Texas A&M football: 5 advantages Aggies have over Auburn
It’s not exactly Separation Saturday, but we will nonetheless learn a lot about the Texas A&M and Auburn football programs after Saturday when they open SEC play at Kyle Field.
It’s Year 2 of the Jimbo Fisher era for the Aggies and one that looks to continue its climb to what Aggieland hopes will result in a long-awaited championship both from a conference level as well as national prominence.
On the other side of the coin, it’s another volatile season for Auburn under embattled coach Gus Mahlzahn, who cooled his seat a bit with the Tigers’ impressive season-opening victory over Oregon.
Now the programs clash on Saturday. Auburn is 3-0 and ranked No. 8. Texas A&M checks in at No. 17 with a 2-1 mark, still looking to put a drubbing at the hands of top-ranked and defending national champions Clemson behind it.
For the Aggies to do so, they’ll have to make full use of these 5 advantages, which at initial glance would seem to have begun with home field advantage. But upon further review, the opposite is true. The Aggies have never beaten Auburn at Kyle Field, losing all 3 games, and by more than two touchdowns in the past 2.
In fact, the visitor has the distinct advantage in this series, having won 6 of the 7 meetings between the two teams as SEC programs. But here are 5 advantages the Aggies do enjoy over the Tigers.
1. Veteran QB
At the most important position, the Aggies just might have their most decisive advantage. Kellen Mond is a veteran who has been through it. His big-game experience should work in the Aggies’ favor. Auburn true freshman Bo Nix will be making his first SEC start, and in a hostile environment. Nix performed well in Auburn’s impressive victory over Oregon to open the season. We’ll see how he does in his first big-time SEC game.
2. All-America punter
In what appears to be a close game, at least on paper, a special teams play often makes the difference. That’s where the Aggies have an advantage with All-America punter Braden Mann. Field position will be critical in this bout of SEC heavyweights and the nation’s leading punter from a year ago figures to give the Aggies the advantage.
3. Strength vs. strength: run defense
With Nix still settling in as Auburn’s quarterback, Malzahn has relied heavily on a solid run game. Among SEC teams, only Georgia has produced more yards on the ground than Auburn. The Tigers are 1 of only 4 SEC teams to have more rushing yards than passing yards this season.
Suffice to say that Auburn is run-heavy, and that plays right into the hands of a Texas A&M defense that finished 2nd in the league against the run last season and has so far, though 3 games, picked up where it left off. The Aggies are allowing an average of just 84 rushing yards per game.
4. Punt coverage
As mentioned, in a game that appears to be this close at least on paper — the Aggies are a 4-point favorite — special teams could be the difference. Auburn has allowed a league-high 4 punt returns of 20 yards or more. Two went for 30-plus yards. Texas A&M’s Roshauud Paul ranks 2nd in the SEC, averaging 20 yards per punt return.
The Aggies might not be counting on such, but if he can break one or set up a short field for Mond and Co., all the better.
5. Ball-hawk secondary
I realize that team strength and pass defense are about as foreign to Texas A&M as a Longhorns T-shirt at the Dixie Chicken, but hear me out. Collectively the Aggies have picked off 5 passes this season, most in the SEC.
And with perhaps their biggest ball hawk, Debione Renfro, returning from suspension last Saturday, that number only looks to increase against Auburn’s true freshman quarterback. Nix threw 2 INTs in the opener against Oregon but none since in games against Tulane and Kent State.
And if the Aggies can stop the run as they have done consistently now for more than a full season, it could get interesting with Auburn forced to rely on a talented but inexperienced QB to make some plays with his arm.