Two teams that are close to mirror images of each other in this 2021 SEC landscape faced off at Kyle Field on Saturday, as the No. 13 Texas A&M Aggies hosted the No. 12 Auburn Tigers. It was a key SEC West showdown and an important game for positioning within the division, with the second-largest crowd (109,835) ever at Kyle Field.
Both teams are chasing Alabama, and while the Aggies hold the head-to-head victory over the Crimson Tide, the Tigers have yet to play them in the Iron Bowl.
A&M and Auburn were both very much still alive in the race for the West title, but today's game was viewed as kind of an elimination game for that race.
A big reason for Auburn's success this season is quarterback Bo Nix. The Aggies' defense held Nix in check in the first half with nine completions on 17 attempts for 66 yards. Yards were at a premium on Saturday with both defenses being aggressive. Auburn ran the ball for just 42 yards on 17 carries in the first half.
The first half saw consistency and resiliency from both defenses, but the difference was the Aggies' running game. The A&M running back tandem of Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane combined for 16 carries for 85 yards in the opening half.
Entering the game, many wondered which version of Calzada Aggies fans would see today, the version that struggled most of the season to find a rhythm and to find receivers, or the version that we saw in the first half against Alabama. A cool, calm, and poised quarterback who could seemingly do no wrong.
The answer was found quickly. It was somewhere in the middle, as Calzada missed several targets in the first half, but when he did hit, balls were dropped by usually sure-handed receivers like Jalen Wydermyer and Ainias Smith.
Calzada completed just six passes on 16 attempts for 66 yards in the first half, a half that ended appropriately in a 3-3 tie.
The second half went much the same way with the teams virtually trading three-and-out drives, but Auburn found a little more success with the passing game through short, dump-off passes underneath, and a sustained drive of 10 plays that resulted in a missed Anders Carlson 33-yard field attempt goal with 9:16 left in the third quarter, matching a missed Seth Small 42-yard attempt in the first half.
Calzada found his own rhythm in the third quarter with a 49-yard completion to Caleb Chapman during a drive that gave the Aggies the lead on a Seth Small 29-yard field goal, but also saw Calzada leave the game with an apparent shoulder injury.
Walk-on freshman quarterback Blake Bost took over just before the Small field goal, and Calzada returned after missing only two offensive plays.
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After returning from the injury, Calzada appeared poised and accurate as the Aggies converted their first third-down all day on an 18-yard pass to Smith.
The Aggies converted another Small field goal on a 47-yard attempt early in the fourth quarter to put A&M up 9-3.
The Aggies defense showed up big, as it has most of the season, on a turnover when Nix fumbled the ball under pressure from Jayden Peevy and Michael Clemons picked up the ball and ran 24 yards for a touchdown. The Aggies went up 17-3 after a successful two-point conversion.
Seth Small added a 37-yard field goal with just over 3 minutes remaining in the game, taking the score to 20-3 Aggies.
Since Zach Calzada's injury, the Auburn Tigers accumulated just 47 yards on 23 plays, and the A&M defense added another turnover on a Nix interception by Jaylon Jones.
Nix completed the game with just 152 yards passing on 20 completions in 40 attempts and no touchdowns. The Tigers' running game didn't fare much better with the offense totaling 73 yards.
Calzada finished the game with 192 yards on 15 completions in 29 attempts and no touchdowns, while the Aggies running game found its groove early with 217 total yards rushing. Achane had 10 carries for 98 yards while Spiller ran for 112 yards on 21 carries.
Next up for the 7-2 Aggies are the 7-2 Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford, Mississippi on Nov. 13.
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