Texas A&M’s ’12th Man’ moment, and other Week 12 SEC highs and lows

Texas A&M's '12th Man' moment, and other Week 12 SEC highs and lows

In the year In 1983, in keeping with Texas A&M’s storied “12th man” tradition, Aggies coach Jackie Sherrill held open tryouts to build a team of inexperienced all-non-scholarship students. Ultimately, 17 players were selected, given jerseys with “12th Man” on the sleeve and awarded with penalty kicks at home games. The “12th Man Football Team” has allowed less than 20 yards per kickoff return for five seasons.

Forty years later, on Saturday at Abilene Christian, Sherrill and members of his legendary kickoff team were honored. For the first time since 2006, the tradition has been revived. With 5:25 left in the game and Texas A&M leading 31-10, interim coach Elias Robinson sent out the 2023 12th-man scrimmage — and what happened next was out of a movie script. ACU’s return man was intercepted by Will Smoot, who forced a fumble return by teammate Alex Zettler. Then pandemonium ensued: cheers from the home crowd, a cheering sideline and a group photo celebration in the end zone.

“On Senior Day, I was trying to figure out how to get as many seniors as possible, especially the guys that come here every day,” Robinson said. They’re on the scout team, they don’t get any recognition, they don’t get to play. How can we get those people out on the field? They will never forget that.”

The players feel the same way.

“We were around before they called them,” wide receiver Aeneas Smith said. We were hoping to get enough points so they could get their chance. Boys went out there and made plays. We are definitely turned on.

The Aggies’ season didn’t go according to plan, and major changes are coming, but that was a good time to let the Aggie seniors go. In the locker room, that senior class delivered the game ball to Robinson to win the team over as interim coach.

Texas A&M’s momentum begins this week in the SEC Super Bowl. The Week 12 slate sets the stage for an exciting final weekend. Three teams: Florida, Ole Miss and South Carolina enter the weekend with 5-6 records and need to beat in-state opponents for bowl eligibility. If all three win, it will send 12 SEC teams to a bowl game, the second-most in conference history (13, 2021).

Marquee matchups include the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn, Texas A&M at LSU and Georgia at Georgia Tech, one game away from breaking the SEC’s all-time wins record (29).

But first, the best and worst of Week 12:

Worst loss: Auburn

Auburn’s shocking 31-10 loss to New Mexico State jumped off the page in every category: A 21-point loss almost doubled as a 20-plus point favorite in total yardage and time of possession. To add insult to injury, Auburn reportedly paid NMSU $1.85 million for the game — the third most expensive “buy game” in the SEC this year behind Georgia and UAB ($1.9 million) and Auburn and UMass ($1.95 million).

The loss puts a dent in a three-game winning streak and hurts what feels like a promotion. But the Tigers are still qualified at 6-5, next: hosting the hottest team in the country right now in Alabama.

Sixth-year senior Nathaniel Watson is a tackle machine — he finished second in the SEC last season (113) and is just one behind teammate Jet Johnson at 116 this season. In a 41-20 win over Southern Miss, Watson delivered one of his best tackle performances in recent memory: 21 tackles (career high) and the most by an SEC defensive back since 2017. 10th sack of the season.

KJ Jefferson rewrote the Arkansas history books on Saturday. A touchdown pass to Jaydon Wilson in the first quarter marked Jefferson’s 65th career touchdown pass, an all-time record. He also holds the Arkansas records for pass completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns, total plays, total yards and total touchdowns.

Following the game, Jefferson spent the night at his grandmother’s, who celebrated her birthday on Saturday. And the phone call with her afterwards was a great moment.

Also of note: Following the win, Arkansas coach Sam Pittman announced he will return in 2024.

Best game (offense): Muhsin Muhammad III, Texas A&M

In a typical week, a catch or an interception qualifies for the best play — Aggies receiver Muhsin Muhammad III did both on this single play. It was a solid day for the junior, who had four catches for 104 yards and a touchdown.

Best game (defense): Pitch six, Mississippi State

Mississippi State, another school playing under an interim coach, got back into the win column and the defense used a team strategy to record a touchdown. Linebacker Jett Johnson intercepted the pass but was quickly wrapped up by an offensive lineman, who turned and put the ball to Marcus Banks for a touchdown. Pitch six.

Clutch Play of the Day: Harrison Mevis, Missouri

Missouri kicker Harrison Mevis, affectionately known as the fat kicker, nailed a walk-off kick to lead the Tigers to their second win of the season. This time, the 30-yard attempt propelled Missouri to its ninth win of the season over Florida — its highest total since 2014.

The Gamecocks won their third straight game with a 17-14 win over Kentucky. The game-winning play came courtesy of Spencer Rattler and Xavier Legette, who connected for a touchdown on third-and-long to pressure the Rattlers up front.

Top of the week: Georgia football

Georgia football moved up a few notches with a 38-10 win over Tennessee. The Bulldogs became the first team to complete three consecutive undefeated seasons in conference play during an 8-game SEC schedule. Also, the win was Georgia’s 28th overall, tying Alabama teams (1991-1993 and 1978-1980) with two separate streaks for the longest in SEC history.

The LSU quarterback had another stellar performance at Georgia State with eight touchdowns, tying Joe Burrow for most by an LSU quarterback in a single game. Daniels finished with 413 passing yards and 96 rushing yards, making him the 11th player to reach 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a season.

(Photo: John Rivera / Getty Images)