Auburn, Ala.--The last three football seasons Auburn's turning point game has been Texas A&M, something the Tigers are hoping happens again in 2015. Both good and bad, this match-up has told the tale for the Auburn program in recent years and this season again it could be the difference between a strong finish and an offseason of question marks.
In 2012 Auburn was coming off four straight SEC losses, the last to Vanderbilt. Entering the Texas A&M game at home it was an opportunity for the Tigers to get some positive vibes going again. Instead it was the beginning of the end for Gene Chizik and his staff as Johnny Manziel and the Aggies scored 42 first half points in a game that was as ugly as any in Auburn history as the Tigers got beat down 63-21.
Going to College Station for the first time the following season was a different feel for Auburn with Gus Malzahn’s team coming off back-to-back wins over Ole Miss and Western Carolina following a tough loss at LSU. While the game in Baton Rouge was the one that forged the direction of that team, it was the win over Texas A&M that really set the season in motion.
“In the first year, we went there and we were a team that was still trying to figure out who we were,” Malzahn said. “It was a big win and they were playing very good at the time.”
Making plays on offense with the defense finishing the day with a game-preserving stop against Manziel, Auburn got a huge win that would propel the Tigers to the BCS Championship Game.
Last season was perhaps the biggest momentum game of the three from an Auburn perspective as the Tigers came into the contest 7-1 and ranked No. 3 in the country in the first College Football Playoff poll.
Despite dominating the game at the line of scrimmage, running for 363 yards for the game, Auburn found itself down with less than three minutes remaining. With the ball and the goal line in sight the Tigers had the ball second and goal from the two-year line trailing 41-38. Keeping the ball on the option, Nick Marshall fumbled and although it appeared Auburn recovered the ball was awarded to Texas A&M.
That wasn’t the end of the misery for the Tigers, however, as they got the ball back and moved it to the 28-yard line of the Aggies on just two plays. With just under one minute left and a first down Auburn was poised to tie the game and perhaps get the win, but once again a mistake would haunt the Tigers as confusion caused an early snap by center Reese Dismukes. Texas A&M fell on the ball to secure the win.
That game sent the Tigers into a tailspin as they would win one game the rest of the way, never recovering from the disappointing finish to the Aggies.
Now the time has come again for Auburn to have its shot at Texas A&M, this time back on the road. An improving team that is still looking for a way to get over the hump, this could be just the thing to push the Tigers to bigger and better things the rest of this year.
It won’t be easy though as this Auburn team is bruised and battered as it gets ready to fac ean explosive Texas A&M squad. Malzahn said it will take a full team effort to get a victory on Saturday, but it’s something his team is capable of doing.
“We are playing another very talented team this weekend on the road,” Malzahn said. “Their only losses have been to Ole Miss and Alabama, two quality opponents.
"Offensively, they are as talented as anybody that we have played. They have a true freshman quarterback in (Kyler) Murray that is dynamic with his feet. He was a great high school player that we are very familiar with, we actually recruited him. He is somebody that will definitely get your attention.
“Defensively, John Chavis has made a big difference. He has his stamp on there and they are playing very hard. They have two defensive ends that I think are as good as anyone in our league, and they are definitely two guys you have to be aware of from an offensive standpoint. Our talk with our staff and players is we have to find a way to put together our offense and defense and special teams, and play well in all three areas. That is our goal moving forward, and that is what we are going to need to do to beat a team like this on the road.”
Now two/thirds of the way through a season that started with so much promise Auburn is now fighting to get six wins and become bowl eligible. That could be a downer for a team, but Malzahn said this group has remained steadfast in its goal to improve and he knows that’s once again the key this week.
“We’re focused on Texas A&M,” Malzahn said. “We need to play well in order to beat a good Texas A&M team on the road. That’s our only focus. That’s what we’re talking about and that’s what we’re preparing for.”