the other side, A&M doesn’t need to pitch a shutout, but better play up front would certainly be welcomed by the coaching staff.
Auburn – Robenson Therezie, Defensive Back, Junior
Auburn only managed to record two interceptions in 2012, which ranked last in the SEC. In 2013, safety Robenson Therezie has recorded three interceptions by himself to help the Tigers snag seven so far this season. Working as a hybrid safety/outside linebacker, the junior from Miami, Fla., has adapted well to defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson’s base 4-2-5 system. His pick-six in the first quarter against Ole Miss was a huge momentum swing for the Tigers in the eventual eight-point win, and he grabbed two interceptions in the season-opening win over Washington State. Despite Therezie’s contributions, Auburn has not been dominant on defense and enters Saturday’s showdown with Johnny Manziel and the Aggies allowing 6.7 yards per pass attempt. As a key cog in Johnson’s defensive scheme, Therezie will be a player to watch this weekend as the Tigers try to slow down the explosive offensive attack of Kevin Sumlin’s team.
• Auburn is ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press poll this week, the Tigers’ first appearance in the rankings since Nov. 12, 2011.
• Texas A&M is 4-3 against teams ranked in the top-25 in either poll since Kevin Sumlin became head coach in College Station. Sumlin is 7-4 for his career in such matchups.
• This will be the first game this season in which Auburn wears its road white jerseys, the longest stretch since a seven-game stretch from 1981-1982.
• Texas A&M is three wins shy of 700 all-time. The Aggies would be the 18th FBS program to break the 700-win plateau, and the sixth program from the SEC (Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, LSU and Auburn are the others).
• Auburn, Air Force, Minnesota and Arkansas State are the only teams nationally to have four difference 100-yard rushers this season. No other SEC school has produced more than two.
• Texas A&M has produced over 400 yards of offense in 18 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in the FBS and a school record for the Aggies.