Following No. 5 Texas A&M’s 20-7 win over LSU on Nov. 28, coach Jimbo Fisher’s takeaway was that everyone on offense “took a turn” making mistakes.
As the Aggies took on Auburn on the road on Dec. 5, that sentiment seemed to apply to the defense, which went into the matchup ranked No. 1 overall in the SEC.
A&M gave up 340 total yards of offense in the game to the Tigers in a 31-20 win, including 147 in the third quarter. Senior linebacker Buddy Johnson said the early kickoff played a role in the defense’s sluggish start to the game.
“I was doing my best to keep the defense up, make sure everybody was locked in,” Johnson said. “It was an early game so guys didn’t start out as fast as we wanted to. The leaders did a great job getting guys up that were down.”
Auburn quarterback Bo Nix also presented a challenge on the ground as he ran for 49 yards and two touchdowns against an A&M defense that had previously allowed only one other quarterback to garner over 10 rushing yards. Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks managed to rack up 91 yards on the ground against the Aggies on Oct. 31.
“We knew before this game started, Bo Nix is a great quarterback, a great athlete,” Johnson said. “He does a lot on his feet and he can hurt a defense on the ground by running. He made a lot of plays and we just have to do a better job of getting the quarterback on the ground.”
The defense finally returned to its previous dominance in the fourth quarter, holding Auburn scoreless with just 21 total yards.
A&M’s offense was also dominant in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 points to take the edge in a back-and-forth contest.
While the Aggies were much improved offensively from their last game, a 20-7 win over LSU, it was a mistake from Auburn that ultimately changed the momentum of the game.
On a first-and-10 from the 20-yard line in the fourth quarter, senior quarterback Kellen Mond targeted sophomore tight end Jalen Wydermyer in the endzone in an attempt to give the Aggies a 21-20 lead. An Auburn defender slipped in front of Wydermyer, however, and made contact with the ball, but in a stroke of luck for A&M, the ball bounced out of his hands and into Wydermyer’s for the touchdown.
From that point, the Aggies would not relinquish their lead as the defense kept the Tigers from answering throughout the remainder of the game.
“I didn’t see the dude until the ball got there,” Wydermyer said. “I saw it go right through his hands and I was like, ‘Oh, well I’ll take that.’ I just kept my eye on the ball and secured it for a touchdown… Without that touchdown, you never know what would have happened.”
While the result of the play was positive for the Aggies, Mond said he still has regrets on that throw.
“That wasn’t a good ball,” Mond said. “I just have to put it higher. I can’t miss those because obviously it was a touchdown and every once in a while you have to get lucky, but those are the ones I have to be self-critical about.”
The defense forced a three-and-out on Auburn’s next drive, allowing A&M’s offense to score and extend the lead. Johnson said everyone on the defense knew they needed to come up with big plays on that drive.
“Our leaders were talking, ‘We have to stay in this game. We have to make a play,’” Johnson said. “We are forever in debt to the offense.”
Fisher said the Aggies’ ability to finish the game despite the adversity they faced is a sign of their maturity.
“You raise your game. You have to go higher, you have to make plays,” Fisher said. “Your intensity goes up, your urgency goes up, your attention to detail goes up. When you can do that when things are going bad, that’s maturity of a football team and a sign of a good football team.”
While A&M went into the game knowing it would be a tough matchup, the Aggies were also looking for a fast start on the road, and got exactly that with a 10-yard touchdown pass on the first drive of the game.
The pass to Wydermyer made history for A&M, helping the sophomore set the program record for most touchdowns by a tight end. Wydermyer now has 12 touchdowns in his career, passing the record previously held by Jace Sternberger and Martellus Bennett.
Wydermyer said he looked up to Sternberger while the now-Green Bay Packers tight end was an Aggie and is happy to follow in his footsteps.
“It means the world to me,” Wydermyer said. “Just seeing Jace and what he was able to do when he was here, it means so much to me. I never thought I’d be here or be in that situation where I could even do this. It’s a humbling experience.”
A&M is scheduled to host Ole Miss on Dec. 12, though the Rebels are currently undergoing a pause in football activity until Dec. 9 after a COVID-19 outbreak within the program.