Better or worse? Is this the year, finally, that Kellen Mond and Texas A&M's offense reach their peak?
Editor’s note: This is the 7th in a series previewing every SEC West team’s offense. Next: We begin our SEC East preview with Florida.
There’s an old saying in sports that goes something like this: When you’re at rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.
Relatively speaking, that’s where Texas A&M’s offense finds itself entering the 2020 football season. The Aggies ranked 8th in the SEC in total offense last year, averaging 394.5 yards per game. That’s the fewest since joining the conference in 2012 when, ironically, the Aggies led the SEC in total offense, producing an average of 558.5 yards per game.
Of course, that was accomplished with the program’s once-in-a-generation quarterback Johnny Manziel. Texas A&M 2020 starting QB Kellen Mond will never be confused with the former Heisman Trophy winner, but big things are expected from the fourth-year starter.
And though it seems like the weight of the offense rests on Mond’s broad shoulders, in reality it really doesn’t. For Mond to succeed at the level of 2020 expectations, the Aggies will have to run the ball better and block better.
The Aggies ranked 8th in the SEC in rushing last season, averaging 159 yards per game. Adding to the woes were 34 sacks allowed. Among SEC teams; only LSU (35) allowed more in their highly successful pass-happy attack. And LSU played 2 more games, too.
So let’s take a closer look at the Aggies’ offense for 2020 to see if we can truly expect improvement. Which areas of the Texas A&M offense will be better in 2020 and which will be worse?
Passing offense: Worse
Well, that’s not a good start. But while the offense as a whole has seemingly nowhere to go but up, Mond seemed to have hit his peak as far as passing yards is concerned.
Mond is the most experienced SEC QB (34 career starts) and has the 2nd-most passing yards (2,897) of any returning QB in the conference, but it’s fair to wonder whether he has reached the ceiling in regards to pure passing yards.
He threw for 210 fewer yards last season than his 3,107 passing yards in 2018. And though his vast experience should serve him well in 2020, the numbers might not reflect it, especially if the run game improves as much as it should.
That could and should result in Mond becoming a much better and smarter quarterback while also finding his numbers declining in line with a more balanced offensive attack.
The caveat being that Mond will face far inferior defenses this season as the schedule becomes much more navigable. Just getting Clemson off the docket has to make any quarterback sigh a bit of relief. The Aggies also add Vanderbilt.
But given that coach Jimbo Fisher likes a tough, strong offense that can run the ball, the increased numbers could fall into the rushing category rather than pumping up Mond’s stats.
Much of that could be influenced by the development of a receiving corps that lost 2 of its top 4 pass-catchers. Leading receiver Jhamon Ausbon returns, though, and there’s a plethora of talent at tight end. So that’s a developing story to keep an eye on.
Running game: Better
If it’s worse, the Aggies are in deep trouble. They’ll need to return to 2018 numbers. That year the Aggies averaged 219 rushing yards per game. Isaiah Spiller appears capable. Last year he came up just 54 yards shy of 1,000 yards as a freshman. And Mond, who added another 500 yards a year ago, has proven that he can pick it up and lay it down when called upon to do so.
Couple that with a seasoned offensive line, and it appears that the Aggies have all the ingredients for a vastly improved running game for 2020.
The big question will be depth at the running back position. Spiller and Mond combined for 70 percent of the rushing yards last season. Finding one or two more backs who can spell Spiller from time to time will be key.
Kicking game: Better
Field-goal kicking should improve. Seth Small has trended upward in each of his first 2 seasons and there’s still plenty of room before he reaches his ceiling. Small ranked 11th among SEC kickers in 2018, connecting on 71.4 percent of his attempts. He became more reliable last season, moving up to 6th while making 78.3 percent of his boots.
Now in his junior season, Small should continue to swing his leg with confidence and appears ready to move into the upper echelon of SEC kickers in 2020.
As far as kick returners go, there aren’t too many better than Ainias Smith, who burst onto the scene in 2019. As a freshman, Smith displayed blazing speed, averaging nearly 20 yards over 13 kickoff returns last season. In addition, he averaged nearly 12 yards in 16 punt returns.
He only figures to improve with a year of experience now under his belt.
It would be difficult to believe that Texas A&M isn’t going to improve on last year’s output. The most seasoned quarterback in the conference, coupled with a veteran offensive line and a maturing run game are going to keep SEC defensive coordinators up at night wondering how to slow down this emerging juggernaut.
Surely the Aggies will run the ball more effectively in 2020 and that should open up even more opportunities for Mond to operate the passing game.
Texas A&M looks to improve on the 29.5 points per game it averaged last season, a 6th-place ranking among SEC teams. There’s little doubt that if healthy, the Aggies will push into the 30-35 point range and perhaps beyond.
Hopefully the Covid-19 pandemic won’t derail what shapes up to be a stellar season for the Aggies offense, and Aggieland will be allowed inside Kyle Field to witness it first hand. We know the story of the tree falling in the woods, so if an Aggie crosses the goal line, and the 12th Man isn’t there to experience it, does it still count for 6 points?