Texas A&M 2021 Season in Review: Poor passing offense leads to four conference losses for Aggies

Photo courtesy of Texas A&M Football

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2021 record: 8-4 (-1 wins from 2022)

Texas Power Poll ranking: 4 of 12

THE GOOD

The best moment of Texas A&M’s 2021 season came on Oct. 9 when a Seth Small field goal as time expired clinched a 41-38 win over Alabama at Kyle Field. Quarterback Zach Calzada threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns on 21 of 31 passing. Leon O’Neal recovered a fumble and posted nine tackles. Demani Richardson registered an interception against future Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young. The victory snapped a two-game losing streak for the Aggies and gave the coaching staff enough momentum to help sign the top-ranked class in the nation. 

The Wrecking Crew defense lived up to the hype in 2021 despite Texas A&M not reaching its preseason expectations as a team. The unit only allowed 15.92 points per game. Opponents averaged 3.7 yards per rush and 4.7 yards per play against the Aggies’ defense. Opposing offenses converted just 32.97 percent of third down conversions. The Aggies only allowed 12 touchdowns in 31 red zone trips. Texas A&M’s defense gave up just six rushing touchdowns on the entire season. 

Aaron Hansford led the way with 89 tackles. He also added 8.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and two forced fumbles. O’Neal and Jaylon Jones tied for the team lead with two interceptions. Antonio Johnson added 79 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one interception and a forced fumble. DeMarvin Leal recorded 8.5 sacks. Michael Clemons tacked on seven sacks, while Tyree Johnson provided 8.5. As a team, Texas A&M tallied 39 sacks. Tyree Chapman led the team with nine pass breakups. 

The offensive line improved throughout the year. Kenyon Green was a stud at tackle and guard. Bryce Foster and Reuben Fatheree were Freshman All-Americans on the FWAA team. Texas A&M averaged 5.3 yards a rush and 183 rushing yards per game. Isaiah Spiller led the way with 1,011 yards and six touchdowns on 179 carries. Devon Achane added 910 yards and nine rushing touchdowns on 130 carries. The duo also combined for 49 catches for 450 yards and two touchdowns as receivers out of the backfield. 

The special teams were also solid. Nik Constantinou averaged 46.61 yards per punt. He booted 19 punts over 50 yards, including a long of 65, and pinned opponents inside the 20 yard-line 19 times. Small was 22 of 27 on field goals on the year. Two of those misses were from beyond 50 yards. Achane returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Ainias Smith, who led the Aggies with 47 receptions and six touchdowns, returned a punt for a touchdown. 

THE BAD

The passing attack disappointed for Texas A&M throughout the 2021 campaign. Haynes King was lost to a season-ending injury in the third game of the season. Calzada started the next nine games with the Aggies going 5-4 down the stretch. He completed just 56.27 percent of his passes for 2,185 yards and 17 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Texas A&M threw 19 passing touchdowns in 2021 compared to 13 interceptions as a team. 

Smith was the only wide receiver to record more than 17 receptions. Jalen Preston was second on the team at the wide receiver position with 17 catches in 12 games. The other leading receivers were Texas A&M were tight end Jalen Wydermyer and running backs Achane and Spiller. 

Texas A&M’s inefficient offense only converted 37.66 percent of its third downs and scored 22 touchdowns in 43 trips to the red zone. 

THE UGLY

Texas A&M entered 2021 with hopes of competing for an SEC championship and possibly a spot in the College Football Playoffs. Instead, the Aggies lost four conference games. Texas A&M started SEC play with back-to-back losses to Arkansas and Mississippi State. Calzada threw for less than 152 yards in both of those losses. The Aggies finished SEC play with consecutive losses to Ole Miss and LSU. The 4-4 conference record was good for fifth place in the SEC West. 

TEAM GRADES

Quarterback: C

Running back: B+

Wide receiver/tight end: C

Offensive line: B+

Defensive line: A

Linebacker: A

Cornerback: A

Safety: A

BIGGEST OFFSEASON QUESTION

How does Texas A&M’s passing offense improve? 

King, a former four-star recruit from Longview, should sit in the driver’s seat to win the quarterback job in 2022. If he can’t perform to expectation, or is hurt again in 2022, the Aggies signed five-star Conner Weigmann out of Cypress Bridgeland High School. The two-sport star was arguably the best quarterback in the 2022 class and possesses more upside than any player signed at the position by Texas A&M since Johnny Manziel. He’s that good. 

But it might not matter who starts at quarterback if Texas A&M doesn’t find more weapons in the passing game. Wydermyer is off to the NFL. Smith was the only receiver to record more than 17 catches. Demond Demas, a former five-star recruit who arrived in College Station to much fanfare despite not playing football as a senior in high school, managed 15 catches in 10 games. 

The best young prospect on campus appears to be Moose Muhammad III, who caught 10 passes for 153 yards and four touchdowns. Smith can’t carry the entire load from the slot receiver. Texas A&M must upgrade the outside wide receiver position through recruiting or the portal. Evan Stewart, a five-star wide receiver from DFW, should be an instant-impact signee.  

WAY TOO EARLY 2022 OUTLOOK

The SEC won’t get any easier for Texas A&M. Alabama is always the favorite. LSU should be improved. Arkansas is a sneaky program that beat Texas A&M in 2021. Ole Miss and Mississippi State aren’t slouches, and neither is Auburn. The 2022 schedule also features Florida and South Carolina from the SEC East. The out-of-conference schedule is manageable, however, which is always true for SEC programs. Texas A&M starts the season with games against Sam Houston and Appalachian State. The lone test outside of conference play takes place on Sept. 17 at home against Miami. SEC play starts the next week in Arlington against Arkansas. 

Texas A&M will be the more talented team in 10 or 11 of its games in 2022. The only rosters that stack up against the Aggies is Alabama and maybe LSU. But that was also true during a four-loss 2021. The Texas A&M defense should once again be stout, but the lingering questions at quarterback and wide receiver can’t be answered until the season starts. Expectations should always be a 10-win season with a chance of playing for a conference championship in College Station with the way Jimbo Fisher is recruiting.  

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