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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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Aggies fall in uninspired performance at Death Valley

Redshirt+sophomore+quarterback+Zach+Calzada+went+20-for-35+with+242+passing+yards+and+three+touchdowns+in+A%26amp%3BMs+27-24+loss+to+LSU.
Photo by Photo by Robert O’Brien

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Zach Calzada went 20-for-35 with 242 passing yards and three touchdowns in A&M’s 27-24 loss to LSU.

A short-lived comeback promised hope for the Texas A&M football team, but in the end, an underwhelming performance throughout the game’s entirety shot the Aggies in the foot and ultimately sealed their fate.

The eventual 27-24 competition between the Aggies and the Louisiana State Tigers acted as a rollercoaster-esque spectacle, building slowly through the first half before overcoming the hump and taking off at a breakneck pace full of twists and turns through the second. A&M didn’t hold the lead until partway through the fourth quarter, though the team was never more than two possessions behind at any point.

The Aggies looked uncharacteristically unsure in the running game, as the only two usual backs — sophomore Devon Achane and junior Isaiah Spiller — were given fewer carries than is typical, and the opportunities that did present themselves were often on third-and-long situations not beneficial to the duo. This contributed to the team averaging only 3.2 yards per carry, good for a grand total of just 77 total rushing yards by the time the clock hit zero.

In contrast, A&M’s passing game saw greater success than most of the 2021 season, as redshirt sophomore quarterback Zach Calzada tossed for 242 yards, 20 completions and three touchdowns with zero interceptions on 35 attempts. The receiving duo of freshman Moose Muhammad III and junior Jalen Preston accounted for a combined 109 yards and three scores through the air. Achane, utilized in a more all-around capacity against the Tigers, led the team with 72 receiving yards on only five completions.

Even still, A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said he wasn’t satisfied with his receivers’ performances, as they made four statistical drops as well as other small — but crucial — mistakes throughout the night.

“I think we just have to catch the ball,” Fisher said. “We just have to make plays. We made some really good plays [but] had too many drops in key situations. [We’ve] just gotta focus and put [our] nose on the ball.”

LSU bested A&M in both rushing and receiving yards, recording 106 and 306, respectively.

The Tigers drew first blood, scoring on the opening possession of the ballgame and running six minutes off the clock in the process. After taking a game-opening touchback, the home team easily strung together 13 plays for 44 offensive yards before settling for a 50-yard field goal by junior place-kicker Cade York.

The damage was worsened in the second quarter by a pair of airborne touchdowns to LSU junior receivers Jaray Jenkins and Trey Palmer. The first came on a 45-yard bomb from sophomore quarterback Max Johnson to Jenkins, extending the deficit to 10. The second, a 61-yard dump-and-go to Palmer in the final minute of the first half, sent the Aggies back to the locker room with lowered spirits.

“It was very disappointing,” graduate defensive lineman Micheal Clemons said of the defense. “There are definitely plays that could have been made that would have had a different outcome. But it is what it is now.”

But A&M wasn’t going to let the game slip away entirely, as the maroon and white did manage to score once before the break. Down 10 points with eight minutes left before halftime, the Aggies started a drive with four-consecutive plays of at least 9 yards, highlighted by a 23-yard pass from Calzada to Achane. Finally in the red zone for the first time all night, Calzada connected with Muhammad on a 13-yard dime in the end zone, putting the Aggies on the board.

After the break, the Tigers again extended their lead with a 47-yard field goal by York, though the Aggies had other plans. Calzada connected with Preston four times in the fourth quarter, with two of the receptions leading the wide receiver into the end zone. Preston’s two scoring catches — good for 15 and 32 yards, respectively — marked his first two-touchdown performance since coming to A&M in 2018.

“His perseverance and what he does … he’s a great young man,” Fisher said of Preston. “I’m very happy for him.”

But in the end, the Tigers won the war. An offensive push during a realtime two-minute drill successfully put LSU just outside the red zone nearing the end of the second half, and a 28-yard pass from Johnson to Jenkins with 20 seconds left on the clock cemented the game’s results in the record books.

“We called our leopard play with four deep routes,” Jenkins said of his game-winning end zone snag. “Max [Johnson] threw the ball, and I had to make a play. He trusted in me, I believed in it and I had to come up with the catch.”

Winning the regular-season finale held greater significance for the Tigers than just finding victory, as a loss would have kept the team on the outside looking into bowl season, which is just around the corner. LSU coach Ed Orgeron is also set to leave the program after this year, making his final win at Tiger Stadium emotional for many members of the home team.

With what is sure to be a depressing plane ride home, the Aggies now have only one more opportunity to take the field with their 2021 roster: a bowl competition. Though the team will now begin its preparations to do whatever necessary to win some sort of postseason consolation prize, the maroon and white must first suffer the consequences of falling to LSU.

“It’s not going to be easy [to put this loss behind us],” Preston said. “But we just want to be prepared.”

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