The Texas A&M Aggies were the second-best team in the SEC West last season. It seems they aren’t going to be able to replicate that feat this season.
By Matt Zemek
However, Alabama is just around the corner, giving the Aggies a chance to prove that their rough and difficult September was just one bad month and not an indication of a season filled with suffering. A&M has to engineer a turnaround, and that process begins with this week’s game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs. There is a lot for A&M to deal with. It can’t fix everything at once. It has to focus on particular points of need. Start with these three components:
1 – Be Willing To Make Mistakes
This sounds like the exact opposite of how a team needs to think about offense heading into the Alabama game, but given where the Aggies currently stand, it’s exactly how they have to approach their offense against Mississippi State.
We will never know what the Aggies would have been able to achieve if Haynes King hadn’t gotten hurt, but the what-if game means nothing at this point. A&M has to go to the dance with the resources it has, and find a way to make those resources mean something. The Zach Calzada offense we have seen the past few weeks is not just bad, it’s impotent and – worst of all – scared. The Aggies are playing scared and coaching scared. Calzada isn’t QB1 for a reason. We get that. However, an SEC West program – especially with A&M’s resources and Jimbo Fisher’s enormous compensation package – should not be so utterly helpless with a QB2 on the field. A lot of money is being shelled out to Fisher to have a strong quarterback room and, more than that, a culture and methodology in which excellence, not survival, is expected.
A&M under Calzada is trying to survive games on offense rather than win them. Downfield shots, aggressive plays, and an ambitious approach are nowhere to be found. The play mixture and overall scheme indicate an emphasis on avoiding mistakes instead of going out there and making big plays. A&M didn’t pay Jimbo Fisher a gazillion bucks for this.
Go ahead: Be willing to make mistakes. Alabama won’t be beaten with a cautious, timid offense. Against Mississippi State, A&M’s defense can hold the fort. The offense has to be willing to go out on a limb and take risks, because that is what it will have to do against big, bad Bama.
2 – Nontraditional running plays
If a straightforward running game can be bottled up by Arkansas (except for one play), it will probably not be good enough against Alabama. Texas A&M and Fisher need to give Nick Saban a lot to look at on film. They need to run the ball from different angles with different players. Having wide receivers run the ball, and using a pitch running game as well as a handoff running game, with new formations and variations built in, can create enough confusion that Alabama might have problems making reads before the snap. If A&M wants to set up the Alabama game properly, it needs to begin to do things it hadn’t previously considered.
3 – Base defense
It’s on defense where A&M needs to win this game simply, without having to resort to a lot of looks. Mike Elko needs to sit back in coverage against the Mike Leach passing game, strangle it, and save the dynamic, complicated maneuvers for Alabama, in the hope of confusing Bryce Young. A&M needs to evolve on offense and be vanilla on defense in its lead-up to the Alabama game the following week.