AUBURN, Ala. — Texas A&M is headed to the Plains this weekend for the third time in its new SEC West rivalry with Auburn. This is a different type of Aggies team than the ones that raced past Auburn in 2012 or snatched an upset against the then-No. 3 Tigers in 2014.
There’s a new quarterback and offensive coordinator running the show for Kevin Sumlin’s spread attack. There’s also a higher priority on defense. Texas A&M is entering its second season behind John Chavis, one of the highest-paid coordinators in college football.
To better understand this year’s Aggies, we recruited some help.
Ben Baby is a Texas native who joined The Dallas Morning News earlier this year to become the paper’s Texas A&M beat writer. Check him out on Twitter @Ben_Baby for perspective from College Station on game day and be sure to read some of his A&M coverage at the DMN’s SportsDay site. He has a great story on what quarterback Trevor Knight is bringing to the Aggies offense that it didn’t have in 2015.
In this week’s An Opposing View, Baby gives his take on Texas A&M’s new-look offense and improved defense, along with his prediction for the teams’ SEC opener on Saturday.
Justin Ferguson: Texas A&M has a new quarterback in Trevor Knight and a new offensive coordinator in Noel Mazzone. Through the first two games, what have been the major differences in the Aggies offense with Knight and with Mazzone?
Ben Baby: “Mazzone and the A&M coaching staff are still trying to see what Knight is comfortable doing in the offense, something that should become clearer as SEC play starts.
“So far, Mazzone isn’t asking Knight to do too much. As long as he stays calm in the pocket and doesn’t make critical errors, A&M should be able to move the ball effectively. Auburn’s defense might make doing both of those things difficult for him.”
Auburn fans are familiar with the likes of Knight, Christian Kirk, Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones on Texas A&M’s offense. But who are some lesser-known playmakers that you think will make an impact on Saturday’s game?
“Freshman running back Trayveon Williams has made an immediate impact. He is A&M’s biggest threat to break off a long run and tallied 15 carries for 94 yards in a win over UCLA.
“The primary running back, Keith Ford, is averaging 5.8 yards per carry this season and should see roughly half of the carries on Saturday.”
It’s a small sample size that includes a game against an overmatched FCS team, sure, but what kind of improvement has Texas A&M’s defense made so far in Year 2 under John Chavis?
“The biggest difference is A&M’s ability to stop the run.
“Last year, the Aggies had one of the worst rush defenses in the SEC, and a lot of that was because of sub-par play at linebacker. This year, the Aggies have cut the average yards allowed per carry from 5.0 to 2.31.
“That was the biggest question mark coming into the season. So far, A&M’s run defense looks much improved. But we’ll see if that changes once the Aggies face SEC teams that like to keep it on the ground.”
What would you say Texas A&M’s greatest strength and biggest weakness are heading into this matchup against Auburn?
“A&M’s defensive line could make things difficult for Auburn QB Sean White on Saturday. Led by defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, the Aggies are second among SEC teams in sacks (8). Meanwhile, Auburn has allowed 5 through two games, including 3 in the loss to Clemson.
“On the flip side, we’ll see how tackle Jermaine Eluemunor handles Auburn’s Carl Lawson. Keep an eye on the matchup between Auburn wide receiver Tony Stevens and A&M’s young cornerbacks.”
This game was billed in the offseason as a matchup between two coaches on the hot seat. How important would it be for Kevin Sumlin’s job security for the Aggies to get off to a 1-0 start in the SEC?
“Both coaches could really use this win. An opening win against a ranked opponent helped Sumlin a ton, while Auburn played Clemson a lot closer than a lot of people thought.
“While a win, obviously, bodes well for Sumlin, the way the Aggies finish the season will be more important. A&M started last season with 5 wins before finishing the regular season 8-4. A&M lost 4 of its 6 SEC West games, including a November loss to Auburn.”
Finally, tell us how you see this game playing out and what you think the final score will be on Saturday.
“For whatever reason, the road team has won this game since A&M joined the SEC in 2012. A&M’s defense has played very well this season and should suppress Auburn’s offense just enough to leave Jordan-Hare with a win. A&M 20, Auburn 17.”