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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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8 players to look for in A&M-Mississippi State matchup

Ainias+Smith%2C+Chase+Lane%26%23160%3Band+Isaiah+Spiller+celebrate+with+Demond+Demas+after+his+touchdown.
Photo by Photo by Ryan Hartfiel

Ainias Smith, Chase Lane and Isaiah Spiller celebrate with Demond Demas after his touchdown.

Starting quarterbacks Zach Calzada and Will Rogers headline the eight players to watch in the Mississippi State vs. Texas A&M matchup.
The 3-1 Texas A&M Aggies return home to Kyle Field to face the 2-2 Mississippi State Bulldogs. Kickoff for the SEC clash is set for Saturday, Oct. 2 at 6 p.m. A&M and Mississippi State are currently tied 7-7 in their all-time series, with the No. 15 Aggies having won the previous two matchups against the Bulldogs. Both A&M and Mississippi State are coming off SEC losses to Arkansas and LSU, respectively, in Week 4.
Here are eight players to look for in Saturday’s matchup:
Zach Calzada – A&M
The redshirt sophomore quarterback struggled in last week’s loss to Arkansas. Calzada only managed to complete 55.55 percent of his passes against the Razorbacks and was challenged by the pressure of Arkansas’ front seven. Calzada has had success making throws when he is stationary in the pocket, but those opportunities have been few and far between due to lackluster play from A&M’s inexperienced offensive line. Head coach Jimbo Fisher may utilize a more run-heavy approach against Mississippi State to lessen Calzada’s burden, but in order to run the ball effectively, the quarterback is going to have to show he can make throws against an SEC defense. This is especially important with a matchup against Alabama looming.
Will Rogers – Mississippi State
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Rogers has had a very impressive start to his 2021 campaign. The Bulldog quarterback had at least 290 passing yards and two touchdowns in each of his team’s first four games this season. If Mississippi State is able to keep A&M’s talented pass rush at bay to give Rogers time to get the ball to his receivers, Rogers could be in for a successful outing against an Aggie secondary that struggled at times against Arkansas in Week 4. If the Bulldogs keep the game close, it is likely due to Rogers’ play.
Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane – A&M
Arguably A&M’s best player in its loss to Arkansas was Spiller. The junior starting running back amassed 95 yards on 12 carries along with a rushing touchdown in the SEC opener. Calzada’s uncertain play has put even more pressure on Spiller and his backfield partner in sophomore Achane to lead the Aggies offensively. For the Aggies to beat the Bulldogs in this SEC battle, they must depend on the running game, and Spiller is an integral part of it. Both running backs should combine for 30 carries and account for the majority of the offense in what might be a run-heavy game for the Aggies. This could serve as a template for future success.
Makai Polk – Mississippi State
The junior wide receiver transfer from the University of California has been a top target in Mississippi State’s Aerial Attack. In four games this season, he has accounted for 304 yards receiving and two touchdown catches. While Rogers has shown the tendency to spread the ball around to multiple receivers, Polk has emerged as the Bulldogs’ best receiver and could find success against an A&M secondary who gave up 246 yards passing last week to Arkansas. If the Bulldogs are able to replicate the Razorbacks’ performance, Polk could be in line for an impressive final stat line.
Leon O’Neal – A&M
Arkansas exposed A&M’s defense in the first quarter of last week’s Southwest Classic. Team leaders and starting safety O’Neal took to Twitter to take responsibility for the defensive lapses, writing, “I take complete ownership didn’t execute today and I’ll take it on the chin and keep building as [a] man and a teammate. Forever Gig ‘Em.” O’Neal has a golden opportunity against a Mississippi team that has shown it will air it out offensively. The star safety has already shown his prowess at creating turnovers this season and could be in for a stellar performance Saturday as he looks to bounce back from last week’s loss.
Demond Demas – A&M
The former 5-star wide receiver has been thrust into the starting lineup due to injuries to starters Caleb Chapman and Chase Lane, with Fisher categorizing the receivers’ status as “day-to-day.” Demas, a redshirt freshman, has shown he is capable of producing at the collegiate level, but has yet to find a consistent connection with Calzada. If Lane and Chapman remain out, it may be up to Demas to provide the vertical threat that will open up running lanes for Spiller and Achane. Otherwise, the A&M offense could be in for another rough showing.
Jett Johnson – Mississippi State
The Bulldogs’ junior linebacker has been one of the best players on a unit that has had a tendency to give up points to its opposition. Johnson is currently leading Mississippi State players with 29 total tackles, 2.5 for a loss and one forced fumble. One of the main reasons A&M struggled so much on offense against Arkansas was the Razorbacks’ linebackers covering much of the field to contain A&M’s short passing game. Mississippi State will have to get similar play from Johnson and its other linebackers if the visitors hope to contain A&M’s skill players. Otherwise, Spiller and Achane could be in for impressive performances Saturday night.

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