Fa­mil­iar fade route leaves Ag­gies winc­ing

Blown 10-point lead in the fourth ex­tends team’s late fall woes

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Brent Zw­erne­man STAFF WRITER brent.zw­erne­man@chron.com twit­ter.com/brentzw­erne­man

AUBURN, Ala. — Texas A&M de­fen­sive end Tyree John­son trudged across the Jor­dan-Hare Sta­dium grass fol­low­ing a fi­nal whis­tle, clutch­ing his hel­met in his right hand while beat­ing it against his head in dis­be­lief.

Hun­dreds of miles away and across the Sabine River, plenty of A&M fans were do­ing the same thing at the same time, only us­ing walls in­stead of hel­mets.

A&M changed coaches but one thing hasn’t changed for the ag­i­tated Ag­gies and their fans: their an­nual late-fall swoons.

No. 20 A&M blew a 10-point lead late in the fourth quar­ter at Auburn, and the Tigers pre­vailed 28-24 in a sud­denly ram­bunc­tious set­ting — one that had been sub­dued for much of the three pre­vi­ous hours.

“They got mo­men­tum at home, and that’s what you can’t (al­low) as a road team — you have to fin­ish,” A&M first-year coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We have to learn how to fin­ish. When you get there, you’ve got to put those games away.”

The Ag­gies (5-4, 3-3 SEC) will stash this one away as an­other ex­am­ple of their long­time Novem­ber ills. Un­der pre­vi­ous coach Kevin Sum­lin, A&M typ­i­cally started the sea­son fast and then stum­bled in late Oc­to­ber and on through Novem­ber. From 2013-17 the Ag­gies were 4-11 against SEC foes in Novem­ber, a big rea­son Sum­lin was fired and re­placed with Fisher last Novem­ber.

Over eight sea­sons at Florida State, Fisher was 27-5 in Novem­ber, but he’s now 0-1 in that crit­i­cal month with the Ag­gies, who are find­ing some old habits hard to break.

“We’re hurt­ing, man,” A&M de­fen­sive end Lan­dis Durham said. “We dom­i­nate a whole game like that and we preached all week to fin­ish, and we fell short. You let a team like that hang around, they’re go­ing to take ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­nity.”

In do­ing so the Tigers (6-3, 3-3 SEC) snapped one of the quirki­est streaks as­so­ci­ated with the Ag­gies since they joined the SEC in 2012: Un­til Satur­day, the road team had won each of the pre­vi­ous six games. Now, Auburn has won two straight against A&M, and the Ag­gies have lost two con­sec­u­tive games fol­low­ing a three­game win streak in SEC play.

“We didn’t play our best foot­ball in any of the three phases, but what re­ally stands out to me is our guys fight­ing,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “They didn’t quit, and there were plenty of times they could have.”

The Ag­gies were seem­ingly in con­trol at 24-14 with about 10 min­utes re­main­ing in the game when they abruptly let off the gas. Their first mis­step came when fresh­man kicker Seth Small missed a 36-yard field goal that would have put A&M up by 13 with 10:27 left.

The Ag­gies got the ball back fol­low­ing a three-and-out from an un­til-then in­ept Auburn of­fense, but that A&M drive re­sulted in an in­ter­cep­tion by quar­ter­back Kellen Mond.

Auburn, sud­denly re­vived, marched 71 yards on eight plays and punched the ball into the end zone from a yard out with 5:14 re­main­ing. The Ag­gies still led 24-21, but their fol­low­ing drive again stalled be­hind a sud­denly-in­ef­fec­tive Mond, and Auburn’s Chris­tian Tutt re­turned Braden Mann’s punt 28 yards — with Mann mak­ing the tackle.

“We had guys there,” Fisher said of would-be tack­lers sur­round­ing Tutt. “They just didn’t make the play.”

This time around, Auburn needed only two plays to grab its first lead since the first half. For­mer Stephenville High quar­ter­back Jar­rett Stid­ham hooked up with Ryan Davis for a 47-yard gain, and Stid­ham then con­nected with Seth Wil­liams on an 11yard touch­down pass against a reel­ing A&M sec­ondary.

Sum­lin passed on re­cruit­ing Stid­ham in 2015 out of Stephenville and again a year later when Stid­ham chose to trans­fer from Bay­lor fol­low­ing a sex­ual-as­sault scan­dal that cost coach Art Briles his job. Stid­ham has said time and again over the past year how much he en­joys play­ing the Ag­gies be­cause, as he put it, “I re­cruited my­self to A&M a lit­tle bit harder than they re­cruited me.”

He’s now de­feated the Ag­gies in con­sec­u­tive sea­sons. The Ag­gies built the 10-point lead early in the third quar­ter, but Mond was largely in­ef­fec­tive in the sec­ond half, and fin­ished 16 of 32 for 220 yards with a touch­down pass and an in­ter­cep­tion. Fisher said the Ag­gies’ of­fen­sive trou­bles weren’t all on Mond, in de­fend­ing his ma­ligned quar­ter­back.

“We’ve got to get open at re­ceiver, too, it’s a mix of ev­ery­thing,” Fisher said. “We threw it for 220 yards and ran it for 201 — we had great bal­ance. And his legs are also a big part of why we were hav­ing suc­cess.”

The Ag­gies out­gained the Tigers 421-278 in to­tal yards, with Auburn fig­ur­ing out how to win de­spite rush­ing for only 19 yards. The Ag­gies, still seek­ing bowl el­i­gi­bil­ity, close out the reg­u­lar sea­son with home games against Mis­sis­sippi, Alabama-Birm­ing­ham and No. 4 LSU, af­ter play­ing three straight on the road.

“This game is re­ally only fun when you win,” Durham said, “so we have turn this around.”

Todd Kirk­land / As­so­ci­ated Press

Auburn wide re­ceiver Seth Wil­liams leaps above Texas A&M de­fen­sive back Charles Oliver for a touch­down re­cep­tion dur­ing the first half Satur­day at Auburn, Ala.

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