Texas A&M's secondary is Aggies' biggest concern and, oh, no, here comes high-flying Florida
Nobody expected Texas A&M’s defense to be as effective against Alabama as Vanderbilt.
What wasn’t expected was the defensive meltdowns that constantly occurred in the secondary Saturday. Crimson Tide quarterback Mac Jones torched the Aggies for 435 yards and 4 touchdowns through the air, including 3 scores of 60-plus yards.
There’s not much time to regroup.
Enter Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts and No. 4 Florida. Through 2 games, the Gators are averaging 44.5 points (4th in FBS) and 495 yards (14th) per game. Trask has thrown for 624 yards and 10 touchdowns — 6 of which have gone to tight end Pitts.
In the understatement of the week, A&M’s secondary needs to do a better job at containing big plays. The Aggies are allowing 10.4 yards per passing attempt, the most in the SEC. Trask is averaging 9.5 yards per attempt — 3rd in the SEC. Pitts is averaging 19 yards per catch.
Trask already has 2 touchdown passes of 40-plus yards this season, including a 71-yard connection with Pitts in the season-opener.
Pitts has been a nightmare for both defenses he’s faced this season. He is a big part of the reason the Gators have been so efficient in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on 7 of their 11 trips so far.
Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher said in his weekly press conference that Pitts represents a unique challenge because, though he is listed at tight end, he plays as more of a hybrid style.
“He’s so unique,” Fisher said. “He has such versatile skills and can make so many contested catches. If you watch the film, it’s not only him getting open – which he gets open – but when he’s covered he’s still not covered. Trask does a really good job throwing to covered guys and throwing them open. What I mean is throwing the ball where only they can get it and use the size and length and ball skills.
“This guy runs like a wideout. He has really, really good top-end speed, good acceleration and ball skills. They’ll put him out there and back-shoulder fade him. There’s just so many ways he gets the ball. You’ve got to know where he’s at and how to match him.”
Pitts had a perfect example of that Saturday against South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn, one of the SEC’s top corners. Lined up outside, Pitts ran a rather routine 20-yard curl route. Horn was with him every step of the way, but as Pitts turned back for the football, he essentially used his 6-6, 240-pound frame to box out Horn, make the catch and pick up a first down.
Florida TE Kyle Pitts when lined up out wide in 2020 (@PFF_College)
4 catches (2 TD, other 2 were 1D)
3 explosive plays of 15+ yards (no other FBS TE has more than 1)
This man can do it all pic.twitter.com/Q8MvZ3zaFa
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) October 4, 2020
Carolina CB Jaycee Horn can't do anything more than what he did there, and Kyle Pitts still bodied him for a 20-yard back-shoulder catch. #Gators
— G. Allan Taylor (@GAllanTaylor) October 3, 2020
The Aggies will need to devise a scheme to minimize his effectiveness if they hope to have a chance Saturday. But if the last game is any indication, it might be another long Saturday in College Station. A&M will need to hope its players look at Alabama as an opportunity to get better. They are largely inexperienced in the secondary, with sophomores Erick Young and Demani Richardson and freshman Jaylon Jones all playing big roles.
The Aggies were a slightly above average pass defense a year ago, ranking 41st among FBS teams. So it’s important to remember not to overreact after one bad game. However, Fisher is aware the team can’t have a repeat of last week if it hopes to win.
“I thought they played the run well but gave up big plays in the passing game,” Fisher said. “Two of them on 3rd-and-8 and then another on 2nd-and-22. We need to contest the balls in our alignments a little bit better in those situations.”
As much as fans are quick to blame quarterback Kellen Mond for the Aggies’ struggles this season, the defense has to do its part. Mond can have the game of his life and still potentially lose if his defense gives up 50 again.
Against Florida, A&M has to find a way to slow one of the most effective passing attacks in the country. Easier said than done.