Auburn's running game has been the most consistent part of the team through six games this season and it will take that kind of effort again this weekend to come out of College Station with a win.
Rushing for at least 228 yards in every game with the exception of the Mississippi State contest (120), the Tigers have been physical up front and that has helped out the passing game and quarterback Nick Marshall.
Facing a defense that allowed 306 rushing yards to Rice, 240 to Sam Houston State, 234 to Alabama, 201 to Arkansas and 133 to Ole Miss, Auburn should have plenty of opportunities to establish the run on Saturday. If the Tigers can do that it will not only help the passing game, but also keep Johnny Manziel on the sidelines.
Defensive Line Depth
Facing an offense that has run more than 80 plays on three occasions this season, Auburn's defensive line will have its work cut out this weekend keeping up with Manziel and the explosive Aggie offense. Something that could work in Auburn's favor, however, is the depth the Tigers have up front. Despite facing 88 plays against Washington State, 80 against Arkansas State and 89 against Ole Miss, the Tigers have held up well in the fourth quarter of games thanks to the rotation by Coach Rodney Garner.
With Gabe Wright, Ben Bradley, Nosa Eguae, Angelo Blackson, Montravius Adams, LaDarius Owens, Craig Sanders, Kenneth Carter, Carl Lawson, Justin Delaine and Elijah Daniel all playing significant snaps for the Tigers this season they should be well-prepared to face the pace they'll encounter Saturday from the Aggies.
Completing 61.4 percent of its passes this season, Auburn has done a solid job through six games in that department, but will need to take a step up this weekend against Texas A&M. Marshall is completing 59.2 percent of his throws for 180.4 yards per game and has four touchdowns with four interceptions. While he's made plays in crunch time up to this point, there have been off-target throws that have stalled drives.
Nick Marshall needs to play well for the Tigers on Saturday if the Tigers are going to pull off an upset.
Facing a Texas A&M team that will score points in bunches, the Tigers can't afford to miss opportunities in the passing game. Allowing 273.2 yards passing per game and 17 total touchdowns, the Aggies have surrendered at least 282 yards in each of the last four games and that includes the Arkansas Razorbacks. Last week Arkansas threw for just 30 yards in a 52-7 loss at home to South Carolina. Auburn will have opportunities in the passing game and Marshall, and perhaps Jeremy Johnson, have to make the Aggies pay.
Containing A&M's Backs
One thing that is fairly certain about Saturday's game and that is Manziel is going to get his yards. The most dynamic player in the college football along with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Manziel is averaging 377 yards of total offense per game this season and has accounted for 19 touchdowns. In 19 career games he has 66 total touchdowns and more than 7,000 total offensive yards.
Keeping him in check will obviously be an important part of the puzzle for Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson, but perhaps the biggest key will be keeping the Texas A&M backs from breaking out and giving Manziel even more firepower to play with. This season the group of Ben Malena, Tra Carson, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams is averaging 162.2 rushing yards per game with 15 touchdowns.
Malena leads the way with 375 yards and eight scores while the speedy Trey Williams is back to full speed and averaging 7.8 yards per carry. Slowing that group and making Manziel carry the load by himself won't guarantee a victory, but it would allow the Tigers to focus on stopping passing game and eyeing number two.
First Series A Crucial One
While Texas A&M's defense has struggled to slow anyone, one thing the Aggies have done a good job of is game-planning. In 19 career games with the Aggies, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder's defense has kept the opponent off the scoreboard 13 times. When you factor in that Texas A&M has scored on 16 of 19 opening possessions with 15 touchdowns, it's not a surprise that the Aggies are outscoring opponents 231-82 in the first quarter under Kevin Sumlin.
Since Manziel became the starter in week two Texas A&M has scored at least 14 points in every first quarter this season. For the year the Aggies have scored 80 first quarter points while allowing 45. Playing from behind on the road in Kyle Field is not a recipe for success and something Auburn needs to avoid this weekend.