OK Aggie Nation, take a deep breath. Back-to-back SEC victories over Arkansas and South Carolina have helped to heal the wound suffered on the West Coast at the start of the season. Inch your way off the ledge and don’t look down … or to Saturday’s game at Kyle Field.
No, the Aggies aren’t ready for Prime Time. This is far from an elite team. But the improvement is measurable and the fight is still there. That includes the play of freshman QB Kellen Mond, who in five games has displayed signs of both the deer-in-the-headlights look you’d expect from a rookie as well as the leadership it takes to win close games.
He’ll play on the biggest stage of his short career Saturday. Alabama will no doubt load up and force Mond to win the game with his arm. Not having to deal with Alabama DE Da’Shawn Hand (MCL strain), the Tide’s best pass rusher along the line, will help; but Mond must grow up in a hurry if he hopes to be a factor on Saturday. Certainly, he’ll need to throw for more than his 121-yard average, and more like his career-high 301 yards (21-for-34 vs. Lousiana).
The Chief (a.k.a. DC John Chavis) continues to work to make the Aggies’ defense a respectable unit. It’s not there yet, but holding South Carolina to 23 yards rushing was nevertheless an impressive stat from last week’s game, and heading into Saturday, the Aggies are fourth in the SEC against the run, allowing fewer than 100 yards per game (95.8).
Twelve tackles for loss, including seven sacks, on Saturday, proves the desire remains within the Aggies to become a formidable defense. Otaro Alaka (9 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 sacks) is the player we thought he was. Take away a 34-yard run, and the Aggies basically stuffed South Carolina’s rushing game.
That run defense will no doubt face its toughest test to date, if not of the season, on Saturday. We’ll see just how improved it is under Chavis when Alabama brings its dominant rushing attack to Kyle Field. The leading ground attack in the SEC, the Crimson Tide will be leaning heavily once again on a brutal rushing attack that averages 315.6 yards.
Now I know that many of you can only look at the Aggies’ program with national championship desires. We all know it’s been a long time … a long time. And that’s fine, but those expectations must be met with a realistic approach. No, the Aggies don’t match up with Alabama, and there’s a good chance this game won’t be close. Perhaps not of the 59-0 or 66-3 variety, but still it might not be pretty. Don’t let this game define you.
It’s really one of the last games on the schedule where the Aggies don’t have at least a 50/50 chance at winning. Only Auburn presents a true uphill climb over the last half of the season, and for the first time in a long, long time, a late-season collapse could get flipped around — with momentum a real possibility befriending the Aggies to their bowl destination and perhaps a double-digit win season.
Face it, in the era of Nick Saban, that’s about as good as anyone in the SEC West can expect.