COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — No one is disputing that quarterback Zach Calzada must improve if No. 15 Texas A&M hopes to bounce back from its first loss when the Aggies host Mississippi State on Saturday night.
What coach Jimbo Fisher wants to make clear is that Calzada is far from the only one who needs to up his game for the Aggies.
“Zach’s a new guy,” Fisher said. “We’ve got experienced receivers, backs, tight ends and all that. We have to play better around him.”
Calzada struggled against Arkansas in his second start since Haynes King broke his leg, throwing for just 151 yards with an interception in a 20-10 loss. Junior receiver Ainias Smith agreed with Fisher and said the rest of the offense is focused on making things easier for the quarterback this week.
“Our main job right now is to make sure Zach is back there comfortable,” 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.”
Calzada enters the game ranked last in the SEC with a 52.78 % completion percentage. But Saturday could be a good opportunity for the sophomore to have a breakout game when he faces a defense ranked 98th in the country in allowing 252.5 yards passing a game.
Mississippi coach Mike Leach is searching for ways to shore up his defense this week before facing the Aggies.
“Big plays haunt us,” he said. “We have to get better at safety. Whether we have to simplify something or what, our safeties can’t miss some of the things they are missing.”
AIRING IT OUT
When Fisher was asked about the challenges the Bulldogs present, he didn’t hesitate before answering: “You know Mike is going to throw it.”
Leach’s Air Raid offense has the Bulldogs leading the SEC and ranked third in the nation in yards passing. Quarterback Will Rogers has thrown for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns and his 169 completions this season are the most in a team’s first four games since 2000.
He will face his biggest test so far against the Aggies, who rank fourth in the nation by allowing just 119.5 yards passing a game.
While most eyes will be on Calzada, Leach believes the key to slowing down the Aggies will be containing running back Isaiah Spiller.
“He is kind of a big guy,” Leach said. “He is just physical. He tries to wear you down.”
Spiller leads the Aggies and ranks sixth in the SEC with 86.25 yards rushing this season. He’s scored a touchdown in three straight games, capped by a 67-yard scoring dash against Arkansas.
BACK TO KYLE FIELD
Though this will be Leach’s first trip to College Station with Mississippi State, he’s visited Kyle Field plenty of times before. Leach’s Texas Tech teams played at A&M five times from 2000-09 when the schools were both in the Big 12. Leach has had some success at Kyle Field, going 3-2, and getting wins in his last two games there.
“It is a great place to play,” Leach said. “It is loaded. It is loud, and it’s pretty hostile. It’s a blast. College Station is one of the best stadiums to play in in the country.”
After Saturday’s contest, the Aggies and Bulldogs will both face top-ranked Alabama in their next game. Texas A&M hosts the Crimson Tide on Oct. 9 and Mississippi State is off that day before a visit from the reigning national champions Oct. 16.
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