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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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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

5 takeaways from A&M’s loss to Mississippi State

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Photo by Robert O’Brien

Junior RB Devon Achane (6) runs for a first down during the Southwest Classic on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

One week after experiencing the euphoria of taking down two straight top-15 opponents in Miami and Arkansas, respectively, the Texas A&M football team and its fans were dealt a cold, hard dose of reality. The Aggies were soundly defeated by Mississippi State for the second year in a row in a 42-24 loss on Saturday, Oct. 2, in Starkville, Miss.
After being ranked No. 6 in the Associated Press poll to start the season, the maroon and white now sit at 3-2 overall and 1-1 in SEC action, raising serious concerns about the status and future of the program in head coach Jimbo Fisher’s fifth season at the helm. Here are five takeaways from maroon matchup:
Return of the King
Three games after being benched in favor of junior quarterback and LSU transfer Max Johnson, sophomore signal-caller Haynes King entered the game in the fourth quarter when Johnson injured his throwing hand after throwing for 203 yards. Postgame, Fisher had no update on the injury. It’s unclear if Johnson will return to start at Alabama next week.
Over four drives, King completed six of 13 passes for 49 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. While the first pick wasn’t necessarily his fault, deflecting off the hands of a receiver into the reach of junior cornerback Emmanuel Forbes, the second interception was returned 33 yards for a touchdown by Forbes.
King displayed his running ability as well, tallying 14 yards on just two carries, including a 4-yard score on fourth down to bring the Aggies within eleven at 28-17 with 7:14 left in the game.
A&M defense drops the ball — literally
The Aggies’ 18-point loss may not have looked so lopsided had the defense capitalized on several turnover opportunities presented in the first half. There were at least three throws by junior quarterback Will Rogers that could have been intercepted by the A&M secondary and changed the trajectory of the contest.
“I feel like that would have been a big game-changer,” senior defensive back Demani Richardson said. “I’ve got to make those plays. We’ve got to make those plays. We need that, and the offense needs that. We feed off each other. If we make those plays, they can feed off us, and we can feed back off them.”
The missed chances led to the Aggies losing the turnover battle 3-1. Junior running back Devon Achane, the life force of what little is left of the A&M offense, fumbled at the Bulldogs’ six-yard line with less than eleven minutes to go in the second quarter. Mississippi State went on to score on the ensuing drive as Rogers connected with redshirt senior wide receiver Caleb Ducking from five yards out.
As a whole, the A&M defense gave up 473 total yards and six touchdowns, a far cry from its average of 11.75 points allowed per game this season entering the matchup. The Bulldogs were 5-of-11 on third down and converted on their two fourth down tries.
“We could bring some more pressure, no doubt,” Fisher said. “We brought some blitzes. We brought some pressures and gave up some man throws and didn’t get there. You’ve got to put pressure on the quarterback. You’ve got to affect the quarterback.”
Achane is the best player on the field, and it’s not close
A&M fans would probably prefer to not think about where the team would be if not for the strong, consistent effort of Achane. While held out of the end zone, the track athlete continued his offensive success this season, picking up 111 yards on the ground on 16 carries, good for an average of 6.9 yards per rush. He also amassed 21 receiving yards.
Freshman running back L.J. Johnson Jr. complemented Achane with 25 rushing yards on three carries, capped off with a 1-yard touchdown in garbage time.
Through five games, Achane ranks second in the nation in all-purpose yards with 832, coming out to an average of 166.4 per game. He also ranks 26th in the country with an average of 93.2 rushing yards per contest and 23rd with 466 yards on the ground this season. To cap it off, Achane averages 34.2 yards per kickoff return, the fourth-most in college football.
O-line may be the team’s biggest weakness
The Aggies’ offensive line was heralded entering the 2022 campaign, with sophomores Bryce Foster and Layden Robinson being named to the Preseason Coaches’ All-SEC Third Team and junior Layden Robinson being named to the Preseason All-SEC First Team. However, the unit has failed to mesh this season, restricting the A&M offense as a whole.
The offensive line gave up four sacks to Mississippi State for a total of 32 yards. Poor blocking forced Johnson to make quick, desperation throws, while Achane had to navigate around coverage to look for an opening. While the position is undoubtedly one of the most unappreciated aspects of the game, it goes to show that no offense can be successful without a solid group in the trenches first.
“Nobody’s perfect, we just had major mistakes today and we can’t pout on that too much and just move on,” Robinson said. “This week in practice is very crucial for us, we just need to pick each other up and get better. Who knows what the outcome will be.”
We miss you, Ainias
The Aggies lost Ainias Smith for the remainder of the season after the senior wide receiver suffered a high ankle sprain last week versus Arkansas that required surgery. “Sub Zero” was a cornerstone of the A&M offense, averaging 19.4 yards per catch with two touchdowns while returning punts as well. It’s now up to the Aggies’ young receiving corps to step up and make up for Smith’s production and, perhaps more importantly, his leadership.
Thankfully, A&M fans got a glimpse of who could fill that role, as sophomore wideout Moose Muhammad III had six catches for 119 yards and an 18-yard touchdown reception. The North Carolina native also fielded punts, including a 22-yard dash to give the Aggies’ a start at the Bulldogs’ 37-yard line on one drive.
The wealth was shared evenly in the receiving game, as freshman wide receiver Evan Stewart caught five passes for 56 yards, while fellow freshman wideout Chris Marshall had four receptions for 27 yards. Meanwhile, junior wide receiver Devin Price, son of defensive ends coach Terry Price, caught his first two passes of the season.

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