The Auburn Tigers, still hoping for an outside shot at the a playoff berth, scored 28 straight points midway through the game, turning a largely defensive battle against Texas A&M into a near-blowout at College Station on Saturday.
A two-touchdown underdog going into the game, Texas A&M played strong defense early and ended up blocking a pair of Daniel Carlson field goal attempts, but it just wasn't enough to overcome the No. 17 Tigers, as the Aggies fell 42-27 to visiting Auburn.
With the loss, the Aggies drop to 3-3 in SEC competition before their final home game against New Mexico next week, with road games at Ole Miss and LSU still ahead. Auburn improves to 5-1 in the SEC with No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama still looming.
For the majority of the opening half, the Aggies did exactly what a heavy underdog needs to do in order to have a chance: keep it close. However, Nick Ruffin of Auburn broke through a front line of protectors and blocked Shane Tripucka’s punt for the first A&M turnover of the afternoon. The ball found its way into the end zone and Malik Miller fell on top of it to put Auburn up 8 at the half.
“We gave up 14 points in the final minutes and a half,” said Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin. “But still, we had a whole half left to play. We had plenty of time to do something about it but we didn’t respond today.”
Before the blocked punt, the Tiger offense took the lead for good with a scoring drive that took four plays and less than a minute. Receiver Darius Slayton was able to get free in the middle of the field and reel in a 53-yard touchdown.
After a productive first drive to start the game that ended in a field goal, true freshman Kellen Mond couldn’t find any sort of offensive rhythm. The Aggies went three-and-out on four straight occasions and netted just 12 yards.
Redshirt quarterback Nick Starkel’s number was called and the Aggies completely flipped the script. Starkel led A&M to an 80-yard, 9 play drive for their first touchdown of the day. Starkel saw some time late last week against Mississippi State after missing six weeks with an ankle injury at UCLA.
“It takes some time to come back from that,” said Sumlin. “Nick’s a tough guy. He’s a little rusty, but he’s doing okay. He played very good all things considered and took care of the ball. He has earned back his spot.”
Starkel finished 11-of-21 for the Aggies with 184 yards and two touchdowns. His counterpart, Jarrett Stidham, was clicking for the better part of the afternoon. The sophomore Tiger completed 20-of-27 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns. Junior running back Kerryon Johnson was just as effective for Auburn, recording 145 yards on the ground. All told, the Tigers recorded 496 offensive yards.
The Aggie defense was able to hold Auburn to two field goal attempts in the first and third quarters, each of which were blocked. The second blocked kick gave Starkel a chance to make it a one score game with a touchdown. The Aggies advanced all the way to the 4, but the freshman couldn’t get enough on a goal line pass on fourth down. The Aggies came up empty on the golden opportunity to begin the fourth quarter.
“It was fourth and two down there and you’re kind of in between play calls,” said Sumlin. “He looked right and tried to quickly flip it around left. The pre snap read wasn’t a very good one. Maybe you can run the ball there, but hindsight’s twenty-twenty.”
With the loss, the Aggies have now dropped two straight games and three in a row at Kyle Field. They will look to bounce back at home against New Mexico next Saturday at 6 p.m. as the status of Sumlin’s future as head coach grows more questionable with each passing week.