Only the strongest survive in the SEC. Any team that's missing an element will be exposed early and often.
Texas A&M learned that the hard way Saturday in Arlington.
The Aggies' offense is a problem and there isn't a right answer in fixing it. A quarterback battle now looks more like a concern in the future. Insufficient offensive line play has cost A&M (3-1, 0-1) drives that should have ended in points.
This is SEC football. No. 16 Arkansas (4-0, 1-0) came knocking and didn't back down for four quarters of action.
Things only get tougher from here.
“We need to grow up real fast if we want to do what we want to do,” A&M running back Isaiah Spiller said.
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Spiller was the lone bright spot in a 20-10 loss to the Hogs at AT&T Stadium. His 67-yard touchdown run in the third quarter gave the Aggies momentum as the defense found its rhythm.
But for every good play comes a bad one. Calzada, who likely would be holding a clipboard if not for a Haynes King injury in Week 2, was inconsistent at best when passing.
Calzada, who finished 20 of 36 for 151 yards, nearly had A&M back in the red zone before a low pass bounced off center Bryce Foster's helmet. The ball hung long enough in the air for Arkansas cornerback Montaric Brown to stretch out and grab the interception.
Nine plays later, Cam Little would drain a 24-yard field goal, putting Arkansas up by 10. With the way the offense look, the game was over with still eight minutes left on the clock.
“There were guys that were open,” Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We could have made some plays. We dropped some balls, [Calzada] missed some reads. I’m sure they covered us sometimes, too."
Not all blame can fall on the shoulders of Calzada. A&M was without starting wide receivers Chase Lane and Caleb Chapman. Starting right guard Layden Robinson missed his second-straight game, while left tackle Jahmir Johnson left in the third quarter with a knee injury.
A&M’s defense, which held opponents to an average of 5.7 points per game, allowed the Hogs, led by QB KJ Jefferson, to put up 17 points within the first 20 minutes. Poor tackling from the secondary let running back A.J. Green all but waltz into the end zone on a 48-yard score that should have been nothing more than a first down.
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The Aggies are still looking for a top quarterback commit for the 2023 cycle.
It doesn't matter. It's not the standard players set for themselves in College Station. Injuries and youth can't be an excuse.
“We’ve got other good players,” Fisher said. “Those other guys are very capable of playing great football and are very talented, too. You want to have all your guys, there’s no doubt about that, but at the same time, those guys out there were good players and we just have to coach them better.”
Now comes the challenge of conference play. A&M faces the air-raid offense of Mike Leach and Mississippi State next Saturday. What was viewed to be the "SEC game of the year" in Alabama follows on Oct. 9.
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As for Ole Miss, does anyone want to play them right now? The Rebels lead the country in total yards (635.5 ypg) and points per game (52.2). And this is just the SEC West, not even the entire conference.
Arkansas, led by Sam Pittman, might be the feel-good story of college football. The Razorbacks have been the laughing stock of the conference since Bobby Petrino was fired for off-the-field incidents in 2012.
Bret Bielema couldn't get over .500. Chad Morris, a coach A&M looked at if Fisher would have stayed at Florida State, had four wins in two years and went 0-8 in conference play.
Maybe the Hogs are College Football Playoff contenders? That certainly will help the loss look better should the Aggies win out.
The Aggies’ offense is cold. It's been cold all season. Even with King in the gun, it still was flawed.
A&M begins its toughest stretch of games, and scores points hasn't come easy against Power 5 programs.
The Aggies were projected to be the team that could contain Alabama. Now, it's time to only worry about the Bulldogs before even thinking of what an upset against the Crimson Tide could be like.
“The SEC is big boy ball,” defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal said. “You’re going to have to step up.”
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