Aubserver Mailbag 138: Which matchup will define Auburn vs. A&M?
This week: The next four, the WR rotation, lazy media narratives, Sammie Coates' chokeslam, banana pudding and jerky rankings
WR Shane Hooks (Jamie Holt/Auburn Tigers)
Welcome to the second quarter of Auburn football’s 2023 regular season, and it’s shaping up to be one of the most brutal stretches in recent memory.
Over the next three games, Auburn will play Texas A&M, Georgia and LSU. Those three teams are inside the top seven of the 247Sports Team Talent Composite, which measures how much recruiting talent is on a team each season.
One of the things that makes college football so great is that upsets feel significant, and every Saturday has results that you didn’t expect. Auburn could pull one of those off this weekend in College Station, especially in a road 11 a.m. kickoff against a team that lost its only real test so far this season.
I’ve heard some Auburn fans this week characterize Texas A&M as a “must-win” for Auburn. I kinda get the sentiment: It’s going to be tough to win any of these next three games, and the Tigers could easily be home underdogs to Ole Miss to open the second half of the season. And, if you want a win over the next three, this one looks like the most gettable.
But, as Hugh Freeze pointed out this week, Auburn just isn’t where these next few teams are in terms of stacking recruiting talent. Even Texas A&M, with its flaws, has more than enough talent to take care of business and solidly beat an Auburn team that is still trying to figure a lot of things out in Year 1 of a new era.
And, as I wrote Thursday in the 13 For ‘13 series, a new-look team can learn a lot from a first loss to a more-talented team away from home. If Auburn loses Saturday to Texas A&M — which is what Vegas and most of the experts think will happen — it doesn’t mean the Tigers are automatically destined to lose each of their next three and be 3-4 when they face Mississippi State.
As much as we, myself included, love to project… college football doesn’t always work that way.
We’ll see what kind of game we get from Auburn and Texas A&M on Saturday in College Station. I wouldn’t be surprised with any outcome, because there’s still so much unknown with an Auburn team that hasn’t faced a challenge like this yet.
In this week’s mailbag, we tackle a lot of topics relating to Auburn vs. Texas A&M and spin some things forward when it comes to the big-picture look at the Tigers program a few games into the 2023 season. Also: Banana pudding and beef jerky.
What do you think will be the defining factor/matchup vs. A&M?
Do you think that a specific position group having a major impact will be the primary key to Auburn getting a win, or is it more likely to come down to larger group success? For example: The pass rush and the secondary both playing well in order to keep A&M's pass offense in check.
I think both teams are going to want to be balanced in this matchup, and I can definitely see the appeal of running the ball and working the clock away from home for Auburn.
But when I look at this matchup, I’m looking at the air attacks first and foremost. Whoever has the better day through the air — on both sides of the ball — will most likely be the one that comes out with a win.
And that doesn’t just mean “whoever has the most yards will win.” Texas A&M is throwing it a ton under Bobby Petrino, and it might be hard to match what the Aggies are doing in the air in terms of pure volume.
Instead, look at efficiency and explosiveness. Miami only had 38 more passing yards than Texas A&M in Week 2, but it did so with 23 fewer attempts. The Hurricanes had nearly double the Aggies’ yards per attempt. Additionally, Miami had five passing touchdowns and zero interceptions, while Conner Weigman had two touchdowns and two picks while completing less than 60% of his passes.
In this matchup, I like Auburn’s pass defense more than Texas A&M’s… but I like Texas A&M’s pass offense more than Auburn’s. If Nehemiah Pritchett is able to play Saturday, I think Auburn has a good shot at being able to manage its way around the Keionte Scott injury and have both Donovan Kaufman and J.D. Rhym contribute at nickel. Kaufman will give you the safety and blitzer-type stuff you want there, while Rhym gives you the physical coverage you need from a slot corner.
I’ll borrow what James said in his question and say that the most important thing will be how Auburn’s pass rush and coverage work together. Auburn hasn’t rushed the passer well with just its front this season, and having noted Aggie tormenter Jalen McLeod closer to 100% could help with that. Ron Roberts needs to continue to time up his blitzes and pressure packages well, and that secondary will have to be ready to win some 1-on-1 matchups if the Tigers have to send more to the quarterback.
According to Pro Football Focus, Weigman has been pressured on 40.2% of his dropbacks so far this season. Miami didn’t get a sack but still affected him quite a bit. Weigman is completing 80% of his passes for an average of 9.6 yards per attempt with a clean pocket. When he’s pressured, he’s completing 52.4% — still a good percentage under duress, but it’s still a big drop-off from the clean pocket. Auburn has to find ways to get to him and try to get a turnover or two from it.
On the other side of this matchup, Texas A&M’s pass defense has mostly struggled with two types of players: Slots and bigger matchup problems downfield. Auburn has Jay Fair down the middle, and he has already developed a great rhythm with Payton Thorne. It also has Rivaldo Fairweather — who is a perfect 8-of-8 on targets this year, with five of them being contested catches — along with Shane Hooks, who continues to get plenty of looks on the outside.
Texas A&M is more talented at the line of scrimmage than Auburn, and former high 4-star Shemar Turner is off to a great start this season rushing the passer. The Tigers are going to have to find ways to slow him down. Thorne should have some opportunities to hit Texas A&M downfield for big plays, as the Aggies are 90th nationally in allowed passing plays of 20-plus yards and 95th of ones going for 30-plus yards. I’m not saying he’ll put up Tyler Van Dyke numbers on Texas A&M, but the chances to have a statement game in his first SEC start are there.
I’ll be surprised if Auburn is able to run the ball well at Texas A&M, yet I think the air attack battle could tilt the Tigers’ way if the defense holds up and Thorne makes good decisions with the ball in his hands. If Texas A&M puts up big, efficient passing numbers and forces Thorne into trouble, this could go sideways in a hurry.
What’s the backbreaker in this game for Auburn? If A&M pulls away, what will be the primary reason?
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