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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

Aggies earn close home win over Vanderbilt in season opener

Linebacker+and+2020+12th+Man+Braden+White+leads+the+football+team+onto+the+field.
Photo by Photo by Meredith Seaver

Linebacker and 2020 12th Man Braden White leads the football team onto the field.

Texas A&M opened up the 2020 season on Saturday night against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Kyle Field. But the highly anticipated home opener got off to a methodical start as penalties, offensive struggles and a turnover hampered the Aggies throughout the course of the first half.
The struggles would continue into the second half, but the A&M defense stood its ground as the offense did just enough to pull out the 17-12 win, making the Aggies 1-0 to start the year.
The Commodores struck first after a 13-play drive that ended with Pierson Cooke kicking a 33-yard field goal to give Vanderbilt an early 3-0 lead. A&M followed them up by going three-and-out in their first offensive drive of the season. But after a subsequent 3-and-out from the Commodores, the Aggies scored their first touchdown on a well-executed option pitch from Kellen Mond to Ainias Smith who took it 25 yards to the house, giving the Aggies a 7-3 lead which they would take into the second quarter.
Vanderbilt’s true freshman quarterback Ken Seals, a Texas native, came back and tossed a dart to Amir Abdur-Rahman down the sideline for 27 yards which he somehow caught to put the Commodores in field goal range. Seals is the third true freshman SEC quarterback to start in a season opener since 1972.
A steady diet of quick passes from Mond and runs from the duo of Smith and Spiller drove A&M down deep into Vanderbilt territory. They looked to be on their way to a second touchdown after Smith ran for a big gain off a bubble screen, but a holding penalty back near the line of scrimmage took away the Aggies’ momentum. Two plays later Vanderbilt forced a Mond fumble which they recovered to keep the score at 7-3.
Mond said he knows he has to be better for Alabama next week and knows his consistency has to improve.
“Everybody knows we have to be more consistent, especially myself,” Mond said.
More mistakes were made by A&M as a safety on a Vanderbilt punt gave the Commodores two points, making the score 7-5. The Commodores’ rushing pair of Jamauri Wakefield and Ja’Veon Marlow would get the ball back once again on the ensuing kickoff. Marlow and Wakefield ended the first half with 80 combined rushing yards on 19 carries.
A&M coach Jimbo Fisher took the blame for the mistakes made by the Aggies.
“All three phases did not play tonight as well as I thought they would or should have,” Fisher said. “[There was] too much inconsistency in all three phases, and that’s my fault as head coach.”
The Aggies found an offensive groove to start the second half with a quick three-play 75-yard touchdown drive to take a 14-5 lead. Isaiah Spiller had his first big play of the night on the first play of the second half as he burst through a wide-open hole on a dive run and scampered down the left sideline for 57 yards. Mond and receiver Caleb Chapman then linked up for the second time of the night on a 17-yard touchdown completion.
The A&M defense then came away with its first turnover of the 2020 season when Demani Richardson picked off Ken Seals deep in Aggie territory. 
But Vanderbilt then caused a timely second turnover right after on a second Mond fumble. Seals continued to show off his arm with a pair of completions to Abdur-Rahman that put the Commodores in the red zone. Seals capped off the drive with yet another completion to Abdur-Rahman on a seven-yard touchdown throw. Abdur-Rahman was Seals’ favorite target in his college debut as the junior receiver finished with 72 receiving yards on five catches.
Spiller had his second long dash of the game right before the third quarter expired with a 30-yard run that placed A&M on Vanderbilt’s 15 yard line. Spiller was the Aggies’ leading rusher as he finished the game with 117 yards on eight carries. Vanderbilt made a nice defensive stand though that limited the Aggies to just three points on a Seth Small field goal, making it 17-12 in favor of Texas A&M.
After a Vanderbilt punt, Spiller and Smith both ran the Aggies into Vanderbilt territory looking to extend their lead, but a third A&M fumble gave the ball back to the Commodores with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Senior defensive end Micheal Clemons then came up with the Aggies’ first sack of the night to push Vanderbilt back 10 yards, which was followed up by a 38-yard return on an interception by Leon O’Neal, Jr.
Senior linebacker Buddy Johnson said the defensive line performed really well and that they made his job a lot easier.
“Clemons and Leal, the whole front – phenomenal athletes,” said Johnson.
Coach Fisher remarked that the two interceptions from O’Neal and Richardson were vital.
“Those are big turnovers,” Fisher said. “Those are two critical, critical turnovers.”
A late hit penalty called on Vanderbilt pushed the Aggies into their own territory with six minutes remaining. But A&M would fail to convert on fourth down, giving the ball back to the Commodores.
Clemons got his second sack of the night shortly after on a third down to force another Vanderbilt punt with 3:24 to go. But the Aggies managed to burn out the rest of the time left on the clock as they won by a final score of 17-12.
The Aggies travel to Tuscaloosa next week to face the second-ranked Crimson Tide.

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