Texas A&M remains just outside the top-four of the College Football Playoff rankings, at No. 5 in the AP Poll following a 20-7 win over the LSU Tigers last week. This week, the Aggies will travel to Jordan-Hare Stadium to face a different team of Tigers — the Auburn Tigers. Auburn sits at 5-3 and is coming off a 42-13 loss to Alabama in the annual Iron Bowl, its other losses being to Georgia and South Carolina. Here are five things to watch for as the Aggies face off against the unranked Tigers at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5:
1. Offensive options
Auburn has a balanced offense led by sophomore quarterback Bo Nix. The veteran signal caller has reliable playmaking receivers in Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz, ranked seventh and eighth in the SEC in receiving yards, respectively. Nix has thrown for 1,854 yards this season, but the team is not limited to success through the air. Running back Tank Bigsby, Auburn’s leading rusher, is another offensive weapon that averages 5.5 yards per carry. Together, Bigsby and Nix have garnered 849 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. A&M’s defense will have to be on guard against a complex and creative Auburn offense to cripple their versatility.
2. Offensive rust shaken off
Senior quarterback Kellen Mond and the Aggies’ offense struggled throughout last week’s win over LSU. Following a two-week hiatus due to COVID-19 quarantine protocols, A&M only managed to record 267 total yards of offense against a mediocre LSU defense. After an uncharacteristically weak performance by the offensive line, a plethora of incompletions and numerous dropped passes, A&M fans hope to see a rejuvenated offense this week against an Auburn defense that allows an average of 408 yards per game. With the exception of its most recent game, the Aggies seemed to be moving in the right direction. Rediscovering that offensive rhythm will be imperative for the maroon and white to have a successful road win and advance to 7-1 on Saturday.
3. Buddy means business
Following a dominant performance over LSU that included nine tackles, one pass breakup and one interception returned for a touchdown, senior linebacker Buddy Johnson was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week. Johnson leads the team in tackles with 66, in addition to two sacks and two forced fumbles. Repeatedly creating chaos on the field, Johnson is considered the leader of A&M’s defensive unit that is ranked first in the SEC, fifth nationally in rushing defense and 20th nationally in total defense. Although Auburn has a somewhat consistent offense and dual-threat quarterback, A&M’s defense has proven impenetrable and will likely limit Bo Nix and the run game.
4. Recipe for Spiller’s success
Sophomore running back Isaiah Spiller is a productive member of A&M’s offense, as the third-highest ranked running back in the SEC. With 784 yards recorded in seven games, Spiller is deemed difficult to contain. Auburn’s sub-par rushing defense, which allows 162 rushing yards per game, should allow the young playmaker to be explosive on the ground and contribute heavily to the Aggies’ success. The biggest concern for A&M’s run game will be Auburn linebacker Zakoby McClain, who leads the team with 77 tackles this season. The Tigers should anticipate A&M’s run-heavy offense with Spiller utilized most often, due to his ability to weave through traffic and average six yards per carry.
5. Turnover battles
A&M is hoping to break its three-game losing streak to Auburn on Saturday and ball security will be key to doing so. While Nix is a highly ranked quarterback, fifth in the SEC with 10 passing touchdowns this season, he has also thrown seven interceptions and been sacked 18 times. On the contrary, Mond has 16 passing touchdowns, only two interceptions and been sacked just three times this season. In previous matchups between the Aggies and Tigers, turnovers have defined the outcome of the game. In order to earn its sixth consecutive win this season and keep any playoff hopes alive, A&M has to protect the ball and Mond, as well as take advantage of any opportunistic fumbles or interceptions thrown by Auburn. Winning turnover battles is a must.