This week’s Q&A comes to us from Lucas Jackson at Good Bull Hunting. GBH is one of the funnier sites on the network and has a large, active following (good tailgates, too, as I can personally attest.) Check them out at their SBN Home, and you can follow GBH on Twitter at @GBhunting, while Lucas Jackson is at @Coolhand_Lucas
1. Saban has a yearly refrain about Texas A&M. Paraphrased it goes: "This is the most talented team we'll play all year/best team we played to date." On paper, that is usually true. So, what does this year's iteration of Texas A&M do that makes it a good team?
The critical phrase in that statement is “to date.” Sumlin has done a great job increasing A&M’s overall talent level, but A&M is not a “good” team. Last year was the year to shoot our shot, and we missed. That said, this team does two things relatively well: run the ball, and stop the run. The Aggies have also excelled in forcing turnovers and limiting their own. That can keep you in a lot of games, but it will not blow anyone away. We are right where we should be for now, in the “receiving votes” also-rans.
2. The quarterback controversy was resolved when first Nick Starkel and then Jake Hubenak went down with injury. What are Kellen Mond's strengths? Weaknesses? What does he need to do to be successful?
Kellen Mond’s strengths, like Jalen Hurts, revolve around his incredible athleticism. This causes people like Gary Danielson to overlook the fact that he has great arm strength and accuracy. This is counterbalanced by his inexperience, which leads to hesitation and holding the ball too long, a luxury he will not have against the Tide. However, you can see that the game has begun to slow down for him, and his is seeing the field better and gaining confidence. To be successful against Bama he needs to do two things: not overthink, and react quickly. Just look to his first and second reads, and if they aren’t there, just try to make a broken play and keep the chains moving.
3. After finishing last season 56th in S&P defense, it looks like the Texas A&M defense has taken a step back this year: 76th in total defense and 80th in scoring defense (28.0 PPG.) What has contributed to the regression? It's not all attributable to the loss of Myles Garrett, right?
As you know there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. The A&M defense is much better than the numbers show. The passing defense has been hammered early due to A&M playing multiple freshmen corners and the loss of Donovan Wilson to injury. Armani Watts has been forced to overcompensate at times trying to make big plays, resulting in some blown coverages. A&M has a deep defensive line rotation that is coming into its own. Linebackers Tyrel Dodson and Otaro Alaka are having their best years as well. In short, the front seven has been stellar, dominating UCLA, Arkansas, and South Carolina, but overloading against the run has resulted in the secondary being toasted at times.
4. Texas A&M has one of the nation's top tandem of backs in Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford (for my money, the best backfield not in Tuscaloosa.) And the duo is logging some serious mileage too: The Aggies' are 14th in rushing offense and pound the rock 48 times per game. Who else gets carries in Ags' ground-friendly offense?
Kendall Bussey, a sophomore back out of New Orleans will get some looks as well. The offensive staff loves his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, and focused on getting him touches last week. You can expect Mond to carry the rock a bit more as well.
5. We know by now not to kick to the nation's most dangerous returner, Christian Kirk. What do the rest of the special teams look like?
A&M’s special teams, coached by Jeff Banks, have been nothing short of outstanding. Placekicker Daniel LaCamera has been solid, except for missing a crucial late game FG at UCLA that would have iced the game. Punter Shane Tripucka is a Good Bull Hunting favorite, and extremely reliable as well. The coverage units are also solid, led by former walk on and current 12th man, Cullen Gillaspia, who is long-haired, uncaring, headhunting savage.
6. Is Kevin Sumlin on as hot a seat as fans like to claim or does he enjoy greater protection within the A&M administration? What do the Aggies need to do this season for his job to be safe?
Make no mistake, the seat is very hot. While Coach Sumlin has done wonders to bring the program back from the depths of the Sherman and Franchione eras, and has increased the talent level on the roster significantly, he hasn’t been able to break out of the SEC West pack. A&M is not Arkansas, Ole Miss, or Mississippi State. It expects more. Coach Sumlin knows this, and he knows he hasn’t gotten us there.
Prior to this year I was in Sumlin’s corner. However, after the UCLA debacle I am on the fence. Infamy lasts a lot longer than fame, and you can’t have debacles like that and survive. To redeem himself, Sumlin must beat some good teams and finish at least 8-4 (5-3) in the SEC. That means beating one of Florida/Auburn/Alabama/LSU, and sweeping Mississippi. That, with a bowl win should suffice to keep him employed for now since the team is so young, but it will not cool down his seat.
7. Even if Sumlin returns next year, is it safe to assume that the coordinators will not?
If Sumlin stays the coordinators will stay, unless they leave on their own. [OC] Mazzone is loathed, but no more quick fixes. If Sumlin can’t compete for the West next year with this roster, he’s done.
8. No score prediction or anything, but how does this game play out under the Kyle Field lights?
The Aggies have made some progress, but we are not a good team. We struggle to pass the ball when teams make us, and Saban’s defense will be more complex than anything Mond’s handled so far. Hopefully, Bama will sleepwalk a bit and we can keep it within two scores for most of the game.
We have enough bodies to hang with the Tide for awhile, so I give us a puncher’s chance at best. If we can get five turnovers and some lucky bounces, anything is possible.
Thanks again to Lucas and the folks at Good Bull Hunting