As injuries mount, Texas A&M will lean on Isaiah Spiller, run game more than ever. That could be a good thing
All offseason, it was fair to wonder whether Isaiah Spiller’s production could take a leap this season.
Spiller rushed for nearly 1,000 yards his freshman year as the feature back, but was expected to split carries in 2020 as Ainias Smith went from a receiver to running back. Whether he could maintain that production on presumably fewer touches was to be seen.
There were mixed results in the first 2 games.
Spiller rushed for 117 yards in the opener against Vanderbilt on 8 carries to Smith’s 10. The next week against Alabama, Spiller ran 11 times for 25 yards as A&M went to the air trying to play catch-up.
Against Florida, it was essentially all Spiller.
He had 27 carries compared to just 6 for Smith. That led to his second-best outing as an Aggie: 174 yards and 2 touchdowns. More important, the Aggies won 41-38, their biggest victory in the Jimbo Fisher era.
Smith wasn’t bad against the Gators either, with 23 yards on 5 carries. Spiller is averaging 6.9 yards per carry this season to Smith’s 5.2, so both backs have shown the ability to produce behind an experienced offensive line.
Will A&M continue to ride Spiller this week against Mississippi State?
The Bulldogs have the 2nd-best rush defense in the SEC behind only Georgia. It will certainly be a test for the run game after its best week yet. Two different backs is something we haven’t seen in the Kellen Mond era, and the ability to ride a hot hand could benefit A&M.
Trayveon Williams dominated the usage in 2018 with 271 carries. Behind him? Mond. Same story with Spiller last season.
Mond’s ability as a mobile quarterback is nice, but it’s even better when he doesn’t have to be relied on for that as much. Smith’s move to RB has so far made it to where Mond is averaging a couple carries less per game as compared to last year.
Smith has also been utilized heavily in the passing game, where he leads the Aggies with 203 yards. It’s clear his role is a utility one. He may be leaned on even more as a receiver with A&M announcing this week that Caleb Chapman is done for the season, an injury that might force A&M to lean even more on its running game.
Mond’s sophomore season with Williams ended up being the Aggies’ best so far, as they finished 9-4, but this one has a chance to surpass it.
The run game will play a huge part in that, especially with the receiving corps as decimated by injuries, opt-outs and inexperience as it is. Having 2 players who can make plays in the backfield is likely the result of Fisher having a couple of seasons to recruit.
Both Spiller and Smith are Texas high school products brought in last year. Spiller was ranked the No. 9 running back in the country and the best in his state for 2019, according to 247Sports. Smith was a 3-star athlete and it appears Fisher has found way to make use of that versatility.
This year’s running game is different than it was in the first 2 seasons of the Fisher era and in a good way. The offensive line features 4 seniors as starters and deserves as much credit for the success as the 2 young backs.
If A&M is to achieve its goal of making the Playoff this season, it will need Spiller and Smith to keep up this pace.