Better or worse? Previewing Texas A&M's offense in 2021
Editor’s note: This concludes our preview of every SEC West team’s offense. The SEC East previews begin Monday with Florida.
Jimbo Fisher running from a Gatorade bath is an image many Aggies fans will never forget.
Texas A&M took down North Carolina in the Orange Bowl last season, and it’s bowl game tradition to congratulate your coach by dumping the ice-cold sports drink on him. Fisher apparently wanted no part in that on a cold January day, so he bolted.
The victory improved Fisher to 3-0 in bowl games as A&M’s coach. It was also his first New Year’s 6 bowl victory with the Aggies. It felt like a seminal moment for the program.
There is a lot of positive momentum for the program heading into 2021, but A&M also has quite a bit to replace offensively.
The Aggies lost their starting quarterback as well as 4 of 5 starters on the offensive line. If Fisher is to maintain success — or climb higher — he will need new players to emerge.
Will the Aggies be better or worse on offense this season? Let’s take a look:
Key losses: Kellen Mond, QB; Dan Moore, OL; Carson Green, OL; Ryan McCollum, OL
Key returnees: Isaiah Spiller, RB; Ainias Smith, RB/WR; Jalen Wydermeyer, TE; Chase Lane, WR; Devon Achane, RB
Potential breakout players: Haynes King, QB
A lot of A&M’s success in 2020 came from its stellar offensive line.
The Aggies ranked 5th in sack rate and 13th in power success rate this past season. The line paved the way for Spiller to rush for more than 1,000 yards. Anyone who watched them knows they leaned heavily on the run.
Spiller returns in 2021, as does Achane, whose 76-yard touchdown run in the 4th quarter of the Orange Bowl will be etched in the minds of Aggie fans for quite some time. Unfortunately, 4 of the 5 linemen who created holes for them to run through are no longer with the team.
Replacing them is perhaps the biggest priority for the offense this season.
A&M will also have a new starting quarterback after the graduation of Mond. King, a former 4-star prospect who won a state championship as a junior, is the lead candidate to take over. Thankfully he has Smith and Wydermeyer to throw to, which should help ease his transition.
At least on paper though, A&M has quite a bit of talent to replace from 2020.
Passing offense: Worse
Let’s preface this by saying King appears to be a long-term quarterback, someone with enough talent to start multiple seasons, and fans will grow to love him once he settles in as the starter.
That said, he’s still a freshman. He has yet to start a college game and it’s only natural to expect some struggles in the early season. It’s neither logical nor fair to expect him to have the same composure that Mond did as a senior, but that will come with time and experience. Keep in mind, even though Mond had his most efficient season last year, the Aggies still finished 9th in the SEC in passing yards per game (234.1). They’ve yet to average 260 per game in Fisher’s 3 seasons.
There is also the question of whether the line can give him enough protection.
Smith is a do-it-all player with a knack for creating space with his speed and craftiness. His ability to make plays on his own will likely come in handy for a first-year starter. He finished with 857 total yards and 10 touchdowns this past season. It’s reasonable to expect that number to grow.
Wydermeyer is a big red-zone threat at 6-5, 265 pounds. He recorded 6 touchdown catches in 10 games last year and should be a favorite target for King once the Aggies get inside the 20.
It could look rough at first, but after a few games, A&M’s passing game will sort itself out.
Rushing offense: Even
The Aggies lost 80% of their offensive line, but they return one of the best running backs in the conference. Will Spiller’s talent be enough to ensure the Aggies continue to average 200-plus yards on the ground?
They finished 2nd in the SEC last year and improved by more than 40 yards per game from their 2019 total.
Achane’s progression is another key development to monitor. The freshman finished the season with his best game yet, rushing for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Orange Bowl. The game prior, he ran for 99 yards against Auburn. If he can continue that momentum into 2021, A&M will have a nice 1-2 punch with Achane and Spiller.
The line remains the key to the Aggies’ rushing success. It may not be as steep of a drop as anticipated. After all, Fisher’s recruiting classes have included several highly-rated offensive linemen. That point was referenced several times during the spring game, that the recruiting backgrounds of the 2021 replacements were better than last year’s starters. But to expect the elite level of play we saw last year is perhaps a bit unrealistic.
Special teams: Even
The Aggies return kicker Seth Small, who finished 11-of-13 on field-goal attempts and 41-of-42 on extra points this past season. He’s improved for 3 years and there’s no reason to expect anything less in 2021.
The speedy Smith returned punts for A&M in 2020 and there’s no reason he wouldn’t continue to do so. He is one of the most dangerous return men in the country.
Having a player like him that can impact several different areas of the game is invaluable.
Worse is relative. The Aggies’ offense still will be very good. The Aggies have topped 30 points per game in 2 of Fisher’s 3 seasons, including last season (32.6).
But an Orange Bowl victory is hard to live up to.
Smith is one of the best all-around players in the conference, and Spiller is an extremely talented running back. If King and the offensive line come together, the Aggies may very well be just as good or better than last year.