Auburn vs Texas A&M: Tigers' Improved Defense Won't Slow Down Johnny Manziel
The No. 24 Auburn Tigers will roll into Kyle Field to take on Texas A&M with the nation's 21st best scoring defense. That defense still isn't good enough to keep Johnny Manziel and the Aggies' under 40 points in this game.
At 47.8, the Aggies have the nation's fourth most prolific scoring offense. Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Manziel has been magnificent this season. The 20-year-old has already thrown for 1,835 yards, 14 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Last year, playing at Auburn, Manziel guided the Aggies to 63 points behind 260 yards passing while completing nearly 70 percent of his passes, 90 yards rushing and five combined touchdowns.
However, the Tigers' defense is playing much better than it did last year—not that it was a difficult task. Of their final seven games last season, Vanderbilt was the only team Auburn was able to hold under 38 points.
This season, Auburn is allowing just 18.8 points per game and hasn't allowed more than 35 points all season. The Tigers haven't been dominant in rush or pass defense, but they have been solid. Auburn is allowing just 4.12 yards per rush and has allowed 1,505 passing yards.
However, it is in pivotal situations where Auburn's defense has been at its best. The Tigers have seven interceptions to just four touchdown passes allowed. They also are allowing opponents to convert on third down just 33 percent of the time.
While there is no denying the defense has improved at Auburn under first-year coach Gus Malzahn, this defense is not as stout as the numbers suggest.
The Tigers have faced just one offense with enough firepower to even be compared with Texas A&M. That came in a 35-21 loss to LSU.
In that game, LSU posted 457 total yards on offense, gaining at 5.2 per rush and 10.4 per pass. LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger did post a modest stat line of 14-of-22 for 229 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Obviously, those numbers would be a vast improvement on what Manziel did to them last season and what the sophomore has been posting this season. Against Ole Miss last week, he went 31-for-39 for 346 yards with 19 carries for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
While Mettenberger is having a nice season, he is not on the same level as Manziel, and they play a different style of game.
Much of Manziel's success comes from his legs. Not only does he use them to bring up big chunks of yardage, but also to buy extra time, breakdown a defense and find an open target for a big play.
Auburn is not as prepared to handle this style as well as a drop-back passer. That starts with safety Robenson Therezie. The 5'9 junior has three picks on the year and is very good in pass coverage.
How many yards (rushing and passing) will Manziel account for?
His ball-hawking skills will be limited in this one. Manziel will have no problem avoiding Therezie in the passing game. For starters, the Aggies use a spread offense that isolates certain matchups and they have a wealth of reliable options.
Six different receivers for the Texas A&M have already grabbed at least 10 passes.
Also, Manziel can even further exploit specific matchups by extending plays and spreading out defenses when he scrambles.
Manziel and the Aggies have proven they are a special team on offense. A team that has a seemingly infinite ways to beat a defense. While Auburn has been wildly improved on defense, there is nothing dominant about it.
Without the ability to take away enough of his team's strengths on offense, Manziel will be free to work his magic, and he will post another huge game in what will amount to a 45-32 win for the Aggies.
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