Texas A&M quarterback Zach Calzada has been a scapegoat for the Aggies after crumbling against Arkansas.
Calzada is certainly not without blame as his statistics place him near the bottom of the SEC’s barrel; however, the team showing hesitance to assign blame to any single specific issue suggests there is more at play than Calzada simply not being a “good enough” quarterback.
Even after coming into the season one game late following the injury of Haynes King, Calzada has been sacked the most times of any quarterback in the SEC. Because of injuries on the team’s offensive line, two true freshmen and one redshirt freshman battled the Razorbacks’ defensive line in the trenches.
Being thrust into the role of starting quarterback on a team that narrowly missed the College Football Playoffs the year prior brings along high expectations, and while Calzada has not yet met those expectations, neither has the unit that should make his job easier, not harder.
“Calzada is a new guy. We need to play better around him,” A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We have a young line. [Calzada] needs to be an eraser and clean things up. Could he have run it more? Yes. He needs to make some better decisions and keep his head up.”
The nature of college football necessitates quick roster turnovers, and the downfall of having a successful team is that many talented players leave for the NFL. The echoes of losing four out of the five members of 2020’s “Maroon Goons” offensive line unit still ring around Aggieland.
The group’s only returning starter, junior offensive lineman Kenyon Green, played three separate positions last Saturday against Arkansas. Between injuries upfront and the turnover of talent, Green has been called upon to be a leader to varying levels of success.
“Kenyon Green’s effectiveness has probably been compromised some,” Fisher said. “It’s hard to move around like that as an offensive lineman. We’re trying to get the best guys on the field. You have to.”
Such is football. The best guys are not always on the field. For a young quarterback, having a connection with receivers is important. Against Arkansas, Calzada was missing sophomore wide receiver Chase Lane and junior wide receiver Caleb Chapman. The result of lacking a solid connection was Calzada passing the ball to the backfield for 11 of his 20 completions, totaling only 44 yards.
“I feel like our main job right now is to make sure Zach is back there comfortable,” junior wide receiver Ainias Smith said. “He should be able to know that he can get the ball to us and we’re going to be able to do something with it. When it comes to getting open, I feel like we’ve got to work harder in practice.”
Notably light on the game’s stat sheet was tight end Jalen Wydermyer, who only caught one pass for 18 yards. In prior games, Calzada connected with the junior eight times for 105 yards.
Wydermyer has served as the consistent option when facing pressure for both of A&M’s quarterbacks, but with his presence lacking against Arkansas, Calzada was forced to turn to the less productive dump-off passes to the running backs. Fisher said, in addition to better protection from the offensive line, Wydermyer’s connection with Calzada is critical to A&M’s success.
“We’ve called lots of balls to [Wydermyer],” Fisher said. “We’ve missed some reads here and there. He should’ve caught some balls this weekend. It’s across the board and finding a rhythm on offense.”
As Calzada currently owns the lowest completion percentage in the SEC, as well as the second-lowest quarterback rating and yards per attempt, his performance could certainly be better. However, football is a multi-faceted sport — the team’s performance around Calzada is equally to blame.
Although Fisher did not comment on practices, Smith said A&M’s offensive issues stem from a lack of intensity in game preparation.
“You always go in with the expectation that you’re going to do big things, especially with the great players that we have,” Smith said. “We just have to raise our standards — obviously higher than what they were. We have to demand those standards when it comes to practice. We’re not able to get by with the highs [and] lows that we have throughout practice.”
Now with the wake-up call of the season’s first loss out of the way, the Aggies will move on to host Mississippi State in Kyle Field on Saturday, Oct. 2. After one loss to Alabama in 2020, the Aggies built an 11-game winning streak that lasted 358 days before crumbling. Junior defensive back Demani Richardson said A&M hopes to create the same success moving forward.
“It’s just one loss at the beginning of the season,” Richardson said. “We know we have mistakes we have to clean up, so we just know we have to make it an urgency.”