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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 seeks SEC redemption after Arkansas upset

The+Aggies+offensive+line+has+struggled+and+is+currently+being+led+by+Kenyon+Green%26%23160%3B%28bottom+right%29%2C+the+only+remaining+member+of+the+Maroon+Goons.%26%23160%3B
Photo by FILE

The Aggies’ offensive line has struggled and is currently being led by Kenyon Green (bottom right), the only remaining member of the Maroon Goons. 

Last week, the Aggies had a serious reality check, losing to the Razorbacks for the first time since joining the SEC.
No. 15 Texas A&M, 3-1, returns to Kyle Field with aspirations of redeeming itself in conference play against Mississippi State, 2-2, on Saturday, Oct. 2. In the matchups between the SEC West opponents since 2012, A&M leads the series 5-4 and is looking to widen the record. The Aggies have defeated the Bulldogs in the last two battles, and a victory on Saturday would hand them their first SEC win of the 2021 campaign.
In Week 4, LSU came out on top with a 28-25 win against Mississippi State, and A&M’s 11-game winning streak was snapped when Arkansas humbled A&M, 20-10. Prior to the upset, A&M’s most recent loss came from the hands of the 2020 National Champions, Alabama.
The maroon and white’s AP rank dropped eight spots after their discrediting performance facing Arkansas. In A&M’s first SEC matchup of the season, the offense struggled to find its rhythm, and a lack of experience from key players prevented A&M from overcoming the deficit and battling back.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Zach Calzada continues to adjust to the intensity of SEC play, filling freshman quarterback Haynes King’s position after a season-pausing fractured tibia. Calzada has thrown for 609 yards in his past three games. Surrounding the developing play-caller is a young offensive line and a breakout group of receivers. A&M’s experienced running core is what seems to be keeping the offense afloat, and head coach Jimbo Fisher appears to be thoroughly impressed with their ability to execute.
“Our running backs are playing well,” Fisher said. “Isaiah [Spiller] is playing, I think, excellent football. [Sophomore running back Devon] Achane is very experienced, very smart and a really good player. We need some more guys to develop behind them … that we feel comfortable we can play. That group has been the most consistent by far.”
With the second-best scoring defense in the NCAA, A&M has proven that veteran leadership and youth talent create a deadly combination. Holding the No. 3 spot in fewest passing yards allowed this season, A&M’s defense will be tested against Mississippi State’s Air Raid offense. To add to its resume, A&M’s defense has tolerated an average of 9.25 points per game and held its competitors to an average of 119.5 yards.
“It’s always our mentality to keep it a low scoring game,” junior safety Demani Richardson said. “We’re not worried about the offense scoring a lot of points, we’re just worried about doing our job and just focusing on executing the defense and just keep making our stops and doing what we have to do.”
Mississippi State’s pass-centric offense could create turmoil this weekend. Sophomore quarterback Will Rogers has already earned the No. 3 spot in total passing yards with 1,454 yards and 75.1 completion percentage. Seven Bulldogs have documented over 100 receiving yards and allowed Mississippi State to be crowned as the No. 6 passing offense in the nation, averaging 363.5 yards per game. Head coach Mike Leach’s airborne playstyle has created offensive success for the Bulldogs but neglected the run with under 63 rushing yards per game.
“Offensively, you know Mike [Leach] is going to throw it,” Fisher said. “It’s going to be a tough game, so we need to get cleaned up, clean the mistakes up from [Arkansas] and get ready for Mississippi State.”
On the other side of the field, Mississippi State’s laborious SEC-caliber defense may provide Calzada with another tough challenge. Junior linebacker Jett Johnson leads the Mississippi State defense with 29 total tackles, and senior safety Fred Peters is not far behind with 27 total tackles. Mississippi State’s variation of talent goes to show that every SEC opponent will refuse easy scores and constantly apply pressure.
“We have a very tough opponent this week in Mississippi State,” Fisher said. “They are playing outstanding defense right now. They are experienced, they are physical upfront and they have a very physical secondary.”
The Aggies will host Mississippi State under the lights of Kyle Field for the SEC home-opener and first 6 p.m. game of the 2021 season.
​​“Being in front of the 12th Man is always an honor to step on the field,” junior wide receiver Ainias Smith said. “The environment itself, the fanbase, they’re going to be behind us. We just need their support at all times and just have confidence and faith in the offense, the defense and special teams, all phases of the game.”

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