In the post-game presser after the LSU game, many of the Aggie players—along with Head Coach Kevin Sumlin—made a reference to a “24-hour rule.” The procedure is self-explanatory. The rule simply goes that the players had 24 hours to take in the tough loss against the Tigers of Baton Rouge, but when that time ends, it’s back to business. It will be revealed Saturday evening whether the Aggie players followed the rule or not. Despite the fact that they will go up against a reeling Auburn squad, Texas A&M will play in their most hostile environment to date. And with bowl eligibility on the line for the Tigers, the Ags will most likely have the kitchen sink thrown at them by Gene Chizik and company.
The numbers are hard to ignore. Auburn allows roughly 411 yards per game on defense. A&M gains around 525. Auburn’s offense has scored 11 touchdowns all year. Johnny Manziel has scored more than double that amount with 24. But here are other telling statistics: A&M’s last two road games have been decided by a total of five points. And in the last three games, the Aggies have committed 13 turnovers while collecting only two takeaways. Those two stats make it safe to say that the Ags have much to prove when they go to Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Saturday will mark the first of a tumultuous three-game road trip that will include a near top-ten squad and the country’s unanimous #1 team in the weeks to come. The last SEC road game A&M faced included six Aggie turnovers and dramatic comeback from a double-digit fourth quarter deficit. That night, A&M faced an Ole Miss squad coming off a strong showing against the #1 Crimson Tide and looking to end an extensive SEC losing streak. The following week, A&M held off by the thinnest of margins a Louisiana Tech team facing a legitimate shot at being mid-major BCS buster a la Boise State and pre-Big XII TCU.
Those nights, A&M took on opponents who had high stakes on the line and believed full-heartedly that those stakes would be met. The results were A&M receiving the best shots one could take from Ole Miss and LA Tech and nearly being toppled over because of them. This Saturday, the stakes are extremely high for the Auburn Tigers. A loss this week would make it impossible for War Eagle to play a game in December. For Gene Chizik, a loss would further strengthen the case that this could be his last season as head coach. So if and when the Aggies take the best shot Auburn can dish out in front of 88,000 desperate fans, how will they respond?
Offensively, A&M will try to shake arguably their most disheartening performance yet. After a hot start, the Aggie offense fizzled out in the second half and squandered away several scoring opportunities, the biggest being a three-and-out followed by a missed Taylor Bertolet field goal after a Trey Williams kickoff return put A&M inside the LSU red zone. Recently, the greatest enemy the offense faced has been their own self-inflicted mistakes. Turnovers and unforced errors nearly cost the Ags their last two road games and indeed made the difference against LSU. For all the excitement and yards gained, A&M’s offense actually has yet to have its best ballgame yet, and that is a dangerous thought for a team like Auburn when it comes to containing an athlete like Johnny Manziel. But with Johnny Football, after his three-interception performance, will he try to do too much against an athletic Auburn defense? Coach Sumlin stated that no one’s taking the LSU loss harder than Manziel. While the freshman phenom has followed down performances with electrifying highlight reels (see SMU after the Florida game and LA Tech after Ole Miss), Manziel still may try to press and maybe force a few throws in hopes of creating the home runs that made him a household name.
Defensively, A&M will try to build on maybe their most impressive performance to date. Saturday, the Aggie defense faces a similar challenge with Auburn as they had with LSU. The Tigers have not had much success offensively, but when they have, it’s come in the running game through their two running backs, Tre Mason and Onterio McCalebb. LSU worked the same way and A&M stood toe-to-toe for all 60 minutes outside of a couple of big runs that occurred after Aggie turnovers. A&M’s defense this season has depended on matchups and this should be one that lines up well for the maroon and white. But as Ole Miss and LA Tech showed, when a team starts to believe and finds a rhythm, they can be extremely difficult to stop.
Bottom line, Texas A&M is a 15-point favorite and should have no problems if they take care of business and play their game. But a problem the Ags have faced lately has been giving their opponents opportunities to stay in the ballgame through turnovers and costly penalties. In an environment like Auburn’s, it only takes one big play to get the crowd and the Tigers to believe and make it a four-quarter slugfest.
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