Ryan Black commentary: Tigers have come a long way since 63-21 defeat to Aggies last year

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 18, 2013 

ROBIN TRIMARCHI rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com With first-year head coach Gus Malzahn along with quarterback Nick Marshall, Auburn looks nothing like the team that put up little resistance in a 63-21 loss to Texas A&M last season at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers look to return the favor on Saturday, as they face the Aggies in College Station, Texas, for the first time.

ROBIN TRIMARCHI — rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

AUBURN, Ala.Reese Dismukes can be excused for not remembering every detail of Auburn’s game against Texas A&M last year.

When you’re on the wrong side of a 63-21 stomping, that’s par for the course. When pressed on the subject, the junior center did recall one thing when he glanced up at the scoreboard in the second half with an Aggies’ victory well in hand.

“I remember looking up — it was like the third quarter — and they had like 800 yards of offense,” said Dismukes, though Texas A&M gained “only” 671 yards for the entire contest. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, it's going to be a long night.’ We were playing for pride there in the second half.”

In a 2012 season filled with frustrating, dismal and sometimes downright-embarrassing losses for the Tigers, the beatdown the Aggies laid upon them on Oct. 27 may have been the nadir.

It wasn’t just the fact they fell in defeat — they were already 1-6 overall and 0-5 in the Southeastern Conference heading into that game.

It wasn’t just the fact those 671 yards of total offense set a single-game record for an Auburn opponent — there were four other times last year the Tigers gave up more than 450 yards.

No, the most stunning aspect of the loss is how it could have been far worse. The only thing that stopped Texas A&M was itself. To wit: All-everything Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel had eight possessions in the first half; the Aggies scored touchdowns on seven of them. The future Heisman Trophy winner then played one series in the second half — which led to another touchdown, of course, as he ran into the end zone on a 20-yard score — before calling it a day.

That game feels like ancient history now.

Heck, both coaches in this Saturday’s contest (Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin) said they haven’t even bothered to look at the film of last season’s massacre at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

And why should they?

Auburn looks nothing like the one-win squad that staggered into its matchup with Texas A&M last year. The Tigers are brimming with confidence, entering the game ranked (at No. 24 in the latest Associated Press poll) for the first time since 2011 and proving it has a knack for winning games in every fashion imaginable.

“We're 5-1, we're playing well, and we've won games different ways,” Dismukes said.

Well, not quite everything.

Auburn is still looking to notch its first road victory since Oct. 1, 2011, when it beat South Carolina 16-13. The Tigers are 0-1 in that endeavor this season, falling to LSU 35-21 in the fourth game of the year.

The Tigers’ record aside, the biggest difference since their last meeting with the Aggies is that they have found an identity in a multi-faceted offensive rushing attack. Thanks to the junior tailback trio of Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant (along with a dash of yet another junior in quarterback Nick Marshall) Auburn is leading the SEC in rushing, averaging more than 287 yards per game.

By the time Saturday is over, that average might be even higher. The Aggies’ defense has been nothing short of terrible this season, ranking as the SEC’s worst total defense (474.4 yards per game) and next-to-last in scoring defense, rush defense and pass defense.

Texas A&M’s saving grace has been an offense that is tops in the conference in scoring (47.8 per outing) and passing offense (361.8 per contest) and fourth in rushing yards.

But it’s not as if Auburn is trotting out a stingy defense, either. Yes, Auburn has done a better job than Texas A&M of keeping teams out of the end zone. Their propensity for giving up the dreaded “trash plays” defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson constantly refers could be their undoing Saturday; it’s likely they won’t face a better offense this season.

Perhaps to subtly support their defenses, Malzahn and Sumlin have tried to downplay that Saturday will devolve into another shootout between ranked SEC teams. (Has there been any other type this season?)

Given the advantages both offenses seem to hold in this game, it would be foolish to think it’s not headed for a combined point total northward of 90.

If that happens, Dismukes can look to the scoreboard once more and note the Aggies’ offense accumulating yards with ease. He can shake his head momentarily and think back to the show Manziel and Co. put on last year. All Dismukes will need to do to remind himself of what’s changed in the ensuing 12 months is let his eyes wander to the other side of the scoreboard.

There, it'll show Auburn's offense returning the favor in kind, putting 2012 further and further behind it with every yard gained and every point scored.

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