Texas A&M’s path to remain in playoff contention doesn’t seem all that treacherous, but coach Jimbo Fisher knows better.
The fifth-ranked Aggies (6-1, No. 5 CFP rankings) have had plenty of troubles against Auburn the past few seasons heading into Saturday’s meeting at Jordan-Hare Stadium. No matter that the Tigers (5-3) haven’t come close to pulling an upset in two previous games against Top 5 teams, including last week’s 42-13 shellacking by No. 1 Alabama.
But Auburn has won the past three meetings and the last two have come by a total of 12 points. Fisher thinks his team is well-prepared if this turns into another close one, figuring if you can’t win close games in the SEC “you are in trouble.”
“That is just what this league is about,” he said. “More like pro football than any league in college football. I believe in our team 100% that way for sure.”
The onus is also on Auburn to prove it can compete with a Top 5 team, having lost to then-No. 4 Georgia 27-6 in addition to the lopsided Iron Bowl.
The Tigers at least get a swift shot at redemption this time.
“We’ve got to go out there and show that, hey last week wasn’t us,” Auburn defensive lineman Colby Wooten said. That “we belong with the big dogs, and not just in the SEC but all of college football. It’s just a tremendous opportunity to go against a high ranking team again.”
Winning out doesn’t guarantee Texas A&M of a playoff spot, especially with only a longshot chance at usurping Alabama in the SEC West.
But Auburn is the only team in the Aggies’ closing stretch that has a winning record, with Tennessee and Mississippi set to visit College Station in the coming weeks.
Fisher well remembers how the Aggies’ last visit to Jordan-Hare Stadium ended. Auburn scored 14 points over the final 5:14 and Seth Williams, then a freshman, caught an 11-yard touchdown pass with 1:41 left in a 28-24 victory.
“That’s how quick things happen,” Fisher said. “That’s why coaches are always on edge, no matter what’s going on. How quick, especially on the road, those things can happen.”
Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond is on the brink of joining the rarified ranks of Tim Tebow and Dak Prescott as the only SEC quarterbacks to record 9,000 career passing yards and 1,000 career rushing yards. Mond needs 48 passing yards and 47 on the ground.
He is coming off a poor performance against LSU, going 11 of 34 for 105 yards.
Auburn will be without injured left tackle Alec Jackson for the second straight game. Tigers coach Gus Malzahn said Jackson had surgery on his right hand early this week. Austin Troxell replaced Jackson in the starting lineup against No. 1 Alabama. Malzahn says right tackle Brodarious Hamm (left knee), tailbacks Tank Bigsby (hip) and D.J. Williams (ankle) and cornerback Jaylin Simpson are questionable against the Aggies.
Simpson missed the Iron Bowl with an undisclosed injury
Whatever Auburn’s backfield situation, Malzahn doesn’t think the Tigers can win as a one-dimensional offense.
“That would have to be the case if you can’t run the football,” he said. “But that’s not an option for us. They’re really good but we’ve got to find ways to generate rushing yards. That’ll be a big key.”
It’s a challenge even if those players are healthy. Texas A&M leads the SEC and ranks fifth nationally in run defense, giving up just 87.1 yards a game.
“We take a lot of pride stopping the run,” Aggies linebacker Buddy Johnson said. “That’s something we love to do.”
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