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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

It’s been a minute, man

Photo by Photo by Ishika Samant

Senior WR Jalen Preston (5) helps up freshman WR Evan Stewart (1) during a game against Florida at Kyle Field on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022.

Saturday, Sept. 24, was the last time the Texas A&M football team won a game. With the Aggies’ active losing streak extending to six with the loss to Auburn, the Massachusetts Minutemen provide a chance to end the suffering of a group of men who have not won in a minute.

The Aggies have shown woes on the road, losing all four true road games this season. Even Kyle Field, the mecca of A&M football, has not been the impenetrable force fans remember from the past. In College Station, the maroon and white are 2-3 on the season, facing losses at the hands of the Appalachian State Mountaineers, the Ole Miss Rebels and the Florida Gators.

The backstretch of A&M’s schedule is interesting; with two weeks left in the college football season, none of the remaining teams have any stakes left in the matchups. The 3-7 Aggies have been eliminated from postseason eligibility. Their upcoming opponent, UMass, is 1-9, sporting a seven-game losing streak. A&M and Massachusetts are facing off for the first time in the programs’ history. The following week, the Aggies’ end-of-season rivalry game with LSU comes after the Tigers have already locked in their berth to the SEC championship as the SEC West’s representative.

“We’re playing for each other and Texas A&M,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “You’ve got Texas A&M on your jersey. You play for your teammates, and you play for yourself because you’re sending a message of who you are and what you are.”

Between 1998 and 2007, the Minutemen won a national title and five conference titles in the Football Championship Subdivision, or FCS. In 2012, UMass was promoted to the Football Bowl Subdivision, or FBS, joining the Mid-American Conference, or MAC. Since 2016, the Minutemen have been independent.

Since its promotion, though, UMass has struggled to find its footing. The Minutemen had an overall record of 8-40 while in the MAC and have gone 13-61 since becoming independent. Just like the Aggies, they are not bowl-eligible this season.

In Week 11, Massachusetts fell just short of its second win of the season. The team had not won since Week 3 when the Minutemen beat Stony Brook, an FCS school. Against FBS competition, UMass has not been victorious this season. Week 11 saw the Minutemen fall 35-33 after a failed 2-point conversion cost them a chance at victory in overtime.

“I thought we had a good plan, I thought there was a good mix of run and pass,” UMass coach Don Brown said. “When you have a team that you’re working hard to develop, it’s nice to see certain guys, when they get their opportunity, to make the most of it, and that’s one of the reasons you can see the benefits of it [offensively].”

Statistically, the biggest mismatch between the Minutemen and the Aggies is in the passing game. UMass averages 120.3 passing yards per game, the sixth-worst mark in the country, while A&M allows just 162.2 yards per game, the seventh-best mark. Conversely, the biggest advantage for the team from Amherst, Mass, comes in their running game. While the Minutemen have a middle-of-the-pack rushing attack, the Aggies have had one of the worst running defenses in the country.

Seven different players have run for 100 or more yards against A&M this season. Recently, Ole Miss freshman running back Quinshon Judkins eclipsed 200 yards and Auburn had a pair of running backs run for 121 yards each. As the season has progressed, rather than the Aggies’ defense improving, it has seemed to regress against the run.

The Minutemen are led on offense by an upperclassman who transferred into the program. Graduate running back Ellis Merriweather is a former two-star recruit who played at Garden City Community College before transferring as a three-star prospect in 2020. He leads UMass in scrimmage yards after coming into form late in the season, totaling 498 yards and three touchdowns. Merriweather had 29 carries for 122 yards and two scores in the Minutemen’s Week 12 loss to Arkansas State.

“We’ve been waiting for this kind of an output, and we got it out of him [Saturday], so we were pleased for him, pleased for our offense, and obviously it’s exciting to see him get going,” Brown said. “Hopefully that kind of ignites him for the last couple weeks.”

However, Massachusetts’ offense has struggled to find stability at arguably the most important position on offense: quarterback. Four different players have suited up at the position for UMass, contributing to the team’s inconsistency that has pitted the team with the third-worst offense in terms of yards per game.

On their defense, the Minutemen are best supported by their front seven. Redshirt senior defensive lineman Marcus Cushnie, a Florida State transfer, and senior linebacker Jalen Mackie each have 11.5 tackles for loss, a top-40 mark in the nation. Junior defensive lineman Billy Wooden is close behind with 5.5 tackles for loss, and Cushnie leads the team with 5.5 sacks.

For the Aggies, the key will be finding its footing offensively. After a historic performance for an A&M freshman from quarterback Conner Weigman against Ole Miss in his debut, he struggled to find himself against an Auburn defense that consistently applied pressure his way. It did not help either that sophomore wideout Moose Muhammad III did not play for disciplinary purposes and junior running back Devon Achane was out with injury, adding further insult and injury to a depleted Aggie roster.

“It’s very important to come out here against UMass, and we just want to dominate them,” senior wide receiver Jalen Preston said. “We want to go out these last two games and play Texas Aggie football.”

Out of postseason contention, A&M’s team has nothing to lose besides games and pride. With their backs against the wall, the Aggies can continue to go down or can go down swinging. In a season marred by inconsistency and underwhelming results based on preseason expectations, UMass could give A&M a chance to get back on track, acting as a late-season correction or as another blemish on an already-disappointing season for the Aggie faithful.

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