College Station, TX (CBS DFW)- Fresh off a bye week, the Texas A&M Aggies face their biggest test of the season, when the #1 Alabama Crimson Tide invade Kyle Field for an SEC matchup.
The Aggies have lost six straight against the Tide, with the last win coming in the famous Johnny Manziel game back in 2012. This year’s game will depend a lot on the play of Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond, who has been up-and-down through five games this season. Mond is completing 64 percent of his passes, for just over 1,300 yards, with 10 touchdowns. From a numbers perspective, that looks great. But Mond struggled against Clemson and didn’t really get into rhythm until late in the game against Auburn, when the Aggies made a late push.
Looking at Mond’s play this season, CBS Sports Network college football host Brent Stover says that the vertical passing game has continued to be the biggest issue for the Aggies QB.
“Vertical throwing down the field. That was the issue last year as well,” said Stover. “It just hasn’t matched up so far between he and Jimbo Fisher. I don’t know what it is.”
Granted, Mond has been hurt by receiver drops this season as well, with 15 dropped passes through five games. Stover adds that losing running back Deshaun Corbin in Week 1 certainly hasn’t helped matters, as the Aggies really haven’t been able to get the ground game going, averaging just 130 yards per game. That average is skewed by a pair of 200-plus-yard performances against Texas State and Lamar. Outside of those two contests, the Aggies have averaged just 66 yards per game on 2.4 yards per carry in losses to Clemson and Auburn and the win over Arkansas.
The last thing you want to be against Alabama is one-dimensional. But there is some hope for the Aggies offense, as the Tide defense has been susceptible to some bigger plays this season.
“Alabama has shown a propensity, especially on the back end of the defense, to give up chunk plays and points. Ole Miss was able to score 31 against them. Three weeks ago South Carolina scored 23,” said Stover. “Alabama has gotten off to slow starts a couple of times. I would say you have to get off to a fast start and get a couple of turnovers, which is always the case against Alabama. That’s the formula for Texas A&M.”
That formula will be slightly harder to keep to, due to the efficiency of Alabama’s offense so far this year. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is firmly in the midst of a Heisman campaign, completing over 76 percent of his passes for 1,700 yards, while sporting an absurd 23 touchdowns with zero, yes zero, interceptions. The quartet of receiving threats remains the same, with juniors Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III along with sophomore Jaylen Waddle. Among those four, it has been a pick-your-poison kind of season, with each having games in which they have gone off against opposing defenses. Waddle has the lowest yardage total of the group (197), and the other three are all over 360 yards receiving already.
That firepower makes for a game in which the Aggies offense becomes even more important, as it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to slow the Tide. Defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s group has done a nice job so far limiting opposing quarterbacks to right around 60 percent completions and under 200 yards per game. But they haven’t faced an attack as explosive as the Tide yet. The closest comparison is the Clemson game, and Trevor Lawrence completed 68 percent of his passes for 268 yards and a touchdown there.
“It’s going to have to be a shootout. Tua is completing 76 percent and is closing in on 2,000 yards passing already this season,” said Stover. “Those receivers are bored out there playing rock, paper, scissors for who gets to go off any week. Devonta Smith has been the latest guy. Unbelievable video game numbers from he and Jeudy and Ruggs and Waddle. I don’t see any stopping them.”
Right now, oddsmakers see the Tide as 16.5-point favorites entering the game, with the over/under set at 61 points. If the Aggies are going to win, it’s likely to be a shootout. Stover, however, agrees with the sharps in Las Vegas.
“But, in the end, I think Alabama is going to do what they do against every team,” said Stover. “They’re going to pull away and win by two or three touchdowns.”
Whether or not he’s right remains to be seen.
#24 Texas A&M hosts #1 Alabama on Saturday, October 12th with kickoff scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Central Time on CBS.