Football vs. Mizzou preview

Quarterback Zach Calzada addresses his teammates in the final moments during the game against Alabama.

Fresh off a historic win, Texas A&M football faces another tough task: moving on to the next week.

On Saturday, Oct. 9, A&M upset the reigning national champion Alabama Crimson Tide at home in one of the squad’s biggest wins of the decade. Now that the dust has settled, the players have danced and the memes have been posted, the team must prepare for a road game against the Missouri Tigers on Saturday, Oct. 16.

This will be the 16th matchup between the Aggies and the Tigers in the teams’ history. The teams have a unique relationship, as Missouri joined the Big 12 in 1996 to become a conference rival of the Aggies. In 2012, both schools joined the SEC to remain inner-conference opponents.

The Aggies hold a narrow 8-7 edge in all-time matchups. The Aggies started the series on a six-game winning streak between the 1957 and 1999 seasons. Since then, the Tigers have won seven of the last nine meetings. Most recently, Missouri won a 34-27 shootout at Kyle Field in 2014.

The Aggies will enter Colombia, Mo., with a 4-2 record overall and a 1-2 record in conference play. After dropping their first two conference games, the Aggies silenced doubters with a 41-38 victory over Alabama.

After a rocky few games to open his time as the starter, redshirt sophomore quarterback Zach Calzada showed enormous improvement against the Tide, tossing for 285 yards, three scores and an interception. The strong outing puts his season totals at 1,029 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions.

In the Monday, Oct. 10 press conference, A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said he was happy to see the support for Calzada from the fans but hoped it wouldn’t become a distraction for the young passer moving forward.

“When you’re a quarterback, you get all the glory and all the blame,” Fisher said. “He was getting all the blame, and it wasn’t true. Now he’s getting all the glory; it’s not true. You’ve got to eliminate the clutter; block it out. Come back, practice, prepare like you did last week and do the things you’ve got to do to be able to go play.”

Calzada has the support of a dominant running back committee, primarily featuring bruising junior Isaiah Spiller and evasive sophomore Devon Achane. Spiller has totalled 491 yards and three touchdowns on the ground this season, while Achane has added 330 yards and two more touchdowns of his own. Both running backs are also capable receivers, and Achane’s 96-yard kickoff return touchdown was paramount in the maroon and white’s most recent victory.

Spiller said he was especially impressed by Achane’s speed in the open field and his ability to create a seemingly effortless highlight play.

“Devon is indescribably fast,” Spiller said. “He’s one of those guys that is just naturally good at football. He’ll just come on the field and do whatever he feels like doing. He’s just one of those people.”

During their three SEC matches this season, the Aggies took a step back defensively. They gave up 17 total points in their first three games and 84 in their last three outings. Despite this dip in dominance, the squad has retained intensity in the red zone, allowing just seven touchdowns in 19 trips. This mark ranks them 13th in the nation in total red zone defense and second in the SEC, behind only Georgia.

Defensively, sophomore defensive back Antonio Johnson has led the way with 47 total tackles. The defensive line has been bolstered by senior Michael Clemons and junior DeMarvin Leal, who have a combined eight sacks through five games. Senior safety Leon O’Neal Jr. has also been a disruptor, with two interceptions and a fumble recovery.

Missouri enters the weekend with a 3-3 record overall and a 0-2 record in conference play. The squad is coming off a 48-35 win over North Texas last weekend.

Mizzou’s offense has a potent passing attack led by sophomore quarterback Connor Bazelak, who has thrown for 1,682 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions this season. He is fourth in the conference in passing yards and tied for fifth in passing touchdowns. The Tigers also flaunt a talented backfield, as senior running back Tyler Badie has accounted for 675 rushing yards and an SEC-leading 12.

Defensively, the Tigers have struggled this season. They have surrendered a conference-high 37.5 points per game and 499.5 yards per game. Their defensive issues have been most exposed during their two SEC matches, in which they have been outscored 97-52.

Missouri head coach Eliah Drinkwitz is in his second season with the team and currently holds an 8-8 overall record. Following the win over North Texas, Drinkwitz said he was proud of his defense’s improvements but still thinks the unit has a long way to go.

“It wasn’t perfect, but we didn’t think we were going to transform into the 1985 [Chicago] Bears overnight,” Drinkwitz said. “We’re working toward it, and I thought we took a big step in the process.”

Given the combination of explosive offense and inconsistent defense Missouri possesses, the Aggies likely must prepare for a shootout. Although Calzada has shown tremendous growth as a passer, the squad will likely lean on Spiller and Achane’s production, as Mizzou has allowed 288.8 rushing yards per game.

On Monday, Fisher said the team needs to respect every opponent, regardless of its record or how it has looked in past games, drawing reference to a quote from Alabama head coach Nick Saban before the upset.

“As Saban said [before the A&M game], ‘This is a trap game,’” Fisher said. “You can’t listen to the stuff all week and live in the past; that’s over with, man. That’s over with, yesterday. Today is all Missouri.”

Kickoff is slated for 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16, at Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Mo.

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