Will the Tigers play defense this time?
(Photo by Acid Reign.)
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn opponent preview. On November 8th, the Tigers host Texas A&M. It’s the third game between the two schools since the Aggies joined the SEC, and it could possibly be Auburn’s third game in as many weeks against a ranked team. Auburn may well face 5 ranked teams in 6 weeks to close out the 2014 football seas.
The Aggies have some chances to tune up in September, but the schedule becomes brutal down the stretch. From the East, Texas A&M draws South Carolina and Missouri. The Aggies open on Thursday night at South Carolina, followed by cupcakes Lamar and Rice at home, and SMU in Dallas. The Aggies then play Arkansas in Arlington, followed by a road trip to Mississippi State. The schedule continues without a break at home against Ole Miss, and then a trip to Alabama. The Aggies then get a week off, followed by a tuneup against Louisiana Monroe, then the Aggies travel to Auburn. Auburn will have played Arkansas and San Jose State at home, Kansas State on the road, Louisiana Tech for homecoming, then LSU. The Tigers have a bye week, then South Carolina at home before traveling to Oxford to play the Ole Miss Rebels.
The first question that comes to mind for any look at Texas A&M this season is how will quarterback Johnny Manziel be replaced? In my opinion, the situation looks pretty dire, but we’ve seen head coach Kevin Sumlin win before with a green quarterback (Kevin Kolb at Houston, for instance). In fact, Manziel basically came out of nowhere in 2012 to win the Heisman as a freshman. It looks very much like the Aggies will again turn to a true freshman this season, early enrollee Kyle Allen. Allen took part in spring drills, while heir-apparent sophomore Kenny Hill was suspended due to a public intoxication arrest. Veteran senior Matt Joeckel transferred.
Can the Aggie offense generate anything like the 44.2 point per game average generated last season? The are important pieces of that offense missing beside Johnny Football. Receiver Mike Evans is gone, as is left tackle Jake Matthews and running back Ben Malena. Of Manziel’s favorite targets, 3 of the top four are gone, including Mike Evans (69 catches), Derel Walker (51 catches) and Travis Labhart (51 catches). Four starters return on the offensive line, but there has been some shuffling. I expect the Aggies to be pretty good still, on the line. Having a lot of young receivers and a freshman quarterback will likely result in lower production in 2014.
Last season, the Aggies had one of the worst defenses in the SEC. Most defenders return this season, but will they be any better? It’s make or break year for defensive coordinator Mark Snyder. I’ve heard grumblings from Aggie fans on several occasions, and there’s doubt that he’s the answer against SEC offenses. Last season, Texas A&M gave up 32.2 points per game. To put that in perspective, consider that the past five seasons have all ranked among Auburn’s worst ever defensive performances. The worst number Auburn put up during this period was in 2011, giving up 28.9 points per game. I think part of the problem is that its difficult to prepare for physical offenses when the Aggie offense is predicated on throwing the ball. With as many as 10 starters back, the A&M camp hopes for better production.
Most folks give Johnny Football all the credit for Texas A&M’s success the past two seasons, but a closer look at the team reveals that the Aggies have been very good on special teams, and they return all of their key players. The Aggies had solid coverage, dangerous return men, and some of the strongest legs in the league. Look for that trend to continue this season.
Unit matchups, after the jump!