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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Players to watch: Auburn

Senior+DL+McKinnley+Jackson+%283%29%2C+junior+DL+Shemar+Turner+%285%29+and+DL+Fadil+Diggs+%2810%29+during+a+game+vs.+New+Mexico+on+Saturday%2C+Sept.+2%2C+2023+at+Kyle+Field.
Photo by Ishika Samant

Senior DL McKinnley Jackson (3), junior DL Shemar Turner (5) and DL Fadil Diggs (10) during a game vs. New Mexico on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023 at Kyle Field.

After a win over Louisiana-Monroe, Texas A&M’s football team will look to stay in the win column with Auburn coming to town.

The Tigers, led by first-year head coach Hugh Freeze, come into this matchup undefeated with wins over UMass, California and Samford.

Here are the players to watch for at Kyle Field on Saturday, Sept. 23 at 11 a.m.

Ainias Smith, WR (Texas A&M)

Coming into the season, A&M fans were glad to have graduate receiver Ainias Smith back in new offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino’s offense.

However, through the first two weeks of the season, Smith was unable to make the impact that was expected. Smith only caught a combined six passes for 67 yards against New Mexico and Miami, but he had a productive game last week versus ULM.

Smith reeled in seven catches for 127 yards and also had five yards rushing on two attempts. It is worth noting that sophomore receiver Evan Stewart didn’t play against the Warhawks, but it was still promising to see Smith’s involvement. Petrino needs to continue to find ways to get the ball into Smith’s hands going forward.

The Tigers do have an experienced defensive back unit with all four of their starters being upperclassmen. It will be interesting to see how Petrino utilizes Smith against an Auburn defense that allows an average of just 155 passing yards per game.

Payton Thorne, QB (Auburn)

The former Michigan State Spartan transferred to Auburn over the offseason and has looked OK — but he had his best game as a Tiger last week.

Junior quarterback Payton Thorne completed 24 passes for 282 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions versus Samford. Thorne isn’t traditionally a dual-threat, but he added 123 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

Although the Aggies’ defense only gave up 3 points last week, there still remain questions heading into SEC play. Auburn’s offense looked anemic in Week 2 versus California, but Thorne and the Tigers’ playmakers could hurt the Aggies if defensive coordinator DJ Durkin can’t figure things out.

Shemar Turner, DL (Texas A&M)

One of the biggest gripes about A&M’s defense this season is the inability to put pressure on the quarterback. One solution could be getting junior defensive linemen Shemar Turner more involved in the scheme.

Last season, Turner only had half a sack. So far this season, Turner has three sacks and two forced fumbles. For reference, A&M’s sack leader last season was junior defensive linemen Fadil Diggs, who had three over the entire year.

This isn’t supposed to be a knock on Diggs. It’s just that Turner has shown the ability to get to the quarterback early this season. Durkin needs to find a way to get Turner more one-on-one opportunities to help the Maroon and White’s defensive backs.

Eugene Asante, LB (Auburn)

Junior linebacker Eugene Asante didn’t receive much playtime last season after transferring from North Carolina, but he has had a fast start to this season.

This also isn’t the first time Asante will have faced off with the Aggies. He was a part of the North Carolina team that lost the 2021 Orange Bowl to A&M. In that game, Asante totaled 10 tackles.

So far, Asante has racked up 19 total tackles, two sacks and a pass deflection. Asante only registered one total tackle last week, but it was a blowout win over an FCS opponent so it’s not really worth noting.

With two sacks on the young season, keep an eye out for Asante against an Aggie offensive line that struggled two weeks ago in pass protection against Miami.

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About the Contributor
Eli Meschko
Eli Meschko, Sports Writer
Eli Meschko is a journalism senior from Boerne, Texas, and is minoring in communication and sports management. Eli has covered football, men's basketball, baseball, softball, hockey and track & field. Eli also writes for Dave Campbell's Texas Football as an intern. After graduation, Eli plans on pursuing a career in sports media or public relations.
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