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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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6 takeaways from A&M-Auburn

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Photo by Photo by Ishika Samant

Redshirt sophomore Zach Calzada passed for 192 yards and 15 completions across 29 attempts. This put the quarterback at a 107.3 passer rating.

The No. 13 Texas A&M football squad defeated No. 12 Auburn at home for the first time in program history on Saturday, Nov. 6. Though offensive success was more limited than many would have liked, the Aggies enjoyed a comfortable lead for most of the game en route to a 20-3 victory, good for the team’s fourth-consecutive Southeastern Conference win.

Here are six takeaways from the game:

Racked up sacks

Senior defensive lineman Tyree Johnson has recently made a name for himself, sacking each of the last three SEC quarterbacks he faced: Alabama’s Bryce Young, Missouri’s Connor Bazelak and South Carolina’s Zeb Noland. Johnson continued his streak of dominance against the Tigers, sacking Auburn junior quarterback Bo Nix twice while also forcing a fumble in the second quarter. Having now taken responsibility for a whopping 54 yards gained against opposing offenses, the two-time SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week had arguably his best showing of the year against Auburn.

Sacks continued to be the harbinger of good news for the Aggies, as senior defensive tackle Jayden Peevy brought down Nix near the start of the third quarter. This not only forced a loss of 11 yards, but also knocked the ball loose, which graduate defensive end Micheal Clemons scooped and returned for 24 yards and a touchdown — the only time either team found the end zone all night. Junior defensive back Demani Richardson added onto the carnage with the game’s fourth tackle for loss, costing Auburn another 15 yards.

In contrast, A&M gave up zero sacks on the night.

“That was a lot of guts; that was physicality; that was competitiveness … and I can’t be more proud of those guys,” A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said of the entire defensive unit. “Our defense was absolutely outstanding [at] controlling the line of scrimmage. They’re doing it with discipline. We tackled well in space; we knocked balls down; we covered well; we rushed well … and collapsed the pocket.”

Not seeing red

The matchup between the two teams saw many different gametime situations: successful fourth-down conversions, defensive touchdowns and even missed field goal attempts. But a noticeably absent aspect of the gameplay was prolonged time spent in the red zone — at least in a successful context. Each team managed to cross the other’s 20-yard line early in the first quarter, but both trips saw the respective offensives quickly shut down and forced to settle for field goals. These two scoring drives marked the only time either team found the red zone across the entire first half. 

The second wasn’t much better, as the teams reached the red zone a combined four more times, and none of the visits ended in a touchdown. Auburn’s one journey within the 20 was cut short by a missed field goal, and along with its fumble in the red zone, A&M had to settle for three points on both of its other opportunities, completely blowing a first-and-goal situation from just 4 yards out.

“Being able to do the little things right [kept this a defensive game],” junior defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal said of the teams’ unsuccessful red zone presences. “That’s what both defenses were able to do. Our offense … always has their backs, and they always have ours. Today was just one of those days.” 

Kyle’s 2021 SEC finale

The Aggies have had a wild ride at Kyle Field this season, especially in SEC matchups. A 26-22 loss to the unranked Mississippi State Bulldogs came just seven days before A&M’s upset over then-No. 1 Alabama. Regardless of the outcome of each matchup, the players had the support of the 12th Man at their backs. Now, with playoff implications on the line, the Aggies must close their SEC campaign with two road games against Ole Miss and Louisiana State.

“You know [the 12th Man] is going to be loud. I appreciate them for that,” Peevy said of the advantages of playing at home during a conference campaign. “This was my last SEC game [at Kyle Field]. It’s just been a blessing to see the growth of this program.”

Calzada backtracking?

Four weeks ago, redshirt sophomore quarterback Zach Calzada found his way into A&M record books with his dominant performance against the undefeated Crimson Tide, garnering him SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors by posting a career-high three touchdowns on 297 total yards. But the play caller has since slipped, with his quarterback rating and completion percentage both steadily decreasing with each game played since. Against Auburn, Calzada finished the game at 15-for-29 and a passer rating of 107.3.

In what might have been an even worse of a misstep, Calzada attempted a quarterback keeper in the red zone partway into the third quarter, dropping his shoulder and trying to bulldoze Auburn senior safety Smoke Monday. Needless to say, this play did not go well for the Georgia native, and he subsequently left the game with a shoulder injury. Though he later returned to action, this could have been a potentially season-ending mistake affecting not only Calzada’s career, but A&M’s success as well.

“Zach [Calzada] is definitely very, very tough, not just as a football player, but as a human being,” junior wide receiver Ainias Smith said of Calzada’s ability to continue performing in the face of adversity. “What else can you say about him?”

Prime positioning

One of the Aggies’ biggest advantages in the matchup came in the form of offensive ball placements. A&M held a field position rate — the percentage of plays run from its opponent’s side of the field — of 48 percent; the Tigers saw less than half this success, forced to deal with a rate of 23 percent in the same statistical category. 

Having enjoyed the luxuries of field positioning all season, thanks in part to sophomore punter Nik Constantinou’s average of 46.8 yards per punt, junior offensive lineman Kenyon Green said starting ball placement is often the deciding factor in an offense’s momentum.

“It’s great, especially on defense, holding them,” Green said. “Making sure that we have good field position is great. With us, you keep pounding them; you keep enforcing your will on them. We do a great job with that.”
Third down (bad)

A&M has struggled all season on third downs, even posting a mere 28.5 percent success rate earlier this season against Arkansas. But the maroon and white proved capable of far worse, converting just once across its first 10 attempts. After finding some momentum, the offense enjoyed slightly more success and finished with a conversion record of 3-13. But with an average of 6.8 yards to go in third-down situations, the maroon and white were often put into unfavorable situations before even being given the chance to succeed. To A&M’s credit, Auburn didn’t perform much better, as the visitors scraped by with an even, 25 percent conversion efficiency.

Even more frustratingly for the home team, A&M went 0-for-5 in power-rushing situations, or running plays where the ball carrier needed 2 yards or less to reach a first down.

“I think it was just our execution and not focusing in on certain plays,” junior running back Isaiah Spiller said of the offense’s frustrations in third-down scenarios. “It was an ‘us’ thing, and we’ve got to work on that. It goes back to practice.”

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