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Alabama Football 2017 Opponent Offensive Preview: Texas A&M

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It’s still the same Kevin Sumlin offense, but is lacking a Johnny Manziel and a Mike Evans

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Texas A&M Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

On the stat sheet, the Texas A&M Aggies’ offense actually looks pretty similar to Alabama’s: 193 pass yards/game, 255 rush yards/game, and 37 points/game. In fact, they’re arguably the best offense in the SEC behind Bama.

Though the results have been similar (though not as impressive and Alabama’s, obviously), it’s a totally different offensive look. A&M nearly always has 4 receivers to spread out across the entire field with a running back beside the QB in the shotgun. More often than not, one receiver will be in motion, ready to receive a jet sweep, be a decoy, or get out to the flats for a check down option or swing screen.

The running game is the bread and butter of this offense, and you’ll see a bevy of carries out of shotgun from the dual-headed rushing threat of Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford. Williams is a smaller, shiftier back who, in 2016, was the first freshman in A&M history to get 1000 rushing yards. Ford is bigger, at 215, and is an explosive, slashing back. The two have combined for 684 yards and 12 touchdowns so far this year.

Sophomore Kendall Bussey is the primary back-up for those two, and is a trusted runner in the Aggie offense, even in early-game situations. He has 218 yards of his own, and actually has the best yards per carry of the three, sitting at 6.1 on the season.

With the receiver sweeps, screens, and other backwards passes being such a large part of the offense, many of the receivers can just about count as a running back on any given play. Veteran slot receiver Christian Kirk is extremely dangerous with the ball in his hands, and is most often the featured player in those situations. His back-up, freshman Roshauud Paul, looks to be the heir apparent and will regularly rotate in to be the motion man.

And of course, the running game would not be complete without the contributions of freshman Kellen Mond, who took over for Nick Starkel after a broken leg in week 1. Mond was one of the top-rated dual threats in high school, and has shown that with his 51 rushes for 252 yards so far this year. He’s lightning quick and can turn a collapsing pocket into a 20 yard scramble in the blink of an eye, and is also dangerous on QB keepers.

The passing game, however, is a bit less refined. Mond is completing only 54.8% of his passes, despite most of the passing game being centered around screens, curls, and slants— all passes under 7 yards or so. On longer developing passing plays, Mond is much more likely to get antsy and scramble out to either throw the ball away or gain a few yards than he is to attempt a downfield pass.

As such, the passing game relies heavily on the receivers to be able to make plays with the ball in their hands— an area where Christian Kirk excels. The junior leads the team with 23 catches for 264 yards and 4 touchdowns. He’s flanked by senior Damion Ratley and freshman Jhamon Ausbon.

Ratley has been an occasional contributor over the last few years, but has finally broke into a starting role this year. He’s been explosive so far, gain 196 yards on only 9 catches. Ausbon has been a pleasant freshman surprise, and has become the clear second target to Kirk, catching 18 balls for 199 yards.

The Aggies return an experienced offensive line, despite having no seniors. Junior Left tackle Koda Martin was a primary backup in both 2015 and 2016 who nabbed a few starts due to injuries. Left guard Colton Prater and center Erik McCoy are a pair of sophomores who both were full-time starters as freshmen last year. McCoy was named to the Freshman All-SEC team.

Junior right guard Connor Lanfear was a key back up as a freshman, and became a starter last year for the first 8 games before ending his season with a knee injury. He’s returned at full health this year to pick up where he left off. Junior right tackle became the starter as freshman a couple of years ago, but eventually fell out of favor and only got 7 starts that season. He filled in at the end of 2016 after Lanfear was injured, and has worked his way back into the starting line up this year.

This is a team that is highly dependent on the running game and receivers’ after the catch ability. They’ll be able to pick up some first downs and squeak by more 3rd down conversions to extend drives than we expect, but I don’t see them being able to pick up huge chunks of yardage in crunch time. This plays right into the strengths of the Alabama defense, and as such, I don’t think it’s very likely they score more than 17 points.