So, that wasn’t very encouraging. Texas A&M did beat Vanderbilt in its SEC season opener, but the Aggies certainly didn’t foster a sense of optimism in a sluggish 17-12 win. Now they have to go from possibly the SEC’s worst team to the league’s best team.
By Matt Zemek
They go from College Station to Tuscaloosa to face the Alabama Crimson Tide. There are lots of different game keys the Aggies need to tend to, but if one had to pick only three keys, these would make the cut:
1 – Kellen Mond
It’s really very simple: Kellen Mond has to become a fully realized, fully evolved quarterback for the A&M project to be successful this year. There’s no positive scenario which doesn’t involve a Mond resurgence. The Aggies can’t win against good teams if Mond is ordinary. That world doesn’t exist. Mond can’t be a bystander or a peripheral figure if the 2020 Aggies are going to be especially good. It’s more than the simple fact that he plays quarterback; the bigger point to make is that Mond has athletic and physical skills. There is a lot of potential in his bones and marrow; other coaches manage to unleash that potential. Jimbo Fisher is getting paid a truckload of money precisely to turn players such as Kellen Mond into Heisman Trophy candidates who change the equation – and raise the ceiling of possibility – for Texas A&M. That Fisher has utterly whiffed to this point in time doesn’t mean the party’s over. Maybe Week 1 was just an exercise in shaking off the rust while not giving Alabama too much to look at in game film… but it’s hard to think an underwhelming performance was an aberration. We’ve seen far too many underwhelming performances from a Mond-and-Fisher A&M offense as it is.
The time for waiting is over. If the best version of Kellen Mond is there, hiding somewhere, it has to emerge in broad daylight against Alabama. Period.
2 – Receivers making huge plays
Even if Mond isn’t brilliant in this game, he will – one would think – throw long passes to try to hit some home runs against Alabama’s secondary. When this happens, A&M’s receivers have to win 50-50 balls in the air. They have to beat the Alabama corners and safeties at the catch point and make above-average plays which bail out Mond and change the temperature in Bryant Denny Stadium. If A&M’s receivers play their very best, Mond’s margin for error increases, and the feeling surrounding the A&M offense – especially in the huddle and on the sideline – could change in a very positive way for the Aggies.
3 – Containing Alabama’s receivers
Alabama’s 1-2 punch at wide receiver is going to be hard for any defense to contain. The fact that A&M shut down Vanderbilt in the season opener doesn’t offer a genuine measurement of the defense’s ability to shut down Alabama. The Tide exist in an entirely different universe compared to Vanderbilt. Alabama’s best offensive position group in 2019 was its wide receiver room, and that might be true again in 2020 with Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith. The two players combined for 16 catches (eight apiece) for 223 yards and two touchdowns in Alabama’s win over Missouri. If those statistics are replicated against Texas A&M, the Aggies won’t have much of a chance. They need to shut down the big play and reduce the yards-per-catch average for Waddle and Smith. Let’s see if the Aggies can get that average down to nine yards per catch. It was 14 yards per catch against Mizzou.
Saturday‘s game kicks off at 2:30 PM CT (3:30 PM ET). Watch on the CBS Network.