Texas A&M defense silences South Carolina in 44-14 rout

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Texas A&M running back Isaiah Spiller (28) is tackled by South Carolina defensive back R.J. Roderick (10) after a short run during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Ainias Smith had a 95-yard punt return for a touchdown and Jalen Wydermyer added two TD catches as No. 17 Texas A&M built a huge first-half lead and coasted to a 44-14 rout of South Carolina Saturday night.

The star rushing duo of Isaiah Spiller and Devone Achane continued to do damage for the Aggies. They combined for 256 yards and two touchdowns a week after rushing for 292 yards and three touchdowns.

Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2 SEC) raced to a 31-0 lead by halftime, and Achane’s 35-yard touchdown run made it 41-0 late in the third. It was the third straight victory for Texas A&M, which knocked off top-ranked Alabama two weeks ago before beating Missouri last week.

Zach Calzada had 187 yards passing with two touchdowns for the Aggies.

South Carolina graduate assistant-turned-quarterback Zeb Noland had a tough night before he was benched for Jason Brown early in the fourth quarter. Noland managed just 30 yards passing and had a snap fly over his head that the Aggies recovered and turned into a touchdown in the second quarter.

Noland started the first three games but was hurt Sept. 18 against Georgia and didn’t play again until leading a game-winning drive in the last minute against Vanderbilt last Saturday. Luke Doty was injured against the Commodores and is out for the season after having foot surgery this week.

Brown led the Gamecocks (4-4, 1-4) on two touchdown drives after replacing Noland, but also threw an interception in the end zone.

Smith gave A&M an early lead with his punt return TD in the first quarter. It was the longest punt return for a touchdown in the FBS this season and the longest for the Aggies since Dustin Harris had a 96-yard return for a TD in 2012 against South Carolina State.

Jaylan Foster grabbed his NCAA-leading fifth interception later in the first, but the Gamecocks couldn’t move the ball after the turnover and had to punt.

The Aggies extended the lead to 14-0 when Wydermyer grabbed a 25-yard touchdown reception on their next possession.

Wydermyer made it 21-0 when he grabbed a short pass and barreled through several defenders for a 28-yard score with about 10 ½ minutes left in the first half.

He had 75 yards receiving to give him 1,306 in his career, passing Martellus Bennett (1,246) for most by a tight end in school history.

It looked like Noland had his coaching hat back on three plays after Wydermyer’s second TD when he was so preoccupied yelling and gesturing at his teammates to get set that he didn’t realize the ball had been snapped and it sailed over his head.

The ball rolled all the way to the South Carolina 6 — a loss of 19 yards — before Aaron Hansford pounced on it to give A&M the ball. The Aggies cashed in on the mistake three plays later on a 1-yard TD run by Spiller that made it 28-0.

THE TAKEAWAY

Texas A&M was dominant from beginning to end in this one, continuing its strong recent play. The Gamecocks got their first SEC win last week and will have plenty to fix during their upcoming week off if they hope to get another one this season.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Aggies should keep their spot or could possibly move up a couple of slots after several teams ahead of them lost Saturday.

UP NEXT

South Carolina: The Gamecocks are off next Saturday before they host Florida Nov. 6

Texas A&M: The Aggies also are off next Saturday before hosting No. 19 Auburn Nov. 6.

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