With the loss to Texas A&M, Auburn falls to 5-4 on the season. That is pretty disappointing in itself, but the way that it happened is even tougher to swallow. The Tigers were unable to impede the Aggie offense all day, yet improbably found themselves with a 20-14 lead in the third quarter.
It was the fourth quarter that gave Auburn problems. Texas A&M outscored Auburn 17-0 in the final frame to secure a 31-20 victory on the road to continue their hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff. Auburn, on the other hand, lost to another ranked opponent by double digits and assured its seventh consecutive season with at least four losses.
Take a look below at three numbers, two notes and a quote that shed more light on Texas A&M’s 31-20 defeat of Auburn.
The Texas A&M Aggies rushed for 313 yards on 47 carries against Auburn on Saturday. It was clear from the first drive that the Aggies intended to establish the running game, and they did it mercilessly all day. The Tigers defense has struggled all year against talented teams, but watching the Aggies gash Auburn repeatedly for big gains was jarring.
Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was unable to throw anything at Texas A&M that made them uncomfortable even a little. The Aggies rolled up over 500 yards of total offense and had the ball for 38 of the 60 minutes. It was a ruthless ground attack from A&M that laid the foundation for their victory.
Auburn averaged six yards per pass attempt against Texas A&M. For comparison, the Tigers averaged 6.5 yards per carry on the day. Generally, military academies or others committed to the triple option are the only offenses where yards per rush are higher than yards per pass.
It has been the case all year, but the Tigers’ inability to find any consistent passing attack against good opponents is what makes this offense below average. That was certainly the case against Texas A&M. Auburn has thrown just one touchdown, compared to six interceptions combined in their four losses. In an era where the passing game is king, Auburn’s struggles throwing the ball doomed the offense to another low-scoring performance.
Texas A&M ran 70 offensive plays against Auburn, and the Tigers managed to force three tackles for loss. This demonstrates even further the degree to which A&M had success. Auburn managed one sack on 23 pass attempts and two tackles behind the line of scrimmage on 47 rushes.
The Tigers’ defensive front was rarely ever able to push A&M backwards and suffered a pummeling as a result. It is tough to play defense right now, and no one expects shutouts against good teams. But, to give yourself a chance on defense, you have to create negative plays for the opponent and Auburn did not do it nearly enough against the Aggies.
Bo needs to run
Auburn quarterback Bo Nix’s most consistent contribution to the offense right now is using his legs. Nix has been effective in the rushing attack all year, but the offensive coaches seem hesitant to use him the same way as someone like Nick Marshall in the past.
Nix is not the dynamic athlete that Marshall was, but he is plenty fast and strong enough to make his mark on the game rushing the ball. Against the Aggies, Nix rushed for 49 yards and both Tigers’ touchdowns for the game. It has been confounding why Auburn has not asked Nix to run more this season, but it should be a feature of the offense the rest of the season.
It has already been addressed repeatedly, but Auburn’s defense had a really tough day. With that being said, if two plays go differently, it may have been a different game. Auburn linebacker Zakoby McClain was involved in both, which is no surprise because he is around the ball more frequently than any Auburn player in recent history.
Early in the game, McClain was able to force Texas A&M tailback Isaiah Spiller to fumble the ball. Unfortunately for the Tigers, no other guys in the blue jerseys were near enough to recover the ball. If Auburn had been able to generate a first quarter turnover, it could have set a different tone for the game.
Similarly, in the fourth quarter, McClain had a chance to intercept a pass from A&M quarterback Kellen Mond. Unfortunately for McClain and Auburn, the ball went through his hands and into the waiting arms of Aggie tight end Jalen Wydermeyer for the go-ahead touchdown.
Auburn needed to force turnovers to beat the Aggies and came close a couple of times. However, the inability to seal the deal on either of those takeaways meant that the Texas A&M offense rolled comfortably the whole game.
“If we’d played well, we could have beat them… They made the plays in the fourth quarter, and we didn’t,” — Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn on the Tigers’ loss to Texas A&M.
The game was lost by Auburn in the fourth quarter when Texas A&M had 17 points and Auburn had only about 20 yards of offense in the same timespan. The game was on the line in the fourth quarter, and Auburn was actually in the lead.
However, over the final 15 minutes of play, the Tigers went three and out twice on offense while the Aggies put together back to back 70+ yard touchdown drives to take the lead. After that, A&M actually drove the field again and kicked a field goal to make the margin two scores with just over a minute left to play.
In the critical moments of the contest, the offense completely derailed and the defense allowed scores on all three Aggie possessions. That is how you lose games.
Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: email@example.com or on Twitter @z_m_shaw