Auburn rides surprise run to A&M
Opposing coach says Manziel like ‘watching a video game’
Published: Thursday, October 17, 2013
Updated: Saturday, October 19, 2013 23:10
After a last-second field goal secured their third win in a row, the No. 7 Texas A&M Aggies (5-1, 2-1 SEC) set their sights on another tough SEC matchup against the No. 24 Auburn Tigers (5-1, 1-1 SEC).
The game features two of the eight SEC teams ranked in the AP Poll, the most by any conference in NCAA history. The Aggies moved up two spots after defeating Ole Miss while the Tigers make their first appearance in the Top 25 this season after their win against Western Carolina.
This weekend’s matchup will be the start of a four-game home stand for the Aggies and their third of four straight SEC games. Despite a knee injury, junior quarterback Nick Marshall is expected to start for the Tigers over freshman Jeremy Johnson. Last week, Johnson was 17-of-21 with 201 yards and four touchdowns and was named the SEC Freshman of the Week.
“[Marshall] was locked in during practice last week,” said Gus Malzahn, Auburn head coach. “He practiced Sunday and he looked good. We are past the midway point. If it was early in the season I would be concerned, but I am not too concerned now.”
The Aggie’s sophomore quarterback Johnny Manziel was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against Ole Miss. He accounted for 459 yards of total offense and two touchdowns.
Manziel leads the SEC in passing yards per game with 305.8 and has scored 19 total touchdowns this season.
“He is almost like watching a video game sometimes with the stuff he does,” Malzahn said. “The human side, his competitiveness, his toughness — that’s what really stands out to me. He is a physically and mentally tough individual. He plays with that edge.”
The Aggie offense has yet to score less than 40 points this season and is currently on an FBS best nine-game streak of 40-plus points per game. Claiming the top spot in the nation, the Aggies are averaging more than 580 yards of total offense per game this season and have accounted for 180 first downs.
“We’re getting better every week,” said senior running back Ben Malena. “You really can’t compare this team to last year’s.”
An addition to the already loaded Aggie offense is senior receiver Travis Labhart. Despite having only 11 catches for 149 yards and one touchdown on the season, Labhart stepped up last week and led the team with eight catches for 97 yards in the 41-38 victory against Ole Miss.
“This time of year, you’re going to have to have surprise guys that play at a high level,” said head coach Kevin Sumlin. “[Labhart] is a true 12th Man. He walks on here, then goes into an SEC road game and was one of the heroes.”
The offense will have its hands full against an Auburn defense that is one of the best in the conference. The Tigers have allowed an average of 18.8 points per game in the last six games, which is third in the SEC. The Aggies are scoring an average of 47.8 points this season.
The Texas A&M defense will be faced with the task of stopping the seventh-best rushing offense in the nation, with 287 yards per game. The Aggie defense is ranked 104th in the nation in rushing defense, allowing 201.2 yards per game.
The Auburn running back corps is led by junior running back Tre Mason. Mason is third in the SEC — excluding quarterbacks — with 144 all-purpose yards per game and is sixth in the conference with an average of 85.8 rushing yards per game.
“We’ve been working hard to fix mistakes we’ve been making and just trying to put together a total game,” said senior defensive back Toney Hurd, Jr. “There’s big plays out there, we just have to make them.”