Adversity has befallen the Texas A&M football program as of late, as the seventh-ranked Aggies narrowly edged Southeastern Conference rival Ole Miss 41-38 last week in Oxford, Miss. Fortunately for A&M, the team returns to Kyle Field for a four-game homestand, starting with SEC West opponent No. 24 Auburn.
The Tigers (5-1, 2-1 SEC) enter College Station with the same record as A&M, having defeated Mississippi State and Ole Miss while losing to No. 6 LSU. After a tough last season under former head coach Gene Chizik, Auburn has been revitalized under former assistant Gus Malzahn and searches for a signature win against a Top 10 A&M squad.
For all the need-to-know game info, check below.
Date and Time: 3:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013
Location: Kyle Field, College Station, Texas
Radio: Texas A&M Sports Network
Spread: Texas A&M sits as the 14-point favorite over Auburn, according to Vegas Insider
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.
Utilize Offensive Diversity
Considering the Aggies' powerful running back corps, which includes four Division I tailbacks, A&M has been unimpressive with its ground game outside of the 45-33 win over Arkansas. While quarterback Johnny Manziel has shown his ability to both pass and run consistently, utilizing the A&M stable of backs will serve to diversify the Aggies' offensive attack.
Eliminate Missed Tackles and Assignments
Since the season's beginning, the A&M defense has struggled to contain opposing offenses, only holding a unit under 28 points once (SMU, 13 points). Mainly, the reason for its inconsistency has been poor tackling and missed assignments, ranging from pressuring the quarterback to holding down coverage in the secondary.
Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder needs to shore up mistakes in order to bring this defense up to conference standards.
Through six games, A&M has been on the positive end of the turnover margin four times, with the two other times coming against Alabama (49-42 loss) and Ole Miss (41-38 win). Maintaining a positive edge in the turnover battle remains a key factor for the Aggies, and doing the same against Auburn should help A&M to a victory.
Quick Offensive Start
Under second-year head coach Kevin Sumlin, A&M has scored first in 18 of its 19 games, hoping to either quell an opposing crowd or further encourage the 12th Man. Furthermore, the Aggies have scored in their opening offensive series 16 times, with 15 of those being touchdowns.
For Auburn, a fast start with either scoring first or keeping pace with A&M will be vital for staying within range of winning down the stretch.
Mostly, this applies to Johnny Manziel and influencing the reigning Heisman Trophy winner to slow down his rushing attack. One of the Aggies' strongest offensive weapons is its ability to diversify its game when needed, as it did against Arkansas when the passing game struggled and Ole Miss when the running attack failed.
If Auburn can completely shut down one side of A&M's offense, then the Tigers will have more opportunities to force punts or turnovers.
As noted in the first key, Auburn needs to keep up with Manziel and the A&M offense in order to have any shot at taking down the No. 7 team in the country. The Aggies thrive when ahead, and forcing a close margin late will create nervous attitudes along the home sideline, and anxiety leads to mistakes.
WR Malcome Kennedy
Through six games, the junior wideout has been a major factor in the A&M offense, finding space in opposing defenses and gashing them when given the opportunity. Currently, Kennedy ranks second among A&M wide receivers in both touchdowns (four) and receptions (30) and third in receiving yards (331), meaning his impact has been felt consistently through each game.
With Mike Evans hobbled after Arkansas and covered by opposing defenses to the point of paranoia, Kennedy has emerged as a dangerous threat for Manziel.
QB Johnny Manziel
Let's get this straight, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner will always be an impact player for the Aggies. He's been on this list for the past six games and will continue to be on this list for the remaining six, barring some horrific season-ending injury.
Through the first half of the season, Manziel has performed well above par and currently is in the running for the Heisman once again.
LB Darian Claiborne
After a strong performance against Ole Miss, including the defense's only turnover, the true freshman linebacker looks to continue his unprecedented season against Auburn. Claiborne has been a powerful force for the defense, and his continued success will be vital for the unit recovering in the second half of the season.
RB Tre Mason
Over the course of the season, Mason has already rushed for 517 yards and seven touchdowns. What may be even more impressive is the fact that he has only sustained seven negative yards while averaging over five, and his impact for Auburn has been substantial.
Against A&M, Mason's abilities will be key as the Aggies defense has struggled so far to contain the run.
QB Nick Marshall
Marshall is a mobile threat for the Auburn offense under Malzahn and should be able to create problems for the Aggies secondary.
DB Robenson Therezie
As the season co-leader in tackles (28) and the defense's leader in interceptions (three), Therezie has been invaluable at safety. His talents will come in handy against A&M and its aggressive pass offense, as knocked down passes or turnovers will be vital to slowing down the Aggies' scoring machine.
During A&M's Tuesday press conference, head coach Kevin Sumlin spoke on Auburn's season so far, comparing its success to A&M's from last season.
"They're 5-1," Sumlin said. "They're ranked 24th in the country. They're very different from the team we played last year. 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. They're playing with a lot of confidence. Gus (Malzahn) does a great job schematically. They're playing very well. They've played some close games and gained some confidence. It might be a lot of the same guys, but it's a completely different football team from an attitude standpoint. That shows up, not only in their record, but in their approach as well."
Meanwhile, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said Aggies star quarterback Johnny Manziel was one of the two best players to ever take the field, along with former Auburn Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.
"I would say probably those two are probably two of the best that ever played the game in college football," Malzahn said. "We only got to see Cam Newton for one year, but this guy, he's in the same element. They're different but they're still some of the best to ever play."
A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said the Auburn offense runs a very similar style to Ole Miss, and the familiarity will give A&M an advantage when going over tape of the win in Oxford last week.
"It's a very similar offense to what Ole Miss ran," Snyder said. "Gus Malzahn probably has a few more things that Hugh Freeze didn't have in their system and scheme, but it is exactly the same thing. I think those guys are pretty tight. It's kind of like the Leach-Sumlin tree. Obviously Auburn's looking at the film and knowing how they want to attack us. Where we are at right now, I don't think there is any doubt that having some carryover going out to practice and seeing some of the same things definitely helps us. It is going to give them a bit of an advantage, too, when they look at us and what we did well and what we didn't do well."
Texas A&M 52, Auburn 45
The high-scoring matchup will come down to crucial fourth-quarter stops, but A&M will ultimately pull off the victory behind an untimely turnover by Auburn and a late score. Each defense will be gashed throughout the game, but the offensive production will serve as a source of consistent excitement on the late-night highlight reel.