Oct. 19, 2013
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - It's an opportunity few expected Auburn's football team to have. The Tigers play Texas A&M at Kyle Field today with an opportunity to declare themselves championship contenders.
Coming off last season's 3-9 record, Gus Malzahn's Tigers put together the nation's top turnaround in the first half of the season. Can they handle offensive powerhouse Texas A&M on the road?
Breaking it down:
Dealing with Johnny Football
The mission is containing quarterback Johnny Manziel. It is the same mission teams have had for the past 19 games. Few have succeeded. The Aggies have scored 40-plus points in nine consecutive games.
Auburn will not shut down the man known as Johnny Football. He will make plays with his legs and through the air. The question is whether Auburn can hold him down enough to have a chance at the end.
Junior Nick Marshall will return to the starting lineup after sitting out last Saturday's 62-3 romp past Western Carolina. Malzahn has said there is a plan for freshman Jeremy Johnson, who threw four touchdown passes while Marshall watched. Marshall can also make plays with his legs and his arm, and Auburn needs him to do that.
Texas A&M's leaky defense
It's a good thing the Aggies score a lot of points. Their defense is 13th in the SEC in scoring defense at 32 points per game, 13th in rushing defense at 201.2 yards per game, 13th in pass defense at 273.2 yards per game and dead last in total defense at 474.3 yards per game.
In SEC games only, the Aggies are giving up an average of 40 points per game.
Different kinds of pressure
The No. 24 Tigers and No. 7 Aggies enter the game with identical records - 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the SEC. There is pressure for both, but the Aggies entered the season with championship expectations and are playing at home. The Tigers, coming off the disaster of 2012, entered the season with little respect. A&M must win to have hope of accomplishing any of its goals. Auburn is on the road and a two-touchdown underdog, but a victory would thrust the Tigers into the championship conversation in the West.
Making amends for 2012
No game was more indicative of Auburn's struggles in 2012 than when Texas A&M visited Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Aggies led 42-7 at halftime and played scrubs almost the entire second half en route to a 63-21 victory. It was the most points ever given up at home by Auburn team and it signaled the beginning of the end for Gene Chizik and his staff.
Auburn's running game
The Tigers lead the SEC in rushing. It could be a big day for running backs Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant.
Can Auburn cover WR Mike Evans?
Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans, at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, is matchup problem for every defense. Holding him down will be a major challenge for Auburn's shorter defensive backs.
Tough place to play
Auburn has already been to LSU, but today's atmosphere could be even tougher. Rainy weather dampened the crowd at LSU. Nothing will dampen the crowd at Kyle Field.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: