So who among you before the season had Texas A&M doing better than 7-5 or 8-4 in the first year under head coach Jimbo Fisher? Not many, I’ll bet. And that’s exactly the course the Aggies are on.
Sure, Aggieland was tantalized by a 2-point loss to No. 2 Clemson, leaving fans convinced that the building process under the new regime had been greatly accelerated. Bottom line, it wasn’t. Nor should we have expected it to be. That’s just not the way it works.
Keep in mind that Nick Saban had to win the Independence Bowl to salvage a winning record in his first year at Alabama. He lost to UL-Monroe in that first season. If you’re looking for comparisons, this year’s Aggies team is miles ahead of that Alabama team in Saban’s first year in Tuscaloosa.
No, there’s no magic wand that can be waved over a program that turns it into championship contenders. And for those who maintain that nothing has changed, perhaps not in the won-loss column just yet, but those around the program insist that Fisher is changing the culture and that’s where it all has to start. That takes time and that takes work.
However, that’s not to say that Fisher doesn’t have some glaring issues that must be addressed in order to change and improve the team’s record, which by all standards is the bottom line with every program.
Certainly the competition has gotten tougher down the stretch as is the case every year when you get to the SEC portion, and in particular the SEC West. But the Aggies should be progressing as well. Certain areas haven’t advanced as perhaps Fisher’s staff would have liked at this point in the season.
Here are three of the biggest problems in Fisher’s first season that have played a major role in this all-too-frequent late-season skid. The question is, can they be fixed and in what time frame?
QB Kellen Mond has regressed
This is easily the singular most glaring issue because it is the spotlight position. Whether it is grasping the offense, or just the pressure of performing up to the expectations of his quarterback-guru head coach, Mond still looks lost in certain situations and Fisher it seems is constantly questioning his decision-making on the sidelines.
Fisher admits he coaches his QBs hard, too.
Jimbo Fisher, on how tough he is on QBs: "You don’t want to be the quarterback on this team. I promise you that." I imagine this pitch is a little different to recruits.
— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) November 5, 2018
Mond’s interception, ending a drive that should have put the game out of reach on Saturday, turned the momentum for Auburn and led to a pair of game-winning touchdown drives for the Tigers. Mond was 8-for-19 in the second half of Saturday’s loss. His inability to complete the deep pass continues to be a problem, as does taking care of the football.
Or maybe there was just nowhere to go but down from his performance against Clemson in the second game of the season where he threw for 430 yards and led the team with confidence. That swagger has become less and less visible as the season has gone along.
Since that Clemson game, Mond has twice thrown more interceptions than touchdowns, and in each of the past two games has thrown one touchdown and one pick. His QB rating was a season-low 95.18 in the loss to Mississippi State and rose slightly to 111.81 in his most recent outing against Auburn — the third-lowest rating this season.
Fisher obviously will look to put his stamp on this critical position, and some in Aggieland are already calling for their coach to give the reigns to true freshman James Foster, a 4-star dual threat from Alabama, who also received offers from Alabama, LSU, Missouri and Florida State.
The battle for starting quarterback should get real interesting next spring.
As good as the run defense has been, leading the SEC while allowing an average of just 81.44 yards per game, the Aggies have had trouble stopping the pass. Ranked 11th in the conference, the Aggies are giving up an average of 243.6 yards per game through the air.
Saturday’s opponent will provide the supreme test. If Texas A&M is to halt its 2-game slide, it will need its secondary to play its best game because Rebels QB Jordan Ta’amu will be filling the Kyle Field air with footballs from start to finish.
The SEC’s leading passer, averaging 333.4 passing yards per game, will test an Aggies’ pass defense that is allowing the opposition to complete 58 percent of its passes. The Aggies have given up 18 TD passes — second-most in the SEC to Ole Miss (19) — with an SEC-low 3 interceptions.
Donovan Wilson, a leader in the secondary over four seasons, has been flagged for targeting three times this season, missing considerable playing time because of it. That certainly hasn’t helped the Aggies’ coverage, although Wilson is known more for his run defense and tackling abilities than pass coverage.
It’s one area of weakness in an otherwise improved defense, There probably isn’t much that can be done for this season, but look for changes at the corners when spring practice rolls around.
Receivers getting open with consistency
This one is more of a head-scratcher. Losing Jhamon Ausbon to injury left a major void, and perhaps the inexperience of the receiving corps in general can be attributed to the problem. Only time will tell if among that group can emerge the kind of receiving threat the Aggies have grown accustomed to over the last few years.
There’s still some football to be played in 2018 and some big games remain against SEC West competition. The Aggies have played their last game on the road and finish with three at Kyle Field. That alone has to bring hope that something can be salvaged from yet another late-season collapse.
But the Aggies must stop the bleeding and perhaps the wide receivers can help in that cause when Ole Miss visits for a noon ET Saturday showdown. The Rebels are also 5-4 and on a 2-game skid, and are trying to bounce back from a game they feel they probably should have won. Ole Miss was outscored 48-44 by South Carolina.
Ole Miss is last in the SEC against the pass, allowing an average of 289.1 passing yards per game. This offers the perfect opportunity for Mond and the Texas A&M receiving corps to show of its talents and begin to turn things around heading into next season.