No. 5 Texas A&M barely escaped a trip to Mile High Stadium and avoided an upset, taking its first lead of the game in the final minutes of a 10-7 win against Colorado on Saturday.
Karl Dorrell's Buffaloes grabbed the lead with a touchdown drive late in the first quarter and held that advantage until the 2:41 mark in the fourth quarter when Aggies backup quarterback Zach Calzada evaded pressure and delivered a touchdown strike to running back Isaiah Spililer on a wheel route out of the backfield. The score completed a critical 11-play, 77-yard drive that included multiple third-down conversions for an offense that had struggled to extend drives for much of the game.
Calzada being in the game at all is a result of the biggest development for Texas A&M -- both in this game and for the season. Starting quarterback Haynes King left with what appeared to be a leg injury in the first quarter after just two pass attempts and was replaced by Calzada, who finished the game with 183 yards on 18-of-38 passing with another 29 rushing yards on seven attempts. Texas A&M only confirmed that King was ruled out for the rest of the game with a lower leg injury, but the quarterback was spotted on the sideline without pads, wearing a walking boot and using a pair of crutches.
For Colorado, the result is incredibly disappointing considering how long it controlled the game. The Buffs seemed happy to play field position as long as Texas A&M continued to struggle on third downs, and eventually that stout defense wore down to where it could not defend a lead with just one touchdown of offense.
Here are three things to know about the game:
Calzada nearly had another go-ahead TD
One of the biggest moments in the game came early in the fourth when Texas A&M's would-be touchdown to take the lead was reversed into an Aggies fumble and touchback for Colorado. With about nine minutes remaining in the game, Calzada took off from the 12-yard line on third down and powered his way into the end zone. However, he lost possession of the ball as extended it to cross the plane of the end zone, and Colorado recovered the loose ball.
On top of that, A&M committed a post-play personal foul penalty, which boosted Colorado's field position after the touchback. In the moment, it seemed like the kind of swing could have decided the game, but credit to Texas A&M's defense for getting the stops it needed.
Colorado will be a tough out in the Pac-12
Dorrell's group wanted a shot to win in the fourth quarter and that's exactly what they had on Saturday. The Buffs have a deep running back room that ran the ball well, with not only 2020 Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Jarek Broussard, but also Alex Fontenont and Ashaad Clayton, a talented freshman out of New Orleans. Clayton only had three carries, but he could be a bigger factor as the season rolls along. Throw in quarterback Brandon Lewis' ability to run, and this is a team that can cause problems by beating opponents up at the line of scrimmage.
This is not a team that wins at the perimeter, especially against Texas A&M. So while it was fine to play field position and rely on the defense for much of the game, the inability to add a second score to the tally prevented the Buffs from pulling off the top-five upset. Colorado will be a tough out for Pac-12 South hopefuls like USC, UCLA, Utah and Arizona State, but winning those games will require more success through the passing game.
A&M is not a balanced SEC contender ... yet
The talent on Mike Elko's defense was on full display for three scoreless quarters after falling behind 7-0. While Texas A&M struggled early in third down situations, it wasn't like Colorado was doing much better, finishing 4-for-14 on third down for the game. That group was put in a tough position all day and it continued to answer the call. If Texas A&M can install a game plan with Calzada that leads to more success, maybe we talk about the Aggies being as close to Alabama as they are in the polls. For now, there's a noticeable tier between these two SEC West frontrunners. And it all starts with the offensive side of the ball and the quarterback position.