AUBURN, Ala. (AP) – No. 17 Texas A&M and Auburn have each faced a tough nonconference test and another one that wasn’t so challenging.
Now, they get a chance to discover whether they’ve made some progress in the Southeastern Conference Western Division. The Tigers (1-1) and Aggies (2-0) open league play Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium in a matchup of two teams who haven’t fared so well in the SEC the past couple of seasons.
Auburn has lost three straight against Power 5 conference teams since beating Texas A&M last season. The Aggies, meanwhile, get another chance to prove that they’ve made progress both with quarterback Trevor Knight and as a defense after ranking among the SEC’s worst at stopping the run in 2015.
The game “will be another test cause that’s basically where we are as team,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “Everyone waiting to see who we are and what we can do. Our team enjoys that kind of attitude. That’s been kind of the attitude about us since Week One.”
That’s when the Aggies survived an overtime win over UCLA before routing Prairie View A&M 67-0. Auburn took No. 5 Clemson down to the wire in the opener before rolling over Arkansas State, 51-14.
Let the battle for SEC West positioning begin. Neither team has had a winning league record in the past two seasons.
Auburn is a slight favorite in the game, but the visiting team has won the last four meetings.
“It is a little weird,” Auburn guard Alex Kozan said. “Normally the home team advantage, but 2012 obviously that wasn’t going to happen. (In) 2013 we kind of shocked them a little bit, 2014 they shocked us and then 2015 we got them again, so hopefully we can break that little weird streak.”
With a win, Texas A&M will have started 3-0 in three consecutive seasons for the first time since 1939-41.
Some things to watch when No. 17 Texas A&M and Auburn play on Saturday:
BLOCKING GARRETT: Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett has one sack in the first two games, but Auburn knows how formidable a pass rusher he is and has two new starting tackles. “It pretty much looks like he was created in a video game to rush the passer,” Tigers guard Alex Kozan said. “He’s long, athletic and he can bend.”
DEFENDING AUBURN’S RUN: Coach Gus Malzahn’s Tigers racked up 462 rushing yards in last week’s win over Arkansas State, with tailbacks Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway both topping 120 yards. Texas A&M has allowed 2.3 yards per carry through two games.
“What you saw from UCLA was downhill lead, power team and toss,” Sumlin said. “Different run attack than a Gus Malzahn team. More of a misdirection. Don’t get it confused. It’s a power attack. But it’s power and misdirection and get your eyes somewhere. You have to have lot of eye discipline.”
QB STABILITY: Both Knight and Auburn’s Sean White appear to have stabilized the quarterback situations. They’ve also each flashed some running ability. White was one of just three Auburn quarterbacks to play against Clemson in Malzahn’s failed experiment but clearly is the No. 1 guy now, with John Franklin III so far used as essentially a Wildcat QB.
FACING AGGIES WRS: Clemson’s Mike Williams burned Auburn’s secondary down the field a number of times, and Texas A&M presents even more receiving threats with Christian Kirk, Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones and others.
PETTWAY’S ENCORE: Pettway hadn’t logged a carry for Auburn before last week’s 15-carry, 152-yard coming out party. The 6-foot, 240-pounder provides a definite change of pace to the smaller Johnson but hasn’t had a shot at an SEC defense yet.
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