Texas A&M sees familiar team in No. 24 Auburn

Posted Friday, Oct. 18, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
More information Texas A&M vs. Auburn 2:30 p.m. Saturday Records: Texas A&M, 5-1, 2-1; Auburn, 5-1, 2-1 TV: KTVT/Ch. 11 Radio: KRLD/105.3 FM

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No. 24 Auburn has yet to knock off a ranked opponent under first-year coach Gus Malzahn.

But the Tigers passed the mirror test applied this week by Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.

In Sumlin’s estimation, that should make them dangerous to coaches and players for No. 7 A&M heading into Saturday’s showdown at 2:30 p.m. at Kyle Field.

Sumlin sees a lot of similarities between these Tigers and last year’s Aggies, who fashioned an 11-2 turnaround season as an SEC newcomer. And that concerns him as A&M (5-1, 2-1) meets Auburn (5-1, 2-1) in a matchup of teams seeking to remain within striking distance of top-ranked Alabama (6-0, 3-0) in the SEC West Division race.

“They’ve got a new coach. They’ve got a new energy. They’ve got some new players,” Sumlin said. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence. In some respects, it’s a little bit like where we were last year. It might be a lot of the same guys, but it’s a completely different football team from an attitude standpoint.”

Lest anyone forget, last year’s Aggies did not lose a road game while finishing No. 5 in both polls one year after posting a 7-6 record under former coach Mike Sherman. Auburn’s lone loss this season came against No. 6 LSU, 35-21, on Sept. 21. A year after posting a 3-9 mark and finishing winless in SEC games under former coach Gene Chizik, the Tigers rank among the national leaders in scoring defense (21) and rushing offense (7).

In terms of common opponents, Auburn defeated Ole Miss 30-22 on Oct. 5. The Aggies edged the Rebels 41-38 on a last-second field goal last week in Oxford, Miss. The videotapes of 2013 Auburn games, said A&M offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney, look much different than the ones from last year’s 63-21 romp by the Aggies in Auburn, Ala.

“I thought their players didn’t want to play at that time,” McKinney said. “Once the game began, it felt like we just ran through them. This year’s team is a totally different team. Defensively, those guys are playing extremely hard.”

Auburn ranks No. 21 nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 18.8 points per game. Opponents have averaged 399.2 yards per game, well below the 671 yards A&M accumulated in last year’s blowout.

Offensively, the Tigers rank seventh nationally in rushing (287 yards per game) behind a trio of backs who average at least 5.6 yards per carry: Tre Mason (515 yards, 7 TDs, 5.6 per carry), Cameron Artis-Payne (389 yards, 3 TDs, 7.2 per carry) and Corey Grant (339 yards, 3 TDs, 10.0 per carry).

Dual-threat quarterback Nick Marshall (288 yards, 5.2 yards per carry) also is a key contributor and a concern for A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, whose unit has allowed 201.2 rushing yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry. The Aggies are No. 113 in total defense (474.3 yards per game) among the 123 teams in this week’s FBS rankings.

The good news, said Snyder, is that Auburn’s attack is almost identical to the one A&M faced last week at Ole Miss.

“Having some carryover definitely helps us,” Snyder said. “It is going to give them a bit of an advantage, too, when they look at what we didn’t do well [against Ole Miss].”

But the biggest change in these Tigers is an intangible one, in the estimation of A&M defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. Like his coach, Hurd said there are “a lot of similarities” between 2013 Auburn and 2012 A&M.

“They’re a very, very aggressive team. Their offense is clicking. They’re hungry,” Hurd said. “They’ve only got one loss at midseason, and it was to a great team. There’s a lot of people sleeping on them. So they’re a lot like we were at this point last year. And they’re going to be a very dangerous team in the SEC.”

Head to head

Total off.586.5474.2
Pass off.361.8187.2
Rush off.224.7287
3rd down 58.1%43.8%
Pts allowed3218.8
Total def.474.3399.2
Pass def.273.2252.8
Rush def.201.2146.3
3rd down 39.5%33.3%

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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