Texas A&M vs. Auburn score, takeaways: No. 14 Aggies pick up key SEC West victory in defensive battle
The Aggies gained a leg up in the SEC West race on Saturday by blanking the Tigers at home
In the SEC West showdown between No. 13 Auburn and No. 14 Texas A&M on Saturday that was defined by defense, it was fitting that the only touchdown of the game was a defensive score that helped propel the Aggies to a 20-3 win. Auburn quarterback Bo Nix dropped the football with Texas A&M defensive end Micheal Clemons in pursuit early in the fourth quarter, and Clemons scooped it up for a game-changing score.
Texas A&M's subsequent 2-point conversion gave the Aggies an insurmountable 17-3 lead in a throwback game that featured 11 punts, two missed field goals, three turnovers and a turnover on downs. In that moment, with Clemons finally breaking the seal on the end zone, the Tigers (6-3, 3-2 SEC) went from down six with a chance to take the lead to down 14 in front of a rowdy crowd of 109,835 -- the second-largest attendance ever at Texas A&M's Kyle Field.
The Clemons score will go down as the defining play, but the defense came up huge for Texas A&M (6-2, 4-2) all afternoon. Even the three points it gave up could be considered a win, as the Aggies held firm at the end of an Auburn drive in the first quarter to force a field goal. From there, the Tigers punted four times to close the first half. Tigers kicker Anders Carlson missed a potential go-ahead field goal with 9:16 left in the third quarter, turning the momentum back to the Aggies, who scored the game's final 17 points to cap a key SEC West victory.
Here are a few takeaways from the Aggies' big SEC West win on Saturday.
Zach Calzada is a hero again
Statistically speaking, Texas A&M quarterback Zach Calzada didn't have his best day. But, for the second time in the past month, he delivered when necessary and gutted through an injury to lead his team to a win over a top-15 opponent. Calzada's 49-yard strike to Caleb Chapman in the third quarter helped set up a field goal that put A&M up 6-3. He was injured on the series but returned to play in the fourth quarter as the Aggies held on. Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said after the game that Calzada's shoulder "slipped out and they put it back in place."
For a player who looked lost when first called upon to replace injured starter Haynes King in a Week 2 win over Colorado, the progress Calzada has made is remarkable. Beginning with his gutsy play and late-game heroics in a win over then-No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 9, Calzada has shown he has what it takes to command an offense that has a great running game to fall back upon.
Texas A&M's title path
The Aggies need some help, but they've still got a shot at reaching the SEC Championship Game, so long as they can beat No. 16 Ole Miss and LSU in their final two league games. If A&M does that and Alabama suffers a second league loss, the Aggies would hold the tiebreaker over the Crimson Tide.
As for Auburn, the Tigers would need to beat No. 17 Mississippi State, South Carolina and No. 2 Alabama to have a shot at winning the division. They would also need Texas A&M to lose against Ole Miss or LSU. So while Alabama remains the favorite to win the division and Auburn still has an outside shot, the Aggies are clearly in better position than the Tigers after Saturday.
Bad Bo Nix
Auburn quarterback Bo Nix had done a better job this season of minimizing mistakes than in years past, as he entered with just two interceptions on the season. He was also completing a career-best 62.2% of his passes and averaging a career-best 7.3 yards per attempt. The Aggies curtailed some of that progress, though. Nix finished 20 of 41 for 153 yards and an interception.
His fumble was the nail in the coffin for Auburn, however. Nix was sacked four times on the day and never truly got loose with his legs to create the magic we've become accustomed to with the former five-star prospect. There's no denying that Nix is more talented than Calzada, but the latter won the quarterback battle on Saturday simply because he made fewer mistakes.
Texas A&M's season looked done for after it lost at home to Mississippi State. Now, here it stands in November with wins over Alabama and Auburn. Amazing how quarterback Zach Calzada has gone from goat to hero by battling through injuries in both those key victories. He's not Johnny Manziel -- heck, he may not even be Kellen Mond -- but he's doing enough to salvage a season that seemed to be going off the rails just a few weeks ago. Big win for the Aggies.
Seth Small's FOURTH field goal of the night seals the deal on this one. The Aggies will improve to 6-2 (4-2 SEC) and remain in the hunt for the SEC West crown, though they will need another Alabama loss. Auburn isn't necessarily done yet, but it will need to win the rest of its games, beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl and then negotiate through a potential three-way tie in the league standings. The final score may not indicate it, but Auburn had every opportunity to win this game.
That turnover on downs should just about do it. Auburn had some fits and starts there but never got it going. What a game for this Texas A&M defense. The Aggies' defensive front is really, really good and showed it today against an Auburn team that had been playing well.
Devon Achane was running free and ready to put the nails in Auburn's coffin, when all of the sudden the football was poked out from behind by Donovan Kaufman. So Auburn gets it back down 17-3 deep in its own territory. That play saved the Tigers' slim chances, and Achane will be mad at himself over it.
It's hard to overstate how devastating that turnover is. Auburn goes from six points down to 14 down in a game where points are at a premium. Just when you think Bo Nix has eliminated some of the chaos from his game, it shows back up at the worst possible moment. Still time left in this game, but 14 points against this A&M defense today is a tall, tall order.
Remember how I said this was a big Bo Nix moment? Micheal Clemson scoops and scores on a Bo Nix fumble. 24 yards to totally change the complexion of this game. Good Bo Nix has been showing up lately, but it was bad Bo Nix on that series. A two-score deficit feels borderline insurmountable in this game.
So we're more than three quarters in without a touchdown. But Seth Small just hit his third FG of the day to give the Aggies a 9-3 lead. Calzada looks healthy enough to get them home, but the defense will have to stay firm against an Auburn attack that did show signs of life briefly in the third quarter. Big moment for Bo Nix coming up here.
To begin the fourth, Texas A&M is in business with a first down at the Auburn 30. It feels like the Tigers are starting to lose a step here as the Aggies are finding bigger holes in the run game. Thankfully for the Aggies, the injury to Calzada appears to be with his non-throwing shoulder.
Zach Calzada hurt
Texas A&M starting quarterback Zach Calzada injured his shoulder in the third quarter while scrambling on a second-and-goal play from the 23-yard line. Initially, he looked fine. But then the pain seemed to hit him a few seconds after the play ended. Walk-on Blake Bost entered and handed the football off on third down, which set up a field goal that put the Aggies ahead 6-3. Getting anything going offensively has been tough for both teams, but A&M had just appeared to find something on that drive. We'll see if Calzada can return, but if not, scoring just got even harder for the Aggies. He went to the medical tent after coming off the field, according to Jamie Erdahl, and Bost is warming up on the sideline. However, Calzada has returned to the game now after a quick three-and-out for Auburn.