The Texas A&M Aggies aren’t going to play in a big bowl game. They very likely aren’t going to win 10 games this season (though they still could if they win out). They have failed to improve their home-field record in College Station from the Kevin Sumlin years. They have fallen short of their targets, and they know it.
By Matt Zemek
Yet, A&M still has some five-star battles left to fight this season. The Aggies have Georgia and LSU remaining on their schedule. This weekend’s game against South Carolina serves a specific purpose: to get the Aggies ready for the bigger battles which lie ahead. If A&M can at least split the Georgia and LSU games, which are both on the road, the Aggies and Jimbo Fisher can enter 2020 knowing that they will have at least achieved something. They lost to Clemson, Alabama and Auburn. They knew their five games against big-name opponents would be tough. Winning at least one of the five would give this team something to carry into bowl season and spring ball. How can the Aggies use the South Carolina game as the ramp to the improvement they need?
1 – Test Kellen Mond
This is nothing particularly new, but A&M can’t go into Athens or Baton Rouge and expect to beat Georgia or LSU by winning a 17-10 game (okay, maybe Georgia, but still, I don’t think a rock fight is the game A&M is best suited to play). Jimbo Fisher, if he is to eventually turn around the Texas A&M program, has to insist on more, not less, from his quarterback. He can’t just have a game manager. He needs someone who can sling the rock. He has to get his quarterback to strike the proper balance between proper decision making and exploiting a defense for the largest possible gain. He can’t coach a quarterback who becomes Captain Checkdown.
South Carolina’s offense is weak enough that Texas A&M should feel confident enough in its defense to defend the short fields which might result from Mond interceptions. This is a game in which the caliber of opponent should lead A&M and Fisher to take MORE chances, not fewer chances. This is a football laboratory in which to cultivate a sense of fearlessness which carries into Athens and then Baton Rouge. If A&M is cautious here, there would be no reason to expect a more liberated approach against Georgia or LSU, and that begins with Mond learning how to be responsible and aggressive at the same time, something he really hasn’t yet done as an Aggie.
2 – Wait out South Carolina’s offense
If there is a side of the ball where A&M should be more cautious or conservative in this game, it is on defense. South Carolina has had noticeable problems finishing drives this season. As long as A&M isn’t giving up the big play, it should be fine here. Moreover, playing safer defenses against an opponent with a bad red-zone profile also has the benefit of not giving Georgia or LSU a clear idea of what to expect. The more complicated and aggressive defensive tactics from coordinator Mike Elko should come when Georgia and LSU don’t expect them. Why go deep into the playbook this week? It shouldn’t be necessary.
3 – Third downs
South Carolina might not do well in the red zone, but the Gamecocks do control the ball. They produced a number of drives against Appalachian State last week which took nine or more plays. Those drives generally didn’t result in touchdowns, but they did keep App State’s offense off the field and played a role in limiting the Mountaineers to just 202 yards of offense. Texas A&M doesn’t want its offense to be kept off the field. The Aggies need to keep their defense fresh; third downs will be vital in that effort.