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Alabama vs. Texas A&M Preview: When the Aggies have the ball

Can this year’s Aggies match their 2021 offensive output against Alabama?

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Texas A&M Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

Averaging all of 21.8 points per game so far, the Texas A&M Aggies have sported one of the worst offenses in the country, and even worse than Auburn for dead last in the SEC. Of course, Jimbo Fisher continues to be the head coach as well as the offensive coordinator/playcaller for the Aggies, so all blame for the horrid output thus far falls on the $100,000,000 man.

Jimbo has an offensive scheme that has been well observed and documented for many, many years. Sure, he traded out the full back for the shotgun, but many of his route concepts, timings, and play sequencing have remained over the decades. It’s an offense designed to hit a run play or two, then spread out and keep the chains moving with quick slants and hitches and routinely keeping the running back involved in the passing game on the edges of the defense.

Sound familiar?

That’s becuase it’s extremely similar to Alabama’s current OC, Bill O’Brien’s, philosophy.

It’s complicated. it requires strict timing from a lot of receivers, and it asks a lot of quick decision making from the QB. It can very tough for a defense to truly counter, but it also requires consistent, repeated execution to keep drives alive until a dynamic running back can make someone miss and break off a big run.

Problem is, these college QBs just aren’t Tom Brady. They’re going to get spooked by blitzes. They’re going to miss easy throws. And when an offense is built on having to use all three plays to get each first down, the margin for error is just too small.

But, anyway, back to the Aggies.

RB Devon Achane is the main weapon for Texas A&M. He’s a tiny back with a crazy track background, but don’t let that fool you, he’s balanced and powerful and extremely difficult to bring to the ground. He’ll disappear into a gaping maw of linemen, then suddenly squirt out the side and out race everyone down the field. He’s averaging nearly 7 yards per rush in his 250 career carries, and, on top of being the team’s main rusher, he’s also second on the team in receptions. He’ll split out wide in 5WR sets, and either take a quick screen pass against zone coverage, or will go deep if he gets isolated with a linebacker.

The Aggies haven’t really found a backup to rotate in yet, but highly touted freshman Le’Veon Moss did get a surprise 1st quarter carry last week.

The receiving crew took a huge hit when Ainias Smith went out with injury. The electric RB/WR hybrid has torched Alabama’s defense the last two years in a row by forcing mismatches down the field. With him out for likely the remainder of the season, the Aggies have turned pretty much solely to Evan Stewart, a 5-star freshman who leads the team with 18 catches for 197 yards. He’s had some drop issues but has overall been a dynamic player.

Past that? Sophomore Moose Muhammed returns as the team’s main punt returner and has increased his role as a receiver. It hasn’t translated to much production yet, but he’s definitely a good player with the ball in his hands. Junior Chase Lane had a big freshman season two years ago but was a non-factor in 2021 and has only a few catches this season. And Yulkeith Brown is the other starter.... And that’s about all I have on him.

Freshman tight end Donovan Green has been a pleasant surprise so far, racking up 9 catches and nearly 100 yards. He’s not the athletic mismatch that Jalen Wydermeyer was the last couple of years, but he’s definitely a polished player as a freshman.

And then there’s the quarterback(s). Haynes King has long been the one that Aggie fans pined after while he was injured, but the dynamic QB has been just as likely to give the ball to the other team than his own receivers. He’s thrown 4 interceptions on only 64 attempts, with an 8.0 yards per attempt rate. King was ultimately benched for LSU transfer Max Johnson.

The lefty is exactly who he was down in the bayou, too. He’s a decent enough scrambler with his long legs and is careful with the ball. Of course, that also means he’s prone to hold the ball... and hold it... and hold it. In only 2.5 games, he’s taken 10 sacks already and only getting 7.3 yards per pass attempt.

But wait, it gets even more intriguing. Johnson left the game early last week with a hand injury (King came in and promptly threw two interceptions), and Jimbo has been quite unclear as to whether he’ll be playing this week. Like master like apprentice, I guess.

When Fisher was pressed about if King would start he replied “I don’t know. We’ll go day to day...what do you want me to do? Call Nick (Alabama head coach Nick Saban) and tell him?”

“Again, I don’t talk to Jimbo on a regular basis but I’ll call him and tell him right after this conference if you want me to,” Saban said. “I mean, you guys think I’m going to tell you what we’re going to do with our offense and our team? You might as well make it up.”

In any case, fans are already starting to call for some playing time for 5-star freshman Connor Weigman. He hasn’t seen the field yet, but can’t be too much worse, really.

Last year, I said that the Aggie offense led by Zach Calzada probably wouldn’t challenge Alabama’s defense too badly, even with weapons like Ainias Smith, Wydermeyer, and Achane.

Calzada wound up playing the best game of his life, of course, but Smith and Wydermeyer are also gone, and the King/Johnson duo are likely even worse than normal Calzada. This really should not be a very pretty game for the Aggie offense.

Achane might break off a big run or happen to get down field on a bad matchup, but other than that, I expect a mostly total domination from the Tide defense. We’ll say 16 points for the Aggies. If they get more than that, it was probably a defense or special teams touchdown/good field position.

Roll Tide!