The Auburn football team will begin its November campaign on Saturday as the Tigers travel to Texas to take on a 5-3 Texas A&M team.
Head coach Gus Malzahn is in a tough position going into the final stretch of the season. The Tigers could realistically win out and would likely go to the playoff if they do, but losing their three remaining SEC games and Malzahn getting fired is also a real possibility.
Auburn began the season with an early loss to Clemson in Week 2 before rebounding and making it into the AP Top 10. A tough loss to LSU made things look grim for the Tigers, but Malzahn’s squad will look to bounce back going into the final stretch.
Kevin Sumlin’s Aggies have experienced a similar up-and-down season. After a difficult loss to UCLA to open the season, the Aggies won four straight games and looked impressive in an eight-point loss to Alabama.
With a 5-2 record, the Aggies looked like they could get to nine or ten wins this season. A home game against Mississippi State didn’t go their way and the Aggies were embarrassed in a 35-14 loss. Similarly, their head coach will go into November fighting for his job.
One of the most intriguing matchups will be the two quarterbacks, Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham and Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond. Both quarterbacks were heavily recruited by both schools.
Texas A&M went all in on Mond in the offseason, and Stidham ended up going to Auburn.
Going into November, Stidham has been the more impressive quarterback, as Mond’s starting position has been in question in recent weeks.
Eight games into the season, Stidham has thrown for 1728 yards with a 65.8 percent completion rate, along with eight passing touchdowns and three interceptions. Stidham has also found the end zone with his legs twice this season and showed flashes of mobility against Arkansas.
Mond has thrown for 1281 yards on a 50.7 percent completion rate but has thrown six interceptions to go along with his seven passing touchdowns. Mond’s legs are dangerous, running for 350 yards and three touchdowns this season.
Both quarterbacks have had great performances as well as disappointing ones.
Gus Malzahn announced Tuesday that running back Kamryn Pettway will be out indefinitely with a shoulder injury. Pettway finally looked healthy against Arkansas after battling an ankle injury, but this new injury will allow Kerryon Johnson to take over the feature back role again.
Johnson has been incredibly efficient near the goal line in games without Kamryn Pettway, including a five-touchdown performance against Missouri earlier this season. Johnson has run for 723 yards and 14 touchdowns through eight games this season.
With a struggling freshman quarterback, Auburn’s stout defensive line should be able to put pressure on Mond early in the game and keep Texas A&M’s running backs contained for most of the day.
The Aggies' duo of Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford has been underwhelming so far this season in terms of rushing yards (472 and 368 respectively), but have been effective at the goal line, combining for 13 rushing touchdowns.
The biggest threat for the Aggies on Saturday will be star receiver Christian Kirk. Kirk has 34 receptions for 393 yards and five touchdowns.
He is also a dangerous punt and kick returner, something Auburn will have to be careful about after allowing a punt return touchdown to LSU and a kick return touchdown against Arkansas.
Auburn should be able to get out to an early lead, but keeping a lead is something the Tigers have struggled with this year. After coming out firing against LSU and earning a 20-point lead, Auburn failed to score in the second half.
Malzahn’s team also got up with a 6-0 lead against Clemson, but a touchdown in the last minute of the first half and early in the third quarter gave Clemson the lead. Auburn also failed to score in the second half of that game and lost 14-6.
On paper, this Auburn team has much more talent than Texas A&M and should be able to easily win. The reality, however, is that this team has become extremely unpredictable under Malzahn and any scenarios are possible. Auburn could blow out the Aggies, could get blown out, and could win or lose a close and hard-fought game.
Since Texas A&M joined the SEC and became a yearly opponent for Auburn, the away team has won every year. If Auburn is able to come out strong and hold onto its lead, that streak should continue.
The outcome of this game will have a big impact on the coaching status of both Malzahn and Sumlin. Being fired at the end of the season will likely be the fate of whichever coach loses this game.