Auburn, AL (SportsNetwork.com) - After saving their season with a thrilling road victory last week, the third-ranked Auburn Tigers will continue their quest for an SEC Western Division crown on Saturday afternoon when they host the Texas A&M Aggies at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The season started out fantastically for Texas A&M with wins in each of its first five contests, but things quickly fell apart when its schedule grew more difficult, suffering three straight losses to nationally-ranked squads Mississippi State (48-31), Ole Miss (35-20) and Alabama (59-0). The Aggies got back on the winning track last week, but they were barely able to outlast ULM on their home field in the 21-16 win.
"We needed to win," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "It's been a while since we've won...I think (the players) understand that we have work to do. But certainly the attitude is a lot better right now than it was in the course of the last few weeks.
Auburn suffered its only loss of the season at No. 1 Mississippi State on Oct. 11, 38-23, but it has responded with back-to-back victories to climb to 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the SEC. The Tigers stayed alive in the West race last week with a 35-31 victory over Ole Miss, holding on in a game that had six lead change.
"To get a win (at Ole Miss) is a great effort by our players," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "At times we were able to run the ball consistently against one of the better defenses in the country. The negative would be the (13) penalties. This is fairly uncharacteristic of our team. We have to do better in the future, (but) our guys overcame it. They found a way to win a close game at the end."
Texas A&M holds a 3-1 advantage in the all-time series with Auburn. The Tigers claimed their first win in the series on Oct. 19, 2013 in College Station, 45-41.
Texas A&M's offense (36.4 ppg, 485.4 ypg) was one of the best in the nation early in the season but has taken a nosedive in recent weeks, as it has scored just 18.0 ppg in the last four.
With Kenny Hill (.667 completions, 2,649 yards, 23 TDs, eight INTs) beginning his two-game suspension for violating team rules last week, Kyle Allen made his first-career start. The freshman struggled, completing just 13-of-28 passes for 106 yards, a touchdown and an interception while getting sacked three times, and he'll have one more opportunity to show his stuff before Hill is back in action.
The Aggies boast one of the nation's deepest receiving corps, with six players registering at least 26 catches and five topping 377 yards. Malcome Kennedy (38 receptions, 386 yards, two TDs) leads the team in catches despite missing two games. Josh Reynolds (34 receptions, 533 yards) is a great deep threat and a potent red-zone target with eight touchdowns.
Tra Carson (326 yards, five TDs), Trey Williams (313 yards, five TDs) and Brandon Williams (280 yards, three TDs) split time evenly in the backfield to solid results.
Although the defense has been proven vulnerable in recent weeks and has forced just seven turnovers on the season. The unit has still performed admirably on a whole this year, allowing 25.9 ppg.
Myles Garrett has been a standout on the defensive line during his freshman campaign by ranking fifth in the nation in sacks (11.0). Deshazor Everett (54 tackles, INT), Howard Matthews (52 tackles, 2.5 TFL) and Justin Bass (50 tackles) are all jostling for the team lead in stops.
Auburn's offensive attack has been outstanding this season, as it puts up 38.8 ppg while ranking 18th in the nation in total offense (498.1 ypg). The Tigers conquered one of the nation's best defenses last week by displaying a nearly perfect balance (254 passing yards, 253 rushing) against Ole Miss.
Nick Marshall accounted for 304 of those yards in the win and scored four touchdowns. The performance illuminated an already stellar dual-threat campaign for Marshall, who's thrown for 1,357 yards, 13 touchdowns and four interceptions while rushing for an additional 631 yards and nine scores.
Cameron Artis-Payne is an effective workhorse back, turning 178 carries into 974 yards and seven touchdowns, and last week he racked up 143 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. Corey Grant (283 yards, two TDs) is also mixed in.
D'haquille Williams (37 receptions, 598 yards, five TDs) is Marshall's favorite target in the passing game. Sammie Coates has just 18 receptions but has made the most of them by piling up 358 yards (19.9 ypc) and two scores.
Although Auburn's defense (22.0 ppg, 378.6 ypg) was outstanding early in the season, its production has fallen off considerably in the last three games (34.7 ppg).
Jonathan Jones is a ball-hawk in the secondary with five of the team's 13 interceptions. Other defensive standouts include Johnathan Ford (60 tackles, two INTs), Cassanova McKinzy (52 tackles, 8.0 TFL, INT), Kris Frost (46 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, three FF) and Montravius Adams (29 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, INT).