Auburn takes on Texas A&M in one of the country's biggest games in college football this weekend…
Top 10 Road Test, Part 2, Awaiting the Tigers
Auburn, Ala.--After coming up short in their first attempt to knock off a Top 10 opponent on the road the Auburn Tigers returned to the football practice field on Tuesday evening as preparations for their road trip to play at No. 7 Texas A&M moved into high gear. The Tigers worked out for two hours in full pads in a full contact session after taking their normal off day on Monday. Coach Gus Malzahn's Tigers, who are ranked 23rd this week in the Fox Sports Top 25 and 24th in the AP poll, practiced for two hours in full pads. Playing at LSU for their first road the Tigers spotted the home team a 21-0 halftime lead before rallying after intermission. However, the hole proved to be too deep for Auburn to get out of and LSU hung on for a 35-21 victory. Malzahn said that he believes his team will be better prepared to handle its second major road challenge of the season. "We definitely know more about our team," he said. "The fact that we played a very good team on the road, we learned a lot about our team on that night. I have got to believe that we will handle ourselves better than the first time, which we will definitely need to have a chance." The coach added, "It is kind one of those measuring sticks for our program and where we are this year." Malzahn, Auburn's first-year head coach, said he believes his team is "extremely excited" about the chance to put on a good show in a game that is being televised nationally on CBS. "We want to take advantage of this opportunity," running back Tre Mason said. "They know how to put points on the board, but so do we so we are looking forward to this opportunity." Tre Mason runs the football at LSU this season where he carried the ball 26 times for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Mason leads the Tigers in rushing with 515 yards at the halfway point of the regular season. The junior is averaging 5.6 yards per carry and has a team-leading eight touchdowns with seven on running plays and one on a kickoff return. Mason and the rest of the running attack will be important for Auburn's hopes of pulling off an upset against a Texas A&M team that leads the SEC in scoring at 47.8 points per contest. Auburn, which was anemic on offense last year including its 63-21 loss to the Aggies, is averaging 34.3 points per game. Perhaps more important to this week's game is the fact that the Tigers are the No. 1 rushing team in the SEC at 287 yards per game, something that could help fuel an upset of the Aggies, who have had issues stopping the run. Texas A&M is giving up 201.2 rushing yards per game, which ranks 13th in the SEC ahead of only the Kentucky Wildcats. Overall as a defense the Aggies are in the SEC basement through six games giving up an average of 474.3 yards per game, which is one-tenth of a yard more than the number of yards the Tigers' offense is averaging this year. Mason pointed out that Auburn's players and coaches have worked hard to get off to a 5-1 start this year after opening the 2012 season 1-5 in Gene Chizik's final year as head coach. "We have the best coaching staff in college football from Coach Malzahn on down and I love those guys," the running back said. Mason has praise for the offensive line that has stepped up its performance level this year. "Those guys are coming together and playing well," the junior said. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee agrees with Mason that the line is improving and notes that the running attack has been a plus for the Tigers as they prepare to play the Aggies. "We still feel like that is a strength of ours," Lashlee said. "Our offensive line is playing extremely well and we have three backs we feel good about." Lashlee added that Nick Marshall, who is running with the ones again this week after sitting out on Homecoming to rest his injured knee, is also a running threat along with backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson. Nick Marshall rushed for 120 yards in his last start vs. Ole Miss, the most by an SEC quarterback this season. The Tigers have also had some success with sophomore receiver Ricardo Louis running the football. Other wideouts like Quan Bray, Marcus Davis and Trovon Reed are threats to carry the ball on reverses or direct snaps. "There are a variety of ways to do it," Lashlee said of the running attack. "In this league you have got to be able to run the football and play defense. We feel like being able to run the football sets up our pass and vice versa. A lot of times it is dictated on what the defense is giving us." Saturday's contest vs.the 5-1 Aggies will be Auburn's first ever game on Texas A&M's campus in College Station and just the fourth time the two teams have met on any football field. The only Texan in Auburn's starting lineup this season is senior defensive tackle Nosa Eguae, who has started more games than any player on the roster the past four seasons. That total climbed to 35 was his second start at tackle in the 62-3 Homecoming victory over Western Carolina. Eguae's other starts were at end. While the Tigers didn't need to bring their "A" game to beat the Catamounts, Eguae said that staying focused last week is helping them prepare for Texas A&M, which runs many of the same plays from the same formations that the Auburn defense expects to see from the Aggies on Saturday. "We are really looking forward to getting better in practice this week and playing Texas A&M," said Eguae, who said the Tigers practiced hard last week before Homecoming to help prepare for the Aggies. The senior also noted that the game will be a special one for him because it will his first time to play in his home state since he was a senior at Summit High in Mansfield. "I am going to have 20 to 30 people at the game," Eguae said. In last year's game vs. Texas A&M the Auburn defense was no match for Johnny Manziel and the A&M?offense. The quarterback hit 16-23 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns while he rushed for 90 yards on just nine carries with three going for touchdowns. Malzahn said that Manziel is following up his Heisman Trophy winning season with a strong sophomore campaign. "He is almost like watching a video game sometimes with the stuff he does," Auburn's coach said. "The human side, his competitiveness, his toughness--that's what really stands out to me. He is a physically and mentally tough individual. He plays with that edge." Malzahn noted that there is a possibility of a role this week and beyond for Jeremy Johnson, who has moved back to No. 2 on the depth chart with Marshall being cleared to return to starting lineup. "We don't want to give all of our secrets away, but he will be used from game to game, and we'll try to have either different packages or any way to help us be successful," the coach said. Jeremy Johnson was named SEC Freshman of the Week for his play vs. Western Carolina. Johnson, a six-foot-six freshman, passed for four touchdowns in his college debut last Saturday and looked good running the football. In other news and notes: *Defensive tackle Montravius Adams looks like he will be ready to return to action this week after missing Homecoming with a bruised knee. *Cornerback Jonathan Jones, who suffered his second injury of the season in the Ole Miss game and sat out last week, is questionable for the remainer of the season. Jones, who has played in just one game this year, is eligible to apply for a medical hardship redshirt if he doesn't play in any of the remaining contests. Asked if there is a chance the sophomore will play again in 2013, Malzahn said, "That is still a little bit up in the air, but we're hoping that he will be back on the field quick. He is an outstanding player and I think when he gets out there you can really see that." Jake Holland *Starting middle linebacker jake Holland was held out of the contact portion of the practice on Tuesday evening as a precaution after he suffered a mild concussion last Saturday. The senior is expected to be able to play vs. the Aggies. *Malzahn said nothing has changed with the status of offensive tackle Patrick Miller and tight end Brandon Fulse. Both are currently suspended for violation of undisclosed team rules. Neither player is expected back in action this month. Avery Young is expected to make his second start of the season at right tackle in place of Miller and Lashlee said the Tigers feel "very comfortable" with the redshirt freshman handling that assignment. Avery Young is shown at last Saturday's Homecoming contest. "Avery is a very smart guy and really athletic," the coach said. "He is very athletic, very gifted. To get those reps and get all that new out of the way, I thought it was really good for him. I've got a lot of confidence in Avery." *Saturday's game will be televised by CBS with Verne Lundquist doing the play by play, Gary Danielson the analyst and Tracy Wolfson the sideline reporter. Kickoff is set for shortly after 2:30 p.m. CDT. *Radio coverage on The Auburn Network can be heard on Sirius channel 92 and XM 199. The game will also be broadcast on stations around the country on the WestwoodOne Sports network. *Heading into game seven the Tigers lead the SEC in fewest penalties and are 15th nationally at 4.17 per game. *Counting his time as an assistant coach at Tulsa, Arkansas and Auburn plus his games as a head coach at Arkansas State and Auburn, Malzahn coached in his 100th collegiate game last Saturday vs. Western Carolina. His teams posted a record of 76-24 in those contests. Malzahn's record as a head coach is 14-4. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin has a 51-20 record as a head coach and is 16-3 as head coach of the Aggies. *Auburn is 0-3 all-time vs. the Aggies and Saturday's game will be AU's first appearance on the Texas A&M?campus. Auburn's all-time record in games played in the Lone Star state is 6-11-1. The Tigers' last appearance in a game played on a college campus in that state took place in 1991 when Auburn defeated the Texas Longhorns 14-10 in Austin. *Auburn has worn its Navy home uniforms for six consecutive games, the longest streak since seven straight in 1981-82. The current streak will end on Saturday with the Tigers going in their white uniforms against the Aggies, who will feature maroon jerseys. Texas A&M who are headed to Kyle Field are being requested to wear matching clothes for the "Maroon Out" game when the Tigers come to town. *AU offensive coaches are telling their players keeping turnovers to a minimum is essential this week because the Texas A&M offense is good efficient at scoring points and the Aggies have not been beating themselves. Texas A&M is tied for second in the SEC in turnover margin with seven turnovers and 11 takeaways. Auburn is tied for 11th in the league with Vandy this week in turnover margin with 11 turnovers and nine takeaways.
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