Conference play kicks off for Auburn and host Texas A&M on Saturday when the two hook up for an SEC West matinee in College Station.
Under new head coach Hugh Freeze, the Tigers are 3-0 after wins against UMass, Cal and FCS foe Samford.
Despite a disappointing Sept. 9 loss at Miami, the Aggies are 2-1 with home wins against New Mexico and Louisiana-Monroe, and are a formidable opponent, according to Freeze.
“They are really, really talented. And when you put on the film, you see that,” Freeze said of the Aggies. “Their closing speed is incredible. They are physical up front. And it’s a tall, tall, challenge for us, Year 1, to stand toe-to-toe against ’em.”
If Auburn hopes to secure a road win, quarterback Payton Thorne and his teammates first must secure the football. Through three games, the Tigers have turned the ball over seven times (four fumbles lost, three interceptions), which is tied for 112th nationally.
Despite throwing two picks last Saturday against Samford, Thorne completed 24 of 32 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown. He also added a career-high 123 yards and two scores on the ground and became the first Auburn quarterback since Nick Marshall (2014) to rush for 100 yards and pass for 200 in a game.
Auburn’s defense, led by linebacker Eugene Asante and a stout front, is tied for 18th nationally in scoring defense (12.2 points per game). But starting cornerback/punt returner Keionte Scott is out indefinitely due to ankle surgery and starting corner Nehemiah Pritchett (ankle) has yet to suit up for the Tigers this season, which has forced talented true freshman Kayin Lee into action.
Like Thorne, Texas A&M QB Conner Weigman has to be careful with his decision-making (two interceptions against the Hurricanes). He completed 25 of 29 pass attempts for 337 yards and a touchdown in the 47-3 win last Saturday against ULM and also ran for a score, and he seems to be finding a rhythm in new offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino’s offense.
Playmaking wideout Evan Stewart (19 receptions for 257 yards and two TDs) did not suit up for the Aggies last week due to an undisclosed injury. Veteran slot receiver Ainias Smith stepped up with Stewart out and had seven receptions for 127 yards.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher is hoping his offensive line can create holes for the running game and protect Weigman against a rugged front seven.
“Auburn is always a physical football team defensively, up front and inside they’re big, man,” Fisher said. “(Marcus Harris) and those inside guys are physical. Really strong, big guys that are hard to move once you get their guys inside.
“And like I said, 99 (Jayson Jones) and 50 (Harris) are great, big guys. The linebacker, 9 (Asante) can run like heck.”
–Field Level Media