Thoughts from the Vandy Game

The third year of the Jimbo Fisher era at Texas A&M got off to frustrating start.  While most of us don’t expect the Aggies to contend for the SEC West this season we are hoping this is they year where make a clear step towards that goal.  We certainly didn’t see that on Saturday night at Kyle.

This was basically an extension of the 2019 season.  If you put this game in the collection of game film from 2019 it would have fit in perfectly.

Let’s count the ways:

  • Kellen Mond not taking over a game
  • Kellen Mond being loose with the football putting it on the ground multiple times
  • Kellen Mond not knowing when to run
  • Kellen Mond being inconsistent with his passing
  • Receivers dropping easy passes
  • No downfield passing threats
  • No play calling creativity
  • Delay of game calls
  • Bone headed special teams play
  • No pass rush
  • Strong defensive effort despite that
  • Jimbo and Kellen saying they’ve got some problems to fix

I can keep going but you get the idea.  While Kellen Mond is a good portion of this list he’s not the only issue this team is facing.  Maybe it was rust by the players or maybe it was Jimbo trying to figure out what he has with this team.  Whatever it is, the team on the field Saturday night will be lucky to win 5 games.  It really has the talent to win 10 games.

Speaking of talent, it needs to be pointed out the ONLY reason the Aggies won the game was because they’re more talented.  It wasn’t coaching and execution.  The Aggies are simply more talented than the Commodores and that’s why the Aggies won.  While Jimbo has major question marks on his coaching and development his recruiting is showing promising results.  He’s got talent to work with.

Before I get into specifics about the game I have to say Kyle Field was really impressive all things considered.  It certainly wasn’t the environment of a packed Kyle but it was damn good.  The students were yelling, the band was playing, and the DJ was rocking.  You knew who was the home team and there were moments when the team fed off the crowd that was there.  Kudos to the Aggie gameday operation crew and the students.  Despite the COVID limitations they made it a pretty solid experience.

On to the game in my usual format where I look at the specific units.

Offense:

Kellen Mond:

I think I’ve been consistent in my assessment of Kellen Mond.  He’s not as bad as some people make him out to be but he’s not someone that’s going to take a game over either.  In his first game of 2020 he showed exactly ZERO development.  I mean not one step of development from a nine month off season.  He was the exact same quarterback he’s been under Jimbo Fisher.  Not one positive deviation from who’s been for two full seasons.

All of this talk about looking at every play from last season to correct errors did absolutely nothing.  He did all the same things he’s done in 2 seasons with Jimbo.  He was inconsistent passing the ball.  He was unaware when to run and when to sit in the pocket.  He was lazy with the ball and put it on the ground multiple times.  If he really did watch every play from last season to correct errors he wasted a bunch of time.  The test on the field showed he learned NOTHING.

The fumbles bother me the most because that’s the sign of quarterback who’s thinking too much.  He’s still trying to figure out plays and not being careful with the ball.  He’s now put the ball on the ground 5 times in the last two games against lesser talented teams.  That’s inexcusable.  Running backs lose their jobs for doing the same thing.  Jimbo has a ton invested in Mond’s development but if Mond keeps up this fumbling he won’t be under center much longer.  That’s too big of a liability.

I was hopeful we’d see a senior quarterback take command of the game against an inferior opponent.  Kellen didn’t do that.  He’s not a natural leader and it’s painfully obvious at this point.  He’s really damn talented but he doesn’t have the mental makeup to be any better than he is.  He pays a lot of lip service to being a better quarterback but his play doesn’t show it.

Kellen is still in the top half of SEC quarterbacks in my mind simply because he has talent.  I no longer have any hope he’ll be the dominant player he could be because of his talent.  It’s simply not in him and he really doesn’t want it.

It’ll be interesting to see how Jimbo handles Kellen.  He must be frustrated he has the same guy he’s had going into this third season.  I don’t think Jimbo changes quarterbacks anytime soon but if this offense plays like it did on Saturday night I think he’ll have to seriously consider a change at some point in the season.

Let me be clear – I don’t think there’s a quarterback controversy right now.  I’m simply saying if this Aggie team winds up 1-3 with losses to Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi State due to offensive ineptitude Jimbo is going to be questioning if it’s time for a change.  The fans will already be there but at the end of the day wins and losses are what matters.  Kellen Mond has a tough three game stretch to prove he still belongs under center.

After the Mississippi State game we have a bye and then two games against Arkansas and South Carolina.  That’s the perfect time to make a change under center if the offense is struggling.  I’m not saying it will but the schedule is set up to make a change if we’re 1-3 with a puttering offense.  Just something to be mindful of if Mond doesn’t step up his play over the next 3 games.

Mond can still win the Aggies a lot more games than they lose but I do believe the clock is ticking for Jimbo.

I watched a lot of the Florida game on Saturday and what I saw from Kyle Trask is what I was hoping to see from Kellen on Saturday.  Trask stood comfortable in the pocket and made some nice throws.  Trask had complete control of the Florida offense.  Mond is more athletic than Trask but on Saturday Trask stood head and shoulders above Mond.  Trask appears to have developed while Mond continues to be who he is.  It’s extremely frustrating.

Wide Receiver:

A lot of new names at receiver but it looked more of the same.  Decent on some plays but also dropped some very easy passes.  Jalen Preston appears to have taken over the role of Jhamon Ausbon as the possession receiver.  Preston has plenty of talent so good to see him out there.  Didn’t like his fumble but hopefully he can correct that.

Caleb Chapman was targeted 7 times and caught 4 balls including a nice touchdown.  Chapman looked okay but he wasn’t spectacular.  Chase Lane had a couple nice catches along with Kam Brown but nothing impressive.

I love Ainias Smith and he had some nice catches and most importantly yards after the catch.  We’ve been missing a guy that can make defenders miss after the catch since Christian Kirk went to the NFL.  In my mind Smith needs to see the ball more.

What I’m most shocked by is Demond Demas had ZERO snaps.  He was suited up and on the sideline but he didn’t see a single snap.  This is mind boggling to me.  By all reports he’s far and away the most athletic receiver we have.  I get he’s a true freshman but he needs to be out there to see what he can do.

We don’t do true deep balls.  We don’t throw passes downfield in one on one situations to see if we can win contested balls.  We don’t turn short passes into super long gains.  Our longest three catches on the night were of 26, 23, and 21 yards.  Against a team like Vanderbilt that’s terrible.  Elite level teams have receivers that can either get down the field or turn a short pass into a long catch and run.  This has been amazingly missing in the Jimbo Fisher era.

At some point we need a legit downfield threat.  We still haven’t had a receiver catch a touchdown ball over 40 yards in the SEC since Jimbo took over.  A deep threat would do wonders for this offense.  Somebody needs to step up to fill that role and Jimbo needs to work that into the playbook.

Let me put it this way – In 17 SEC games we have never snapped the ball on our side of the field and completed a touchdown pass to a wide receiver under Jimbo Fisher.  Think about that for a moment. 

Jace Sternberger had a touchdown catch of 46 yards against Kentucky in 2018.  Wydermyer had one for 52 yards against Mississippi State last season.  Those are tight ends and those are our longest touchdown passes in 17 SEC games under Jimbo Fisher.  That’s it.  46 and 52 yard scores to really gifted tight ends who did most of the work after the catch thanks to their athleticism.

I’m quite certain defensive coaches are aware of this and it’s a major factor into how they defend us.  We have to develop a downfield threat if this offense is really going to start doing something.

Running Back:

In addition to the defense, Isaiah Spiller is why we won this game.  He only carried the ball 8 times but he had 117 yards ripping off two really nice runs in the second half.  Spiller should have gotten 20 carries in this game.  Maybe Jimbo wanted Mond and his receivers to get some reps but Jimbo should have leaned on Spiller a lot more in the second half.

Spiller is starting his second season but he’s impressed me.  I’m not sure how great he can be but the dude produces.  He was the only offensive player against LSU last season that showed any fire.  On Saturday night he took what touches he got and made the most of them.  This dude needs more touches in my mind.

Here’s Isiah Spiller’s last three games:

LSU – 11 carries for 66 yards and a touchdown.  That’s 6 yards a carry against a tough LSU team.
Oklahoma State – 19 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown.  That’s 4.1 yards a carry.
Vanderbilt – 8 carries for 117 yards with no touchdowns.  That’s 14.6 yards a carry with a long of 57 yards.

Isiah Spiller is producing at running back with a spotty offensive line.  Give him the damn ball more.

I love Ainias Smith as a receiver but I also love what he’s doing at running back.  He’s a nice change of pace to Spiller and knows how to make defenders miss.  His touchdown run was proof positive of that.

Jimbo really needs to figure out how to confuse defenses with Spiller and Smith in the backfield.  They’re clearly the most dynamic offensive players we have and they need to touch the ball more.  If you’re not going to thrown the ball downfield at least stretch the defense at the line of scrimmage with two running backs capable of two different things.  Give the defense something to worry about.

Offensive Line:

Obviously this has been my biggest concern coming into the 2020 season.  On Saturday night they looked solid enough.  They weren’t really tested but they did just fine.  We had 183 yards on the ground and Kellen only got sacked once.  For the most part Kellen had time to make passes.

I’m still concerned with this unit but they were fine on Saturday night.  Had the quarterback and receivers did more to catch and protect the ball their work might have looked a lot better.

We’ll find out more about this unit over the next three games.  For their first game they actually looked serviceable.  No complaints from me right now.

Mark me worried about what they’re going to do against Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi State though.

Defense:

Defensive Line:

We all knew this is the best unit on the team and on Saturday night they did what they do.  Michael Clemons, Bobby Brown, Jayden Peevy, and DeMarvin Leal were solid.  DeMarvin Leal is a beast.

This unit is the heart and soul of this team.  I really can’t say anything more about these guys.  They show up every game and play as a really strong unit.

The lack of pass rush is a bit concerning but Michael Clemons got a key sack late in the game.  I’m hoping he’s the guy that gets more comfortable and starts to develop into a guy that can bring pressure.  He has the potential so I hope he realizes it.  If it’s not these guys bringing the pressure directly I think you might see Elko get a little creative and bring disguised blitzes.

The most impressive thing from this game was McKinnley Jackson.  He’s a true freshman and got some snaps in the second half.  He looked outstanding.  I’m excited about this guy.  He was the best player in Mississippi last year.  He was a late addition to the recruiting class and he chose A&M over Bama.  It was a major get for Jimbo and his staff.  If his first game is any indication he’s going be a total beast as well.

I was excited about this unit coming into the season and nothing about Saturday night changes that.  If anything I’m thinking it might be better than we thought.  If Clemons can develop a pass rush and Jackson adds serious athleticism and depth then this unit will be one of the best in the country.

Linebacker:

While this unit isn’t as talented as the defensive line it’s a strength of this team.  Buddy Johnson and Aaron Hansford lead the defense in tackles which is what they’re supposed to do.  Buddy Johnson is a football player.  He’s probably not going to make first team All SEC because he doesn’t have the raw talent and make highlight plays but the dude can play football.

I think Anthony Hines was getting passed up by Hansford which is why Hines decided to opt out.  Hansford is a heck of a story coming back from a serious knee injury and switching from offense to defense.

Andrew White saw a few snaps and looked solid.

While this unit is not as talented or deep as the defensive line it’s a solid unit.  I wasn’t worried about this unit coming into the season and I still feel the same way.

Secondary:

Welcome back, Leon O’Neal, Jr.  This kid had a less than stellar 2019 season.  In the off season it looked like he was going to transfer.  On Saturday night he was starting for the Aggies and played outstanding football.  He got a key interception late in the game with a nice return.  I hoping O’Neal has his head screwed on straight because he’s a heck of a talent and can be big for this team.

Demani Richardson was his normal self.  He picked of a pass and was all over the field.  He’s certainly the heart and soul of this secondary.  Jaylon Jones started at corner and he looked pretty solid as a true freshman.  Myles Jones started at the other corner and was decent enough.  I must give him credit as Myles has really developed.  He’s not as talented as the other guys he plays with but he’s playing much better than he used to.  Erick Young also played much of the game as the nickel and was strong.

This unit is going to have it’s hiccups but I feel pretty good about them right now.  I’m wondering if Elko starts trying to figure out how to bring pressure with these five guys.  They’re all pretty talented and flexible in what they can do between covering and tackling.  Sneaking one of these guys on a blitz a few times a guy will do wonders for this defense.

Special Teams:

I love Ainias Smith but I have no clue what he was doing fielding a punt in the endzone.  Even worse I don’t know what Brian George was thinking illegally blocking someone in the endzone.  No punt return personal should ever be in the end zone.  Just take the ball at the 20.  That resulted in 2 points for Vandy and even worse a loss of possession.  That’s bad coaching and execution.

Constantinou had one bad punt and one good punt of 53 yards averaging 45 yards on the day.  Seth Small hit his one field goal attempt and his two extra points.  Return wise we don’t have much going for us other than some head scratchers on returning balls in the end zone.

This unit appears more of the same under Jimbo.  It’s not going to win us any games so you just hope it doesn’t lose us any games.

Coaching:

As most of you know I love Jimbo Fisher.  His offensive plan and the player’s execution on Saturday night was terrible.  Spiller and Ainias Smith get a pass.  His play calling made no sense.  He looked like a 12 year old playing Madden just randomly selecting plays.  I hope he was just trying to call as many different plays as possible to see if Mond had truly developed in the off season.  If so, he couldn’t have liked what he saw.

At some point Jimbo must add some wrinkles to this offense.  I get what he’s doing because his defense is so good coupled with a questionable offensive line and quarterback.  He wants to win time of possession and limit turnovers so he limits plays for his defense wile minimizing his offensive weakness.  I get it because not many people have a defense like he does.  No reason to gamble and put those guys in a bind.

However, he must develop a downfield threat.  If defenses only need to worry about 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage it’s only going to make this offense’s job even harder.  Better defenses will flat out expose this offensive line and Kellen Mond.  We saw it in 2019 and we’re about to see if over the next three games.  We’ll still have LSU and Auburn at the end of this season.

Jimbo has to evolve and develop as much as his players need to.  Right now everyone is kind of holding each other back so it’s time to try some different stuff.  This is not a tough offense to defend if you’ve watched any film on it.

Jimbo needs to coach in 2020 a little differently than he did in 2019.  He certainly didn’t do that on Saturday night.

Speaking of coaching, here’s the list of current SEC West head coaches:

Alabama – Nick Saban
LSU – Coach O
Texas A&M – Jimbo Fisher
Auburn – Gus Malzahn
Mississippi State – Mike Leach
Ole Miss – Lane Kiffin
Arkansas – Sam Pittman

Three of those guys have national championship rings.  One of those guys took his team to a national championship game and won a ring as an offensive coordinator.  One of those guys has multiple national championship rings as an offensive coordinator.  One of those guys is Mike Leach.

One of those is not like the others.  How do you feel if you’re an Arkansas fan knowing you could have hired Mike Leach?  What a failed job by the Arkansas administration to miss on Leach not once but twice.

Looking Forward:

I obviously don’t feel good about my 10-2 season prediction right now.  Football is a funny game so you never know.  The talent is still there to win 10 games this season.  Jimbo and some key offensive players need to take a different step forward. No more one step forward and two steps back they’ve taken for two seasons.  \

We’re going to learn a lot about this team in the next three games.  Based on this past weekend there’s a strong chance we go 1-3.  More than likely I think we still wind up going 2-2 as Elko will find a way to keep Leach from repeating what he did in Baton Rouge.  I just don’t see us beating Florida based on how the two teams played on Saturday.

I put our chances of beating Bama at exactly zero.  That’s not battered Aggie syndrome and just reality.  The only way we can beat Bama is if they turn the ball over and/or we really open our offense to try and score lots of points.  I don’t see either of those happening.

Saban will play into Jimbo’s hand of wanting to play a slow and methodical game just like Jimbo.  Saban will make sure his guys don’t turn the ball over and Jimbo will take exactly zero chances on offense.  Bama will break more offensive plays and Jimbo will be yelling at Mond over multiple bad decisions.  I won’t be shocked to see us get the back door cover of 17 points late in the game.  The final score won’t mean we were ever in the game though.

I hope I’m wrong but 17 SEC games with Jimbo and Mond give me a pretty good idea of how things are going to play out in Tuscaloosa this weekend.

We’re still 1-0 with a ton of talent but Jimbo needs to get coaching if he wants to earn that $7.5 million.

Make Aggie Football Great Again

#MAFGA

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