The wait is almost over; Aggie football is on the horizon. Texas A&M drew Vanderbilt as their week one matchup. To many, Saturday’s game will act as a tune-up, allowing head coach Jimbo Fisher to iron out the wrinkles before heading to Tuscaloosa, Alabama for week two. Still, the Aggies will try to come out in full-force, hoping to start off the all-SEC schedule with a win. To get there, there are some Texas A&M key players starting this week.
Each game seems to come down to the effort of a handful of players who stand out just a bit above the rest. It might be a scoop and score from a linebacker, an offensive tackle shutting down a pass-rusher, or even a coffin-corner punt. Sometimes it’s even a specific unit that is the point on which a game pivots. Here are three key players you should keep an eye on this week as the Aggies open up their season.
Three Key Players In Week 1
Key Player 1: Kenyon Green #55 OL
It is no secret that the Aggie offensive line has struggled the past few years. However, there seems to be a more positive feeling about this year’s unit. With a handful of seniors returning to start and an impressive sophomore in Green, 2020 could be a great step forward in reestablishing the once impressive Aggie offensive line.
Kenyon Green is the guy to watch, not only this Saturday, but all season. A five-star recruit out of high school, Green started every game as a true freshman. He was recently named to the Third-Team Preseason All-SEC. Both short-term and long-term success will be largely determined on the guard’s play. He has become the heart and soul of the Aggie offensive line, a beacon of future potential and youthful enthusiasm.
The Aggies specifically need Green to play well because he 1) is their best lineman, and, 2) will set the tone for the rest of the season. If your best guy is playing well, typically others will feed off of that success, especially on the offensive line. The big guys up front feed off of one another perhaps more than other unit on the field. Once the others see the young buck is playing strong, they’ll be motivated even more.
The Aggies also need him to show out this Saturday to prepare for week two against Alabama. A strong showing against a comparatively feeble Vanderbilt won’t guarantee the same quality of play next week, but it certainly gets the momentum going. If they’re anything less than dominant against the Commodores, it’ll be considered a loss, no matter what the scoreboard says. Starting with Green, the boys in maroon must come out and be as close to 100% as possible if they want a chance to fulfill their potential this season.
Key Player 2: Buddy Johnson Jr. #1 ILB
Thanks to a last minute opt-out by junior linebacker Anthony Hines III, the role of Buddy Johnson now, possibly, becomes the most critical role on the defensive side of the ball. Johnson and Hines were supposed to be a tandem of sure-tackling machines, but it all falls on #1 now.
The Kimball High School native turned it on in 2019, starting all 13 games and leading the teams with 77 tackles. Now, a senior, he looks to build on that momentum and be the man the Ags need him to be. Hines’s spot will likely be filled by a committee, at least until a starter emerges. But Johnson still has his spot all on his own.
Whoever steps up for Hines, it will be the senior’s job to guide and mentor him throughout the season. He has a lot of experience and knows the defense, making him a good mentor to have.
The Aggies need a particularly strong showing from Johnson because they need to know he is going to be able to lead this line-backing corps on his own. Frankly, he doesn’t have a choice. Still, it is important to know he will not let the pressure get to him, especially when the Ags are playing Vanderbilt at home. If he cannot handle those circumstances, presumably, the more difficult matchups such as Alabama and LSU will be a nightmare. If #1 proves that he can be dominant and a leader against the Commodores, the team may not miss Hines as much as they think they might. Of course, it will not be an easy task, and we may see quite a few growing pains from this unit. For Buddy Johnson, it’ll be a new kind of baptism by fire.
Key Player 3: Kellen Mond #11 QB
“What team doesn’t need their quarterback to play well,” you might be thinking. A valid question, but Texas A&M needs their quarterback not only to play well, but to play lights-out against Vanderbilt. It is time for Kellen Mond to prove he is the man to take the Aggies to their full potential. If he wants that title, he must start stronger than he ever has this Saturday.
Mond has zero pass catchers who are seniors. His top two running backs are sophomores, and the few junior wide receivers have not played much in their time on the team. Outside of a few o-linemen, #11 is the team’s elder statesman. Few players have been through the ups and downs like Mond. From the UCLA debacle of 2017, the LSU seven-overtime thriller back in 2018, to the gauntlet of a schedule that was 2019, each year has brought him a whole buffet of challenges. No, 2020 is not expected to be a cakewalk, but Mond is primed and polished as anyone ever has been.
Quite frankly, if Mond does not lead the Aggies this season, nobody will. His experience is unmatched by anyone else on the offense, and it will be needed to overcome the challenges that 2020 has already brought and will undoubtedly bring.
1⃣1⃣ D A Y S#GigEm pic.twitter.com/KGR2QKlb9Y
— Texas A&M Football (@AggieFootball) September 15, 2020
The quarterback needs to play strong this Saturday to show that the rumors of his growth and development are true. If he can come out and make Vanderbilt look like another practice session, the trajectory of the offense will look promising. Mond needs to build his confidence and get back into the rhythm of playing football before heading to Alabama on October 3rd.
More Than Just Wins
He needs to put the Aggies ahead by a large amount early to get the young players as many reps as possible. The Aggies have five total players opting out of the season. Three of them were key starters and nobody wants to experiment with backups against Nick Saban’s crew. If Mond can get his team way out in front at least mid-way through the third quarter, then there can be some great opportunities for those young bucks to play and get comfortable hitting another D-1 team.
Once again, the play of the quarterback will largely determine this team’s success. The pressure is on Mond more than ever this year. Vanderbilt will be the just the first step on the long road to a New Year’s Six bowl game.