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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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Finally facing SEC caliber defense

Redshirt+sophomore+quarterback%2C+Zach+Calzada%26%23160%3Blooks+down+the+field+for+an+open+receiver.%26%23160%3B
Photo by Photo by Ryan Hartfiel

Redshirt sophomore quarterback, Zach Calzada looks down the field for an open receiver. 

The return of the Southwest Classic and SEC play is almost upon No. 7 Texas A&M football, with the maroon and white taking on No. 16 Arkansas in the annual contest held at AT&T Stadium.

This week, the A&M offense has a tough journey ahead. The Razorbacks are incredibly strong in defending the receiving game, holding Georgia Southern to a mere 81 passing yards in the teams’ most recent matchup. The Razorbacks’ sophomore defensive back Jalen Catalon will serve as the biggest obstacle for the maroon and white, already posting two interceptions and a total of 15 solo tackles on the current season.

The last time Arkansas managed to defeat the Aggies was in a mere 42-38 victory earned in 2011, a year prior to A&M competing in the SEC. 

A&M senior defensive back and leader Leon O’Neal Jr. said the maroon and white’s current winning streak in the series does not have an effect on the Aggies’ mental stride going into Arlington.

“The mentality is not ‘We beat them, we beat them, we beat them.’ The mentality is that we have a job to do, and they’re in the way,” O’Neal said.

A&M’s biggest offensive adjustment has come from a new starting quarterback, with redshirt sophomore Zach Calzada taking over for redshirt freshman Haynes King.

Following a rocky showing during his first few quarters of play against the Colorado Buffaloes, Calzada shut down his ill-wishers during the opening drives against the University of New Mexico, backed up by two touchdowns scored by the Aggies early in the first quarter.

A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said his team’s offensive performance against the Lobos was average, but shows growth and potential.

“If you don’t continue to grow, you just wilt on the vine,” Fisher said. “We’re nowhere near pleased, but we’re headed in the right direction.

Calzada and the offensive line will have to look out for junior defensive lineman Zach Williams, who leads the Razorbacks in sacks with 1.5.

Calzada’s favorite connections during the most recent contest were his youngest receivers. The Georgia native threw a 70-yard pass to freshman wide receiver Demond Demas for the second touchdown of the game before adding another 30 yards in the air to put Demas at the 100-yard mark. Freshman wide receiver Moose Muhammad III also caught for a touchdown, receiving for 24 yards overall.

In total, the Aggies’ receiving corps caught for 275 yards against New Mexico, averaging 14.5 yards a catch.

However, this likely won’t be of much help against the Razorbacks.

In addition to Arkansas holding Georgia Southern to 81 receiving yards, the Razorbacks also held the then-No.15 Longhorns to just over 100 receiving yards, at 118. However, they allowed Texas to run for 138 yards and gave up another 156 on the ground to Georgia Southern.

The running game is where the Aggies will need to focus if they want to continue to add impressive numbers to their stat sheet. Junior running back Isaiah Spiller and sophomore running back Devon Achane need to be utilized in order for this to happen.

In his career, Spiller has rushed for 2,232 yards. Devon Achane, the 2021 Orange Bowl MVP, has already accumulated 733 total offensive yards, though he is still an underclassman. Of those, 567 yards were earned on rushes, and 167 were accumulated through catches made mostly in the back field.

Achane said finding the right route to run against the Razorbacks will be a waiting game.

“We just [have] got to be a little more patient,” Achane said. “We’re a little too anxious to make a big run. If we take the runs that are given to us, then the big plays will come later.”

Catalon has proven himself to be a defensive leader for the Razorbacks, boasting 28 total tackles, the second-highest on the team. He also leads the defense with his two interceptions, running them back for a combined 83 yards. Another defensive player to watch for is Arkansas senior linebacker Bumper Pool, who leads the team with 30 total tackles.

Fisher said this week is all about the Aggies preparing to face the Razorbacks’ defense.

“They’re a very experienced team … defensively, [they’re] experienced,” Fisher said. “We’re going to have to prepare and play well.”

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