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The Battalion

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

The Battalion

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

The Battalion

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5 takeaways from A&M-Arkansas: Southwest Classic

Photo by Photo by Cameron Johnson

Junior RB Devon Achane (6) runs through the Arkansas defensive line during the Southwest Classic on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

No. 23 Texas A&M football secured a come-from-behind win over No. 10 Arkansas following a wild sequence of defensive stands and field goal doinks. After consecutive victories over teams ranked in the top 15 at the time of play, the Aggies are starting to piece together the puzzle of how to succeed in the SEC this year.
Even with the improvements, there are still some areas of concern, but a third of the way through the regular season, it’s a lot easier to get a solid read on the team’s strengths and weaknesses. Here are five takeaways from the Southwest Classic on Saturday, Sept. 24.

Locking in

The free space on everyone’s post-game interview bingo board for A&M football should be the phrase “self-inflicted wounds.” Every player reiterates this sentiment when referring to what went wrong.

“Honestly, we didn’t really make any adjustments,” junior defensive back Antonio Johnson said. “We had a lot of self-inflicted wounds, honestly. So, I think [Arkansas’ offense’s] tempo got the best of us early, but we were able to slow them down, get them behind the chains and just control the game.”
Despite some slow starts and up-and-down play, A&M has shown an ability to adapt and lock in when it’s needed. After the Razorbacks jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter due to some of these self-inflicted wounds, the Aggies zeroed in defensively to keep the Razorbacks off the scoreboard for the next 40 minutes of in-game time. Over this stretch, the Aggies accumulated 23 unanswered points, a lead insurmountable for the Razorbacks as the time winded down.

Devon Achane is the life force of A&M’s offense
On just 19 carries, junior running back Devon Achane ran for 159 yards on the ground, adding 15 more yards through the air on three catches. Achane is the backbone of the offense, averaging roughly 10 yards per carry on the team’s three offensive scoring drives.

Achane’s game-long rush of 63 yards set up the Aggies for their first touchdown of the game. It’s hard to make Achane a key takeaway after every game, but when he is half the offense — or 50.7%, to be exact, in terms of yards — it’s hard not to.

“We’re getting better in the run blocking. We’re getting better at reading,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Devon [Achane] is Devon. That’s who he is. How did he play? That’s Devon. That’s all you’ve got to say.”


Max Johnson is doing what it takes

What junior quarterback Max Johnson has done through two starts hasn’t been game-changing, even though he’s taken down consecutive top-15 teams. But what he is doing right is putting the team in the right position to win and taking what the defense gives him, and sometimes trying for more.
A final rushing total of 39 yards doesn’t seem like anything to write home about, but Johnson had 60 yards, if you ignore his negative yardage caused by the three sacks he took. What isn’t on the stat sheet is the force and power he ran with, picking up crucial first downs and fighting for extra yardage.

In the passing game, another performance dancing around 50% completion is also rather middling, but Johnson kept the ball out of harm’s way and began to take more deep shots down the field. Even further, his numbers weren’t aided by three impressive pass breakups by Arkansas and a couple of crucial drops from his receivers, including a potential long touchdown pass to sophomore wideout Moose Muhammad III.

“It’s just understanding whatever coach Fisher wants,” Johnson said. “We have to execute that at a higher level. He made some great calls, and there’s some things that we missed that we’re definitely going to work on this next week. But we’re going to take what the defense gives us. If the shot plays are there, we’ll throw them. If they’re not, we’ll check them down. If we have to run the ball, we will as well.”

Is your refrigerator running? Because, if so, A&M couldn’t stop it

A&M can’t contain the run right now, it’s that simple. The Aggies ran a lot of low-number fronts defensively, and Arkansas responded to it simply by running the ball continuously down A&M’s throat. With redshirt junior quarterback K.J. Jefferson’s final stat line of 18 rushes for 105 yards and a score, that marks four 70-yard rushers in the last three games, two of whom ran for 100-plus yards.

This could just be a byproduct of A&M’s pass defense emerging as one of the best in the country, allowing 171 yards, but it could also be an area of concern when facing teams with strong running back rooms in the future.
The running game is a strength of Arkansas’ team, going for 244 yards as a team on Saturday, but there were plenty of other crucial mistakes made by the Razorbacks that held the team back. Looking ahead on the schedule, if teams like Ole Miss and Alabama can keep their mistakes to a minimum, they could exploit the chink in A&M’s defensive armor.
However, the true test for A&M’s passing defense will come in Week 5 against Mississippi State’s junior quarterback Will Rogers, who has thrown for 400-plus yards twice this season.


Ainias Smith’s injury

When asked whether he knew the extent of senior wide receiver Ainias Smith’s apparent leg injury after the game, Fisher kept his answer simple: “No, I don’t.”

According to ESPN’s broadcast of the game, Smith was in a walking boot and crutches after he went down late in the game with what appeared to be an injury to his right leg.

While Smith was relatively ineffective in the game, only catching one pass for 32 yards, his absence will certainly bev VB felt. Smith provides a similar dynamism to the passing game that Achane brings to the running game. Smith sits in the top 10 on A&M’s all-time list in both receptions and receiving touchdowns.

It’s uncertain at this time what Smith’s injury is or how long he’ll be out, but in the meantime, the Aggies will need the ancillary weapons to step up in his absence. Freshman wide receiver Evan Stewart appears to be the next man up, but sophomore receiver Yulkeith Brown will likely fill in for Smith’s slot-centric role in the offense.

“I feel for Ainias [Smith],” senior defensive back Demani Richardson said. “He’s been working really hard. Leader of this team. He’s going to keep leading, though. I have faith in my other backups, and I just know they’ll do the job and get the job done.”

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