Auburn football: 3 ways Tigers can end Texas A&M's Playoff dreams
Auburn may not have much left to win this season, but they can certainly still play spoiler.
Coming off their 2nd-worst loss in the Gus Malzahn era — 42-13 to Alabama — the Tigers have dropped out of the College Football Playoff rankings and have a bevy of injuries as they prepare to face their 3rd opponent ranked in the top 5 at the time of the game.
No. 5 Texas A&M stands 1 spot out of making their 1st CFP. With games against only Auburn and Tennessee remaining, they will need all the help they can get from other teams to thrust themselves into Playoff contention.
Auburn will have their hands full, especially just a week removed from a thorough beatdown. But these are 3 ways the Tigers can end Texas A&M’s Playoff dreams in Saturday’s game at noon ET on ESPN.
1. Have some semblance of a rushing attack
If Auburn thought it was difficult to run on Alabama, things are about to get even harder when the Aggies come to town. Texas A&M boasts the conference’s 2nd-best run defense, allowing 87.1 yards a game, almost 32 yards fewer than the Crimson Tide.
In the Iron Bowl, Auburn was held to their fewest rushing yards (120) since they rushed for just 39 against Georgia in Week 2. The biggest reason for the Tigers’ poor rushing performance against the Tide, aside from the obvious need to rapidly score points, was health — a situation that isn’t going to be any better this week.
Malzahn announced this week that starting left tackle Alec Jackson would be unavailable against the Aggies due to hand surgery. Right tackle Brodarious Hamm remains questionable, as do running backs Tank Bigsby and D.J. Williams, who all played sparingly against Alabama.
“Like we’ve talked about before, we’ve got to be balanced,” Malzahn said this week. “We’ve got to be able to run the football effectively to be at our best. I think that’ll be a big key to this game.”
Auburn is 4-1 this season when rushing for more than 125 yards and 0-3 when Bo Nix throws more than 30 passes. The Aggies have allowed more than 100 yards rushing only 3 times this season, including surrendering a staggering 222 yards in their 42-31 win over Arkansas.
The Tigers don’t necessarily need another 200-yard day on the ground to beat A&M. But if they can be just effective enough to keep Aggies pass rushers honest and give Nix a chance, the deep threat will be there with Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz.
Chad Morris has shown he loves to use screens to Schwartz and Eli Stove to stretch the field horizontally for 5- to 10-yard gains, which is another option to move the ball if the ground game is taken away.
2. A monster day from the defensive line
Texas A&M loves to run the ball, and they are very good at it. Averaging more than 185 yards a game, the Aggies trail only Alabama in the SEC for the best rushing attack.
Behind a veteran offensive line of 3 seniors, running back Isaiah Spiller is tied with Alabama’s Najee Harris with 6.0 yards per carry for 2nd best in the league. Spiller has rushed for at least 110 yards in 5 of the Aggies’ 7 games.
Auburn needs to make Texas A&M become a pass-first offense and place the game squarely on the shoulders of Kellen Mond. Mond was finally turning the corner this year as a dangerous passer, but he regressed against LSU last weekend after a 3-week layoff. Mond had only 105 yards and completed just 32.4 percent of his passes against one of the worst secondaries in the league.
While it will already be a challenge for guys like Big Kat Bryant, Colby Wooden and Tyrone Truesdell to shut down Spiller, Mond has been sacked just twice this year. Auburn’s defensive line needs to make Mond uncomfortable, as Kevin Steele’s defense could once again be without corner Jaylin Simpson.
Nehemiah Pritchett has done a great job stepping up this season — he’s tied for 3rd in the SEC with 7 pass breakups, and he made a couple of nice plays against John Metchie last week — but Auburn’s secondary could use some help in not having to guard guys like Ainias Smith and Jalen Wydermyer as long.
Make Mond win the game.
3. The floor drops out on Auburn’s season
This game should be fairly close. But if Auburn loses by double digits and then either barely wins or loses to Mississippi State, then this game does absolutely nothing for the Aggies in terms of building their Playoff resume.
Texas A&M already took a hit this week with Auburn dropping out of the Top 25 after a huge blowout at Alabama. The Aggies need Auburn and Tennessee, the latter of whom plays No. 6 Florida this week, to close out their seasons in the best possible fashion. A Tennessee win this weekend would obviously take away from A&M’s win over the Gators earlier this season, so the Aggies really just need Auburn to keep their act together.
In hindsight, what is Auburn’s best win? Is it a 2-point victory over Arkansas that the Razorbacks should have won? The Aggies need all the help they can get in bolstering their resume, so a win over Auburn is clearly the desired result, as long as it doesn’t unravel the Tigers’ season.