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Auburn's Defense a Step Behind This Year

Dec 5, 2020; Auburn AL, USA; Auburn Tigers linebacker Owen Pappoe (0) gets a tackle during the game between Auburn and Texas A&M at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood/AU Athletics
Dec 5, 2020; Auburn AL, USA; Auburn Tigers linebacker Owen Pappoe (0) gets a tackle during the game between Auburn and Texas A&M at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood/AU Athletics

Auburn (5-4) battled to the final whistle against the fifth ranked Texas A&M Aggies (7-1) but came up short of the upset win.  Auburn led 20-14 at the end of the third quarter, but the Aggies scored 17 points in the fourth to pull away from the upset minded Tigers.

While the Auburn offense didn't necessarily help the defense out much only holding the ball for 22 minutes compared to the Aggies 38 minutes, it was still a lackluster performance by the defense.  Ever since Kevin Steele arrived to coordinate Auburn's defensive attack, Tigers' fans have come to expect excellence from that side of the ball.  Auburn lost a ton of production from last year's defense including Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson, Noah Igbinoghene, the injured K.J. Britt, and a whole host of others and it has forced this year's Tigers defense to experience some growing pains. 

Texas A&M ran the ball at will throughout the afternoon finishing the game with 313 rushing yards while averaging 6.7 yards a carry.  Isaiah Spiller (20 carries, 120 yards) and Devon Achane (9 carries, 99 yards) carried the Texas A&M rush attack.  The Auburn defense only forced two punts all afternoon from the Aggies.  For a while, it seemed like the Auburn defense was playing well enough to pull off the upset.  Zakoby McClain sacked Kellen Mond on a third and goal in the first half (which was only the fourth sack allowed by Texas A&M all season) forcing the Aggies to settle for a field goal attempt which Seth Small missed wide left.  After Auburn's Bo Nix scored his second rushing touchdown of the game on Auburn's first drive in the third quarter, the defense stepped up in a big way to force a punt.  On the very next drive, Auburn's offense drove into the red zone before settling for a field goal.  

After that the wheels seemed to fall off for the Tigers on both sides of the ball.  On A&M's next drive after that Auburn field goal, it seemed Auburn's defense would come up with the play of the game.  McClain got his hands on Mond's pass down at the five yard line.  However, the linebacker was unable to reel in the leaping interception and the pass deflected right to Aggies tight end Jalen Wydermyer for his second scoring grab of the day.  Beginning with that drive, the Aggies scored on all three drives in the fourth quarter except for the final drive when Mond simply took a knee.  Auburn seemingly still had a chance to rally when Texas A&M got the ball with under seven minutes to play and leading by eight.  Auburn forced A&M into a third and long but Mond was able to scramble for a big gain on third down to keep the drive alive.  That was the first of several first downs on a time draining drive that allowed the Aggies to put the game away.

At the end of the day, it is hard to beat a top five opponent when you allow 509 yards of total offense and 29 first downs.  Auburn also struggled mightily on third down, as has been the case all year, allowing the Aggies to convert seven of eleven third down attempts.  Amongst the struggles on defense, Zakoby McClain did record a career day with 17 tackles for the Tigers' defense.  Auburn fans are left to wonder what might have been if last year's dominant defense could of had a chance to play alongside a more experienced Bo Nix this season; however, that is not the way it ended up.  

Auburn will look to end the regular season on a high note when they travel to Starkville, Mississippi next Saturday to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs in a game postponed from earlier this season.

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