Auburn and Texas A&M have a lot in common.
Both schools have an agricultural and mechanical background. Both schools have a rich military history among alumni.
Both Auburn and Texas A&M are perceived to be the “other school” in the state.
Both schools have an exciting offense with a mobile QB who has the ability to break off a big run at any second.
This isn’t 2010?
The 2012 versions of the Texas A&M and the Auburn football teams could not be more polar opposites.
Especially the offenses.
The top-ranked offense in the SEC in nearly every category will march into Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday evening to matchup against a team that ranks near the bottom of the conference in every defensive category.
By no surprise, Auburn is the latter.
Auburn would be more than happy to never see a spread offense for the rest of the year; it has struggled against the spread offenses of Clemson, Mississippi State, Louisiana-Monroe, Arkansas and Ole Miss.
The Texas A&M offense is led by its breakout redshirt freshman, Johnny Manziel.
He is affectionately known as "Johnny Football" to the Aggie faithful, and he has been nearly impossible to stop through the first half of the season.
Manziel is third in the nation (best in the conference) in total offense. He ranks 29th in the nation (second in the conference) in rushing.
Some have even compared his dual-threat abilities to someone by the last name of Newton.
Aside from Manziel, the Aggie offense is a very high-tempo type of offense. The Aggies ran 94 plays against LSU.
It is averaging 81 plays per game.
That is bad news for an Auburn team that has worn down in the fourth quarter against offenses that have ran fewer plays than that.
To prepare for that, Gene Chizik has had his team practicing at a 15-second-per-play pace in practice.
Chizik said #Auburn will face two sets of offenses running huddles at the same time in practice all week, run a play every 15-17 seconds— Joel A. Erickson (@JoelAEricksonAU) October 23, 2012
So how can an Auburn defense that has struggled against spread-based offenses all season slow down Manziel and the Texas A&M offense on Saturday?
It doesn’t have to look much further than what LSU did to him last week.
Manziel had his worst game of 2012 by far against LSU last Saturday in College Station. The Aggies were defeated by LSU, 24-19, as Manziel was 29-of-56 through the air for 276 yards, including three interceptions.
On the ground, he had 17 rushes for a net gain of 27 yards.
It looked like it was going to be another All-Star performance for Manziel on the first two drives. He led the Aggies to 24 plays, 141 yards and nine points on the first two drives combined against LSU.
After that, the LSU defense buckled down and made the adjustments required.
What LSU did so successfully after the first two drives is play solid nickel or dime coverage in the secondary and supplement the four-man rush up front with LB blitzes.
There had to be good discipline from the LSU DEs to not get too far upfield and open up running lanes for Manziel, especially the left DE.
Manziel likes to scramble to his right.
In this play above, the LSU DE is rushing Manziel the way that he must be rushed to be contained. On this play, he tries to scramble inside but can't. He is forced to the outside, where a host of Tigers are able to sack him for a loss.
The Auburn DEs' ability to keep the outside shoulder free and keep Manziel in the pocket or flushed to the outside will be crucial if the Auburn defense will have success.
If Manziel sees an open running lane, it could spell trouble for the Auburn defense.
"It was a difficult task. He's very athletic and very fast. He did a lot of stuff with his feet. We just set out to keep him contained in the pocket and put some hats on him," said LSU DE Barkevious Mingo (via Randy Rosetta, The Times-Picayune).
Are you listening Corey Lemonier, Dee Ford and others?
Another factor that played into the success of the LSU defense against Manziel was that the secondary was disciplined enough to stay on their man longer than normal. As Auburn fans know well, mobile QBs make plays last longer.
When the DBs see Manziel begin to scramble, they cannot leave their man, because he is not afraid to sling the ball downfield while running.
Manziel has thrown all six of his interceptions in the last three games. Somehow, the Auburn defense only has one interception all year.
Manziel will force throws when pressured, and the DBs need to be in a good position to possibly force a turnover.
Who to watch
Am I allowed to say anyone besides Manziel?
The last QB on the grass at Pat Dye field with his playmaking ability was a man named Cameron Newton.
What Auburn has to do
The most important matchup will be Auburn’s DEs against the speed of Manziel.
If Lemonier, Ford, et al can maintain good position on the outside, while still crushing the pocket around Manziel, the defense can have some success.
If the DEs get too far upfield, running lanes will open up and Auburn defenders will have little chance of tackling Manziel in open space.
Auburn can also use a spy on Manziel with a LB who has a lot of speed like LB Daren Bates or MLB Cassanova McKinzy.
I expect Auburn to try and emulate what was so successful for LSU last week.
Nickel and dime coverages while the LBs and DLs show different blitzes. There were times when LSU would drop the DTs back in coverage while both LBs blitzed.
Auburn may not have the personnel to do things as complex as LSU did last week, but Brian VanGorder does have complex defensive schemes and blitzes in his back pocket that he can throw at offensive coordinator Kliff Klingsbury and the A&M offense.
The DBs must also play disciplined and aggressive.
Auburn has had little success in nickel coverage this year. Manziel will make some ill-timed throws.
Can the Auburn DBs take advantage and finally get an interception?
Auburn will undoubtedly have its hands full on Saturday in Jordan-Hare. Johnny Football and Texas A&M will look to make a big splash on its first road trip to the state of Alabama as a member of the SEC.
Auburn has shown flashes of great potential this year on defense. Can it put a complete game together on Saturday?
It will have to if it wants to spring an unlikely upset against the Aggies.