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Auburn faces big road test at Texas A&M

  • Auburn quarterback Bo Nix (10) carries the ball during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Kent State, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

  • Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher reacts after Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond (11) returns to the sideline after throwing an interception against Lamar during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

  • Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn watches warmups before an NCAA college football game against Kent State, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

  • Texas A&M wide receiver Jhamon Ausbon (2) reacts after catching a touchdown against Lamar during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

AP Sports Writer
Published: 9/20/2019 10:16:57 PM
Modified: 9/20/2019 10:16:42 PM

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — After playing their first big game of the season on the road at top-ranked Clemson, the No. 17 Texas A&M Aggies get their next test in front of their home crowd when they host eighth-ranked Auburn on Saturday.

The Aggies try to adhere to coach Jimbo Fisher’s mantra of treating every game the same, but some players couldn’t help but feel a difference around town as they prepare for the Tigers in their Southeastern Conference opener.

“You try to approach practice the same, approach the week the same,” receiver Jhamon Ausbon said. “But it’s definitely a shift of energy in College Station in the atmosphere when you get to conference play.”

Texas A&M will get its second shot to topple a top-10 opponent on Saturday after the Aggies lost to Clemson, 24-10, on Sept. 7. It will also be a chance to avenge last year’s loss to Auburn, a game Texas A&M led by 10 going into the fourth quarter but wound up being a 28-24 victory for the Tigers.

“Obviously that’s something that’s in our mind but nothing that we’ve talked about so far,” quarterback Kellen Mond said. “We knew we had the game in our hands last year and it slipped away but we can’t really think about that. Just prepare for this year and understand what happened last year.”

The Aggies will face an Auburn team led by freshman quarterback Bo Nix, who will be making his first true road start. Auburn’s opener against Oregon was at a neutral site in Arlington, Texas. Nix threw a 26-yard touchdown pass with nine seconds left to lead the Tigers to a 27-21 win in that game.

“I told him it’s different,” Auburn receiver Will Hastings said. “It’s not like going to Oregon where we had most of the crowd. I said, it’s not like you going from Pinson Valley (high school) and playing a road game. You’re going to be in front of 102,000 fans, and they’re all going to be screaming, doing a lot of different things. I know Texas A&M is wild. It’s loud out there.”

Auburn injuries

Auburn had three key players listed as “day to day” ahead of the game. Wide receiver Seth Williams, left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho and defensive tackle Derrick Brown are all nursing injuries. Coach Gus Malzahn said all three practiced Tuesday and were “out there moving around.” He said none are fully recovered.

Secondary success

Texas A&M’s secondary was a weak spot last year and the team vowed to turn things around this season. So far, so good: The Aggies are tied for third in the nation with five interceptions in three games after having only seven all last season. Nix was picked off twice by Oregon, but hasn’t thrown an interception since then. He hasn’t put up big numbers, either, with the Tigers ranking last in the SEC in yards passing.

The Aggies hope they’ll be able to rattle the 19-year-old on Saturday playing in front of his first hostile road crowd.

No smoke-ing zone

Auburn will be without backup safety Smoke Monday for the first half after he was called for targeting in the Kent State game.

Running wild

While the focus this week has been on the contrast of Nix’s inexperience with Mond’s veteran leadership, both teams also have strong running games.

Auburn’s JaTarvious Whitlow has been the Tigers’ best offensive weapon with injuries to the receivers and he ranks 10th in the nation with 341 yards rushing and three touchdowns.

Texas A&M freshman Isaiah Spiller was great last week in the first game without Jashaun Corbin, who sustained a season-ending hamstring injury against Clemson. He ran for 116 yards and two touchdowns against Lamar to become the first freshman in school history to have two 100-yard rushing games in the first three games of a season.

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