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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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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Now you see me: Jaylen Henderson leads Aggies to victory in first career start

Sophomore+QB+Jaylen+Henderson+%2816%29+dives+into+the+endzone+for+a+touchdown+during+Texas+A%26amp%3BMs+game+against+Mississippi+State+on+Saturday%2C+Nov.+11%2C+at+Kyle+Field.+%28Ishika+Samant%2FThe+Battalion%29
Photo by Ishika Samant/The Battalion

Sophomore QB Jaylen Henderson (16) dives into the endzone for a touchdown during Texas A&M’s game against Mississippi State on Saturday, Nov. 11, at Kyle Field. (Ishika Samant/The Battalion)

After a 38-35 loss to No. 10 Ole Miss in which junior kicker Randy Bond’s overtime-forcing kick fell short, it seemed as if the only thing that Aggie fans had to worry about was a 5-4 record.

Then later in the week, rumors began to circulate on X about junior quarterback Max Johnson suffering a rib injury which would sideline him for A&M’s upcoming game against Mississippi State.

Despite this, coach Jimbo Fisher seemed to put worries to rest about Johnson at his media availability, saying that despite some tough shots near the end of the Ole Miss game, he planned on playing the Athens, Georgia native on Saturday.

Aggies fans were also able to let out another sigh of relief when Johnson appeared to be warming up hours before kickoff.

Except upon further inspection, the QB wearing No. 14 looked quite different from Johnson.

That’s because it wasn’t Johnson at all.

In a strange series of events, junior walk-on QB Blake Bost, the only other left-handed QB beside Johnson on A&M’s roster, was throwing passes pregame with Johnson’s No. 14 warmup shirt and black baseball cap on. This raised questions on if the Aggies were attempting to use a decoy QB to trick the Bulldogs into thinking Johnson would be available to play.

It was not shortly after that the real Johnson was spotted on the field in street clothes, solidifying the fact that he would in fact not be starting against Mississippi State.

Whether it was the intention to have Bost wearing Johnson’s number pregame to throw off the Bulldogs or not, sophomore Fresno State transfer QB Jaylen Henderson got the nod.

The Encino, California native played sparingly during his time with the Bulldogs, only throwing eight passes his entire career. His commitment in the offseason was deemed a depth commitment, only brought on to give a thin QB room, which was marred by injury during the 2022 season, some options deep on the depth chart.

“When I told [my parents] that I was starting, they dropped everything and got a flight,” Henderson said. “They were like, ‘Oh, really?’ It was awesome. My mom had a business opportunity and she just left it and came to the game.”

In seemingly the blink of an eye, Henderson was tasked with not only helping the Aggies rebound from a road loss, but guide A&M to a bowl-securing victory in his career start.

After Mississippi State took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown, Henderson laid any questions about his ability to lead the offense to rest on his first drive, passing for 44 yards and capping off the drive with a 22-yard rush up the middle, falling forward into the endzone for his first career touchdown.

The Aggies’ defense stifled the Bulldogs’ offense, forcing two interceptions — the first multi-interception game of the season — and held Mississippi State to just 3 offensive points in the first half. This gave Henderson and A&M’s offense four drives that started on the opponent’s side of the field, helping lead to a season-high 34 points at halftime.

“Both sides of the ball, we try to work together,” junior linebacker Edgerrin Cooper said. “We try to give our offense the ball back as soon as we can, and when we create turnovers and give them that field position, I feel like that just makes it a lot easier on them and gives us the confidence we need.”

Henderson had four rushes for over 11 yards in the first half, highlighted by an 11-yard rollout for his second rushing touchdown of the night, the first time an A&M QB has rushed for multiple scores since Kellen Mond in 2019.

“[Henderson’s] legs create a whole different dimension,” Fisher said. “Not just running on drop back … You can’t just tee it up and rush because you’ve got to worry about QB run and different things you do and I thought he was outstanding and his legs [were] huge in the game.”

In total, Henderson accounted for 150 yards passing and 76 yards rushing with four total touchdowns for his first career victory at the helm.

“The team showed a lot of confidence in me throughout the week,” Henderson said. “I didn’t want to let those guys down … It did mean a lot to me to get the win and show out in front of the fans.”

The A&M rushing attack had its best performance of the season, going for 246 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, with four rushers getting over 40 yards.

“When you can run the football, anybody can throw it in the world, but when you run the football that means you’re controlling the game,” Fisher said.

The Maroon and White’s defense held Mississippi State to under 250 total yards while forcing four turnovers, one of which was a scoop and score forced by sophomore defensive back Jared Kerr, who knocked the ball free from senior Mississippi State QB Mike Wright, giving way for sophomore defensive lineman Shemar Stewart to grab the fumble and return it 43 yards for a score.

With the victory, the Aggies are now bowl eligible, a feat they missed out on last season.

“[Bowl eligibility] is a priority we were looking forward to,” Cooper said. “We’re just trying to check the boxes on each objective and do what we can do.”

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