5 things I want to see Texas A&M accomplish against Vanderbilt
It’s finally here.
This weekend there will be Texas A&M football. Even with all the bad news the Aggies have received the past 2 weeks with the opt-outs of Jhamon Ausbon and Anthony Hines, it’s hard not to get excited for this year.
A&M opens with Vanderbilt, a team it should handle without much trouble. The Aggies have the chance to work out some of their missing holes before stiffer competition arrives. Here are 5 things I’d like to see from the Aggies this week:
1. Kellen Mond can trust his receivers
Mond was expected to take a big step forward this season, but now has the challenge of doing so without his 3 top wide receivers from 2019.
He’s had little time to prepare since Jhamon Ausbon’s decision on Sept. 13 to opt out, but Aggies fans will hope one of the players waiting behind Ausbon can have a breakout year. At this point it’s still unclear who that may be. Texas A&M released its Week 1 depth chart on Monday and every receiver had “or” written after his name.
True freshman Demond Demas comes in with a lofty 5-star status and has received praise in camp from coach Jimbo Fisher. Redshirt freshmen Kam Brown and Chase Lane have also been mentioned by both Fisher and Mond. Sophomore Jalen Preston brings the most experience of the group, having played in all 13 games last year.
It’s unlikely that anyone will single-handedly replace Ausbon’s production — and Mond still has an All-American-level security blanket in TE Jalen Wydermyer. The Aggies simply need a few guys who have the capability of putting up a big game now and then. But we’re going to find out quickly how big of a loss Ausbon was and whether A&M has the tools to replace him.
2. Leadership from Buddy Johnson at linebacker
Ausbon wasn’t the only Aggie to opt out so close to the opener.
Linebacker Anthony Hines also opted out earlier this week, leaving a void in the defense. Buddy Johnson (top left) was naturally expected to have a big role after leading the team in tackles (77) last year. But with Hines gone, the defense may depend on him even more.
Senior Aaron Hansford, who finished with 15 tackles in 2019, is listed as the Week 1 starter. Behind him? Freshman Edgerrin Cooper. Those players will find their footing as the season progresses, but early on a lot of weight will be put on Johnson.
Look for him to set the tone for the defense in what should be an easy opening matchup against Vanderbilt.
3. Ainias Smith is involved in multiple ways
Smith (top right) played all of last season at receiver but switched to running back before the Texas Bowl.
He had 7 carries for 54 yards as well as 2 catches for 13 yards in that game. Fisher liked what he saw so much that he opted to keep Smith at running back heading into this season. He will have to contend with Isaiah Spiller (946 yards and 10 TDs) for touches this season. However, they are listed together in the No. 1 running back spot on the depth chart. It could be more of an even split.
Fisher has described Smith as a “versatile player,” so it’s unlikely that he’ll be removed from the passing game completely. With Ausbon’s departure, A&M may still have him line up at receiver sometimes and his speed gives him big-play ability from either position.
4. Offense controls the tempo
With this being the only chance the Aggies get at a “tune up” before playing Alabama the next week, it’s imperative to give Mond and the offense as much time together on the field as possible.
Practices reps are one thing, but the more game time Mond gets with his new targets the better. If they succeed against Vanderbilt perhaps the confidence will carry over to the game with the Crimson Tide. Just as important is helping Smith ease into his new role of running back. He has had all offseason to prepare, but still only has 1 game of experience from last season.
If Texas A&M can get out to an early lead and control the clock, it can give itself more opportunities to experiment with what might work next week.
5. Hold Vanderbilt under 300 yards
Vanderbilt had the worst offense in the SEC last season, the only one to average fewer than 300 yards per game (298.8). The Commodores also lost their top 2 producers in running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn and quarterback Riley Neal.
A&M ranked 9th in the SEC in yards allowed per game last season, partly thanks to a tough schedule. Still, it would be nice to see the Aggies improve in 2020. Given Vandy’s situation — it’s starting over at virtually every skill position on offense — the Aggies should be able to get off to a good start.
Even with Hines opting out, the Aggies return a good amount of players on defense, especially up front.
Is a shutout possible? The Aggies have blanked 1 SEC team since joining the conference in 2012: Vanderbilt 25-0 in 2015.