Observations: Texas A&M 27, Auburn 10
In their first big test of 2023, the Tigers' offense fell flat again — and the defense couldn't bail them out against a much better team.
(Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — If you’re looking for a sign of how far backwards Auburn football has gone over the last few years, look no further than the Tigers’ performances against Texas A&M inside Kyle Field.
Auburn beat Texas A&M in its first four trips to College Station, putting up these numbers:
2013: 615 yards of offense, 7.24 yards per play and 45 points
2015: 443 yards of offense, 6.42 yards per play and 26 points
2017: 496 yards of offense, 6.28 yards per play and 42 points
2019: 299 yards of offense, 4.75 yards per play and 28 points
Towards the end of the Gus Malzahn era, things were obviously tapering off. But the Tigers were still able to walk out of one of the biggest stadiums in the country with a win.
Two years ago, Auburn had 223 yards of offense and 3.23 yards per play while losing 20-3 to a Texas A&M team that didn’t score an offensive touchdown.
And on Saturday, Auburn had an even 200 yards of offense and 3.13 yards per play while scoring 10 points. The only touchdown came on defense, a long scoop-and-score from linebacker Eugene Asante where he bizarrely had to sidestep Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher.
At one point during Auburn’s 27-10 loss to Texas A&M here in 2023, the Tigers had 33 yards on 32 plays across six drives. The passing game was virtually nonexistent. The rushing attack couldn’t string together enough good plays together to score points.
“The bad part about it is that we moved the ball and got in scoring territory, we get a penalty or a sack, and it knocked us out of scoring points that would've made it a little more interesting for sure,” Hugh Freeze said. “Then the third quarter was dominated by them.”
Texas A&M had almost as many yards (146) and more points (14) in the third quarter as Auburn had in the entire game.
It turned an ugly, yet close game into a comfortable victory for a team and a head coach that really needed it. It also turned into a brutal loss for a first-year head coach and a team who learned a lot about themselves in their first real test together.
“We just want to continue to put our best foot forward and play the style of football the Auburn tradition, the Auburn way,” Asante said. “We learned a lot, we're just going to back and watch the film and see what we can improve upon.”
One thing’s for sure: There’s a whole lot of learning to do for an Auburn program that appears to have a very long way to go in order to swing with the talented contenders of the SEC again.
Here are four Observations from Auburn’s 27-10 loss at Texas A&M, along with some Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Day.
The biggest gap between Auburn and Texas A&M was at the most important position on the field
A lot was made of Freeze talking about the talent gap between Auburn and Texas A&M — along with the Tigers’ next two opponents — earlier this week.
A good bit of that held up on Saturday, sometimes showing up along the line of scrimmage. The Aggies had years of stacking blue-chip prospects up front. The Tigers had units largely made of transfers, with most of them coming from the Group of Five level.
But the most important gap between Auburn and Texas A&M was with the position group with the fewest amount of players but the biggest impact: Quarterback.
Texas A&M starter Conner Weigman had been one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the country this season in terms of yardage. And while Auburn’s defense prevented him from putting up his usual big numbers, he still made throws and plays to get the Aggies into field goal range and go up 6-0 in the first half.
When Weigman went down with what looked to be a serious leg injury just before halftime, the Aggies turned it over to Max Johnson — who was a former starter at LSU. Johnson broke open the game in the second half by completing his first five passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns, including a nice deep shot to former 5-star Evan Stewart.
Meanwhile, Auburn’s quarterbacks combined to go 9-23 for 56 yards. That’s a yards per attempt average of 2.43, the lowest mark for the program since an ugly 13-7 loss to pre-dynasty Georgia in the 2016 season.
Auburn had its opportunities through the air: Most notably, Thorne missed an open Jay Fair on what would have been a touchdown in the second quarter. (Fair, somehow, only was targeted twice all game.) Ashford went 1-4 through the air, while third-stringer Holden Geriner went 2-7 for just 8 yards on Auburn’s final drive of the game.
“We had people open,” Freeze said when asked about the quarterbacks. “And we either missed them, or the pressure distracted us, it seemed. I've gotta watch the film and see exactly what was going on to cause that. But we certainly missed a few opportunities in the passing game.”
Thorne was replaced by Ashford in the third quarter and only came back in for a couple of plays, one of which was a near-turnover deep inside Auburn territory. While the Tigers made some progress on their Ashford and Geriner possessions — almost exclusively on the ground — they were unable to turn those into points.
Through two games against power-conference competition, Thorne has completed just 55.6% of his passes for an average of 5.11 yards per attempt. That, quite simply, isn’t going to get it done against SEC-caliber competition.
Freeze said Saturday that Auburn is looking for answers on offense. Texas A&M aced the question of what would happen when its former 5-star starter went down with a serious injury.
The difference between the two programs was very telling, and it was worth much more than a 17-point differential on the final scoreboard.
(Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers)
A very up-and-down day for the offensive line
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