Texas A&M is considered to be on the verge of making the College Football Playoff. Multiple college football experts consider them a dark horse to make a run at the national championship, something the Aggies have not done since before World War II. Each season there seem to be one or two teams on the brink of greatness but can not put it together to get past the perennial powerhouses. If the Aggies want to break through the ceiling, they will have to avoid certain pitfalls and accomplish particular goals. Here are three things the Texas A&M must do to have success in 2020.
Three Keys to Success in 2020
I. Elite Quarterback Play
It’s no secret – Kellen Mond has been a tale of two players over the course of his career. His critics say he’s rigid, gets happy feet, and is too indecisive. Those in his corner love his athleticism, big arm, and ability to make plays with his legs. Whether you’re on #TeamMond or not, success for Texas A&M in 2020 largely falls on his performance.
As a true sophomore in 2018, Mond threw for over 3,000 yards and had a passer rating of 135.0. After a solid Thanksgiving-week performance against LSU and a strong bowl game, it looked as though the San Antonio native had turned the corner and was headed to the land of the elite. Statistically, 2019 was similar to his sophomore year, despite a marginally tougher schedule. Mond completed over 60% of his passes for the first time in his career and, again, posted a QB rating higher than 130. However, his touchdown to interception ratio went down, and he did not push the ball as far down the field. Plus, when you watch the film, he just didn’t seem to be as comfortable as he did in 2018.
Reason for Hope
Yet, there is a reason for this apparent “stagnation.” The Aggies played a hellacious schedule in 2019 and battled a large number of injuries. Coach Jimbo Fisher and his quarterback had to adjust week in and week out, all while playing multiple teams ranked number one in the nation at the time. While it may not have been as pretty or efficient, there is an argument to be that, in hindsight, Mond actually performed equal to, if not better than his 2018 self.
With an all-SEC schedule in 2020, the Aggies certainly do not have an “easy” path to the College Football Playoff. However, they have what no other “contending” team has: a quarterback with more than one year as a starter under his belt. This will be year four as the starter for Texas A&M’s gunslinger, something not many teams in the 21st century can say. He knows the offense, has chemistry with his receivers and understands what he has to do to accomplish his team goals as well as his personal ones: be elite.
A Need Like No Other
Without a strong performance at the quarterback position, few teams are successful. Think of the top teams and their quarterbacks: Tua Tugovailoa, Trevor Lawrence, Deshaun Watson, Baker Mayfield. Each of these top-tier quarterbacks was one of the most important, if not the most important factor that made their respective teams so dominant.
With returning playmakers like Jhamon Ausbon, Jalen Wydermyer, and Isiah Spiller, Mond will have plenty of help. Plus, there are still players like Ainias Smith, Demond Demas, and Devone Achane to do damage. If it sounds like Mond is set up for success, you’re correct. If he can be the elite quarterback he was recruited to be, then the Aggies will ascend to heights they have not known since the days of the leather heads.
II. Create Turnovers
The Aggies ranked 112th in forced turnovers in 2019. While they managed to pick off 10 passes, nearly half of them came in the season opener in a 41-7 evisceration of Texas State. With the news of starting cornerback Elijah Blades opting out of the 2020 season, even more pressure is put on the Aggie secondary than was already there. While Texas A&M has produced some solid safeties that are playing in the NFL, it’s been a long while since a true lockdown corner has come out of College Station. If they want to make it to the playoff, someone will need to change that mantra.
The Aggies were 6-2 last season when they created at least one turnover. The two losses came from Clemson and Alabama, two games that Texas A&M hung around in for a fairly long time. It was the aerial attack of the Crimson Tide that sealed their victory. Clemson was led by Heisman favorite Lawrence who completed almost 70% of his passes. Ohio State (if they play), Alabama, LSU, and Clemson – the four favorites to make the playoff this season – each had at least one defensive back drafted the first two rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft. Many consider LSU or Ohio State to #DBU. Either way, one of the reasons most of these teams are consistently great is because of their defensive backfield. If Texas A&M wants to have success in 2020, they will need to do the same.
There’s talent amongst the Aggie secondary. Junior Leon O’Neal and sophomore De’mani Richardson will be leading the way at the safety position, with contributors like Keldrick Carper and Devin Morris making their presence known at the nickel position. While solid safety play is obviously desired, these particular players’ strengths lie in the run game. In the SEC, the land of Najee Harris and De’andre Swift, having quality tacklers in the open-field is great. Yet, with elite wide-receivers spread all across the conference, Texas A&M will need someone to be able to lock down these pass catchers.
With Blades sitting out the 2020 season, the search will go a little deeper for the elite cornerback the Ags need. Some seem to have faith in senior Myles Jones. The lanky DB is the typical corner from the Sumlin admin – tall, long, elite athletic ability, but not as refined fundamentally. As is six-foot-five-inch corner, Clifford Chattman. Jones had rocky first two years in Aggieland, but in 2019 he seemed to turn the corner. When Chattman saw the field, he was quite efficient, recording four times as many tackles as his previous season.
However, some are looking to the true freshman, Jaylon Jones. The Cibilo Steele High School graduate is considered to be a truly elite corner amongst experts. He is on multiple freshman watch lists and Aggie fans everywhere are hoping he will be their most elite DBs in many years. The jump from high school to the SEC will be a big one, so it looks like the freshman will be baptized by fire.
Texas A&M recovered four fumbles in 2019. One of them was a Buddy Johnson scoop and score against Ole Miss that changed the tide of the game. With an athletic, experienced group of linebackers, the Aggies will be looking to boost their number of recovered fumbles.
III. Dominate the Trenches
This goes for both sides of the football. The Aggies have been solid in the defensive trenches and the d-line seems to be the team’s strength year in and year out. 2020 should be no different. With players like Demarvin Leal, Jayden Peevy, Michael Clemons, and Bobby Brown III, there is experience and skill all across the line. If the A&M wants to give their defensive backs more opportunities, they will need to continue their solid play up front. Put pressure on the quarterback, and he does not make as accurate of throws, which can lead to more interceptions. If the d-line can clog up running lanes, safeties are less likely to bite on play-action passes. Remember, it’s a team game.
On the offensive side of the ball, there has been struggle and inconsistency over recent years. However, there seems to be a sense of progression in regards to the Aggies’ offensive line. Kenyon Green played well during his freshman year and is geared up to make his presence known nationally. However, there is also a committee of four seniors returning to the line.
Dan Moore showed a lot of progress last season and, if he can polish a few aspects of his game, could be a true difference-maker. Carson Green, Ryan McCollum, and Jared Hocker will also contribute, giving one last shot to try and bump their draft stock. If they play to their potential, Spiller and company will have room to run. More than they’ve ever had before. Mond will have time to make better throws and get hit less.
Alabama is so dominant largely in part because both their offensive line and defensive lines are so good. Last year, a great o-line helped propel Oregon back to national prominence. In 2018, Clemson overcame uncertainty at the quarterback position with the help of a great defensive line. These are just a few examples of how important it is to have successful linemen on both sides of the ball. Great defensive lines create opportunities for turnovers and sacks. Great offensive lines create long drives and points. Each is the starting point and the base of success in a football game. “It all starts up front,” many coaches preach.
Not many teams are set up for a great season like the Aggies are. While they will not be spoon-fed very many victories this season, 2020 is theirs for the taking. All it takes is these three things – and maybe a dash of good fortune – for Texas A&M to have success in 2020 and bring a national championship back to College Station.