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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

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Takeaways from The Southwest Classic

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Photo by Ishika Samant

Sophomore QB Max Johnson (14) rushes for a gain of 32 yards during the Southwest Classic against Arkansas on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Ishika Samant/The Battalion)

For the first time in the Jimbo Fisher era, Texas A&M is 2-0 in the SEC. 
In Week 5, the Aggies did something they have gotten used to since joining the SEC, beating Arkansas at AT&T Stadium. 

Here are some takeaways from the Aggies’ 34-22 victory over the Razorbacks. 
The Aggies will be just fine with Max Johnson
As a fanbase, it is normal to worry about your team when the starting quarterback goes down for the season. However, for the 12th Man, they have nothing to worry about with redshirt sophomore quarterback Max Johnson at the helm. 

Johnson is already a proven starter in the SEC from his tenure at LSU and his limited time with the Aggies. The Aggies needed someone to step up last week against Auburn when sophomore quarterback Conner Weigman got hurt. It was Johnson who stepped up to the challenge. 

In Week 5 against Arkansas, Johnson looked poised throughout, passing for 210 yards and a pair of touchdowns. 

The quarterback still has some mistakes to clean up for the rest of the season. 

The first play of the second half resulted in a pick-six for the Razorbacks after redshirt junior defensive back Lorando Johnson intercepted the swing pass. Johnson also fumbled on a run in the Aggies own territory, resulting in a field goal for the Hogs. 

However, these are simple errors that Johnson can clean up. The only thing the 12th Man should worry about is the health of Johnson. On the fumble, Johnson got a little banged up but came back into the game the next drive. He is fine now, but the last thing Aggie fans want to see is another quarterback go down. 

Johnson said he knows he has to learn to keep his health in mind when he decides to take off running. 

“I got to learn to take care of myself more often,” Johnson said. “If I got the first down [then] slide, and if not, I’d rather get out of bounds then take the extra hit, but if it’s on the line [or] it’s fourth down, I’m going for it.”

A&M’s defense has improved tremendously

The Aggie defense has come a long way since allowing 451 yards in Week 2 against Miami. Since then, the Aggie defense has only allowed one touchdown, coming late in the fourth quarter against the Hogs. 
In the last two games against SEC competition, the Aggies have produced 14 total sacks. The defense also helped add to the scoreboard against the Razorbacks, with senior linebacker Chris Russell Jr. taking a tipped pass by sophomore defensive back Bryce Anderson to the house. 

At 247 pounds, Arkansas redshirt senior quarterback KJ Jefferson is hard to bring to the ground. The same can be said for junior running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders. However, the Aggies did a good job containing the both of them and wrapping up to make the tackles. 
Jefferson rushed for negative three yards while Sanders was limited to only 37 yards on the ground. 

“We tackled very well in this football game, and we gang tackled,” Fisher said. “We swarmed the football, we tackled with leverage, we got guys on the ground, and kept [Jefferson] in the pocket at the same time.”

For the fans, there is definitely some hope to be had for this Aggie defense after it appeared to be the weak link. 

The Southwest Classic never disappoints

It seems every time the Aggies and Razorbacks meet at AT&T Stadium, some thrilling plays are bound to happen. 
The most recent example is in the 2022 game when Jefferson fumbled at the goal line. The ball was picked up by then-sophomore corner Tyreek Chappell before being handed off to senior safety Demani Richardson to take it in for a touchdown. 

Not to mention, that game ended with Arkansas missing the go-ahead field goal, as the ball hit the top of the upright. 

The 2023 edition of The Southwest Classic had its fair share of thrilling plays as well. 

To open the second half, the Aggies had a chance to put the game out of reach and possibly go up 24-6 with a touchdown. However, Lorando Johnson had different plans in mind, intercepting the Aggies first play and taking it to the endzone. 

In the 2017 edition of the game, Aggie receiver Christian Kirk housed a kickoff return on route to a 50-43 win in overtime. This year, it was a punt return for the Aggies by senior wide receiver Ainias Smith that helped boost the Maroon and White to victory. Smith initially muffed the kick before taking 82 yards to the house. 

The defense also made it two years in a row with a touchdown. The Hogs had the ball, down four points, but the Aggie defense stepped up in a crucial moment, flipping the momentum inside Jerryworld. 

With the contract with The Southwest Classic and AT&T Stadium expiring in 2024, the future for the game is still unknown. Nonetheless, this game has produced countless memories for Aggie fans. 
Despite what some fans may think, Fisher said he still loves the game being played at the home of the Dallas Cowboys. 
“I love the game being here, because I think it sets up like a bowl game, like a playoff game, and the kids in this state have grown up loving and playing in Jerry’s World,” Fisher said. 

The sky’s the limit

Despite some worry from fans after an early loss, the Aggies have potential to be a great football team. In the last two weeks, simple mistakes and settling for field goals in the red zone have kept the score closer than it might have been. 

The Maroon and White have some simple things to clean up and also some areas to grow in. However, if they can do that, there is no doubt the Aggies can contend for an SEC West title. The players in the A&M locker room know that as well. 
“The amount of space we have to get better is crazy,” junior linebacker Edgerrin Cooper said. “We really have trust in this defense and offense and the amount of improvement we have, it’s going to be scary.”

Smith echoed that same sentiment.

“The sky’s the limit,” Smith said. “That’s how I look at it.”

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