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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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A&M offense looks to continue production, momentum versus top-ranked Tide

Photo by Robert O’Brien

Running back Isaiah Spiller scoring a touchdown.

While the Texas A&M football team’s defense, or lack thereof, garnered most of the attention after a 42-24 drubbing to Mississippi State last week, the Aggies’ offense quietly had one of its better showings of the season versus the Bulldogs.

The unit scored its second-most points of the year in Starkville, Miss., marking its highest total since the season opener, when it put up 31 points against Sam Houston State. Junior running back Devon Achane was typical Devon Achane, racking up 111 yards on the ground on 16 carries, good for an average of 6.9 yards per rush. Junior quarterback Max Johnson continued a string of solid outings before leaving the game with a hand injury, passing for 203 yards and a touchdown while completing 19 of 26 attempts.

A&M fans were introduced to sophomore wide receiver Moose Muhammad III, who caught six passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. After a season-ending injury to senior wideout Ainias Smith during the Arkansas game on Sept. 24, Muhammad and the team’s receiving corps must step up to cover for the team captain’s production and leadership. 

Freshmen wideouts Evan Stewart and Chris Marshall each had efficient performances, with Stewart reeling in five passes for 56 yards, while Marshall had four receptions for 27 yards. 

Saturday’s loss also showed that the offense still has plenty to improve upon as conference play gets into full swing. The maroon and white were turnover-happy against Mississippi State, losing two fumbles in the red zone to kill otherwise promising drives. Sophomore signal-caller Haynes King also threw two interceptions after entering the game in the fourth quarter when Johnson left with an injury, including one returned for a touchdown. To be fair, one of the picks was tipped directly off Stewart’s hands and into the outstretched arms of the defender.

“Sometimes when you’re young and you’ve got young guys in critical positions, sometimes they just want to try too hard,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We talk to them every day, give them confidence. We do it in practice every day and just have got to relax and play.”

The offensive line’s struggles continued as well, as both A&M quarterbacks were consistently forced to get rid of the ball quickly and make desperation throws, while Johnson was sacked four times over the course of the day for a loss of 32 yards. Five games into the season, sophomore offensive linemen Bryce Foster and Reuben Fatheree II and junior offensive lineman Layden Robinson have yet to live up to their preseason All-SEC honors. A cohesive and productive unit in the trenches will be key to the future success of the Aggies’ offense.

“I know their ability is there, their want-to is there, their habits, their work habits, all the things are there,” Fisher said of the offense as a whole. “They’re tremendous kids. And we have to do a good job of coaching them and put them there. And just my time being here, and knowledge of doing it and having done it for many years. And I believe in our players 100%.”

Additionally, Johnson’s status remains unclear entering this weekend after Fisher said he “banged his hand” versus the Bulldogs. Fisher listed Johnson as day-to-day and signaled his openness to starting King or freshman quarterback Conner Weigman while he recovers.

“[King] has been a tremendous, tremendous human being, handling the situation as well as any human can ever be expected to, and actually was a benefit and a help to Max Johnson on the information and things that are going on,” Fisher said. “We give [Weigman] reps every week. He takes reps with the 2s every week. He’s very knowledgeable … I think he’s going to be a very, very good player.”

Nonetheless, the Aggies appear to be showing progress as the season wears on, but they will face their biggest test of the year when they take on top-ranked Alabama on Saturday, Oct. 8, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The matchup at Bryant-Denny Stadium will pit A&M against a Crimson Tide team that has limited opponents to an average of 11 points per game, good for fifth in the country.

Last week, Alabama took down Arkansas 49-26 on the road, giving up 377 yards to the Razorbacks. For comparison, the Aggies gave up 415 total yards to Arkansas in a 23-21 win to kick off conference play.

Alabama junior linebacker Will Anderson Jr. has established himself as a Heisman Trophy candidate and arguably the top defensive player in the country with 27 tackles, nine tackles for loss and five sacks, while fifth-year linebacker Jaylen Moody and senior linebacker Henry To’oTo’o lead the Crimson Tide defense with 33 tackles apiece this season while tallying at least 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack each. 

As a whole, Alabama’s defense ranks fourth overall in the nation, allowing an average of 3.61 yards per play and 236.4 yards per game. The reigning SEC champions have given up just five touchdowns all season, three of which came against Arkansas.

“Texas A&M has a really good team, a really good offensive line, a really good quarterback, and it’s going to be a great challenge for us,” Anderson said.

As is the case against any great opponent, the Aggies will have to play a virtually mistake-free game in order to compete with the Crimson Tide, and quality preparation will be key to their success. However, as last year’s 41-38 win proved, nothing is impossible when a two-loss A&M team, coming off a loss to Mississippi State, too, takes on a top-ranked Alabama squad.

“To have an opportunity to go play a team like Alabama, to have a chance to play well against them, you have to practice well,” Fisher said. “We’ve done that before, but hopefully we’ll do it again this week. I think the want-to of our players and everything else is there. [They have a] great attitude, we just have to go practice well.”

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