A postcard-perfect Saturday dawned in East Texas, and the population of a small city gathered at Kyle Field to create more than three hours of deafening noise all over 100 yards of prime real estate.
In a game that featured two ranked teams — and two explosive offenses — No. 13 Auburn and No. 14 Texas A&M turned a showdown game into a throwback gem.
This was about defense — not bad offensive execution, but rock ‘em, sock ‘em, physical football.
The only question would be who blinked first. Alas, Auburn did late, dropping a 20-3 decision in College Station thanks to six minutes to forget.
Nearly three quarters had elapsed before the game’s first big offensive play. On a second-and-11 in a 3-3 game, Texas A&M quarterback Zach Calzada dropped back and threw deep with just enough air for 6-foot-5 receiver Caleb Chapman to pull it in 49 yards downfield. It was the first play of more than 25 yards on a day.
It would take another three plays for the Aggies to venture 28 yards to the Auburn 4. And that’s when Zakoby McClain, Ladarius Tennison and the rest of the Tigers defense returned to ornery — forcing the Aggies to go backward and salvage the drive with a field goal.
A game played with 1960s-defensive intensity had a 1960s-esque score to match: Texas A&M 6, Auburn 3.
But the push for points seemed to come at a cost. Calzada, diving for extra yardage as the Aggies neared the end zone, took a terrific shot from Smoke Monday. He left in obvious pain, unable to lift his left, non-throwing, arm, and gave way to Texas A&M’s third-string quarterback. Remember, Calzada started the season as the backup, ascending to starter due to injury. And now, he had to turn the game over to a walk-on, Blake Bost.
Bost would deliver three immaculate handoffs, two on the next possession, before Calzada miraculously returned with both arms intact. This time, the Aggies moved steadily downfield for another Seth Smalls field goal.
The Aggies defense wasn’t done.
Auburn offensive coordinator Mike Bobo called a gadget play to try to jumpstart the Auburn offense. But a flea-flicker exchange ended up on the turf, forcing quarterback Bo Nix into emergency mode to avoid a turnover. That only foreshadowed the next play as Nix rolled left and, while trying to avoid a 315-pound Jayden Peevy, lost his grip.
Texas A&M’s Michael Clemons scooped the fumble and ran 24 yards for a touchdown. In just over six minutes of game time, a defensive struggle turned into a comfortable two-score lead for the Aggies.
There would be no incredible finish.
Nix struggled, completing just 20 of 41 passes for 153 yards with one pick and nary a completion over 15 yards. But his struggles were a team effort. Texas A&M pushed Auburn around up front, and while open receivers were few, running lanes for backs Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter proved even more rare. Yet Auburn somehow managed to own time of possession through three quarters before the game turned.
Auburn remains the SEC’s most improved team over the course of two months while A&M is living up to preseason expectations after a September to forget. With destiny no longer in Auburn’s control, the goal is to make life miserable for everyone else the rest of the way.
Doug Segrest, a former SEC beat reporter, is a freelance columnist.