Georgia football: 5 biggest concerns I have about Texas A&M
With the SEC schedule set up the way it is, there are teams outside of your division that you just don’t face often. That’s the case Saturday as Georgia welcomes an opponent to Sanford Stadium it hasn’t played since 2009: Texas A&M.
It’s their first meeting since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012.
So no, this isn’t the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry or the Iron Bowl, but it’s the biggest remaining test for the Dawgs before heading to the Flats to end the regular season at Georgia Tech. Here are 5 concerns that I have about the Aggies as Georgia salutes its seniors in the final game between the hedges this season.
Can the Bulldogs contain A&M’s offense?
LSU and Alabama are the gold standards of SEC offenses, averaging 47.8 and 46.8 per game, respectively. At No. 3, though, are the Aggies, who have scored 24 points or more in 8 of their 10 games. Only 2 teams kept them below that: Clemson and Auburn.
This Georgia defense has proven itself as it hasn’t allowed more than 17 points in a single game. That being said, it can’t overlook the challenge the Aggies will present.
Will Kellen Mond shine against the Bulldogs defense?
After the Johnny Manziel era ended in 2013, it seemed as if every year featured 1 or more starting quarterbacks behind center for A&M. Kenny Hill, Kyle Allen, Nick Starkel, Trevor Knight and Kyler Murray — who did pretty well for himself at another program, I’m told — were part of a period of churn and turnover spread over the past several years of Kevin Sumlin’s tenure.
Starkel found himself embroiled in a quarterback battle with a freshman by the name of Kellen Mond in 2017. In the end, Mond won the job in 2018 and Starkel was consigned to backup status eventually transferring to Arkansas.
And Mond’s putting together another strong season: He’ll go over 2,500 yards passing against Georgia on Saturday and will easily crest 3,000 before the year’s up. He has thrown 18 touchdown passes versus just 6 interceptions and has run for 400 yards and 7 touchdowns on 93 carries. He has also thrown for at least 1 touchdown in 18 consecutive games.
He’s far from the second coming of Manziel or a former Jimbo Fisher quarterback disciple by the name of Jameis Winston. But in the era of Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow, the only two players in the conference with more passing yards, Mond stands out in his own way. Georgia especially needs to be prepared if he decides to run as they were caught a little flat-footed when Bo Nix took off in the Auburn game.
Can the rushing defense keep it rolling and stifle Isaiah Spiller?
One of Fisher’s top signees from the 2019 recruiting class was Spiller, the No. 9 running back in the country and an A&M legacy: His father, Fred, played tight end for the Aggies. Fisher still had to work to sign him as the younger Spiller had pledged to Oklahoma in November 2017 before re-opening his recruitment in April 2018. Three months later, he made the call for the Aggies.
And all Spiller’s done since arriving is lead the team in rushing with 796 yards on 133 carries, finding the end zone 8 times. That includes a 20-carry, 217-yard, 3-touchdown performance against UTSA on Nov. 2.
Georgia’s vaunted run defense has been up to the task all season long, and Spiller’s performance this season will provide a stiff late-season test.
Will the Bulldogs’ running game find success against A&M’s front 7?
Fisher was counting on Anthony Hines and Buddy Johnson to make a big step forward in 2019 and they have. Hines was forced to redshirt in 2018 after a promising freshman season, while Johnson was a key contributor last season but didn’t start.
In 2019, they’ve answered the bell, combining for 115 tackles and 15.5 tackles for a loss. They are A&M’s top 2 tacklers. If D’Andre Swift and the Georgia running backs are to gain traction on Saturday, they’ll need to take a page from the books of Ole Miss and Mississippi State, who combined for nearly 500 yards rushing against this Aggies defense.
How will the passing game look against Texas A&M’s defense?
This A&M defense has held its own against the pass. It has not given up more than 297 yards through the air in a single game, with all but 3 opponents — Alabama, Clemson and Arkansas — held to 215 or fewer yards.
And with uncertainty surrounding the health of Lawrence Cager and a little bit of a slide for Jake Fromm, who’s been held below a 50 percent completion rate in back-to-back games for the first time in his career, this might be an area of the game that could cause the Dawgs a little heartburn unless they’re able to open things up and add a little more explosiveness through the air. Against Auburn, outside of Fromm’s 51-yard touchdown pass to Dominick Blaylock, he didn’t record a completion longer than 13 yards.