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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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Playing both sides

Defensive+back+Leon+ONeal+Jr.+and+defensive+lineman+McKinnley+Jackson+sacking+South+Carolina+quarterback+Zeb+Noland
Photo by Photo by Robert O’Brien

Defensive back Leon O’Neal Jr. and defensive lineman McKinnley Jackson sacking South Carolina quarterback Zeb Noland

In most college football games, the winner and loser are determined by a slight offensive or defensive edge by one team. In Texas A&M football’s latest victory, the outcome was the result of absolute dominance on both sides of the ball.

The No. 17 Aggies employed lockdown defense, allowing South Carolina to record only 15 offensive yards through the first three quarters while holding the Gamecocks to just three successful third-down conversions on 13 attempts. The offense, led by junior tight end Jalen Wydermyer and the running back duo of Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane, scored on eight of 12 possessions and put up a conference campaign-high of 290 yards on the ground.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher said he was pleased to see the offensive and defensive units work cohesively to secure A&M’s sixth win and move to .600 in Southeastern Conference play.

“I’m very proud of our team. I thought we came out of the gate … to a fast start,” Fisher said. “On both lines of scrimmage, we were able to play very physical. We played very well [on both offense and defense], and that allowed our skill guys to really play.”

The Aggies entered the matchup with the No. 14 scoring defense in the nation, allowing an average of 16.4 points per game. Determined to climb that leaderboard, the defense stepped onto the field with a vengeance, immediately forcing a three-and-out on South Carolina’s first possession.

In fact, five of the Gamecocks’ six drives in the first half ended with a punt. The sixth was cut short by a fumble which gave A&M the ball just 6 yards from the goal line. 

After recovering from an interception in A&M’s first push downfield, thrown by redshirt sophomore quarterback Zach Calzada, the Aggies found offensive momentum, scoring on all four of the team’s remaining possessions in the first half.

“That momentum that we had kept us going and kept our confidence up,” Wydermyer said of the team taking an early lead. “We really saw … that we can dominate people [on offense].”

Wydermyer paved the way for the maroon and white’s scoring success, making two receptions in the end zone en route to a team-leading, 75-yard performance in the air. His first touchdown catch, good for 25 yards, moved him into the No. 1 all-time receiving yards position among A&M tight ends, passing Super Bowl LI Champion Martellus Bennett, Class of 2009. The second came on a 28-yard reception.

“I had no idea he even [broke the record],” Fisher said of Wydermyer’s performance. “I just know he’s playing well and doing what we ask him to do. That’s what we’re worried about. I’m happy for him, and he’s very well-deserving.”

But before Wydermyer ⁠— or anyone else ⁠— could even snag his first reception, the Aggies found the scoreboard. A&M scored a touchdown without a single offensive play, as junior wide receiver Ainias Smith returned South Carolina’s first punt of the night for 95 yards and a touchdown.

Spiller and senior placekicker Seth Small secured the remainder of the half’s points, with the junior running back notching his lone touchdown of the night on a 1-yard push past the goal line. Small drilled four extra points and one field goal, putting A&M up 31-0 going into halftime.

The defense also won the night’s turnover battle. Freshman defensive back Tyreek Chappell recorded his first career interception in the fourth quarter, boosting A&M’s total time of possession to nearly 40 percent more than that of South Carolina’s. The Aggies also secured an additional interception, fumble recovery and turnover on downs.

“It was one of the best [defensive performances] I’d ever seen,” Smith said of his team’s ability to hold the Gamecocks scoreless through the first half. “I’m like, ‘This is crazy.’ Our defense definitely stepped up.”

After the break, A&M resumed its streak of terror, scoring in unanswered fashion on its first four possessions. Two field goals by Small, accompanied with a 35-yard rush by Achane, widened the deficit.

“Those last two losses that we had kind of affected us in a way that it actually motivated us,” Smith said. “We’ve come together pretty tight throughout these past two weeks. We were like, ‘Man, we just have to capitalize.’ We took the initiative.”

The Gamecocks seemed to briefly find their footing in the fourth quarter, driving 75 yards and scoring on a 9-yard rush into the end zone, before stopping the Aggies and forcing A&M sophomore punter Nik Constantinou to make his first of just two gametime appearances. South Carolina tacked on one final touchdown with 12 seconds left on the clock.

But the damage had already been done, and the Aggies left Kyle Field with their third-straight SEC victory. The maroon and white offense totalled 477 yards on the night, the highest seen all season against an SEC opponent. In equally impressive fashion, the defense allowed only 185 yards, 170 of which came in the fourth quarter after A&M benched the majority of its starters.

“I was disappointed a little bit in our backups on offense and defense,” Fisher said of South Carolina scoring twice in the fourth while holding A&M to just one field goal. “We got some really good players … but they’ve got to do better. We’ll get these young guys working. We’re going to need them there at the end [of the season].”

With Saturday’s matchup in the record books, A&M climbed to 6-2 on the season and 3-2 in conference play. South Carolina fell to a 4-4 record, moving to 1-4 in the SEC. The Aggies will have a resting bye week before returning to action on Saturday, Nov. 6 to host the No. 19 Auburn Tigers at Kyle Field.

With two weeks left before entering the team’s “home stretch,” Fisher said he believes A&M is positioned well to continue to win games and end the season on a high note.

“I really do [like where my team is at] right now,” Fisher said. “I like the development and … our ability to go back in, refocus and get back to those details. Now we just have to practice and get ready [to finish strong].”

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