With only three games under Jimbo Fisher’s belt at his new program, and the Clemson Tigers the only opponent of consequence, there isn’t a ton of data to draw from when previewing the Aggie offense. Leopards rarely change their spots, however, and we are already seeing some of the same tendencies from last season’s preview of Florida State.
First and foremost, Fisher continues to be the master of window dressing, particularly multiple formations, to confuse defenses and create matchups. From the first quarter against Clemson, we have the pistol...
old school I-formation with twins to the short side...
and a double wing empty set.
Showing so many formations makes it especially difficult for opponents to use film study and memorize tendencies from all of the different looks. Fisher prefers a balanced attack, willing to run or throw from any of the above, and he has managed to achieve it thus far this season.
#11 Kellen Mond, So.
It was widely considered an upset when Mond was named the starter over Nick Starkel, who Mond had lost the job to last season and watched as Starkel lit up Wake Forest for 499 passing yards. Fisher has always valued mobility at the position, however, which is something that Starkel doesn’t offer. Early returns on Mond have been positive overall with a 62% completion percentage and a solid 162.9 passer rating. He hasn’t simply padded his stats against cupcakes either, as he lit up Clemson for 430 yards and three TDs with no interceptions. He keeps his eyes downfield and scrambles to buy time, but also has over 100 rushing yards on the young season including 67 in his last game, so Tosh Lupoi and Pete Golding will have to account for his legs as well.
The knock on Mond is that he isn’t the best at reading defenses and, despite the big numbers, that showed up at times against Clemson. He was probably fortunate not to have a pick or two in that one, with one glaring example shown in the WR section below. It will be critical for Alabama to be in the right calls against the various formations to keep Mond from having wide open primary reads as he frequently did against the Tigers. It’s not a stretch to say that the competitiveness of the game hinges on whether Mond can protect the ball and convert third downs against a defense that has allowed only 24.5% conversions on third and has six takeaways in three games, including three from Ole Miss QB Jordan Ta’amu last week.
Alabama included, many teams around the country now utilize a running back by committee approach to keep legs fresh. That’s isn’t the case here, as star junior Trayveon Williams (above) carries the mail. Williams is playing the Dalvin Cook role in Fisher’s offense, with at least 20 touches in every game thus far. He is a solidly built scat-back type, listed at a probably generous 5’9” and 200 lbs. He has shown outstanding vision throughout his career and is difficult to bring down. He comes in with 59 carries for 399 yards, a 6.8 average, and another 42 yards on four catches. We will hear his name quite a bit on Saturday.
Backing up Williams are freshman Jashaun Corbin and senior Kwame Etwi, but it will be a surprise if either has a major role on Saturday.
The Aggies have spread the ball around this season, but four players stand out. The leader of the pack statistically has been Sophomore Jhamon Ausbon, a 6’2” 200 lb. high four-star from football factory IMG Academy. He has 13 catches for 201 yards, used as more of a possession guy thus far. Fellow sophomore Camron Buckley is a burner, averaging over 18 a catch including a robust 4/93 vs. Clemson. The red zone targets have gone to TE Jace Sternberger, who has three TDs among his 10 receptions, and sophomore Kendrick Rogers who is pictured above.
Rogers is a local hero, hailing from some place called Frankston, TX and was rated only three stars coming out of high school. He had a massive breakout game against Clemson, bringing in seven receptions for 120 yards and two TDs. He has a huge catch radius, and if he needs a nickname, perhaps “The Bondsman” would be appropriate as he bailed out Kellen Mond on a few occasions. The play of the game against Clemson was an incredible TD grab, on a ball off of Mond’s back foot and into traffic that absolutely should never have been thrown on first down.
These are the kinds of plays that can turn a game, and Rogers has that kind of ability. He sat out last week’s game vs. Lousiana-Monroe with what appears to be a foot injury, but Fisher says that he’s “good to go.” This is a very talented group of receivers and will present another big test for a Tide secondary that showed out on Saturday.
The offensive tackles were the key question coming into the season for the Ags. Both are big, former three-star prospect sophomores who saw time last season. LT Dan Moore, Jr. played in eight games and started one, while RT Carson Green won a job late in the season and ended up with four starts. They aren’t terribly polished as of yet and Mond understandably had some outside pressure from the ferocious Clemson front seven. Anfernee Jennings and SEC Defensive player of the week Christian Miller should have some opportunities in this one.
The interior of the line is a team strength. Center Erik McCoy is a three-year starter who will be playing on Sundays when his college days are done. Having an experienced leader in the middle is always a great start. He will be flanked by senior Keaton Sutherland, a massive 315-lb. fourth year starter, and sophomore Jared Hocker, who beat out senior incumbent Connor Lanflear in camp. It will be fun to watch these guys compete with the Tide front, particularly the McCoy matchup with breakout NT Quinnen Williams.
This is a group that can burn you in a lot of ways. The best case scenario for the Tide would be to get up early, forcing them to be one-dimensional. If that happens, Mond is very likely to offer up a gift or two. Considering the Tide’s success on offense thus far, expect Fisher to try and slow the game down a bit with the running game and pick his spots to take shots downfield with his big receivers.