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Alabama Football vs Texas A&M Preview: When the Aggies have the Ball

Ainias Smith and Jalen Wydermyer return... But will it be enough?

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Texas A&M Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Man, where to start with this Texas A&M offense?

They returned quite a few of the best skill players in the SEC from 2020, and yet.... 101st in the nation in points per game. That’s... not good. Not at all.

We’ll start with the good, though. At running back, the Aggies bring back Isaiah Spiller for his 3rd year, and the dynamic back is an all-around player with back to back seasons of getting right at 1000 yards on the ground. He’s fast, tough to tackle, will fight for yards, and is absurdly excellent at finding cutback lanes in their zone blocking scheme.

As Spiller goes, so too does the offense. He’s just a great running back. Behind him is speedy sophomore Devon Achane, who’s averaging a ridiculous 7 yards per attempt. Achane is a small back (5’9” 185) with track speed an some background as a wide receiver. He’s used as a change of pace back, and can jet down the field for a whole lot of yards in the blink of an eye.

There’s also Ainias Smith, who might be the best player on the whole roster. Smith was a wide receiver his freshman year before converting to running back last year and absolutely torching the Alabama defense out of the backfield. He’s converted back to wide receiver this year, and is working out of the slot as the Aggie’s top receiving option. He’s got 20 catches for 200 yards so far, and is the go-to guy on crossers to pick up critical third downs.

Uber-athlete tight end Jalen Wydermyer returns for his junior season after racking up 500 yards in each of his previous two years. He’s way faster than a 255-lb tight end has any right to be, and is the team’s next leading receiver with 15 catches for 176 yards. Wydermyer is often trying to work a little further downfield, running seams and corners to try and get linebackers isolated trying to run long distances with him.

After that, though, things start getting dicey for the Aggies.

The next two leading receivers are.... Spiller and Achane.

So we have the starting running back, the backup running back, a converted RB/Slot WR hybrid, and a tight end as the leading pass catchers for A&M. Notice anything missing?

Chase Lane returns from a decent season last year, but has only 9 catches so far. Demond Demas is a highly talented 5-star redshirt freshman with some nice ability to make things happen after the catch, but he spent a lot of spring suspended, and had a horrendous drop at on the first drive last week.

Jalen Preston is the most veteran of the group and has good size and tackle breaking ability, but has yet to make too much impact.

Overall, a group with some talent, for sure, but they’ve barely had the opportunity to do much. And therein lies the rub with this Aggie offense... Someone has to throw the ball to these guys for them to be able to make plays.

Haynes King went into the season as the starter, but wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire before he was knocked out in week 2 against Colorado. In comes Zach Calzada, who’s completed 54% of his passes for 744 yards at a very sad 5.8 yards per attempt. He’s also thrown 4 interceptions already.

Calzada has talent. He’s a fairly proficient runner that can pick up a nice chunk of yards if the defense leaves him room, and he’s got a cannon for an arm. He can make a lot of throws on all levels of the field, including fades to the back corner of the endzone.

The problem for Calzada has been a glacial decision making process and bad footwork with even a hint of pressure. He’s struggled to effectively run the RPO, often double clutches and hesitates when receivers are open, and then will try to force the throw after the defensive back has already recovered. He wasn’t really expected to be the starter, so some yips can be forgiven, but it hasn’t really improved for him after 3.5 games.

Along the offensive line, the Aggies are a bit of a mystery. More often than not, you’ll see them dominate 1v1 matchups, especially along the left side in the run game. On the other hand, they’ve been extremely vulnerable to even basic blitzes and stunts, and have let way too many free rushers shoot right between gaps. The right tackle spot has also been a bit vulnerable to pure speed rushes.

Schematically, I actually like what Jimbo Fisher has been trying to do. He runs a nice, multiple balance of shotgun, pistol, and even getting under center to try and get different looks and timings for Spiller and the run game.

A lot of playaction is run off of that, with Achane and Smith often being used to cross the formation in the opposite direction of Spiller. Calzada often gets a moving pocket with those play actions, with multi-level drag routes crossing up the defense and rolling with him.

The downfield passing game is almost non-existent, though, so as long as a defense can keep Wydermyer from sneaking past them and clamp down on the first down line, Calzada is likely to force a bad throw.

Smith and Wydermyer both torched the Alabama defense last year... Though the main culprit of both of those guys’ big day is now on the bench. And that was with senior QB Kellen Mond, who, while never great, was a solid QB for many years.

This time around, the Alabama defense is much improved. As long as they can play disciplined enough up front to not let Spiller hit those cut backs, which in turn opens up some play action passes, then it could be a very, very long day for the Aggie offense.

I expect Will Anderson to go full scorched earth on their right tackle, and Pete Golding will likely blitz early and often to test the OL’s communication and try to rattle Calzada into making some back breaking mistakes.

I can’t see that Aggies scoring more than 17 points in this one.