I’m going to steal a little bit from before the opening game of the season here from our friends at GoodBullHunting.com, because nobody knows the Aggies better than they do:
We talked about how losing two of your veteran receivers in the offseason is never ideal (and now a third and fourth with Buckley’s injury and Ausbon opting out), but bringing back your most explosive target in Wydermyer takes the sting out a little, as does all the talent in the receiver group waiting in the wings. The running back room is thin with experience but Spiller only got better as the season progressed and Ainias Smith adds an extra dimension to the backfield. The OL remains mostly intact and of course the man leading the charge will be Kellen Mond. The squad was efficient in 2019, about the same as they were in 2018 and actually better at finishing drives (4.19 points/opportunity vs 3.46). What little big play ability they had in 2018 fell off a cliff though, and the Aggies finished as one of the worst teams in the country as far as explosiveness goes. If the offense under Jimbo is going to take the next step in 2020, everyone knows it will have to be here. Teams dared us to beat them with a deep ball in 2019, and due to a combination of poor throws, lack of team speed, bad routes, and bad luck, the Aggies rarely made them regret it.
In 2019, the Aggies were every bit of a top-15 to top-25 rushing team in most any metric, and they return the leader of that rushing attack in sophomore sparkplug of a running back in Isaiah Spiller. Couple that with QB Kellen Mond’s rushing ability as well as converted receiver Ainias Smith coming switch to running back to play the change-of-pace big play threat to Spiller’s power, and you have all the makings of a powerful rushing unit.
That kind of offense depends on two other factors, though:
- An offensive line that can consistently out-muscle the opponent, and
- A passing game that’s at least enough of a threat to keep defenses from keying in on every run play.
A powerful rushing offense can survive with at least one of those factors being present, but having both really makes it chug along.
Well, remember what I said about the Aggies having a top-ranked rushing unit in almost every metric last season? Almost is the key word there. They struggled some with giving up negative plays. Basically, the runners were really good and really consistent, but the offensive line had their share of issues.
The Aggies return 4/5 of those starters, so we come back to everyone’s favorite conundrum: is it a positive thing to return a whole bunch of starters when those starters weren’t great?
Obviously, an extra year to grow, improve, and build chemistry together comes into play. But it also didn’t show up against Vanderbilt. In fact, while their running backs ripped off big play after big play, they got stuffed for no gain on 32% of their attempts.
Meanwhile, Mond completed 17/28 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown with three(!) fumbles. It’s the SEC in the year 2020, and the Aggies are still over here regularly getting less than 200 passing yards like it’s 2010.
Of course, they lost two receivers from their 2019 starters to the NFL Draft, one more to injury, and one to a Covid opt-out. The four wide receivers who caught a pass against Vandy last week combined for 5 receptions in all of 2019. Tight end Jalen Wydermyer does return though, and he was Mond’s most explosive target last season, so there’s that, at least.
Schematically, Jimbo Fisher runs a very vanilla pro-spread offense. The passing game is based entirely out of shotgun and route combinations are mostly combinations of slants, quick outs, wide receiver screens, and crossers. Basically— keep all throws at less than 7 air yards and don’t give the offensive line the time to give up sacks. They use very little play action or pre-snap movement, so deception is very much not a part of the offense.
They used the pistol formation a couple of plays against Vandy, and they did mix in a few read and speed options for Mond to use his legs. While they were fairly successful, yardage-wise, Mond also lost 2 of his fumbles on those option plays, so don’t look for A&M to really lean into that.
Their most effective offensive option in week 1 was to put both Spiller and Smith on the field at the same time in a 2-back shotgun, and hand off to one while the other fakes going either inside or outside. When either of those guys have the ball and have some space, they’re going to make big plays happen. Of course, the Aggie fans were promised all off-season that the 2-back sets would be a big part of the offense, and were quite frustrated that it was only used on less than 10 plays.
For Alabama’s part, the revamped and uninjured front-seven (first time we’ve been able to say that in Week 2 since 2016) looked extremely explosive against Missouri, chasing ball-carriers to the sideline and generally causing havoc at the mesh point on read-option plays. That spells issues for what should be the strength of the A&M attack.
Meanwhile, unless we see some major improvement from Mond and his wideouts with their collection of drops (there were 5, by my count), it’s hard to see them posing much of a threat to Alabama. There will of course be a little bit of rust shaken off for them after the long offseason, so the Tide probably can’t count on that many drops and will have to make sure the new members of the secondary are ready to secure their tackles on those short outs and slant routes.
Ainais Smith could also pose a bit of a problem, as Fisher likes to send him to the perimenter on screens and swings. If he manages to get Smith isolated out in space against some of the inexperienced secondary members like Jordan Battle, Daniel Wright, or Malachi Moore, he may bust a big play or two. Spiller also will likely slip through the middle of the line once or twice for big gains.
Ultimately, though, if A&M fields the same level of competence on offense they showed against Vanderbilt last week, they won’t score more than a field goal or two. However, they’re a talented roster with a couple of very dangerous running backs and four brand new receivers, so I expect them to improve week-by-week, especially in the passing game.
Mond has consistently put together about 200 yards passing and slightly less than 100 yards rushing against Alabama every year since 2017, never scoring more than 28 or less than 19.
Alabama looks to have a better front seven than any of the last three years, so I expect Mond’s rushing yards to drop a little bit. Let’s go with 20 points for the Aggies.