The Auburn Tigers travel to College Station to take on the Texas A&M Aggies on Saturday night. The Tigers have lost two straight to SEC West competition and sport a record of 4-1 (1-2 SEC), with their lone SEC victory coming at the expense of Kentucky. The Aggies meanwhile are 6-2 (3-2) and are ranked #19th in the latest ESPN Coaches poll and 25th in the latest AP poll. Texas A&M is currently a touchdown favorite at most online betting sites.
1Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back. This season Auburn has a quirky habit of alternating between two-game winning streaks with two-game losing streaks. The Auburn defense has given up a lot of yards all season, but the Tiger offense has won this season if it averages over five yards per play with the lone exception of Ole Miss. Texas A&M's defense has given up that in every game this season against SEC opponents. That's a reason to think the cycle continues.
2Cruise Control? The Aggies have survived the toughest part of their season and come out the other end with a 6-2 record. In the month of November they play Auburn, Western Carolina, Vanderbilt, and close with LSU. Texas A&M might be tempted to not take their upcoming competition seriously after the gauntlet they just experienced. That attitude may have contributed to the result against South Carolina.
3Aerial Combat. We all know that under Kevin Sumlin A&M's passing offense has generally been one of the best in the country. This year is no different, with a fleet of blue-chip skill players catching on average 21 balls for 263 yards a game. And yet, the advanced metrics view A&M's passing offense as middling. At the same time, Auburn's secondary is currently ranked thirteenth in the SEC in yards per game, but does have a barely top-50 pass defense in terms of the advanced stats rankings.
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Blake Countess. Photo: Shanna Lockwood -- USA TODAY Sports
4Dat Nguyen Ain't Walking Through That Door. Texas A&M has an average secondary and a very disruptive defensive line. However, the linebacker position drags down the Aggie defense. The result is a defense that at its best is bend-don't-break, and that may not be enough against Auburn's rushing attack. Auburn has a solid offensive line, and running backs that are very disciplined about reading their blocks. Sean White is also a very accurate completing passes on short routes that could expose the Aggie's linebackers in pass coverage.
5Negative Plays. Texas A&M is second in the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss. Auburn is allowing roughly a total of seven sacks and tackles for loss per game. Auburn looks set to run the ball against the Aggie defense, much like South Carolina did, but negative plays will put Auburn behind the chains and could kill drives. Auburn probably hopes it will be able to return fire with Carl Lawson and his crew, and they may well be capable of doing so considering the Aggies are allowing roughly nine negative plays per game themselves.
THREE TO WATCH
Christian Kirk, WR/PR, Texas A&M: Kirk is only nine yards shy of breaking Texas A&M's record for freshman receiving yards. He's had three 100 yard receiving games, and he has three special teams touchdowns. Auburn's secondary hasn't given up a lot of big plays this season, but they aren't elite as previously discussed. Meanwhile, the advanced stats rank them as the 12th best special teams unit. If Kirk is able to have a big game against Auburn, then the odds of a Texas A&M victory appreciate greatly.
Christian Kirk. Photo: Matthew Emmons -- USA Today Sports
Shon Coleman, OT, Auburn: The Tiger offensive tackle will compete against defensive phenom Myles Garrett Saturday. Coleman will play an instrumental role in limiting Garrett's activity in the Tiger backfield. If Coleman can contain Garrett, a feat no one has accomplished yet, it will go a long way to keeping the Tigers ahead of schedule.
Kyler Murray, QB, Texas A&M: Murray started last week against South Carolina and would finish the game 20-for-28 for 223 yards passing, and would also add 156 yards rushing. The freshman made the most of his first start, and while Auburn's defense isn't elite, it will be a step-up from South Carolina's below average unit. Will Muschamp and his staff will have their work cut out for them this week game planning for the true freshman who allows Kevin Sumlin to run a wider portion of his playbook.
Auburn's rushing offense against the Aggies defense will be enough to keep the game close, and possibly even limit Texas A&M's offensive possessions. The problem for Auburn is their slim margin for error. The passing game probably can't overcome negative plays, while the defense probably can't contain the A&M offense for four full quarters. Outside of Texas A&M not being focused, or a series of turnovers, the home team should secure the victory in the fourth quarter. Texas A&M 28, Auburn 24