Auburn Heads Back to Texas (Previewing Auburn’s SEC Opener Against Texas A&M)
Eli Stove sticks a dagger in the Aggies!
(AP Photo/Sam Craft)
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn game preview! On September 21st, Auburn will travel to College Station, Texas to take on the Texas A&M Aggies in its SEC season opener. Texas A&M was a dangerous team last season, that really had Auburn on the ropes for most of their game, before a furious 4th quarter Auburn rally. Both teams need the win to have any chance to compete for the SEC West title.
This will be Jimbo Fisher’s second season as head coach in College Station. Some folks say that Fisher inherited a wealth of talent and was fortunate last season. I think with Fisher’s track record, that is a bit unfair. Texas A&M won 9 games while playing in the toughest division in college football, and I think that speaks for itself. The issue this year that faces the Aggies is replacing a large amount of talent that either graduated or left early for the NFL.
Texas A&M opens the season with Texas State, then travels to Clemson in week 2. The Aggies return home to tune up against Lamar and then host the Auburn Tigers. Auburn will have already played a game in Texas in Arlington in the opener against Oregon. Auburn goes back home to tune up on Tulane and Kent State. I think Auburn’s schedule week to week is tougher than Texas A&M’s, but the Aggies do face the defending national champion on the road.
Texas A&M will have to rebuild in spots on defense, and head coach Fisher brought in former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko to do the job. The Aggies have to replace 3 starters on the defensive line as well as a dominant sort of linebacker. The key for the Aggies is going to be slowing Auburn’s running game. When Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn gets a running game going, Auburn has been next to impossible to beat. Texas A&M needs to force the game onto the arm of a freshman quarterback for Auburn. The Aggies have a veteran secondary, although the defense only forced 11 turnovers all season last year.
Texas A&M returns a dangerous dual-threat quarterback in Kellen Mond, but other areas took some off-season hits. When the Aggies could run the ball last season, the offense was strong. When the offense was stopped up front, Mond took a beating as the Aggies allowed a whopping 35 sacks last season. Star running back Traveon Williams takes 1760 rushing yards and 278 receiving yards with him to the NFL. Also gone is dangerous receiving tight end Jace Sternberger. The Aggies do have some big receivers returning and young talent in the running back corps, but it will probably take time for the unit to gel.
Texas A&M has a great player on special teams, senior Braden Mann, who punts and kicks off. Mann was the nation’s leading punter last season, and more than half of his kickoffs were touchbacks. Dangerous Aggie return men are back this season on both units, and coverage in both aspects was good last season. If there was an Aggie special-teams weakness last season, it was place-kicking as the Aggies missed 10 field goal attempts with freshman kicker Seth Small missing 8 of those. As a sophomore, Small will likely improve.
Unit matchups after the jump!
Auburn defensive line vs. Texas A&M offensive line: Auburn must win this matchup to keep the game close. Auburn brings back a big, athletic defensive line this season. Likely starters at tackle are senior Derrick Brown and junior Tyrone Truesdell. Senior strong-side end Marlon Davidson will be a 4-year starter. The buck side is a rotation between juniors Nick Coe and Big Kat Bryant. Auburn can play monster sophomore Nick Coe at any position on the line with great results. Auburn has serious depth all across the line as well. Texas A&M’s line was a solid run blocking unit at times last season but had difficulty, allowing a lot of negative plays against better fronts. From left to right, the likely Aggie starters are junior Dan Moore, Jr., junior Jared Hocker, junior Ryan McCollum, senior Colton Praeter, and junior Carson Green. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn linebackers vs. Texas A&M backs: Auburn will be breaking in a new starting rotation of linebackers, but there is a good bit of playing experience as these guys have been rotating in for a couple of years. Auburn will go with junior K. J. Britt in the middle and some combination of junior Chandler Wooten, and sophomore Zakoby McClain on the outsides. I would also expect true freshman Owen Pappoe to play early and often. Texas A&M sophomore Jashaun Corbin is expected to be the bell-cow back for the Aggies this season. Corbin produced 362 rushing yards and 85 receiving yards as a freshman. He is the most complete back the Aggies have, but there is talent behind Corbin, most notably transfer Cordarrian Richardson from Central Florida. Richardson checks in at 246 pounds and will be a load to tackle. The possible issue for the Aggies is lead blocking. The hope is that sophomore transfer Ben Miles will be solid enough there. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn corners vs. Texas A&M receivers: Auburn has a fairly good combination of starting corners in senior Javaris Davis and junior Noah Igbinoghene and has depth and experience behind the starters. What is worrisome about the Aggie receivers is their size. There are 5 juniors that will likely rotate at the receiver spots, and all of them are around 6′ 2.” Auburn is smaller than that at most defensive back spots. The Aggie receiving candidates are Quartney Davis, Jhamon Ausbon, Cameron Buckley, Kendrick Rogers, and Hezekiah Jones. Advantage: Even.
Auburn safeties vs. Texas A&M secondary receivers and quarterback: Auburn’s starting unit features seniors Jeremiah Dinson and Daniel Thomas at safety. This is a veteran crew with experienced backups. I think Auburn would like to start sophomore Christian Tutt at the nickel spot. Quarterback Kellen Mond is the key player for the Aggies. Despite getting a ton of pressure last year, Mond mostly was able to avoid critical mistakes and added 474 rushing yards to the offense to go with 7 touchdowns on the ground. This year, Mond would like to improve on a 57-percent completion percentage. The Aggies will likely run a lot of 3 receiver sets and will utilize some of the receivers discussed previously in the slot. The Aggies are hoping to plug in sophomore Glenn Beal at tight end. Advantage: Even.
Punting: Aaron Siposs had a good rookie campaign punting the football (averaging 44.2 yards per punt), and is expected to be one of the better punters in the SEC this season. Likewise, Texas A&M returns senior punter Braden Mann, who averaged 50.98 yards per punt last season. Auburn improved dramatically in coverage last season (3.36 yards per return), and Texas A&M was good, allowing 6.3 Advantage: Even.
Kickoffs: Auburn sophomore Anders Carlson had a great year kicking off last season, hitting 51 touchbacks on 70 kickoffs. When Carlson didn’t kick it to the end zone, Auburn gave up only 19.44 yards per return. Senior Braden Mann handles kickoffs for the Aggies. Last season Mann had 80 kickoffs and 57 touchbacks. Texas A&M gave up just 16.5 yards per kick return. Advantage: Texas A&M.
Place kicking: Auburn sophomore Daniel Carlson hit on just 15 of 25 field goal attempts and was 5 of 14 from 40 yards or more. Seth Small hit on 20 of 28 field goal attempts last season. Advantage: Even.
Auburn offensive line vs. Texas A&M defensive line: Auburn has 5 veteran seniors returning on the offensive line, and they looked very good in the Music City Bowl and on A-Day. From left to right will be Prince Tega Wanagho, Marquel Harrell, Kaleb Kim, Mike Horton and Jack Driscoll. The lone returning starter for the Aggies is junior tackle Justin Madubuike, who is a rock. The other tackle will probably be junior Jayden Peevy. Texas A&M will be young but talented with sophomores Tyree Johnson and Bobby Brown. Look out for incoming freshman DeMarvin Leal, a large defensive end who was one of the top defensive linemen in the country in the recruiting rankings. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn backs vs. Texas A&M linebackers: Auburn lost H-back Chandler Cox, a 4-year starter who blew open holes. The real question is who will replace Cox. Right now, senior Spencer Nigh is the only fullback/H-back listed on the roster. Sophomore John Samuel Schenker is likely to get work here as well. Senior Kam Martin is blazing fast but has had durability issues in the past. Sophomore JaTarvious Whitlow took over the top spot last year and was said to be much improved this spring. Senior Malik Miller has size, power, and a few carries here and there but hasn’t been used much. Auburn will likely face a trio of juniors as linebacker starters, asked to step up from the bench. Across the corps is Buddy Johnson, Keeath Magee II, and Braden White. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn receivers vs. Texas A&M corners: Auburn is moving sophomore Seth Williams to the boundary (X) side of the offense, and the likely starter in the flanker spot is either redshirt freshman Matthew Hill or junior Marquis McClain. While Auburn is young here, Texas A&M is veteran and capable at cornerback. Senior Charles Oliver and junior Debione Renfroe should be capable, and there is depth behind them. Advantage: Texas A&M.
Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. Texas A&M: All eyes will be on a new Auburn freshman quarterback starting. Whether that will be Joey Gatewood or Bo Nix has yet to be determined. I would expect the Aggies to try to go after these guys and cause confusion in the backfield. Auburn has a very speedy and dangerous group of secondary receivers, including junior Eli Stove, senior Will Hastings, and sophomore Anthony Schwartz. Auburn can put in big senior receiver Sal Cannella and get a size mismatch. Texas A&M returns sophomore Leon O’Neal Jr., and junior Derrick Tucker at safety. I think Auburn can create some mismatches in space, but can freshman quarterbacks take advantage? Advantage: Texas A&M.
Auburn lost a lot less to graduation than Texas A&M did and appears to have more advantages than the Aggies do. Particularly interesting is that Auburn appears to be stronger on both lines of scrimmage. However, Auburn’s inexperience at quarterback vs. a veteran Aggie back end could be a great equalizer or worse. College Station is a great home field advantage for the Aggies as well. I will note that Auburn has never lost in this venue, but as always, history doesn’t win games. The current players do or don’t.
Prediction: With advantages on both lines of scrimmage, Auburn pushes the Aggies around a bit and quiets the home crowd. Able to run the ball successfully and avoiding turnovers, Auburn produces a surprising 34–20 win.