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Rested Tigers Travel to Texas (Previewing Auburn vs. Texas A&M)

By on July 20th, 2017 in Football, News 9 Comments »
TAMU Preview Kirk

Who will throw to Christian Kirk?

     War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn football preview! The Tigers take a bye in week 9 of the 2017 college football season, then head to College Station, Texas to take on Texas A&M. On paper, this is a very favorable situation for Auburn. Texas A&M has been notorious the past 3 seasons for November slides, and this one will be played on November 4th. It seems Auburn typically plays the Aggies early or at midseason in Auburn and isn’t ready. The College Station games have usually been played later in the year, and Auburn has come out on top both times. Auburn is widely expected to contend for the SEC West title this year, while lofty predictions such as that have been few and far between from the Aggie camp where head coach Kevin Sumlin is reportedly on the “hot seat” this season. I thought it was quite telling when Sumlin skipped the post-game press conference after the Aggie spring game.

     This year, The Auburn Tigers will have opened the season with Georgia Southern, then traveled to Clemson. Auburn will then enjoy an early homecoming game against Mercer before traveling to Missouri prior to a home clash with Mississippi State. The Rebels follow at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the following week before a road trip to LSU. Auburn then travels to Fayetteville to fight Arkansas before a well-earned bye week. Texas A&M opens at the Rose Bowl, taking on UCLA. Home tuneups follow against Nichols State and Louisiana-Lafayette. The Aggies then head to Arlington Texas to take on Arkansas. September finishes at home against South Carolina, then the first week of October, Alabama comes to College Station. The Aggies then travel to Florida before a bye week on October 21st. Texas A&M finishes October hosting Mississippi State before Auburn comes to town.

     Every spring and summer since Texas A&M joined the SEC, it seems that there’s a question of who will start at quarterback in the fall, and this year is no different. There is a three-way race once again this year, although my guess would be that as talented as he may be, the coaches will try to redshirt true freshman Kellen Mond. Mond appears to have the most upside of the candidates, but I can’t see an embattled head coach rolling the dice with a true freshman in the SEC West, unless there’s no choice. Mond and redshirt freshman Nick Starkel did make a play or three during the Aggie spring game, but also had long stretches where neither was very accurate. The most experienced candidate, senior Jake Hubenak, had only 47 passing yards on 13 attempts and really didn’t try to throw it downfield.

     The past couple of years, a list of Texas A&M receivers tended to make one’s eyes bug a bit at the huge collection of talent and speed present. Names like Ricky Seals-Jones, Speedy Noil, Jeremy Tabuyo and Josh Reynolds kept defensive coaches awake at night. Opposing coaches will sleep better this year as all 4 guys are headed to the NFL. That said, junior Aggie receiver Christian Kirk is at the top of a lot of preseason all-star lists. Still, teams will double cover Kirk and try to pressure the Aggie quarterbacks until it is proven dangerous to do so.

     With a lot of unknowns in the passing game, I expect the Aggie offense to be more balanced. The Aggies should have a solid offensive line, great running backs, and an emerging tight end group with a lot of promise. I expect the offense to start out featuring sophomore running back Trayveon Martin, who led the team in rushing last season with 1057 yards.

     The defense took some massive blows during the off-season, and this was a unit that basically collapsed down the stretch last year. Star defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall headed to the NFL, and the top two tacklers in the back seven, Shaan Washington and Justin Evans, are gone as well. A few weeks ago, it was revealed that junior starting cornerback Nick Harvey will miss the upcoming season after knee surgery. I did not see much in the Aggie spring game but cushion coverage. Still guys got open and occasionally gashed the patchwork secondary. The Aggies do have a good starting defensive tackle rotation but will have to find a lot of answers before the season begins in September.

     The Aggie special teams were surprisingly decent last season, and with nearly every piece of the puzzle returning, I would not be surprised if the Aggies are great this year. One thing that stood out to me was that Texas A&M returned 4 punts for touchdowns, 3 by Christian Kirk. The Tigers will have to punt away from him!

Unit matchups, after the jump!

Auburn defensive line vs. Texas A&M offensive line: Auburn brings a big, athletic defensive line back this season. Likely starters at tackle are junior Dontavius Russell and sophomore Derrick Brown. Sophomore strong-side end Marlon Davidson was a beast on A-Day. The buck side will likely be manned by a combination of junior Jeffery Holland and senior transfer Paul James III. Auburn has a good bit of depth behind the starters, as well. Texas A&M shuffled some pieces around this spring, moving sophomore Colton Prater to center. Former center Erik McCoy has been moved to left guard after some high-snap issues last season. Junior Connor Lanfear at right guard should give the Aggies a solid interior line. At the tackle spots, junior Koda Martin should be solid on the left, and the Aggies will try junior Keaton Sutherland. Advantage: Even.

Auburn linebackers vs. Texas A&M backs: The Auburn Tigers have a good cross-trained quartet of upper echelon SEC-caliber linebackers. Junior Deshaun Davis, senior Tré Williams, junior Darrell Williams and junior Montravious Atkinson can play all three positions, and we might see any combination of these players out on the field at a given time. Sophomore Trayveon Williams headlines this group, and he’ll be spelled by senior journeyman Keith Ford. Last year, a tired Auburn defense gave up a late 89-yard run to Trayveon Williams. Before that, the defense held Williams and Ford to 66 rushing yards on 19 carries. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn corners vs. Texas A&M receivers: Auburn has a fairly good combination of starting corners in junior Carlton Davis and sophomore Javaris Davis. The Tigers are hoping that Jamel Dean will be healthy this fall as he is one of the fastest players on the team. Sophomore Jeremiah Dinson could move over from nickel back, if needed. Last season, Auburn blanketed star A&M receiver Christian Kirk, allowing him only 22 yards on 5 catches, and figures to do so again. The Aggies once again have some top-end talent at wide receiver, but none of it is proven. After strong springs, we’ll pencil in senior Damion Ratley, redshirt freshman Quartney Davis and sophomore transfer Kirk Merritt on the outside. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn safeties vs. Texas A&M secondary receivers and quarterback: Auburn’s starting unit features seniors Tray Matthews and Stephen Roberts at safety and sophomore Jeremiah Dinson at nickel back. There’s not much depth here, beyond senior Nick Ruffin, who’ll probably see as much playing time as the starters. The Tigers are solid here as long as no one gets hurt. In the slot Texas A&M is young, with freshman Jharmon Ausbon and redshirt freshman Clyde Chriss appearing in the spring game. Senior tight end Kalvin Cline and sophomore Aaron Hansford are solid blockers and are an emerging threat in the passing game. Advantage: Auburn.

Punting: Sophomore Ian Shannon will likely get the nod as Auburn’s starting punter after a couple of years of waiting in the wings. Shannon looked good on A-Day a year ago in warmups. The Tigers gave up only 19 punt return yards last season on 6 punts for a stifling 3.2 yards per return. The Tigers are still auditioning for the punt-returner job. It’s thought that senior Stephen Roberts has the inside track after returning 6 punts last season for 100 yards. Senior punter Shane Tripucka was good for the Aggies last season, averaging 42.9 yards per punt. Texas A&M gave up 5.2 yards per return. In the return department, Christian Kirk was electric, averaging 21.69 yards per return on 13 returns. Teams really didn’t want to kick it to him as the season progressed. Advantage: Texas A&M.

Kickoffs: Daniel Carlson was very good kicking off last season, notching 57 touchbacks on 72 kickoffs. When Auburn did allow returns, opponents averaged only 18.0 yards per return. Junior Kerryon Johnson is Auburn’s most experienced return man returning, and he averaged 22.2 yards per return last season. Few kickers can come even close to Carlson’s ability to kick touchbacks, but the Aggies have sophomore Braden Mann, who booted 55 touchbacks on 76 kickoffs. Texas A&M gave up 19.8 yards per return. The Aggies were also one of the better kick-return teams in the SEC last season, averaging 23.6 yards per return, although the leader, Justin Evans is gone. I would expect Trayveon Williams and Christian Kirk to spend time here this season, and the Aggies will be just as explosive. Advantage: Texas A&M.

Place kicking: Auburn sophomore Daniel Carlson is the man for Auburn. Carlson was 28 of 32 on field goals and perfect on extra points. One of Carlson’s misses was a block by Vanderbilt. Texas A&M returns junior kicker Daniel LaCamera, who hit on 17 of 24 field goal attempts. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn offensive line vs. Texas A&M defensive line: It’s still not settled who’ll start for Auburn on the line, although the starters looked pretty good on A-Day. It seems the tackle spots are set with seniors Darius James and Braden Smith. Senior Austin Golson will likely start at center, although Auburn is bringing in senior transfer center Casey Dunn from Jax State. If Dunn starts, Golson could move to guard. Also transferring in this fall is former Florida State starting guard, Wilson Bell. Bell is expected to start at one of the guard spots. If Dunn does not beat ou Golson out, the other likely starting guard would be sophomore Mike Horton. The Aggies return some beef in the middle, led by senior Zaycoven Henderson, and junior Kingsley Keke, who appears to be on the verge of breaking out as a star. Junior Daylon Mack provides depth. Defensive end is a work in progress. Our guess at the end of spring is seniors Jarrett Johnson and Qualen Cunningham will hang in as starters with some experience. Behind those two, JUCO transfer Michael Clemons is expected to contribute early. Beyond that, things get thin. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn backs vs. Texas A&M linebackers: Auburn features junior H-back Chandler Cox blowing open holes. Running behind the big H-back will be massive junior Kamryn Pettway, and the shifty junior Kerryon Johnson in reserve. The Aggies do return some talent at linebacker, but much of it is unproven. The depth chart right now looks like either junior Otaro Alaka or sophomore Tyrel Dodson in the middle, with junior Richard Moore and freshman Anthony Hines outside. Depending on whether Dodson starts, or Hines doesn’t live up to his billing, Alaka could move to an outside linebacker spot. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn receivers vs. Texas A&M: At the end of spring, it looked like Auburn’s two starting outside guys were sophomore Nate Craig-Myers and sophomore Darius Slayton. Both guys can fly and have good height and great hands. Redshirt freshman Marquis McClain had a great A-Day and is someone to watch out for on the outside, as well. Texas A&M was shaky at corner last season and is now down a starter. Senior Priest Willis will start at one spot. The other side is a guessing game. I’m guessing we will see sophomores Charles Oliver and Roney Elam. Advantage: Auburn.

Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. Texas A&M safeties: Auburn has potential threats here, starting with wickedly fast junior slot receiver Will Hastings. Sophomore Eli Stove can also fly. Tight ends Jalen Harris and Sal Cannella are expected to be a big part of the passing game as well. Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham is likely the starter. In 6 games as a freshman at Baylor, Stidham was electric. That trend continued during A-Day this spring as Stidham was deadly accurate and showed great mobility. Texas A&M is fairly strong at safety, and this should be a big help against the run. Seniors Armani Watts and Donovan Wilson have been around the block and are very capable. Watts is the leader of the defense. Advantage: Even.

     Every SEC team suffers attrition because of tough schedules and is limping a bit in spots by November. The past 5 seasons both Auburn and Texas A&M have stumbled in November, so it’s hard for me to see any advantage there. Likely, this game will feature a couple of programs going in opposite directions. If either team doesn’t win most of its games coming into this contest, the result will likely be lopsided.

     On paper, I like Auburn’s chances. Auburn seems to be set at most spots, and where there are questions, it is typically because Auburn has really good options still competing. There are several spots on the Texas A&M starting lineup where the coaches are still trying to find SEC-caliber players to plug in. On the other hand, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has been known to field dangerous offenses over the years, no matter who he has to plug in at midseason.

Prediction: A rested Auburn team takes on an Aggie team that has a brutal October with Alabama, MSU and Florida. Auburn has too much on both lines of scrimmage for the Aggies. Tigers win it, 27–13.

9 Comments

  1. audude audude says:

    Well, since we have not fared well when picked to do well and TAMU always gives us a good game I am left wondering . However with the week off I see questions answered and us doing well in this game while helping Kevin Sumlin out the door. 30-12 Auburn wins!

    WDE

  2. TigerWoman TigerWoman says:

    Off subject here I know but I wanted to beat the Hugh Freeze Rebels. But he won’t be there this season.
    Never like to see a situation like what Ole Miss fans are going through. The whole thing is just sad.

    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      …..Turns out that where there was smoke, there was certainly fire. You can say what you want about the Ole Miss fans and administration. They stuck with Freeze till the end, showing tremendous, perhaps foolhardy loyalty even in the face of mounting accusations.

      ……Freeze was set for life financially, as any SEC head coach the moment he signs his contract. Now, all that money is up in smoke. He probably will not be hireable by any major college, going forward.

      ……For Ole Miss, they are still embroiled in an NCAA investigation, and their defense was to stick with the coach who turned out to be dirty. And who will they hire to replace Freeze? Would you want to jump into the SEC West with heavy sanctions in place? Dark times ahead, for them.

  3. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..I've had some time to read up, and think about the whole mess at Ole Miss, and frankly, this is just the latest chapter in a quarter-century of dysfunction. I know, I know, we've had plenty at Auburn in the past 25 years, Ramsey-gate, the Bowden/Oliver/Housel debacle, JetGate, Ed Richardson running off successful coaches and not hiring Mike Anderson, bizarre coaching hires like Sunny Golloway…

    …..I'm so tempted to put up a snarky main page post on this, but I do try to stick to the football, and not business/arrests/hilarity at rival schools. This one's just too crazy not to post a comment-novel on, though!

    …..25 years ago, Ole Miss was doing pretty well in football, basically getting to 8-9 wins every year under Billy Brewer, and were looking to take the next step and challenge Gene Stallings/Alabama. Everyone else in the nascent SEC west was down, and the two Mississippi schools were moving up. Ole Miss had quietly built under Brewer, and MSU was doing it with Jackie Sherrill. Ol' Jackie was not one to keep his mouth shut, and within a couple of years of his hiring…

    …..Ole Miss was under NCAA investigation, and terms like "death penalty" were being tossed around. Just before the start of the 1994 season, the NCAA dropped the bomb on the school. Presumably to save face and/or lessen penalties, Brewer was fired for "breach of contract," and all the blame for the sanctions was laid at his feet.

    …..Defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn was named the interim coach, and Ole Miss limped through the season. At the end of it, Dunn said that he would not even take the head coach job at Ole Miss, even if it were offered to him! Your average SEC fans like me were looking at each other, and wondering who in the world WOULD take that job? It's probably the smallest school in the SEC West, and you'd be trying to recruit while the school hangs on to divisive Civil War traditions. Enter…

    ……Tommy Tuberville. Tuberville navigated Ole Miss through the sanctions, with increased use of walk-ons, and did a great job of selling the program to recruits and national media. Tuberville and company finished in the Motor City Bowl at the end of 1997, defeated a Marshall team led by Randy Moss, and Tubs was one of the hottest rising stars in the NCAA. Offers came, but Tuberville stayed at Ole Miss. (Pine Box, anyone?)

    ……The next season, rumor was that the Ole Miss administration was backtracking on promises they had made to Tuberville on facilities and whatnot. At the end of the regular season, Auburn came calling, and Tuberville jumped ship.

    …..Ole Miss then hired Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, who ended up being at least as successful as Billy Brewer and Tuberville. Cutcliffe quickly had Ole Miss finishing 7-4 every season, and usually winning a bowl game impressively. Cutcliff also managed the feat of signing Eli Manning during his tenure.

    …..There were signs, though. There were those in the Ole Miss camp that wanted to win at any cost, and have a higher ceiling than 9 wins. After a 6-6 regular season in 2002, there was some public grumbling. The next year, with Manning a senior, Ole Miss was riding high, and lost a very close showdown with eventual SEC and national champ LSU. Ole Miss finished 9-3, 7-1 in the SEC, Western Division Co-Champs. There is still a banner flying at Vaught Hemmingway Stadium celebrating that "championship."

    …..The Ole Miss coaching staff could not come up with a successor for Eli Manning in 2004, and finished 4-7. The Ole Miss brass called Cutcliffe in, and asked him what he was planning to change, after such an unacceptable result. Cutcliffe answered, "nothing," and added that he was planning to keep doing things the right way. Cutcliffe was fired shortly thereafter, and it was decided that Ole Miss would go after a better recruiting head coach.

    …..Enter Ed Orgeron. Never mind that this guy had never been a head coach, or even a coordinator at the Power-5 level. Orgeron did recruit pretty well, especially for Ole Miss. However, at times he was an embarrassment, much mocked!

    …..Gone were the typical Brewer/Tuberville/Cutcliffe 7-4 years. Orgeron went 3-8, 4-8, 3-9, with the third year sporting an 0-8 record in the SEC. Ole Miss had some players by that time, but it wasn't working out on the field. “Coach O” was let go. Ole Miss again showed that it was "win at all costs," but did they know how?

    …..Despite a brewing phone records/affair scandal at Arkansas, Ole Miss quietly made a deal with Razorback coach Houston Nutt. Amid the scandal, Nutt wrangled a substantial buyout from Arkansas, and was named the new Ole Miss coach immediately!

    …..Nutt had Ole Miss back to 9 wins the next two seasons, but evidently wasn't able to recruit nearly as effectively. Nutt did try to supplement by signing huge numbers of players. Disaster struck early in 2010, as Ole Miss lost to Jacksonville State. The Rebels limped to a 4-8, 1-7 in the SEC season. Nutt was given another year to try and right the ship. The Ole Miss brass sat silently, without even a dreaded “vote of confidence” as Nutt followed in 2011 with an 0-8 SEC season. That was one of those teams that quit on its coach. I remember being at the Auburn/Ole Miss game, that year. Auburn led big late, and it was getting really cold in late October. Nutt called timeout, to try and get a consolation touchdown. When he did, a half dozen Ole Miss players threw their hands up in disgust, in front of us! Ole Miss pulled the trigger on Nutt at the end of the season.

    …..Enter Hugh Freeze. Freeze was able to recruit at a high level, and managed to eek out a 6-6 first season, with a big win in the BBVA Compass Bank Bowl in Birmingham. Rumors surfaced immediately that Freeze was dirty, but Freeze, Ole Miss and everyone involved denied it.

    …..Freeze's teams reached new heights, on the field. Back to back upsets of Alabama happened in 2014 and 2015. The '15 squad even made it to the Sugar Bowl, and won big. But the NCAA was now dogging the Rebel camp.

    …..In 2016, the allegations came out. Ole Miss stuck staunchly with their winning coach, apparently willing to risk disaster to keep with their coach that won. The pressure affected the team, as it stumbled to a 5-7 finish. Where the Ole Miss contingent really messed up was trying to blame former coach Houston Nutt for their NCAA problems.

    …..Nutt has been out of coaching since his firing from Ole Miss, and reportedly not by choice. He certainly didn't want NCAA soil added to his resume'! And hence, the lawsuit. It didn't take long for the facts to start pouring out. Nutt's suit has merit.

    …..What's comical about this is that Nutt himself was brought down at Arkansas thanks to phone records being subpoenaed. Naturally, Nutt's legal team wanted the Ole Miss records, and knew what to look for. I guess personal behavior like what Freeze was doing with the escort service was ok with the Ole Miss administration, as long as it was kept hush-hush.

    …..After all, we know that the brother of Ole Miss President Jeff Vitter was running for governor in Louisiana, when it was outted that David Vitter was using prostitutes, and had a "diaper fetish." Wow. I can't even make up stuff like this!

    …..Freeze, it seems was using his university phone to contact an escort service. When Freeze was asked about the first call revealed, he lied and passed it off as a "Miss-dial." Turned out there was a whole lot more on this subject, and Ole Miss had little choice at that point, but to force Freeze out.

    …..And now, Ole Miss is down to an interim coach, and still faces both the NCAA and Houston Nutt's lawsuit. Funny thing about Nutt and his attorneys. Strategically, it might have been better to keep quiet about the phone business, to have extra leverage against Ole Miss. Apparently there is enough bad blood there, for Nutt to opt instead to make things as embarrassing as possible.

    …..Tommy Tuberville has jumped into this mess, too. He apparently has stated that he thinks the whole athletic director and staff should be fired, and Ole Miss should start over. Tuberville says that he will be available to "advise" interim Ole Miss coach Matt Luke, who was one of the first walk-ons Tuberville signed back in the mid 1990s at Ole Miss. Yeah, I'll bet that will go over like a lead balloon, in Oxford! Tommy, I would not step onto that sinking ship…

    • Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

      The ultimate hypocrisy is that there is no way that Billy Brewer was out cheating Jackie Sherrill. Out performing, yes. Out cheating, no way, no how.

    • dyingculture dyingculture says:

      Kind of curious about how McGriff chose to sign on with them, when he knew full well that he was stepping into a hopeless situation. I thought it was head-scratching at the time, and it’s even more questionable now.

      Now what will be really interesting is, can Ole Miss hold onto their remaining star players? Foremost in my mind is, will Shea Patterson keep playing for them, or will he pull a Stidham and transfer to a better situation? The only thing Ole Miss has going for them right now is that it’s too close to the season.

    • uglyjoe says:

      Exactly what I needed for a good Sunday morning read. Thanks Acid, enjoyed.

  4. easyedwin easyedwin says:

    Wow! I had no idea this was going on. Thanks for the enlightenment ! , Acid.

  5. […] Like most of you, I was shocked to hear the news that Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze had resigned Thursday. His abrupt departure has dominated college football news over the weekend and so we won’t belabor the story. However, in case anyone was out of town the last three days without TV or internet service, and would like to have a complete review of the situation, check out Acid Reign’s comments from his latest post here. […]