Auburn, Ala. (EETV) - Coming off the bye, No. 14 Auburn will finish their three-game road series at Texas A&M.
The Tigers have had a lot of success in College Station, winning every game they have played there since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012.
Although the Aggies come into the game unranked, they will be a tough team for Auburn.
Here are my 5 keys for Auburn to come out of College Station with a win:
1) Protect Stidham
Texas A&M is one of the toughest defenses, in my opinion, the country. They have had a lot of success this season with their pass rush defense,
The 30 sacks
Durham and Alaka each have at least 5 sacks this season, a high number for this point in the season. On top of the 5 sacks, this season
This means the Auburn offensive line will have to protect their back-field, mainly Stidham.
The Auburn offensive line, keep in mind, has allowed 22 sacks this season, 11 of those coming on the road at No. 4 Clemson.
For Auburn to have a chance to get their passing game started, the offensive line by the Tigers is crucial.
2) Establish the run
The Aggies have also had a lot of defensive success in stopping the run game. They have allowed their opponents 1,175 total rushing yards this season.
What that means is that they allow teams an average of about 147 rushing yards a game. But with that comes more tackles for loss.
Armani Watts and Tyrel Dodson along with
For Auburn to get more protection in their backfield for Stidham, the Tiger run game will have to get started early.
"I think Kam Martin, Malik Miller, Devan Barrett – I think all of those guys have gotten work done in the game, but, more importantly, got a lot of work in practice," said coach Gus Malzahn. "I think all of those guys will be ready to go when called upon moving down the stretch.”
"RB Kamryn Pettway out indefinitely with a fractured scapula per Coach Gus Malzahn" pic.twitter.com/pCLn4luRtt— BlessedBoosky (@sheabooskyy) October 31, 2017
With those three in the number two spot, that leaves Kerryon Johnson as the go-to running back. Good thing for Auburn because Johnson has 14 rushing TDs this season and averages the touchdown every 9.8 carries.
Johnson has been able to run over multiple SEC defenses tallying 723 total rushing yards this season. He averages about 130 yards per game.
Note the Aggies typically allow 147 rush yards per game.
For Stidham to be able to get time to throw the ball, the run game will be critical in attempting to keep the Aggies on their toes.
3) Smart decision by Stidham
If you haven't figured out by now, the Aggie defense is by far and away their strength. Not only do they have a good pass rush defense, they have a strong secondary.
Texas A&M is tied in the SEC with total interceptions with 8. 7 of those 8 come from Watts and Dodson.
Their high interception rates means Stidham will have to make quick, smart decisions when throwing the ball. Stidham already has one of the highest completion percentages in the SEC with 65.8%.
On top of that, Stidham has only thrown 3 interceptions this season. This shows Stidham typically has good game sense and knows when and when not to throw the ball into coverage.
Stidham hasnt thrown over 200 yards in games vs real competition. and guess what the outcome was— Perm (@HezSoKrayzee) November 1, 2017
Interceptions won't be the only name of the game for Stidham, he will have to protect the ball if he is being sacked.
The Aggies lead the SEC in total takeaways with 16 this season. Durham headline this effort tallying 4 forced fumbles and 6.5 sacks.
The key to the Auburn offense will be holding onto the ball. And holding onto the ball will eventually turn into points for the Tigers.
4) Shut down Christian Kirk
WR Christian Kirk is the Aggies biggest threat on offense. He has at least 2 catches in every game of his career at College Station.
Kirk was also named a preseason All-American wide receiver and punt returner.
This season Kirk has pulled in 5 receiving touchdowns and averages almost 50 receiving yards a game.
Auburn's secondary has taken a hit due to injuries, but the bye week has given these players a chance to heal up.
The Auburn pass defense typically allows about 178 yards per game.
The Tigers secondary will need to step up even more than usual to shut down this high-class wide receiver. If Auburn can do that, they take away the key weapon in the Aggie pass offense.
5) Defend the special teams
As mentioned above, Kirk was also a preseason All-American punt returner. In his career, he has 5 touchdowns off punt returns.
5 touchdowns on punt returns is a lot for a career if you think about how few are returned in a single season across the country. He also averages 21.4 yards per punt return this season (that's a lot of yards).
Joe Buck is excited by Christian Kirk— Buck is Excited When (@ExcitedJoeBuck) November 2, 2017
The Tigers defensive special teams will need to hurry down the field and tackle Kirk early in order to prevent a return.
On top of Kirk, the Aggies have tallied 3 blocked kicks this season.
For the Tigers to keep momentum in College Station, they will need to prevent the big plays on special teams for the Aggies. If they can contain the special teams, they can help take the notorious loud crowd in Kyle Field out of the game.