On Saturday, Auburn will try to reverse a strange trend in its series against Texas A&M that has seen the home team lose in the six matchups the two teams have played since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012.
With Texas A&M boasting the SEC's top-ranked rush defense, the Tigers will likely need to exploit the Aggies' suspect secondary, which has given up 12 plays of 40 or more yards this season.
The opportunities for big-plays in the passing game should fall to the deep threats Darius Slayton, Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz. Slayton hauled in a 53-yard reception earlier in the season against Southern Miss, but has made crucial drops as well, including a sure-touchdown in Auburn's loss against Tennessee. Williams and Schwartz have been both more consistent and explosive throughout the season — the two have combined for three catches of more than 50 yards.
Auburn can't afford to squander any quick-strike opportunities, considering the Tigers' struggles converting on third downs (37 percent success rate), which is a strength of the Texas A&M defense. Aggies' opponents are only converting third downs at a 27-percent clip.
Auburn will still have to find a way to run the football, though, against an A&M defense that's only allowing 89 yards on the ground a game. That's especially important to the time of possession battle — Auburn is toward the bottom of the conference at about 27 minutes a game; A&M tops the SEC at just over 36 minutes a game. It will be difficult for the Tigers to pull out a win if those averages hold true on Saturday. Who will pick up the rushing yards for Auburn is an open question. Boobee Whitlow didn't practice last week and is "day to day," according to Gus Malzahn. Whitlow displayed his star potential against a struggling Ole Miss defense, rushing for 170 yards on 19 carries. If he's unable to play, the Tigers will rely on a running-back-by-committee approach, with Kam Martin, Shaun Shivers, Malik Miller and Asa Martin splitting carries.
During the bye-week, the Tigers gave some of the younger players more reps. It will be interesting to see if more reps translates into more carries for Shivers and Martin, who both have the skillset to score a touchdown on any given play.
Martin, especially, has been underutilized this season — he only has three carries so far. Shivers has gotten more reps, averaging 5.73 yards per carry for 212 yards and two scores. Martin has seen his snaps plummet. In the past three games, he's gotten a total of 10 carries for 19 net yards.
On defense, the Tigers will have to contend with a new-look Aggies offense, which features Jimbo Fisher's pro-style scheme. A&M is toward the top of the league in total offense, averaging 463 yards and 30 points a game. Quarterback Kellen Mond has put together a solid sophomore campaign, throwing 11 touchdowns and six picks. He can get rattled in the pocket, though, when pressure comes, which it often has this season. The Aggies have allowed an SEC-worst 26 sacks, a strength of the Auburn defense, which has made 24 so far.
The Aggies run game has struggled against SEC opponents, rushing for just 127 yards a game in five contests. That bodes well for an Auburn defense that's surrendering 162 yards a game in conference play.
Overall, the Auburn offense must prove that its solid game against Ole Miss wasn't a fluke. That will be tough against a good Aggies' defense.
Prediction: Texas A&M 27, Auburn 24