For the past decade, teams that play in the SEC West know they are going to have to deal with Alabama and LSU. And once the other teams in the division got their act together and started recruiting and playing like those two perennial powerhouses, navigating the schedule with any success could land any team in the playoff hunt while failure might have you sitting at home for bowl season.
Auburn and Texas A&M entered the 2019 season with those lofty expectations and schedules among some of the nation’s toughest.
Before Saturday’s meeting at Kyle Field, Auburn had already passed a big test, coming back from a 13-point second-half deficit in the season opener in Arlington, Texas to beat Oregon, while A&M’s chance to make an early statement fell flat, getting steamrolled in methodical fashion by top-ranked and defending national champion Clemson.
It was Auburn that made another statement with a steady diet of a consistent, yet unspectacular running attack and shutting down Texas A&M’s own backfield to hold on to a 28–20 win.
Auburn has now won all four all-time meetings between the two schools in College Station.
The Aggies defense had given up just one running play for more than 20 yards through three games, but on the game’s fourth play, Auburn’s Anthony Schwartz took an end-around and skated untouched past every defender for a 57-yard score.
It was Auburn’s only play all day that gained more than 20 yards.
The Tigers padded the lead late in the first quarter when backup Joey Gatewood found a wide-open John Shenker for a six-yard touchdown score, giving Auburn a 14-0 cushion.
After Seth Small drilled a 33-yard field goal to give A&M its only first-half points, both teams’ offenses grinded to a halt.
Over the teams’ last eight possessions before halftime, there were seven punts and one missed field goal, with both teams combining for 66 total yards on 28 plays.
Disaster struck the Aggies on the first play of the second half, when running back Isaiah Spiller fumbled at the end of a 13-yard run.
Auburn cashed in six plays later when Bo Nix hit Seth Williams on a slant pattern for a nine-yard score, increasing the lead to 21–3.
A&M used a 90-yard drive to score its first touchdown, when Kellen Mond found Quartney Davis for 27 yards.
Mond finished 31-49 for 335 yards, two touchdowns and was sacked three times, but most of those yards came after the Aggies were down by three scores.
Auburn put the game away on its next possession with its own clock-draining, six-minute drive, running the ball 11 of 12 plays and finally hitting paydirt on a JaTarvious Whitlow eight-yard run.
At least on this day, Nix was not needed to pull off a last-minute comeback. The true freshman went 12–20 for 100 yards and one touchdown, and added 43 yards on the ground.
The Tigers won despite being somewhat undisciplined. They were flagged 12 times, including four offsides penalties,
Both teams still have to play three teams that are currently ranked in the top five of the AP Poll.
Auburn can rest easy for now, knowing another uneven performance like this one will certainly get it beat as it tries for its fourth SEC West title this decade. In addition to the annual dates with Alabama and LSU, the Tigers also have a road contest at Florida and a mid-November matchup with Georgia.
After dropping this conference game at home, A&M can forget about winning a division crown, and might want to look at the weeks ahead to see where it can pull off some victories just so it can become bowl eligible. Job one is fixing the inconsistent running game. After running wild against Texas State and Lamar, the Aggies have managed just 109 yards against Clemson and Auburn. Needless to say, year two in the $75 million Jimbo Fisher experiment has gotten off to a rocky start.