Was A&M holding back in Week 1? If so, let's hope this is the plan moving forward
It was an underwhelming Week 1 for Texas A&M, to say the least.
Fans waited all offseason to see what Jimbo Fisher had in store for Year 3. They endured an extra few weeks of waiting while some of the other conferences began. All in the hope that the Aggies would finally live up to that No. 10 preseason ranking.
They were repaid with a near-disaster as A&M barely escaped with a 17-12 victory over Vanderbilt, which finished next-to-last in the SEC in 2019.
Although the Aggies have underperformed before, this felt even more uncharacteristic. They fumbled 3 times, gave up a safety and turned it over on downs late in the fourth. It was almost as if they were trying to lose.
They were missing a couple of starters after receiver Jhamon Ausbon and linebacker Anthony Hines opted out of the season, so maybe Week 1 didn’t show everything they have to offer. Knowing Alabama was next, maybe they were intentionally bland on offense. Maybe the Aggies need more time to realize their potential. Hopefully that is the case. Otherwise, we’re in for a long year of football.
A lot of the talk following the Vanderbilt game was centered on Kellen Mond and rightfully so. The senior quarterback was expected to be a steadfast leader this season but was anything but in the opener. Two of the 3 fumbles can be attributed to Mond and he looked anything but clutch in the 4th quarter.
But lost in the criticism of Mond was the play of sophomore running backs Isaiah Spiller and Ainias Smith.
Spiller carried the ball 8 times for 117 yards while Smith had 10 totes for 51 yards, but those numbers are a bit deceiving. All but 6 of Spiller’s yards came on just 3 plays and half of Smith’s total can be tracked back to a 26-yard run.
Still, it could be argued Spiller should have got more opportunities as productive as he was. Maybe A&M would benefit from trying to get the running backs more involved against Alabama.
That sounds a bit crazy, as the Crimson Tide are normally a fairly difficult defense to run against. However, when LSU beat Alabama last year, it did so with a 102-yard, 3-touchdown effort from Clyde Edwards-Helaire. When Auburn bested the Tide, JaTarvious Whitlow had 114 yards on 16 carries.
It seems there might be a connection between running the ball successfully and beating Alabama. In the Aggies’ past 2 meetings with Bama, running backs have struggled to move the ball. Mond finished as A&M’s leading rusher in both games. He ran 16 times for 90 yards in last year’s game. Spiller carried the ball 10 times for a mere 27 yards last year as a freshman.
Especially if Mond continues to struggle with his arm, A&M should make an effort to give more opportunities to its backs.
The loss of Ausbon was felt Saturday. Mond spread the ball around to 6 different receivers, but clearly lacked a go-to target. Sophomore Caleb Chapman led the team with 40 yards and a touchdown. He and Jaleb Preston each grabbed a team-high 4 catches.
For as much talk as he got in camp, it was surprising not to see true freshman Demond Demas get any action Saturday. Demas came in as a 5-star recruit and the No. 25 overall prospect according to 247Sports. Although it is rare for true freshman to get significant playing time, many figured Demas to be a talent that defied the normal rules.
It will be interesting to see if Fisher will deploy Demas if the receiving corps continues to lack star power. Preston and Chase Lane had 39 and 38 yards, respectively, so there was almost no separation between the players. Perhaps that’s just who the Aggies are this season. That identity will be revealed quickly enough in the next few games.
We have to assume the Aggies are better than what we saw Saturday. We know the talent that is on this team and how well Fisher has recruited over the past couple of seasons. It’s simply a matter of finding the right way to utilize it.