Texas A&M-Auburn Preview
The Tigers, fielding one of the nation's worst offenses, will also have to fend off college football's top pass rusher.
But make no mistake, slowing down redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel will undoubtedly be the top priority for Auburn as it hosts the 22nd-ranked Aggies on Saturday night.
Auburn (1-6, 0-5 SEC) hasn't yet seen a quarterback as electrifying as Manziel. Then again, only two players nationally account for more total offense per game than Manziel, who is averaging 379.9 yards.
Manziel has helped the Aggies (5-2, 2-2) average 43.0 points and 524.6 total yards, both ninth in the nation.
Auburn, coming off a 17-13 loss at Vanderbilt last Saturday, is off to its worst start in 60 years. It ranks in the SEC's bottom half in most defensive categories, including average points (25.1) and yards per game (411.7) allowed while giving up a conference-worst 194.0 rushing yards a contest.
Manziel is a two-way threat, as he's second in the SEC in both average passing yards (279.4) and rushing yards (100.4).
"He's very good," Auburn coach Gene Chizik, whose mother passed away early Monday morning, told the team's official website. "He's a young guy that really is very mature beyond his years. You just watch his film, he's got really an uncanny ability to get a feel for the game and the pass rush. He sees things and he's got just great vision for the field. And he extends plays."
But in Texas A&M's 24-19 loss last Saturday, No. 6 LSU showed containing Manziel is possible. He needed 56 attempts to throw for 276 yards, was intercepted a season-worst three times and was held to a season-low 27 yards on 17 carries.
Of course, Auburn's defense doesn't quite stack up to LSU's, which ranks third in the country. And the Aggies did open up a 12-0 lead last week before faltering late - something that also plagued them in a 20-17 loss against now-No. 3 Florida earlier this season.
First-year coach Kevin Sumlin isn't necessarily discouraged by that brief pattern, though.
"As long as our guys continue to give effort like that, we're going to be able to win in any game," Sumlin said.
If Manziel alone wasn't enough for Chizik to worry about, Aggies defensive end Damontre Moore should be. The junior leads the nation with 9 1/2 sacks and 17 tackles for loss.
"No one's really been able to block him all season," Texas A&M linebacker Jonathan Stewart told the team's official website. "I think he's the best defensive lineman in the SEC. That's how he's been playing. He's been a top-notch D-lineman each week."
Auburn is already struggling mightily to move the ball, as its 276.7 yards per game rank second-to-last in the FBS. Moore could especially feast on a Tigers offensive line that has surrendered the country's sixth-most sacks (24).
"We're going to have to be very, very good," Chizik said. "We know we have to protect the quarterback. That's been a big point of concern for us, for us to be able to survive and really convert on third downs."