Early Analysis: Auburn at Texas A&M

Photo: CBS Sports

No. 24 Auburn (5-1, 2-1) at No. 7 Texas A&M (5-2, 2-1)

Saturday, 3:30 PM EST, CBS

Line: A&M by 13.5

Last year, when these two teams met it was Texas A&M who rolled up 63 points on the Auburn defense and the game was put away at half-time when the Aggies led 42 to 7. Ellis Johnson has taken over the Auburn defense and the Tigers are showing definite improvement on that side of the ball. The Tigers are still giving up nearly as many yards but they are doing much better at keeping their opponents out of the endzone as they've decreased their points per game from 28.3 to 18.8. The Tigers have also improved on defending third downs (improved from 12th to 3rd in SEC), they are getting the QB at a much higher rate and they are better in the red zone. Of course, Auburn hasn't played a QB as dynamic as Johnny Manziel yet this season.

The Aggies received a scare last week when Manziel went down early in the game against Ole Miss but he bounced back and led them to victory. This season, the Aggies are fourth in scoring offense but 96th in scoring defense. This is a game where the Aggies coaching staff would like to see their defense step up and take some pressure off of their dynamic offense. 

For Auburn to win: Keep the ball out of Manziel's hands by keeping their offense on the field and sustaining drives. Oh yeah, they also have to finish those drives. Auburn is second in the SEC in score rate (86.96%) once they get inside the red zone but they need to do a better job scoring TDs (currently at 65.22% inside red zone) rather than just putting points on the board. The defense has the difficult task of stopping Manziel. If the Tigers can force Manziel into some mistakes and win the turnover battle, they have a shot.

For Texas A&M to win: Let Manziel do what he does. Put the ball in Johnny Football's hands and let him win the game for you. For Johnny, he needs to do a better job of spreading the football around to all of the weapons that he has. As effective as they have been when used, the Aggies should be using their RB unit more effectively. On defense, the Aggies defense needs to contain Nick Marshall and make them beat him with his arm instead of his feet.

Key Player, Auburn: Nick Marshall, QB. Marshall sat out last week with an injury to get better and his replacement Jeremy Johnson looked very good. Is their a QB controversy brewing on the Plains? Marshall has looked better in each game he's played as he gets used to the speed of the game at this level. Marshall has shown improved touch on the deep ball and he's starting to become a weapon in the rushing game. Marshall needs to be a true dual-threat in this game and keep the porous Aggies defense guessing.

Key Player, Texas A&M: Johnny Manziel, QB. Picking two QBs is kind of a cop-out but when it's Johnny Football you have to go with him. Manziel is so dynamic of a play-maker that sometimes it seems his teammates stand around a bit and watch him play. Manziel needs to continue to make plays but I would like to see him spread the ball around a bit especially getting the ball to his backs out in space and let them make plays while he watches.

Key Stat: In last years game, A&M was 9 of 11 on third down while Auburn was just 2 of 10. This game will pit the second best offense in the SEC on third down (A&M at 57.53%) against the third best defense on third down (Auburn at 33.33%). 

About Kevin Causey

Dry humorist, craft beer enthusiast, occasionally unbiased SEC fan, UGA alumni, contributor for The Comeback.