Auburn versus Texas A&M Is For Survival

Back in September, or even October, this match-up had a lot of potential. But neither team has lived up to expectations and so now Auburn versus Texas A&M is for survival more than it is high-end college football status.

Both teams are 3-6 overall and 1-5 in the SEC. They are also both on a five-game losing streak. Accordingly, both teams need to win out over the remaining three weeks to be bowl eligible. The loser of Saturday night’s game at Jordan-Hare is guaranteed to be sitting home for the holidays.

Is Auburn’s New Feel Sustainable?

Auburn has as much momentum as a team can have coming off a loss. The Tigers got beat 39-33 in overtime by Mississippi State last week. But it was the undeniable effort by a team playing for an interim coach that was the storyline.  Carnell Williams is replacing the fired Bryan Harsin on an interim basis for the rest of the season, which could also be an audition for the permanent gig.

The Tigers had zero viable passing game. Robby Ashford was seven of 22 for 75 yards and no touchdowns. A starting quarterback performing like that would generally be too big of a hurdle to get over. But Auburn put up 256 net yards of rushing, including 108 from Ashford. He also put up two touchdowns on the ground. They also got 89 yards and a touchdown from Tank Bigsby, and probably need to be giving him the football more. Williams let Ashford’s athleticism carry the offense instead of forcing a passing game that was not working.

But on the defensive side of the line, they held the Bulldogs to 13 net yards rushing. Yes, Mississippi State put up 370 yards of offense, but they were turned into a one-dimensional team. Auburn outscored Miss State 27-9 in the second half to put the game into overtime. The defense also sacked Miss State quarterback Will Rogers five times.

It was the first sustainable sign of emotion and fire the team has shown most of the season.

What Can Weigman Bring?

The defense will be put to the test again this week against A&M quarterback Conner Weigman. It has been a revolving door for head coach Jimbo Fisher at quarterback this season. Weigman missed last week’s game against Florida with an illness. He was part of a huge chunk of the A&M roster that got hit with the flu.

But he showed what he is capable of, throwing for 338 yards and four touchdowns against Ole Miss two weeks ago. Stability at quarterback from a freshman is usually a huge roll of the dice, but it is where A&M’s season is right now.

He has the weapons to work with. Freshman receiver Evan Stewart had 120 yards on eight catches for a season’s best in receiving yards two weeks ago.

Run, Dudes, Run

Consistency has been the issue for A&M. Well, truthfully it has been one of many issues. Weigman, if he is in fact well enough to play, is the closest thing the Aggies have to a quarterback who can manage the game without being asked to win it. Fisher is essentially in total rebuild mode for the rest of the season. So riding the freshman quarterback as far as he will take you, makes sense.

These are two of the statistically worst teams in the conference in run defense. So while Auburn should be utilizing more of Bigsby, likewise A&M should be asking Weigman to turn and hand off to Devon Achane time and time again Saturday. He is averaging a little over five and a half yards per carry and needs only 113 yards to get to the 1,000-yard mark for the season.

This doesn’t figure to be one of the prettiest games of the season. But it is also too easy to write off two teams who have dramatically underperformed much of the season. They both still have something to play for, starting with staying in the race for a bowl game. At this point, it doesn’t even matter which bowl. Does Fisher’s in-season rebuild have enough weapons to overcome its weekly inconsistency?  Or does Auburn, playing with some fire for its interim coach find a way to complete a job it looked like it started last week?

Based primarily on most people scratching their heads over both teams, the spread at publishing time is Auburn, at home, by a whopping point and a half.