Thursday, October 17, 2013
Planning for success: Texas A&M
By Sam Khan Jr.
Texas A&M is taking very little from last year's 63-21 romp of Auburn as it prepares for the Tigers this season, as No. 24 Auburn is vastly different and improved from last season's 3-9 squad.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney's most vivid memory of the Aggies' trip to Auburn in 2012 is of the pregame festivities.
McKinney recalls being impressed by the flight of "Spirit," Auburn's bald eagle that flies in Jordan-Hare Stadium before games. He called it "probably the greatest pre-game atmosphere I'd ever seen."
As for the game, McKinney doesn't remember too much of it, for good reason. The Aggies were dominant from start to finish, racing out to a 28-0 lead fewer than 17 minutes into the game. They never looked back and finished with a dominating 63-21 victory.
"Once the game began, it felt like we just ran up and down the field on them," McKinney said. "I thought their players really didn't want to play at that particular time. This year's team, you watch the tape and they're a totally different team."
For that reason, A&M coaches aren't bothering to spend time looking at video of last year's blowout in order to game plan for this year's tilt, which is 2:30 p.m. CT Saturday at Kyle Field. So much about Auburn is different.
The biggest difference between the Tigers since the teams last met? They're winning. Auburn was 1-6 when it hosted the Aggies last season and were struggling mightily in former head coach Gene Chizik's final season.
Now, the No. 24 Tigers are 5-1 and nationally ranked. New head coach Gus Malzahn appears to have changed the attitude within the program and according to Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, it's easy to see.
"I just think they're playing with a lot of energy," Sumlin said. "Coach Malzahn and the new coaching staff have brought a lot of energy to the program ... and a winning attitude. Schematically, they've changed across the board. [They have] a lot of veteran coaches that have been in big-time situations. Obviously Gus has a tremendous background offensively and has had some real success wherever he's been, either as a coordinator or a head coach. Ellis Johnson is a veteran defensive coordinator and has assembled a staff that understands this league and understands preparation and you can see it. They're well-coached, they know what they're doing in all three phases and have their guys executing at a high level and playing with confidence."
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Malzahn, like Sumlin, said he's not spending time looking back at last year's matchup either. Malzahn was the head coach at Arkansas State at the time.
"[I] really haven't," Malzahn said. "Last year, we really tried to put that to bed. From an opponent's standpoint, breaking them down, you really try your best to gather all the information you need to give your team an advantage, so we went back to last year some, but not specifically our game."
Auburn brings with it the seventh-best rushing offense in the country. The Tigers are averaging 287 yards per game on the ground and hope to continue that success against a Texas A&M run defense that is among the nation's worst, statistically. The Aggies are 104th nationally in rushing defense, allowing 201.17 yards per game.
Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder was encouraged by A&M's effort against the run in the Aggies' 41-38 win against Ole Miss last week, though, as the Aggies allowed 133 rushing yards to the Rebels.
"We probably had our best performance against the run on Saturday," Snyder said. "You take away the one explosive [play] that [they] had (a 21-yard run by Jaylen Walton) and we hold them to just over 100 yards rushing. Nobody's done that [to Ole Miss] since Alabama. That was very pleasing to see."
Snyder said there are many similarities between Auburn's offense and Ole Miss', so he hopes that can help his defense's efforts this week.
Offensively, the No. 7 Aggies continue to roll, boasting the nation's No. 3 offense in total yardage per game and the No. 4 in scoring. Last week against the Rebels, they hit a lull in the middle quarters, scoring just seven total points in the second and third quarter combined, but started and finished strong. McKinney said the key to not hitting those lulls is avoiding self-inflicted errors.
"When you watch the tape from each game, when we've stalled as an offense, it's because of things we've done to ourselves," he said. "The penalties, the turnovers, things that you can't have happen if you want to score points. We're trying to find a rhythm and once we find our rhythm, we're really good."
And he, too, sees a different Auburn team on defense this year. It appears there isn't much that is the same from 2012 when the teams meet on Saturday.
"Defensively, those guys are playing extremely hard and they're very talented," McKinney said. "One of the more talented defenses we'll see all year. They play a base look and when you get teams that play base, they feel like they're really good all around and when you watch the tape that's what you see."