Auburn-Texas A&M Preview
Kyler Murray will make his second start for the 25th-ranked Aggies on Saturday night against the visiting Tigers, whose best option has been a less-than-100 percent Sean White.
The true freshman Murray took over for Kyle Allen and led the Aggies (6-2, 3-2 SEC) to a 35-28 home win over South Carolina last Saturday, running for 156 yards and throwing for 223 more in his starting debut to help the team end a two-game slide.
"The biggest thing that I thought he did was not force the game, and not force things and let the game come to him," coach Kevin Sumlin said. "He guessed a little bit early on some of the quarterback read stuff. Once he settled down and actually started to read things out, he was effective."
Effective might be an understatement. Murray was 20 of 28 as the Aggies racked up a season-high 544 yards - 321 on the ground - without a turnover. Granted, the consecutive losses came against then-No. 10 Alabama and at then-No. 24 Mississippi, but they combined for 26 points and 508 yards - 90 rushing - with seven turnovers in those games.
Running back Tra Carson picked up 122 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries (5.81 yards per rush) after being limited to 232 yards on 61 carries (3.80) over the previous four games.
"With Kyler's dynamic ability to run, that's going to open up a lot of opportunities for running backs," offensive coordinator Jake Spavital told the school's official website. "We knew the running game was going to be important to establish, and we knew it was going to be pretty successful based off having two dynamic guys back there."
Still, that kind of production might not hold up against a better offensive team than South Carolina, which hadn't scored more than 24 points in its previous five conference games. Texas A&M has given up an average of 435.0 yards of total offense in SEC play, which ranks ahead of only South Carolina (462.3) and Auburn (464.6).
Against the Gamecocks, the Tigers gave up 13 plays of at least 12 yards.
"Way too many big plays," Sumlin said.
The Tigers have by no means been a great offensive team, though they're at least better than the Gamecocks with middle-of-the-pack marks of 25.0 points and 379.8 yards of offense in the conference.
In last Saturday's 27-19 home loss to No. 19 Ole Miss, Auburn (4-4, 1-4) used White for most of the game with the redshirt freshman going just 12 of 28 for 258 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He's completed 51.7 percent of his passes in consecutive losses, but coach Gus Malzahn is going with him over backup Jeremy Johnson.
"He's still a little banged up, but we expect him to play," Malzahn said. "He showed a lot of guts and a lot of toughness because we really were prepared for him not to play, and we got there in pregame and he was very determined: 'I'm ready to go. I can do it.' It's still a little sore but we expect him to play this week."
The Tigers also expect more from lead running back Peyton Barber, who was limited to 17 yards on eight carries against Ole Miss because of an undisclosed injury after scoring 11 rushing touchdowns in his previous three games.
That's just one side of the ball, though, and Malzahn is hoping the team can finally get it done collectively.
"We haven't played good on offense and good on defense at the same time all year," Malzahn said. "That's our challenge. We've got to figure out a way to put a complete game together. ... That's what we're striving to do."
Auburn, which sits in the SEC West cellar, has lost its last five to ranked opponents. Texas A&M, 1 1/2 games back of division-leading LSU, has won five in a row against unranked foes.
They've split the last two meetings with both decided by four points or fewer. The unranked Aggies won 41-38 at No. 3 Auburn on Nov. 8 behind four TD passes from Allen.