What’s Left for the Aggies

Jimbo Pointing at Ref

The Aggies are sitting at 5-2 with five official games left.  One of those games is against Alabama Birmingham so let’s just say the Aggies are 6-2 with four SEC games left.  Yes, I’m chalking up that game against UAB as a win.

The Aggies have Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss, and LSU left on their schedule.  Ironically enough all four of those teams played each other this past weekend.  I was able to watch bits and pieces and feel the Aggies can run the table if they play mistake free football.  I doubt that will happen and it’s more likely the Aggies go 3-1 in their final SEC games.  There’s a chance the Aggies go 2-2 as well.

These four games have always been set to be the biggest test of Jimbo’s first year as Aggie coach.  The reality of this season and schedule was the Aggies didn’t have the talent to beat Clemson or Alabama and had more talent to beat Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina.  That’s not to downplay those three teams but the reality is as a team Texas A&M has more talent.  Those were wins all along assuming the team played to its talent level.

So far, this season has played out exactly as one would expect.  Now is when we find out what kind of coach Jimbo Fisher really is.  He’s about to go up against teams with as much if not more talent than Texas A&M.  Ole Miss is not more talented but they have the best passing weapons of any team we have left on the schedule.  We know how bad our secondary is.  We should beat Ole Miss but they can absolutely beat us with how their team is built.

Let’s breakdown each game:

Mississippi State:

There’s a LOT of uncertainties in this game.  I don’t think anyone can quite tell what either team is at this point.  MSU spent a good portion of the season ranked in the Top 25 but now sits at 4-3 and outside the Top 25 after this past weekend’s loss to LSU.  They have wins over Stephen F. Austin, KSU, Louisiana Lafayette, and Auburn.  They have losses against Kentucky, Florida, and LSU.  In those three loses they’ve scored one touchdown.  One touchdown.  LSU has an outstanding defense but I wouldn’t rank UK and Florida’s defenses as stellar.  They’re certainly pretty good defenses but I think the Aggie defense is as good if not better than those two.

This team centers around Nick Fitzgerald on offense.  He reminds me of a Trevor Knight style quarterback.  He’s a suspect passer but he’s a great runner.  He’s got power, speed, and jukes.  Joe Moorhead is the new coach of MSU and runs the offense.  Moorhead likes to pass so Fitzgerald’s inability to pass and ability to run appears to be a mis-match.

Early in the season it was fine as MSU was able to win their first three games in convincing fashion including a win over KSU.  They then went to Kentucky and got pounded 28-7.  The following week came a 13-6 loss to Florida at home.  In that game MSU didn’t score a touchdown.  That’s a good Florida defense but not a great Florida defense.  After five games they were sitting at 5-2 but 1-2 against P5 opponents and 0-2 against SEC teams.

After they lost to Florida they took on Auburn and Moorhead seemed to get back to Fitzgerald’s strengths as he rushed more times than he passed.  Fitzgerald ripped off 197 yards on the ground and 2 touchdowns.  MSU won that game 23-9 which might say more about Auburn than it does MSU’s ability to win with Fitzgerald running.

Last week MSU went to LSU and it appeared MSU wanted to run Fitzgerald more like against Auburn.  Fitzgerald had some nice runs early on but MSU couldn’t find the end zone all game.  Fitzgerald threw some early interceptions that allowed LSU to get a comfortable lead where they basically sat on the ball.  Fitzgerald had a decent day running as he carried the ball 23 times for 140 yards.  Passing wise he was horrible throwing the ball 24 times with only 8 completions and 4 interceptions.  That’s a 33% completion percentage.  In watching the game LSU wasn’t even really jumping routes.  LSU either had good coverage or Fitzgerald didn’t see or didn’t care there was a defender where he was throwing the ball.  He was extremely lazy or ignorant throwing the ball.

Here’s a summary of Nick Fitzgerald statistically against Power 5 opponents this season:

Fitzgerald Stats

He’s 44% in completions, averages 105 yards a game, and has thrown 2 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.  That is HORRIBLE.  Even Trevor Knight wasn’t that bad.  He’s a decent runner averaging 123 yards a game but he only has 3 touchdowns in 5 games with 2 of those coming against Auburn.  This is not the kind of quarterback Joe Moorhead wants.

I think the Aggie defense shuts down the run with no issues.  The key is for the Aggie defensive line along with Dodson and Alaka to continue what they’ve been doing.  Maintain gap integrity and execute assignments.  Don’t try to do too much or improvise as a play is breaking down.  Let your assignment dictate if you’re the one making the play or not.  Don’t give Fitzgerald a seam to run as he can exploit it if he gets to the second level.

Even if Fitzgerald starts to pass I think the Aggie secondary will be just fine.  If the Aggie defense plays like they’ve played all year I don’t see MSU scoring more than 10 points against this defense.  If UK, UF, and LSU can hold them to single digits I expect the same from the Aggie defense.

Defensively the MSU front 7 is experienced and talented but they’re not better than Clemson or Alabama’s front 7.  The Aggies put up 26 and 23 points on those defenses so I expect more of the same here.  In fact, the Aggies have scored more than 20 points in every game all season.  I don’t see how this game is any different.

It won’t be pretty but I think Jimbo is going to do the same thing he’s done all season against opponents not named Clemson and Alabama.  He’s going to come out and chew up clock not trying to do too much on offense letting his defense do what they do.  I think this will be what we thought South Carolina was going to be.  We’ll be up 13-3 at half and then won’t make mistakes in the second half pulling away winning this game 27-10.  It’s entirely possible we hold MSU without a touchdown but I think Moorhead finds a way to break off a big pass play against our defense.

This feels a lot like 2012 when we walked into Starkville.  There were a lot of questions about those teams where the Aggies where ranked 16th coming off an Auburn beatdown and MSU was ranked 17th after a beatdown by Bama the week before.  They were on the downswing and A&M was on a slight upswing after pounding Auburn.  The Aggies won a convincing 38-13 game and we all know what happened after that.  This team won’t do what the 2012 team lighting up college football, but I think this will be a game where we look back and know Jimbo is for real.  It may not happen at the national level but those paying attention will see this game as A&M showing it’s truly different than the past 4 seasons.

Somehow A&M is the underdog in this game so feel free to take the points and wager your house, boat, vehicle and even loved ones.  Jimbo will make sure your money and/or loved ones return with more than you put up as collateral.  Assuming you want more loved ones than you have now.  If not, then just put up cash and personal property.

Auburn:

I have no clue what to make of Auburn.  They’re more talented than their record indicates but they’re just disjointed.  This is basically a normal Gus Malzahn team other than when he catches lightening in a bottle.  He’s only done that twice winning 10 games in 5 seasons.  At best he goes 9-3 this season but that would include wins over A&M, UGA, and Bama.  That ain’t happening.

I feel good about A&M’s chances in this game except for one thing – Jarret Stidham.  He’s not had the season everyone expected but he’s still a damn good passer and has some decent weapons.  If Auburn decides to attack the Aggie secondary and his receivers hold on to the ball they’ll beat the Aggies.  They’ll be coming off a bye week so they have plenty of time to work on the passing game before the Aggies get to town.

I put this game as a 55/45 chance of the Aggies winning right now.  If the Aggies do what I think they do against MSU and Auburn doesn’t/won’t/can’t attack the Aggie secondary then this is an Aggie win.  Trends favor the Aggies as Gus tends to have very average years after catching lightening in a bottle and ironically enough the road team has won every A&M/Auburn matchup since joining the SEC.  Coming into the season I had this as a loss but right now I’m leaning to an Aggie victory.

Ole Miss:

This matchup scares me ever so slightly because Ole Miss strengths are where we’re weakest.  They’ve got a solid quarterback and really good receivers.  They can attack the Aggie secondary.  Fortunately for the Aggies they’ve got a HORRIBLE defense and they’re bad in the red zone.  Don’t be shocked to see Ole Miss put up over 300 yards in the air.  The problem is they’ll run for less than 100 while scoring less than 20 if they even get that.

Meanwhile I expect the Aggie offense to roll up and down the field likely scoring more than 35 points.  This seems like an easy Aggie win.  However, there’s a slight chance it’s one of those bizarre games where Ole Miss hits some long passes for touchdowns so this game turns into a shootout.  I don’t think Jimbo and company will get sucked into something like that though.  Jimbo once came back down 28-6 in the 2016 season opener against Ole Miss to win 45-34.  He’s dealt with an early Ole Miss lead before and won.  Even if Ole Miss somehow gets up early on some fluke plays Jimbo will stay the course and exploit their terrible defense.  This seems like a certain Aggie win.

UAB:

Win.  Nothing more to say.  If we don’t it’s a BAD loss.

LSU:

Right now I think this is an Aggie loss.  Mainly I don’t want to drink the Aggie Kool-Aid just yet and there’s too much uncertainty for both teams.  Despite what others said coming into the season LSU is a really talented team and Ed Orgeron is not the idiot everyone thinks he is.  Turns out he’s a pretty decent coach with a pretty good staff.

The LSU defense is still extremely talented and Joe Burrow has moments where he can throw the ball.  What you can’t do against LSU is throw interceptions on your side of the field and let them establish the run.  I know that sounds obvious but you’d be shocked at the teams that allow them to do that.  Just ask Miami, Georgia, and MSU.  LSU plays a brand of football where they don’t make mistakes and force the other team to make mistakes where they’ll capitalize.  It’s simple but EXTREMELY effective when you have the talent that LSU has.

I think this is a VERY winnable game for the Aggies but it won’t be easy.  If Florida can beat LSU with Feleipe Franks at quarterback there’s no reason the Aggies can’t beat LSU with their defense and Mond at quarterback.  It’s just too early to predict this game right now.

I need to see what A&M does against MSU, Auburn, and Ole Miss when it comes to making mistakes.  Even if they win those games but make mistakes they’ll lose to LSU.  I also need to see what LSU does against Bama to make sure they’re the team I think they are.  They’ll likely lose to Bame by 20 points even in Baton Rouge.  I think Bama is that good and LSU is slightly worse than they’ve been in the past.  However, if LSU goes toe to toe with Bama then my outlook on this game completely changes.  I don’t see that happening though.  I just need 2 more weeks of Aggie and LSU football to get a more certain feel on this one

Overall:

There’s a REALLY good chance A&M and LSU march into Kyle Field at 9-2 hovering around the Top 10 (if not both Top 10)  which will make for an epic battle.  This is still not the 2012 team in terms of talent but it’s possible Jimbo pulls off an epic run finishing the season at 10-2.  The odds right now say he won’t but it’s very possible.

If he does there’s no doubt he’ll be well on his way to Making Aggie Football Great Again!

#MAFGA

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