The SEC chaos machine kept spinning Saturday afternoon, delivering a likely knockout blow to Texas A&M's SEC West hopes and a warning to Alabama that LSU might not be the only team they have to worry about in the last month of the season. In what has to be one of the quickest turnarounds in the SEC in a long time, Auburn is back as a player in the SEC.
Auburn took down Texas A&M on Saturday in one of the topsy-turvy games that have become commonplace in the suddenly high-flying SEC. For those looking for the top-line numbers: 86 points, 56 first downs and 1,217 yards. And one battered quarterback who has to wonder how many of these razor-thin losses his Heisman campaign can take. Because Johnny Manziel looked a lot like a Heisman candidate in College Station today, but his defense couldn't quite measure up.
For the most part, the game was an example of the power-running spread that Gus Malzahn brought back to Auburn after his yearlong exile at Arkansas State. Auburn ran for 379 yards and four touchdowns on 60 carries -- an average of 6.3 yards a run -- while Nick Marshall did just enough throwing the ball (11-of-23, 236 yards and two touchdowns) to balance things out. Marshall also had 100 yards rushing on 20 carries, while Tre Mason ran the ball 27 times for 178 yards.
The Auburn defense had more limited success against Manziel and Texas A&M. The Tigers did largely shut down Johnny Football in the run game, limiting him to 48 yards on 18 carries. There were two sacks in the game for a loss of 21 yards, but even if you account for that, 69 yards on 16 runs is pretty good when you're dealing with Manziel. But Manziel was largely sterling in the passing game, going 28-of-38 for 454 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. He made some of those throws on a shoulder that he landed on hard in a play that briefly knocked him out of the game.
The other star for Texas A&M was Mike Evans, who had a jaw-dropping 287 yards and four touchdowns on 11 catches. That's more than half the receiving yardage that the Aggies gained all day. For all the publicity that Manziel gets, there's a case to be made that Evans should get some consideration for the Heisman Trophy. He's been that good.
All those yards for A&M point to the problem that the Tigers face in turning their 6-1 start into something more -- like a trip to Atlanta. Auburn's defense was not much better today than Texas A&M's, with the rather large caveat that Auburn's defense was facing the better Aggies offense rather than the still-good Auburn offense. But if the Tigers are going to take a shot at Alabama, or even a shot at Georgia, they're going to have to do better than that.
Still, the fact that we're even talking about such possibilities is a sign of how quickly Gus Malzahn has brought the Tigers this far. And that's all that Auburn fans are really going to care about right now, or should care about right now. Given where they ended up last season, and how well they've done this year, any accomplishments from here on out are just icing.