Up and down is a pretty accurate way of describing the first half of the season for the Texas A&M Aggies, with an opportunity to maintain their recent positive swing when they head north to Columbia for a midday matchup with the Missouri Tigers. Both the Aggies and Tigers lost both of their first two SEC games, but both teams enter this weekend coming off rebounding wins.
The Aggies (4-2, 1-2 SEC) entered the season ranked No. 6 in the FBS — one of five SEC teams opening the season ranked in the top 20 — but three wins to open the season followed by two close losses to Arkansas and Mississippi State to kick off their SEC slate were enough to knock Jimbo Fisher's team out of the rankings entirely. The tide quickly turned for Texas A&M last week, however, when the Aggies hosted then-No. 1 Alabama and took down the defending national champions in a 41-38 thriller in College Station, boosting Texas A&M back up to No. 21 heading into Week 7.
Missouri (3-3, 0-2) alternated wins and losses over its four games, and a 48-35 home victory over North Texas last week was a welcome rebound from a crushing 62-24 loss to Tennessee in Columbia just seven days prior. This weekend’s matchup with the Aggies will be Missouri's first of the season against ranked competition, and it opens a stretch of four of the Tigers' final six games which will come against currently ranked SEC foes.
Texas A&M won each of its first six meetings against Missouri, with shutout wins in three of the first four. The two programs opened with some big-name coaching matchups, with Bear Bryant's Aggies taking on Frank Broyles' Tigers in 1957 and James A. "Jim" Myers kept Texas A&M's momentum going over Dan Devine and Missouri in 1958. Missouri and Texas A&M haven't met since 2014, though, when the Tigers grabbed their second seven-point win in as many seasons and finished off a run of four wins in five meetings between 2010 and 2014 upon entering the SEC to cut the Aggies' series lead down to an 8-7 edge.
No. 21 Texas A&M at Missouri
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 16 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Texas A&M -9
When Texas A&M Has the Ball
To continue the up-and-down theme, the Aggies alternated between wins of 30-plus points in Week 1 and Week 3 with 10-point outings in Week 2 and Week 4, though 10 points in Week 2 were enough for a three-point win over Colorado in Denver. The ebb-and-flow trend continued in the past two weeks, only this time in the reverse: the offense mustered just 22 points and 297 yards against Mississippi State in Week 5 but exploded for 41 points against Alabama — 17 in the first quarter alone — en route to the massive upset.
That win was quarterback Zach Calzada's best game of his young career, outdoing his previous breakout performance against Colorado as he completed 21 of his 31 passes for 285 yards, three touchdowns, and just one interception. The offense was fairly balanced as the Aggies rushed 27 times in addition to Calzada's 31 passes. Isaiah Spiller led the way on the ground with 17 rushes for 46 yards and the team's only rushing score.
Calzada did a decent job of spreading the ball around, with Spiller and Ainias Smith combining for 10 receptions while five other Aggies were responsible for the 11 other completions. In terms of overall productivity, though, it was Smith and Jalen Wydermyer who brought in the lion's share of the yardage as Smith caught six passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns with Wydermyer not far behind with 73 yards — on just three receptions — and the first of Calzada's three touchdown passes of the night.
Only eight FBS teams have surrendered more points per game than Missouri's 37.5, and only seven other teams have won at least three games while allowing 30 or more points per game thus far in 2021. The Tigers have kept only Central Michigan (24) and FCS Southeast Missouri State (28) below that threshold, and their last three opponents — Boston College, Tennessee, and North Texas — have combined to score 151 points, paced by 62 courtesy of the Volunteers two weeks ago. Aside from the scoreboard, Missouri has allowed the third-most yards (497.8) per game in the nation, including an FBS-worst 287.2 on the ground.
When Missouri Has the Ball
While the Tigers have certainly had their struggles stopping the run, their offense has done well to keep pace, to an extent. Missouri has only turned the ball over five times, all of which have been interceptions by Connor Bazelak. But Bazelak sits among the conference's leaders in passing, entering Week 7 in the top 20 nationally with 281.7 yards per game and 12 touchdowns.
The Tigers' starting backfield may consist of a pair of last names starting with "B" but their second letter — "A" — is the most appropriate grade for the performance of Tyler Badie in the first half of the season. Badie is atop the SEC with 147.3 all-purpose yards per game, combining his dynamic rushing with his playmaking skills in the passing game. He has tallied 12 total touchdowns — eight rushing (tied for SEC lead) and four receiving — to pace the conference and enter the second half of the 2021 campaign just one score behind Marshall's Rasheen Ali for the FBS lead.
Of those 12 touchdowns, three came last week in the win against North Texas. Badie averaged more than a first down every time he ran the ball — notching 17 carries for 217 yards and a pair of rushing touchdowns — and added two receptions for nine yards and another trip to the end zone. Dawson Downing got in on the fun with 73 yards on just four carries and a score, while Bazelak's only other touchdown pass of the day was JJ Hester's lone catch of the game. That 41-yard effort still was enough to lead the team in receiving yards as Bazelak's 21 completions against the Mean Green went to 10 different pass catchers.
Missouri's versatile attack will face a stiff test in Texas A&M since the Aggies boast the SEC's third-best scoring defense at 16.8 points allowed per game, a top-20 mark nationally. Texas A&M also has notched three sacks and seven tackles for a loss per contest so far this season, good for the third- and fourth-highest averages, respectively, in the conference and both among the top 25 in the FBS. The 38 points allowed to Alabama were by far a season high for this Aggies defense, with Mississippi State's 26 the previous high as Texas A&M held its first three opponents — Kent State (10), Colorado (7), and New Mexico (0) — to just 17 total points in its 3-0 start to the season.
Both of these teams rebounded from disappointing Week 5 losses with emphatic wins this past week. Missouri is 3-1 at home in Columbia this season while Texas A&M is just 1-1 in its two games away from College Station with just 10 points scored in each. The Tigers have won six of their last seven against Texas A&M, and the best chance to continue their success on Saturday is keeping the scoring to a minimum. But Mizzou's defensive struggles point to an opportunity for the Aggies to keep riding high and continue their climb up the rankings.
Prediction: Texas A&M 41, Missouri 31
Podcast: Week 7 Preview & Predictions + Picks Against the Spread
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.