Mandatory Credit: Photo by Vasha Hunt/AP/Shutterstock (13450034j) Texas A&M quarterback Haynes King (13) throws the ball against Alabama during the first half of an NCAA college football game, in Tuscaloosa, Ala Texas A M Alabama Football, Tuscaloosa, United States – 08 Oct 2022
Texas A&M (3-3, 1-2 SEC) vs. South Carolina (4-2, 1-2 SEC)
Game time: Saturday, 6:30 p.m. CT
TV/radio: CBS/SiriusXM 202
What’s at stake
The Aggies’ perfect 8-0 record versus the Gamecocks since joining the SEC in 2012. Texas A&M can crawl back to .500 in league play with a win before welcoming #7 Ole Miss and Florida to College Station over the next two weeks.
When the Aggies have the ball
Signal calling duties for the maroon and white have continued to be the primary topic of discussion during a bye week that was anything but quiet and restful. Haynes King began the season as Texas A&M’s starter at quarterback but was benched after the massive upset in Week 3 against Appalachian State. Backup quarterback Max Johnson, the LSU transfer, came in and got back-to-back wins versus ranked teams in Miami and Arkansas before breaking his throwing hand in a loss to then #24 Mississippi State. With Johnson likely out for the season, Haynes King came off the bench to start in a pivotal showdown versus Alabama two weeks ago – a close loss that saw the Aggies look much better than they previously had with him under center. Unfortunately for Texas A&M, King would limp off the field with a foot injury after the game, potentially opening the door to highly-touted freshman Conner Weigman. Jimbo Fisher closed that door quickly, announcing that Haynes King would start Saturday at South Carolina. However, plenty of media members and fans alike have begun to wonder if Weigman should take over in the event King struggles. It’s hard to blame them given Texas A&M’s offensive track record, ranking dead last in the SEC in scoring following two consecutive losses. Fisher hopes his faith in his starting quarterback is rewarded Saturday in Columbia against the SEC’s tenth-ranked scoring defense.
When South Carolina has the ball
Shane Beamer’s South Carolina Gamecocks reached the bye last week fresh off three consecutive wins, capped off by a huge road win at then-#13 Kentucky. The Gamecocks’ offense is thriving in the run game of late, outrushing their opponents by an average of more than 108 yards over their last three games – but two of those performances came in blowout wins over Charlotte and South Carolina State. Texas A&M’s run defense ranks second-to-last in the SEC in yards allowed per game, but they’re closer to the top of the league against the pass. The big question for Aggies’ defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin’s defense will be whether they can stuff the run well enough to force Spencer Rattler to beat them through the air, something he’s struggled to do since his days at Oklahoma. Rattler has thrown just five touchdowns this season alongside eight interceptions, so it’s unlikely he’ll intimidate the Aggie defense should they shut down South Carolina running backs MarShawn Lloyd and Juju McDowell. Lloyd ranks second in the SEC with seven rushing touchdowns and has eclipsed 100 yards on the ground in two of South Carolina’s last three games. Texas A&M’s defense would love nothing more than to pin their ears back and rush the passer, forcing Rattler into more mistakes through the air or adding to the 12 sacks he has taken already this season – but it all starts with shutting down Lloyd on the ground.
Key Aggies to watch
QB Haynes King
It’s been a rollercoaster of a season for the Aggies’ sophomore signal caller, but he showed some positive signs in Texas A&M’s close loss in Tuscaloosa. South Carolina’s defense has only recorded four sacks all season, so King should have plenty of time to operate in the pocket. Head Coach Jimbo Fisher showed faith in King by naming him the starter once again this week, but he’ll need to show that he can take care of the football while moving the ball consistently if he wants to keep this role.
RB Devon Achane
Achane’s incredible speed and playmaking ability are a huge part of what success Texas A&M’s spotty offense has had this season, averaging 6.5 yards per rush in SEC play. He’s only scored one touchdown since conference play began, though, back on September 24 against Arkansas. It would do wonders for the Aggies’ offense if he could find the end zone Saturday night against a Gamecocks’ defense allowing 174 yards rushing per game.
DL Fadil Diggs
Diggs led the way for the Aggies’ defense in their near upset of Alabama, forcing two fumbles while leading the defense in tackles for loss with three. The sophomore will need to play a big part if Texas A&M is going to stuff South Carolina’s run game and force Spencer Rattler to beat them through the air.
The Bottom Line
Texas A&M and South Carolina have both been a part of multiple defensive struggles in conference play so far, and I’d expect much of the same Saturday night. Quarterbacks Haynes King and Spencer Rattler have both been interception machines at times, so a point of emphasis on both sidelines will be avoiding mistakes and trusting their respective defenses. The Aggies can ill-afford to let this look like their game against Mississippi State, and their ability to do that starts in the front seven on defense. South Carolina will undoubtedly be hungry for a win after last season’s 44-14 drubbing in College Station and seem to have a newfound confidence in 2022 under head coach Shane Beamer. South Carolina hasn’t won four consecutive games since 2017, nor have they won two straight conference games since head coach Shane Beamer took the job before the 2021 season. A win over Texas A&M would signal a seismic shift in the program’s direction, so it would be wise for the Aggies not to overlook the Gamecocks Saturday night.
Texas A&M 23, South Carolina 10