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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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One step away
June 8, 2024

A&M’s explosive rushers will meet their match

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Running back Isaiah Spiller and counterpart Devon Achane will continue to be valuable assets for the A&M offense heading into the matchup against the No. 12 Auburn Tigers. 

If Auburn’s defense was able to do hefty damage to Ole Miss’ top-ranked offense, Texas A&M is in for a rude awakening. 

On Saturday, Nov. 6, No. 13 A&M and its continuously improving offense will clash with No. 12 Auburn’s recently dominant defense. The top-15 matchup could influence postseason bowl game selections as well as determine the winner of the Southeastern conference’s west division, if Alabama falls once again.

One thing all Aggie fans can agree on is redshirt sophomore quarterback Zach Calzada’s all-around improvement since becoming the starter. The play-caller has gained confidence in the pocket, and small adjustments made in practice are beginning to reflect in his play. Additionally, the offensive line has gained experience with Calzada leading the way, creating a strong connection between the six players. Head coach Jimbo Fisher said he has seen a lot of development from Calzada, especially during the bye week.

“[I see] knowledge, confidence [and the fact that he] loves ball,” Fisher said. “[His] teammates respect him … play hard for him, and he just keeps getting better and better at the game.”

Against South Carolina on Oct. 23, Calzada threw for 187 yards and two touchdowns. He has yet to really utilize his feet as a scrambling-type quarterback, which is a weakness SEC defenses can use to their advantage. 

The Aggies have achieved loads of success putting the ball on the ground and running it with their dynamic running back duo. Junior Isaiah Spiller and sophomore Devon Achane combine for 5.34 rushing yards per carry this season and will look to do more damage on Saturday. However, Auburn’s top-ranked rushing defense may shut down the duo, a sight the Aggies have yet to see this year. 

“Our confidence is up there,” junior tight end Jalen Wydermeyer said. “We know what we can do, and we know what we can accomplish on offense and on the defensive side of the ball. But we’re still trying to stay persistent with our work ethic and stuff and not get too big-headed.”

Auburn has proven in years past that it can be a danger to college football when it has nothing to lose. Coming off a thrilling upset over Ole Miss, the Tigers return to College Station, looking to extend their 4-0 undefeated record at Kyle Field. 

In its last four wins, the Tiger defense has shown up and showed out, having yet to allow a single point scored in the fourth quarter. Auburn was able to shut out Ole Miss’s No. 4 total offense in the second half and stopped the Rebels on three different fourth-down plays inside their own 20-yard line. However, the Aggies have scored on 16 of their last 17 attempts in the red zone.

“Fourth down is our down,” Auburn senior linebacker Zakoby McClain said. “Nobody is going to get fourth downs on us. We’re going to fight until the end.”

McClain’s 67 tackles place him at No. 3 in total tackles in the SEC. Adding to the intimidating sight that is the Tigers’ defense is its average allowance of just 3.26 yards per carry, which could be detrimental to the rhythm of A&M’s offense. Auburn’s No. 4 tackles-for-loss defense will physically challenge A&M’s front five and give it the opportunity to terminate the run game. The Aggies have yet to see such pressurizing defense, and it will be crucial for the line to win its one-on-one matchups. Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin said his players have to move on from the Ole Miss win and turn the page.

“[We have to] watch the film, pop on the tape and watch Texas A&M,” Harsin said. “If that doesn’t get your attention, you’re going to get beat. They are a good football team.”

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