Auburn capable of running over Aggies

John Reed/USA TODAY Sports

Tre Mason heads an Auburn rushing game that could give Texas A&M trouble.

First-year coach Gus Malzahn has led an offensive resurgence at Auburn. One year after finishing last in the SEC in total offense, Auburn’s run-heavy attack has improved to fifth this season. Saturday, Malzahn’s squad will hope to continue that success against a porous Texas A&M run defense.

Finding Running Lanes

No SEC team has run the ball more often than Auburn (64 percent of plays). One reason why it has been successful is because its runners have room to operate. Auburn ball carriers have not been contacted until at least five yards past the line of scrimmage on an SEC-high 83 carries.

Texas A&M Rush Defense

Ranks Among BCS-AQ Teams

Auburn averages an SEC-best 4.2 yards before contact per rush. Last year Auburn averaged just 1.9 yards before contact per rush, worst in the SEC.

Auburn has beaten up on lesser teams to compile much of those yards. Against SEC teams, Auburn averages just 2.3 yards before contact per rush.

However, Texas A&M does not resemble a typical SEC run defense. The Aggies allow 5.7 yards per rush this season, most among any BCS-AQ team (which includes Notre Dame). 3.3 of those yards come before contact, also worst among BCS-AQ teams. This is despite averaging 7.0 men in the box against the run, fourth-most among BCS-AQ teams.

As a result, over half of opponents’ carries against Texas A&M result in five-yard gains or more, second-most in the nation. In the Aggies’ only loss against Alabama, 65 percent of the Crimson Tide’s runs went for at least five yards. As a result, Texas A&M forced just six third-down situations the entire game, its lowest total since 2006.

Diversity on the Ground

Auburn is one of four FBS teams to feature four different rushers with at least 250 yards this season. Each has led Auburn in rushing in at least one game, and each has a different role within the offense.

Auburn Rushing Last 2 Seasons

Tre Mason is the team’s do-it-all runner, leading the team in carries and yards. Cameron Artis-Payne is the team’s primary inside runner with 82 percent of his yards coming between the hash marks.

Corey Grant does his damage outside, rushing for 97 percent of his yards outside the hash marks. So does quarterback Nick Marshall, who burned Ole Miss with 114 yards and two touchdowns to the left side two weeks ago.

Running outside has been a strength of Auburn’s this season. The Tigers average an SEC-high 185 yards per game outside the hash marks. Texas A&M has struggled to stop the outside run, allowing 7.5 yards per carry on such carries, most among BCS-AQ teams.

As ineffective as Texas A&M has been against the run, it has rarely mattered because it has scored at least 41 points in every game. For Auburn to win, its running game must operate at peak efficiency both to score points of its own and to keep Johnny Manziel and the Aggie offense off the field.