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Commentary: Grading Aggies’ performances in A&M-LSU

Redshirt+sophomore+QB+Zach+Calzada+%2810%29+throws+the+ball+during+the+Aggies+game+against+LSU+at+Tiger+Stadium+on+Saturday%2C+Nov.+27%2C+2021.
Photo by Photo by Robert O’Brien

Redshirt sophomore QB Zach Calzada (10) throws the ball during the Aggies’ game against LSU at Tiger Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

The semester’s end is approaching, and with it comes something terrifying to all Aggies: grades.

But because they are student-athletes (note which word comes first), the members of the Texas A&M football squad are not exempt from being graded for their performances. Instead of academics, however, they’re being graded based upon their success ⁠— or lack thereof ⁠— in the Aggies’ 27-24 loss to the Louisiana State Tigers on Saturday, Nov. 27.

Here’s how we rated their duty-fulfillment on the field:

Quarterback

Key Player(s): Zach Calzada, redshirt sophomore

Calzada’s performance can best be described as one with both great successes and game-altering struggles. The young signal-caller went 20-for-35 in the air, throwing for 242 yards and three touchdowns without giving up a single interception ⁠— just his third performance to not turn the ball over as a starter.

He especially found his rhythm in connecting with sophomore Devon Achane, as the newly versatile running back completed five catches for 72 yards. While his ability to find a new favorite target depending on the situation at hand is promising, his overreliance on this ‘chosen man’ can at times be scary.

Calzada also struggled in the pocket, as he was sacked four times. Though much of this burden is placed on the shoulders of the offensive line (more on that later), if Calzada wants to succeed in the Southeastern Conference, he needs to better cultivate his mobility and find ways to break away from his all-too-persistent attackers.

Grade: B

Running Backs

Key Player(s): Devon Achane, sophomore; Isaiah Spiller, junior

In brief summary, A&M’s running backs were nonexistent Saturday night. The Aggies totalled only 54 yards on the ground, even though they attempted 28 carries.

This was mainly thanks to the position’s performance in the first half, where Spiller and Achane combined for an average 2.4 yards per carry. To be fair, this was likely due in part to play-calling which tasked the talented athletes with consistently rushing through the middle on third-and-longs, but both Achane and Spiller also struggled in reading gaps and making breakaways to the outside.

The second half was slightly better for Achane, as he seemed more comfortable in finding holes and attacking them with confidence. Spiller, though, got worse, as he only totalled 14 yards on seven carries. For a running back expected to forego his senior season in favor of the 2022 NFL Draft, this kind of performance is unacceptable.

Props to the LSU defense; it stuffed the run all night long.

Grade: C+

Wide Receivers

Key Player(s): Jalen Preston, junior; Moose Muhammad III, freshman; Achane

One of the brighter spots in A&M’s performance, the receivers were tasked with the nye-impossibility of making up for the running game’s incompetencies. Three receivers ⁠— plus Achane ⁠— notched at least two receptions from Calzada, contributing to the team’s overall gains of 242 yards through the air.

The unexpected duo of Muhammad and Preston visibly surprised the LSU defense, as once Calzada began targeting the two players, A&M immediately gained momentum. Preston’s two touchdowns ⁠— his first multi-score performance in his career ⁠— gave A&M its only lead in the fourth quarter, and Muhammad reached a first down on every completion.

Achane had similar success, as his move away from a rushing-only mindset allowed the running back to actually lead the Aggies in receiving yards. He also secured four first-downs through the air, making up 80% of his receptions.

The only sour spot came in the team’s four drops, but there is an admitted suspicion Calzada’s overly emphasized throwing strength could be to blame.

Grade: A-

Tight End

Key Player(s): Jalen Wydermyer, junior

One word: underutilized.

Wydermyer wasn’t given much of a chance to shine against LSU, but what else is new? He’s the epitome of consistency, having caught a pass in 35 games straight ⁠— the same number of on-field appearances he’s made since coming to A&M. Why he only got five targets in the Aggies’ battle with the Tigers will likely remain a mystery, but it shouldn’t be a surprising one.

What he did manage, however, was solid. Wydermyer’s 24 offensive yards don’t sound entirely impressive on paper, but they accounted for three different first-downs and also helped set up a touchdown and a field goal.

Anyone who can convert on fourth-down attempts ⁠— and do so consistently ⁠— is doing their job. Now A&M just needs to give him more chances to boom.

Grade: B+

Specialists

Key Player(s): Seth Small, senior; Nik Constantinou, sophomore; Muhammad

Had the maroon and white pulled out a victory in the fourth quarter, there’s a solid chance the specialist unit as a whole would have stood in MVP contention. Small ⁠— A&M’s all-time leading scorer ⁠— continued to consistently rack up points, nailing three extra points and a 33-yard field goal.

Constantinou continued to impress as well, as the Melbourne native was forced to punt eight different times against LSU. Averaging 44.5 yards per attempt, Constantinou racked up a whopping total of 356. His three punts downed within the 20 kept A&M in the game and staved off what could have become multiple scoring drives by the Tigers.

With junior wide receiver Ainias Smith nursing a minor injury ⁠— confirmed by A&M coach Jimbo Fisher in the postgame press conference ⁠— Muhammad has recently become the maroon and white’s go-to punt returner. Against LSU, he returned three punts for a total of 21 yards. Though a seemingly unimportant number, two of those started A&M’s subsequent drives within enemy territory, giving the team momentum before Calzada and co. even reentered the field.

Grade: A

Offensive Line

Key Player(s): Kenyon Green, junior; Bryce Foster, freshman

Buckle up; this one’s going to be rough.

First and foremost, four sacks in one game is unacceptable. Yes, some of that was Calzada’s fault for panicking instead of scrambling. Yes, two sacks came in late crunch time of the fourth quarter. Yes, LSU allowed six sacks. But none of that justifies an inability to protect what is arguably the single-most important position and player on A&M’s roster. 

To worsen matters, the line also allowed nine tackles for loss and five quarterback hurries. Pair that with the running backs’ lack of holes through which they could surge, and it makes for one messy showing. 

One year ago, the Maroon Goons were one of the most dominant forces in the entire nation. Today’s iteration of the unit couldn’t be further removed. If A&M wants to move back into championship contention next season, it starts with the offensive line.

Grade: C-

Linebackers

Key Player(s): N/A

Overall, there’s not much to say here. The linebackers did their jobs against LSU, and the Aggies were better for it. There weren’t any standout showings, but a player being omitted from this article for that reason is far preferred to being included in a negative capacity.

None of the Tigers’ scoring plays were the linebackers’ faults, as all three of the home team’s touchdowns came on big plays run from outside the red zone. 

The one criticism comes when taking note of the team’s defensive statistics for the night. In no world should a safety have led the Aggies in tackles, which at least presents the plausibility of linebackers missing tackles and leaving holes open.

This will be an area to watch moving forward.

Grade: B-

Defensive Line

Key Player(s): Micheal Clemons, graduate; DeMarvin Leal, junior 

The only players that performed better than the specialists were the defensive linemen. Clemons had a career showing, notching 3.5 sacks against LSU sophomore quarterback Max Johnson ⁠— the highest total recorded by a single Aggie in nearly half a decade. Add in his broken up pass and his quarterback hurry, and Clemons nearly single-handedly saved the Aggies’ redasses.

Leal added another sack ⁠— or two half-sacks, rather ⁠— and five tackles, cementing the line’s absolute dominance. In fact, three Tiger punts came off sacks.

Had it not been for this group, the Tigers could easily have put up another 21 points and run away with the game.

Grade: A+

Defensive Secondary

Key Player(s): Jaylon Jones, sophomore; Leon O’Neal, Jr., senior 

LSU’s shortest scoring play was 28 yards, and Johnson passed for 300-plus yards against an SEC team for just the second time ever. 

Tiger wide receiver Jaray Jenkins tripled his career-high receiving yards even before scoring the game-winning touchdown. Freshman wideout Malik Nabers set a personal best in single-game receptions. Junior receiver Trey Palmer recorded a career-high in receiving yards and was nowhere near leading the team for the night.

What else needs to be said?

Grade: F

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