No. 5 Texas A&M keeps College Football Playoff hopes alive with comeback win over Auburn

Sam Cooper
·4 min read

Texas A&M’s College Football Playoff hopes are alive and well.

The Aggies, ranked No. 5 in the country, overcame a slew of self-inflicted mistakes and staged a fourth-quarter comeback to beat Auburn 31-20 on the road on Saturday.

A&M dominated the first half but led just 14-10 at the break and later fell behind 20-14 entering the fourth quarter. That’s when a mistake by Auburn flipped A&M’s fortunes.

After converting on a third-and-long play, the Aggies had a first down at the 20-yard line. Kellen Mond went to the air with an eye on his tight end, Jalen Wydermyer. Wydermyer made a nice touchdown catch in the first quarter, but this one had interception written all over it.

Mond’s pass went right to Auburn linebacker Zakoby McClain, but the junior couldn’t squeeze it. Even worse, he tipped it up in the air right into the waiting arms of Wydermyer for a touchdown.

The interception-turned-touchdown gave Texas A&M a 21-20 lead with 13:31 remaining. It was a lead the Aggies would not relinquish.

Auburn’s next two drives went three-and-out. Texas A&M’s next two drives resulted in an Ainias Smith touchdown run and a field goal, taking more than nine minutes off the clock in the process and allowing the Aggies to clinch their seventh victory of the year.

Now 7-1, Texas A&M has Ole Miss and Tennessee remaining on its schedule. Because of its loss to Alabama earlier this year, A&M likely won’t play for the SEC title. However, the Aggies will remain on the periphery of the top four as long as they keep winning.

Texas A&M’s dominant run game

Texas A&M had a multi-week layoff due to COVID-19 issues in the program. Upon its return against LSU last week, the A&M offense struggled mightily with running back Isaiah Spiller accounting for nearly 60% of its meager offense production (just 267 yards).

Mond especially struggled, completing only 11 of his 34 throws for 105 yards. It was a 20-7 win, but the unimpressive fashion in which the Aggies played was a detriment when it came to the CFP rankings.

Gary Barta, the chair of the CFP selection committee, said there was a lot of discussion about moving A&M up to No. 4 ahead of idle Ohio State, but hinted that the underwhelming performance against LSU was a hindrance for the Aggies.

The offense looked significantly better on Saturday. The Aggies finished with 509 yards, including a dominant 313-yard effort on the ground. The ground game opened things up for Mond, who finished 18-of-23 for 196 yards and two score.

The A&M defense was impressive, too, limiting Auburn QB Bo Nix to just 144 passing yards. Nix did have a highlight-reel touchdown run late in the first half, but was largely ineffective.

Auburn treading water

With the loss, Auburn dropped to 5-4 on the year, meaning the Tigers have lost at least four games in seven of Gus Malzahn’s eight years as head coach.

Auburn started this season 2-2, including an ugly loss to South Carolina. From there, Auburn went on a three-game winning streak but did so against lower-tier SEC teams like Ole Miss and Tennessee.

The last two weeks have been ugly with losses to Alabama and Texas A&M in which A&M has often looked overmatched. Auburn has one game left on its schedule — a trip to Mississippi State. A win there would clinch a winning record. The Tigers haven’t finished .500 or below since 2012, the final year of the Gene Chizik era.

Questions about Malzahn’s job security come up every year, and Auburn would owe him $21 million if it decided to move on after this season.

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