Texas A&M football defending Auburn’s ground game
The Auburn offense is completely revamped this year from what we’ve seen over the last two. Of course, when you go from Mike Bobo and Bryan Harsin to Hugh Freeze, that’s what you’d expect! The Tigers have moved to an up-tempo, spread system as opposed to the pro-style, west-coast brand of football they had under the previous regime. To help with this new style, Freeze has brought in QB Payton Thorne, formerly of Michigan State, and WR Shane Hooks from Jackson State, among many others, through the transfer portal.
After a couple of issues in the offseason, RB Jarquez Hunter is back for the Tigers as well. Hunter’s bruising style and explosive ability is similar to his predecessor, Tank Bigsby, who has moved on to the NFL. Hunter is one of six Tigers with more than ten rush attempts, demonstrating Freeze’s attempts to spread the carries around so far this season—with success, too, as each of those players has an average of at least 4 YPC. Jeremiah Cobb, the freshman, has the highest average at 6.67 (though only on 12 carries), and the second highest is actually Payton Thorne. This is especially interesting due to the fact that Freeze has employed a two-QB system with Thorne and last year’s starter, Robby Ashford, who is considered the running quarterback of the two. Though Ashford has recorded 4 touchdowns on the ground, he has a lower number of carries and lower YPC mark than Thorne.
For all the running back talent that the Tigers possess, they are remarkably inexplosive. The Tigers are 5th in the nation at rushing success rate (60% of their rushing plays are successful), though this has of course come against less talented defenses. However, they are one of the least explosive teams running the ball, meaning that they rush often for just enough yardage. Here’s another illuminating statistic: the lion’s share of Auburn’s rush attempts have come with them winning by 15 or more points, and in those situations, their YPC average is 6.79. If we filter out that number—i.e. if we presume the Aggies are not getting blown out at any point during this game—we see the Tigers’ average YPC drop from 5.18 to 4.17. With how stout the rush defense has been for Texas A&M football so far this year, I would like to see the Aggies control the ground game.