No. 12 Auburn looks to stay in contention to win the Southeastern Conference’s West Division while No. 13 Texas A&M tries to remain in the race on Saturday in College Station, Texas.
Auburn (6-2, 3-1 SEC) trails No. 3 Alabama (7-1, 4-1) for the division lead, with Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2), Ole Miss (6-2, 3-2) and Mississippi State (5-3, 3-2) fighting to stay in the race as well.
But only Auburn and Alabama control their destinies to earn a spot in the SEC title game on Dec. 4. If Auburn and Alabama win the rest of their league games heading into their meeting on the final day of the regular season on Nov. 27, the winner of the Iron Bowl would head to Atlanta to play top-ranked and East Division champ Georgia.
The Tigers and Aggies have both turned their seasons around after coming close to taking major steps backward this season.
Auburn recovered from a 34-10 loss to Georgia on Oct. 9 to post consecutive upsets, first winning at then-No. 17 Arkansas, 38-23, on Oct. 16 before handling then-No. 10 Ole Miss, 31-20, last week.
Texas A&M has emerged as a completely different team than the one that started 3-2 after consecutive losses to then-No. 16 Arkansas and Mississippi State. The Aggies started to emerge as a contender with a 41-38 win over then-No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 9 before cruising to victories over Missouri and South Carolina before last week’s open date.
“Auburn is probably playing as well as anyone in the league right now. We’re going to have to play a great game. This is a very good football team,” Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher told reporters. “But we’re playing well, too. We kind of found out who we are.”
The Tigers and Aggies have both relied on improved quarterback play and stout defenses in the past few weeks to remain in the hunt for the division title.
Auburn’s Bo Nix is one of the SEC’s top dual-threats. He’s gone 150-for-241 passing for 1,764 yards with nine touchdowns against just two interceptions, but he’s also rushed for 189 yards and four touchdowns — second most on the team — on 48 carries.
Running backs Tank Bigsby (666 yards, seven TDs) and Jarquez Hunter (530 yards, three TDs) power the Tigers’ run-oriented offense.
Texas A&M’s Zach Calzada is more of a pocket passer. The first-year starter has gone 115-for-208 passing for 1,364 yards with 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions, but he hasn’t thrown more than one interception in any game this season.
The ability of Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane to run the ball has alleviated the pressure on Calzada to beat teams with his arm. Spiller has rushed for 761 yards and five touchdowns on 123 carries, an average of 6.2 yards an attempt. Achane has averaged a whopping 7.1 yards per carry, with 608 yards and five scores on 86 carries.
“(Calzada) can spin it, and he’s shown that,” Auburn coach Bryan Harsin told reporters. “From what I’ve seen this guy’s a really good player. He’s got good vision, throws the ball well and does a good job of leading their offense. These guys are explosive on the offensive side and they’re going to put you in a position where you’ve got to make sure you understand what you’re doing on the defensive side and play at a fast pace.”
–Field Level Media