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.