Once again, Kellen Mond has a chance to change the way we think about him against Alabama
I’m going to admit something that writers in this industry aren’t supposed to say even when they know it’s true — I’ve written this column before.
If you read the headline, you know exactly what I’m referring to. It’s the “this is Kellen Mond’s chance to take the next step” column. I’ve written a variation of it several times, actually. There was the pre-2019 column I wrote on why Mond becoming elite is what could expedite Jimbo Fisher’s mission to turn A&M into a national contender. I also wrote a column about Mond’s need to walk the walk as the self-proclaimed top SEC quarterback last year before the Clemson game. Between those stories and several others, including the weekly SEC quarterback rankings that I did from 2017-19, I’ve written tens of thousands of words about Mond and that proverbial next step.
So if your first thought to reading that headline was, “I’m so sick of hearing about Mond taking the next step,” well, I actually agree with you. At this point, he sort of is what he is.
But Mond does just enough to make us wonder — what if he can be that guy just once for 60 minutes Saturday at Alabama?
Consider that the beauty of college football. Sixty minutes can change lives. Go ask Johnny Manziel about that. Lord knows his life changed forever after those 60 minutes in Tuscaloosa in 2012.
Mond, of course, doesn’t have the same sort of history that Manziel had. Nobody would confuse Manziel’s meteoric 2012 rise with Mond’s … um, 3-year plateau? Can we call it that? The Manziel comparisons faded long ago. The Manziel shadow should have faded with it, but that’s not always how our brains work as football fans.
For Mond, the career peaks were a 7-overtime game against LSU in which there’s a strong case to be made that some poor officiating helped A&M pull off the upset, and he dazzled late in the 2018 home game against Clemson, which A&M lost.
Yet at the same time, Mond is in position to become the 9th quarterback in SEC history to finish his college career with 100 touchdowns, and had we gotten a full 12-game regular season, an improvement of 4 yards per game in 2020 would have allowed him to pass Tim Tebow and finish No. 3 on the SEC’s all-time career yardage list.
Durability, not reliability, could actually be Mond’s best attribute. Can he really be relied on to win a big game?
To Mond’s credit, he entered 2020 with a 12-0 mark against teams that finished with 7 wins or less during the Fisher era. Assuming Vanderbilt doesn’t pull off an 8-2 SEC season, we can put that number at 13-0 now. The problem is that Mond has never, for 60 minutes against an elite foe, gone out and silenced his doubters in a winning effort.
He’s 2-6 in true road games under Fisher with an 7-10 TD-interception ratio and 27.5 rushing yards per game. In all 9 of his career road starts (including 1 pre-Fisher), he has yet to lead A&M to a 30-point effort. KJ Costello, on the other hand, just started in his first SEC game last weekend and he already accomplished that feat. So have Kyle Trask, Mac Jones, Feleipe Franks, Terry Wilson, Bo Nix, John Rhys Plumlee and Garrett Shrader (Jarrett Guarantano didn’t make the list because Tennessee reached 30 points thanks to defensive touchdowns in the 2018 game at Auburn and in the 2020 game at South Carolina).
That’s baffling. Mond and Guarantano are the most experienced quarterbacks in the SEC, and it’s really not even close, yet therein lies the frustration.
At the same time, perhaps therein lies the intrigue. With stadiums at roughly 1/4 or 1/5 of their capacity, is this now the formula that Mond needs to have that perception-changing road effort? It could be, though nobody is exactly holding their breath for it to be against Alabama. We’ve seen it in flashes before against Nick Saban’s defense:
— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) September 22, 2018
And of course, this was the play that put Mond on the map:
Kellen Mond. Christian Kirk.
THAT. WAS. RIDICULOUS.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 8, 2017
This weekend will be almost 3 years to the day that Mond made that play as a true freshman. Since then, it has been 3 years of wondering when we’d see him put it all together.
After what we saw from the Aggies’ offense in a completely uninspiring Week 1 performance against Vanderbilt, it’s fair to expect that Mond isn’t about to change his reputation with this group around him. Kendrick Rogers and Quartney Davis left early for the NFL, Baylor Cupp and Camron Buckley both suffered season-ending injuries in fall camp and Jhamon Ausbon opted out. All of that was evident as Mond struggled to find a go-to target.
If you’re looking for a built-in excuse for the A&M offense in the event that it struggles against Saban’s group, that’s it. A&M is a 3-score underdog on the road despite the fact that it has the most experienced quarterback in the SEC, a veteran offensive line, a pair of top-6 classes the past 2 recruiting cycles and a head coach who’s considered to be one of the best quarterback developers in America. That’s reality.
What’s also reality is that everything now suggests this will mark another opportunity in which Mond and the A&M offense can’t put it together against an elite team. Mond’s history suggests it’ll be another instance in which an opposing SEC fanbase questions his belief that he’s the league’s best quarterback.
All of that is true, but Alabama, unlike another team in this league, can begin a new chapter for Mond.
He’s running out of chances to flip the script.