With a new man at the helm, there is little certainty about the Aggies’ ability to score in their upcoming competition.
The Saturday, Sept. 18 matchup between Texas A&M and the University of New Mexico looks promising, with the maroon and white’s offense having a slight edge over the visitors’ defense. For this to remain true, however, the Aggies must find comfort in the passing game while still crafting success on slow, consistent rushing gains. A greater emphasis on limiting sacks and turnovers should help the maroon and white as well.
New Mexico’s defense is weak against the pass, most recently allowing 196 and 236 yards in the air against Houston Baptist and New Mexico State, respectively. Having given up an average of 4.7 yards per pass attempt, along with three passing touchdowns, the Lobos’ inability to consistently cover these plays allow for any pass-driven offense to push down the field with little resistance.
Unfortunately for A&M, the maroon and white offense has lacked consistency regarding its throwing gameplay. Season starter and redshirt freshman quarterback Haynes King would have had no trouble using New Mexico’s weakness to his advantage, as proven by his 292-yard showing against Kent State, but his recent right tibia fracture instead puts redshirt sophomore Zach Calzada in the quarterback position.
Calzada went 18-38 on passes against the Colorado Buffaloes, with almost all of his eventual 183 yards coming in the fourth quarter alone. For the Aggies to best succeed in their upcoming home matchup, Calzada needs to find confidence in hitting his targets more often. With a deep receiving corps full of talent, including junior tight end Jalen Wydermyer, sophomore wide receiver Chase Lane and junior wide receiver Caleb Chapman, A&M should hold an edge in the passing game, but that hinges on the quarterback’s ability to make the throws in the first place.
After the maroon and white’s defense was forced to do most of the “heavy lifting” against the Buffaloes, sophomore defensive back Antonio Johnson said the team needs to work through its issues and improve if it wants to succeed. This especially applies to the team’s passing game, he said.
“We just know that preparation, on both sides of the ball, has to be much more,” Johnson said. “We have to defend our home turf.”
Before Calzada even has time to aim and fire, however, he must contend with New Mexico’s defensive line. A&M’s “Maroon Goons 2.0” have already given up three sacks this season, so their quarterbacks must quickly become accustomed to having little free time in the pocket. Meanwhile, the Lobos have forced five combined sacks in their first two matchups. Unless junior offensive linemen Kenyon Green and Luke Matthews can step up and better protect against the aggressive duo of New Mexico’s sophomore safety Tavian Jones and senior linebacker Reco Hannah, the Aggies could see a large lost-yardage statistic by the end of the game.
A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said his young offensive line needs to cut those mistakes and perform like a more experienced group.
“Hopefully [allowing three sacks] was a wake-up call,” Fisher said. “I keep trying to warn them that it’s going to get tougher and tougher as you go. That’s part of growing up, and hopefully, now they know.”
If these adjustments are not successful, A&M’s best course of action is to rely more heavily upon its ground game. Between the team’s go-to running backs, junior Isaiah Spiller and sophomore Devon Achane, the maroon and white offense has rushed for a total of 312 yards this season. While these numbers are promising, they harshly contrast New Mexico’s defensive statistics in this area. Because they allow so much yardage on the pass, the Lobos are specifically inclined toward stopping the run. Houston Baptist finished its game against New Mexico with -9 yards on the ground — for a defense to hold any team to negative gains, regardless of the offense’s hesitancy to run, it must be a force to be reckoned with. A&M’s leading rushers will have their hands full trying to get around New Mexico’s solidified center backs.
To keep itself in the game, the A&M offense also needs to minimize turnovers. Between fumbles lost, interceptions thrown and failed fourth-down attempts, the Aggies have given the ball away on six different occasions. On the other side of the ball, the Lobos have scored 17 points total — 10 against Houston Baptist and 7 against New Mexico State — off turnovers alone, including four interceptions. The visiting team is experienced in turning its opposition’s mistakes into points on the scoreboard, so A&M must remain careful not to freely give these out.
With just one game left before the Aggies begin their Southeastern Conference campaign, Fisher said the Lobos will present a challenge tough enough to potentially sway the match’s outcome.
“New Mexico is going to be a very good opponent,” Fisher said. “We’ll have to play very well [to win].”