Texas A&M Football: Auburn's Spread Gives Beleaguered Defense a Break

Jim SullivanFeatured ColumnistOctober 15, 2013

OXFORD, MS - OCTOBER 12:  Linebacker Darian Claiborne #48 of the Texas A&M Aggies celebrates after intercepting a pass during their game against the Ole Miss Rebels on October 12, 2013 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Mississippi. Texas A&M defeated Ole Miss 41-38.  (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
Michael Chang/Getty Images

Unlike the Texas A&M offense under reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, the Aggies' defensive unit has struggled thus far into the 2013 college football season.

Through six games, A&M ranks at or near the bottom of the Southeastern Conference in every defensive category, allowing 32.8 points per game (93rd nationally) and 491.2 yards per game (113th nationally).

The group's lone bright spot? A 13-point stand against offensively-gifted Southern Methodist, a program run by two of the nation's premier offensive minds in head coach June Jones and coordinator Hal Mumme. 

Outside of SMU, though, A&M has allowed at-will scoring ranging from FCS powerhouse Sam Houston State's 28 points to top-ranked Alabama's 49. The main separation between A&M's five other opponents and SMU remains consistentthe presence, or lack-thereof, of a spread offensive scheme.

As seventh-ranked Texas A&M enters Saturday's home matchup against SEC West rival Auburn, the Aggie defense will once again play at an advantage, just as it did with the Mustangs in mid-September. 

Neither before nor since A&M's 42-13 victory over SMU have the Aggies faced another spread style team. Alabama, Rice and Ole Miss all ran the ball effectively in order to set up the pass. Sam Houston State found the end zone four times behind its option style. Arkansas utilized its old-fashioned ground-and-pound scheme, dominating the point-of-attack with a physical demeanour. 

HOUSTON, TX- SEPTEMBER 21: Toney Hurd Jr. #4 of the Texas A&M Aggies strips the ball from Jeremiah Gaines #84 of the Southern Methodist Mustangs and the Aggies picked up the ball and returned the fumble for a touchdown in the first half on September 21, 2
Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

Following the A&M defense's dominance of SMU, though, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder believed the Aggies to have found solace in facing an offense it sees every day in practice. 

"We were definitely back in our comfort zone," Snyder said.

Considering the Aggies' immense amount of youth finding the field consistently, especially on the defensive side of the ball, familiarity has the potential to play a major role in recognition and execution on the field. 

Against Gus Malzahn and No. 24 Auburn on Saturday, the A&M defense will line up across from many of the same formations and schemes it battles every week in practice, not to mention during fall camp and spring training. 

Furthermore, A&M co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital received his start under Malzahn at Tulsa just over five years ago, only adding to the possible deja vu Aggie defenders may experience on Saturday. 

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 10:  Quarterback Jonathan Wallace #12 of the Auburn Tigers prepares to hand the ball off to running back Tre Mason #21 of the Auburn Tigers during their game against the Georgia Bulldogs on November 10, 2012 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in
Michael Chang/Getty Images

Even considering Auburn's dangerous offensive weapons, which range from running back Tre Mason to quarterback Nick Marshall, the A&M defense will once again receive a mental break when facing the Tigers, much like it did against SMU four weeks prior. 

And after surrendering a league-worst 491.2 yards per game, a game filled with familiar reads and checks may serve to provide the perfect rebound as A&M jumps into the second half of its season. 


*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand