The Associated Press moved the Aggies up to number nine in their rankings following their 30-17 home win over Mississippi State on Saturday. As previously mentioned, there was a sense of déjà vu over the Aggies season when compared to last year. An impressive opening game victory over a ranked opponent followed by some comfortable non-conference victories over weaker opposition and an overtime win over Arkansas could be used to describe either the 2014 or 2015 season.
Where things begin to differ is with the Mississippi State game as last year the Bulldogs comfortably beat the Aggies in Starksville with the young team looking overawed in intimidating conditions. This year at Kyle Field things were different. They built an early lead with touchdowns on their first two drives and never looked back. This leaves Texas A&M at 5-0 (2-0 in SEC play) heading into a well-timed bye week with Alabama due to visit College Station on Saturday 17th October.
So what is different about the 2015 Aggies team compared to the 2014 team?
Well, the signs so far are that this is definitely an improved team and not just a team that has managed to luck its way to a 5-0 start like some believed they did last year.
The defense has seen the most improvements from the front seven improving greatly against the run, up to 86th in the nation from 112th in 2014. This is despite the fact they gave up a lot of running yards in garbage time against Ball State and have already faced the run heavy Arkansas Razorbacks. The win over Mississippi State saw them force the Bulldogs into many third and long situations which allowed the ferocious Aggies defensive ends to pressure Dak Prescott. The run defense still needs to improve further from here if the Aggies are to contend in the SEC this year, especially with Alabama next up; but the improvements so far are really helping this Aggie team in 2015. The key has been that whenever the rush defense has had a setback they’ve always bounced back strongly and not let an opposing offense get on top of them like in the previous two years. That comes down to the coaching from John Chavis; and he can be pleased that Texas A&M hasn’t given up more than 21 points to any of the power five opponents they’ve faced thus far.
The pass rush of Myles Garratt and Daeshon Hall continues to impress on the defensive side of the ball and might be even more feared than last year. They have 13 sacks between them in five games, but that doesn’t do justice to the effect they have when they are on the field. Mississippi State couldn’t block Garratt by double teaming him, which forced them to throw lots of screens and rely on Dak Prescott’s running ability on crucial downs. This continues to be a real strength for Texas A&M in 2015.
On offense the team has become more consistent from week to week. Kenny Hill started strongly at quarterback, but seemed to fall off a cliff when facing good defenses like Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama in 2014. After he was suspended, and the starting job was turned over to Kyle Allen, it was very much a learning curve for a true freshman. The running game struggled mightily against quality opposition, but there were signs in the bowl win over West Virginia that Kyle Allen was becoming more settled.
This year Kyle Allen has looked far more mature in his play and has put up impressive stats through the first five games. He’s competing 64% of his passes and has just two interceptions thus far. Plus, he’s shown himself to be a surprisingly good runner with the ball. He’s second on the teams in yards and has two touchdowns on the ground already even though he’s clearly not as athletic as backup Kyler Murray. The addition of Christian Kirk must certainly help for Allen as he is a threat to score a touchdown every time he gets the ball. The Aggies have started lining Kirk up in different positions on the field to create mismatch problems for opposing defenses. He caught a short pass after lining up in the full back position against Arkansas which he broke for a big gain.
The addition of Dave Christensen as offensive line coach seemed to indicate that the Aggies wanted to run the football more in 2015. When comparing to 2014 they are running the ball more this year. In 2014 they averaged 32.3 rushes per game and in 2015 the average is 39.8, although thus far they are averaging a similar number of yards per carry. Tra Carson isn’t the most explosive back in the nation but he is probably one of the most dependable. He is a good strong runner, who can catch passes out of the backfield and is also a solid pass blocker meaning that he can stay on the field for all three downs. This has been key due to injury problems at the running back position this year.
The Aggies have slowly crept up into the number ning spot with the AP, the pollsters clearly a bit hesitant on how good the team is this year. The next game at home to Alabama will be where we find out just how far they have come.