Aggies around the nation have carried themselves for the last nine months with a feeling of “Hell yes, this is our year.”
And to be cautiously optimistic, maybe it still is. But an unimpressive victory over Kent State, with the Aggies within one touchdown going into the half, was not a good look. A 10-7 win over Colorado that saw the maroon and white trail until the final two minutes of gametime was even worse. For A&M to contend for a national championship come postseason competition, it needs to do better.
That must start with redshirt sophomore quarterback Zach Calzada.
The pro-style attacker from Buford, Ga., made a splash across online forums when he committed to A&M in June of 2018. With a composite recruiting score of 0.8817 and a three-star rating, Calzada promised to do great things with the maroon and white. Unfortunately for A&M, his performance has been lackluster at best since moving to College Station six semesters ago.
Calzada appeared in three games in 2019, and though none of them were against Southeastern Conference opponents, he still only managed an even 50.0 passing percentage, completing 12 throws on 24 attempts. As an athlete who was once thought to be Kellen Mond’s successor, Calzada’s lack of success can be summed up in one word — disappointing.
As a result, redshirt freshman Haynes King winning the starting position over Calzada for the 2021 season opener was no surprise. The younger player’s statistics were far better, and his in-game experience garnered in 2020 was better than that of Calzada’s in 2019.
To make the difference between the two quarterbacks even more pronounced, A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher spent the entire offseason claiming King and Calzada were in a competitive race for the starting position. Having seen both athletes compete on the field, the storyline felt artificially crafted and potentially untruthful.
So, what can Calzada do to help his team succeed now that King is out of commission with a tibia fracture, sidelining the original starter until further notice?
For starters, he needs to play like it’s not his first time at the helm. In A&M’s matchup against Kent State, Calzada was given one chance on offense, going 0-1 before throwing an interception. His first three quarters of work against Colorado weren’t much better, recording one fumble while passing for just 79 yards and zero scores on a 10-24 completion rate. One-time viewers unfamiliar with A&M football would be justified in assuming either of these was the quarterback’s first time seeing gametime action.
But they weren’t. Calzada has been here for three years now, and if the Aggies want to compete with other SEC powerhouses, he must find a way for his experience to show on the field.
To Calzada’s credit, the fourth quarter against Colorado was far more promising. In the last playing period, he threw for 118 yards and a touchdown. Had he done this the entire game, A&M easily could have put 400-plus yards in the air against the Buffaloes.
In a way, Calzada’s rocky start is reminiscent of Mond’s freshman year. The eventual two-time A&M Offensive MVP became a starter following Nick Starkel’s season-opening injury at the hands of the UCLA Bruins. Mond struggled at first, throwing six interceptions in a season highlighted by a 17-attempt performance on Sept. 3, 2017, where he completed only three passes with a success rate of .176 for 27 total yards. Now, Mond is in the top five of most of A&M’s offensive statistics, including career wins, passing yards, passing touchdowns, completions and attempts.
If Mond can progress through that successful of a redemption arc, Calzada should be given the opportunity to do the same. But as mentioned above, he has kinks to iron out first. Interceptions need to be minimized, patience in the pocket must be cultivated and fumbles behind the line of scrimmage should be nixed altogether.
Nerves and gametime jitters are no longer an excuse. Aggieland needs a new leader on the football field, and if Calzada is the designated heir apparent, now is the time to step into the role.