All of Auburn football’s five losses in 2016 stung, but the Tigers won lessons in each. This week, SEC Country will examine what the Tigers can do to put themselves in a better position to win this season’s rematches.
2016: Texas A&M 29, Auburn 16 | 2017: at Texas A&M, Nov. 4
It took less than five seconds before Texas A&M became problematic for Auburn last season.
Defensive end Myles Garrett wrapped up Auburn quarterback Sean White in the Tigers backfield immediately after the first snap, eliciting boos from an already frustrated crowd in Jordan-Hare.
Yet the initial play of the game also conveyed how strange the Auburn-A&M series has been since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012 — and 2016 was no exception.
“That was such a weird game,” recalled My Aggies Nation reporter Travis L. Brown. “It was A&M’s third game, and no one really knew what to make of everything after they played UCLA because no one knew what UCLA was going to be. It turned out they weren’t much of anything. It’s all kind of funny looking at how A&M’s season played out.”
The Aggies opened the year with a thrilling overtime win over the Bruins, but most considered Auburn the first big test for A&M in 2016.
Auburn was in a similar situation. Following a home opener in which Auburn had a chance to take down then-No. 2 Clemson, the Tigers rebounded with a victory over Arkansas State. Still, it quickly became apparent the same offensive woes were still troubling Auburn. And coach Gus Malzahn’s seat continued to heat up — seemingly, at least.
Uncertainty, lack of identity lingers
The Tigers took a 7-0 lead with some help from Kamryn Pettway. It was progress in the right direction, and a striking performance from a player Auburn would eventually lean heavily on.
Still, the indecision was glaring.
“I think it goes back to the fact that they still didn’t have a firm grasp of what they wanted to be or needed to be on offense,” Auburn play-by-play announcer Rod Bramblett recently told SEC Country. “Last year, for whatever reason, it just took them a few games from an offensive standpoint, for them to figure out what they needed to be, what their personality needed to be. What the personnel needed to be.”
Brown remembers Sean White struggling to get the offense going. “The best drive came at the end when they swapped it up and put John Franklin in at quarterback,” he said.
And so the Tigers remained on a quarterback carousel.
“It was just a weird game because it seemed like until the end, neither team could really get anything going,” Brown said.
Even as Auburn held Trevor Knight and the Aggies to two touchdowns, its red-zone defense raised questions. A&M kicker Daniel LaCamera drilled all five of his field goals and the Tigers never seemed within striking distance.
“That’s one of the few games that you just felt like Auburn wasn’t going to have much of a chance to win that game,” Bramblett said.
The home team hasn’t had much luck when it comes to Auburn-Texas A&M. Auburn’s player representatives at SEC Media Days said lack of focus might be the main issue.
“The Auburn game was A&M’s first road game of the season last year,” Brown said. “I think that had a little bit to do with it. They seemed to be fired up to be playing away. It’ll be different this year because they’ll be traveling to UCLA to kick off the season.”
Other aspects could be a game-changer for Auburn this season.
Stidham’s return to Texas
Trevor Knight is gone and the Aggies aren’t sure who will emerge as quarterback this season.
As a freshman last year Trayveon Williams had a breakout game against Auburn (eight carries for 127 yards, including an 89-yard TD run). Williams, along with wide receiver Christian Kirk, will be expected to carry most of the load for A&M.
Now Auburn is the team that could settle on an identity early. And there’s more.
Jarrett Stidham’s home town of Stephenville, Texas, is about three hours away from College Station, where Auburn and A&M will face off.
Waco, where Stidham played at Baylor before transferring to the Plains, is about an hour and a half from Kyle Field. It could be an ideal setting for Auburn’s new quarterback.
“What could actually really help Auburn in this one is it’ll be Jarrett Stidham’s first time to be back in his home state,” Brown said. “He’ll probably have a lot of people there and be pretty fired up, and that could actually lean the odds a little bit toward Auburn. … I would kind of lean towards Auburn in that one, it looks like the road team might be winning.”