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Takeaways from A&M’s 27-10 victory over Auburn

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Photo by CJ Smith

Junior LB Edgerrin Cooper (45) tackles Auburn QB Robby Ashford (9) for a loss of yards during Texas A&M’s game against Auburn on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023 at Kyle Field. (CJ Smith/The Battalion)

In its conference opener, Texas A&M football flexed its defensive muscles against the Auburn Tigers on Saturday, Sept. 23, while the offense fought with a backup quarterback to secure victory. Here are four key takeaways.
Max Johnson may be the best backup quarterback in the SEC
Sophomore quarterback Conner Weigman took Aggieland by storm this season, giving A&M its first stable quarterback in many years.
This is why the stadium was filled with looks of dread as Aggie fans looked down to their phones at halftime and saw video of the Bridgeland native hobbling into the locker room right before halftime.
All eyes were locked on sophomore QB Max Johnson at the start of the third quarter, wondering if this would be the second year in a row that the Aggies would be marred with injuries to their starting QB, leading to inevitable downfall.
From the start of the third quarter, Johnson put all concerns to rest. In his first drive, the Athens, Georgia native went 3/3 for 44 yards, picking apart the Auburn secondary and finishing the drive with a 22-yard touchdown pass to his brother, sophomore tight end Jake Johnson.
“I think the first thing I said was, ‘I love you, man,’” Max said. “It’s been a long time coming, and that was pretty special.”
Johnson delivered again in his second drive, dropping a deep 37-yard pass right into the hands of sophomore wide receiver Evan Stewart for a touchdown, giving A&M a comfortable cushion to coast to victory.
“I always knew that [Max Johnson] was ready for the situation,” graduate wide receiver Ainias Smith said. “I was very proud of the way that he just always stays level-headed, stays composed. There’s a lot of people that can turn their backs on the team, or shy away from their responsibility to the team when they don’t get the thing they always wanted at the beginning. He came in and it was like we never missed a beat.”
On the day, Johnson went 7-11 for 123 yards and two touchdowns. While the extent of Weigman’s injury is still unknown, it appears that the Maroon and White will not be without a confident captain either way heading into conference play.
A&M’s defensive front has finally arrived
When the 2021 class arrived on campus, the expectation was for the plethora of five-star recruits on the defensive line to dominate not just the SEC, but the whole country. That hadn’t been the case, with the Aggies’ defense ranking 124th in rushing defense last year and seemingly unable to create pressure. Those same sentiments were echoed early this season, as junior Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke was able to sit in the pocket and pick apart the Aggies’ secondary in Week 2.
But against Auburn, it seemed like the defensive front finally woke up. Coming into the game, A&M had six sacks on the season. The Maroon and White walked off Kyle Field with five sacks and 15 tackles for loss on the game, as the D-line — led by junior Shemar Turner and sophomore Walter Nolen with a combined nine tackles and 1.5 sacks — shredded the Tigers’ offensive line.
“I’m very proud of our defense,” graduate offensive lineman Layden Robinson said. “This is the defense that we went against all fall camp. This is the defense that we went against all spring … Y’all saw something that we already knew. Just because they were having struggles earlier, doesn’t mean that they can’t come back and show the world what they can do.”
Not to be outdone, the linebacker corp for the Aggies had their best game of the season. Junior Edgerrin Cooper and freshman Taurean York combined for 19 tackles, five for loss and 2.5 sacks.
“It feels good,” Cooper said. “Feeding off of each other’s energy, it just lets us keep going. Feed off of each other’s energy and just play 110% at that, and it’s as simple as that.”
The Aggies’ offense needs to convert and capitalize
Despite the explosion in offense this season, one consistent theme this season has been an inability to convert at a high enough clip in the red zone. In last week’s matchup against ULM, A&M had to settle for 3 points five times, which was fine against a Sunbelt opponent, but may spell disaster in conference play.
Against Auburn, the Aggies had to kick a field goal in each of their first two drives after consistently moving the offense down the field against the Tigers. The second field goal on the day was forced by self-imposed injuries, as both Robinson and Jake Johnson committed false starts. This pushed a drive with first and 10 on the Auburn 12-yard line back, completely halting any offensive momentum.
“We’ve been emphasizing finishing throughout practice,” Smith said. “Really, that’s what we need to keep working on. Those Tuesdays, those Wednesdays when it gets hard, it gets hot and people are tired, especially at the end of practice, that’s when we have to focus in and really go finish.”
The Maroon and White were also five for 12 on third down. To win in the SEC, A&M will have to convert more on third down and finish more drives in the endzone, not through the goalposts.
Have the Aggies found a run game?
With the high-flying passing game taking center stage so far this season, many Aggie fans have overlooked the fact that A&M has not had a running back rush for over 65 yards in a game this season.
Whatever had been ailing the running backs may have dissipated against Auburn. The Maroon and White had not only one, but two rushers go for over 80 yards on the ground in sophomore Le’Veon Moss and junior Amari Daniels. Daniels also helped seal the game for the Aggies, breaking off a 79-yard run late in the fourth quarter to give A&M first-and-goal and an eventual touchdown.
“[The running backs] did great,” Robinson said. “They did their job. That’s what’s expected of them every time. Every person on offense, every person on the team, they have a job. They just did their job today. We did our best to open up the gaps for them, and they hit them and they made big runs.”
With Weigman possibly out for an extended period of time, it may be of the utmost importance for the Maroon and White to establish a ground game heading deeper into conference play.

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