“A victory is a victory,” says Head Coach Jimbo Fisher. That’s the mentality in College Station after a sloppy five-point win over the Vanderbilt Commodores, 17-12. The Aggies were favored by almost 30 points over Vanderbilt but only managed to put up just over half of that figure. Next week, they travel to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to face Nick Saban and the perennial monster that is the Crimson Tide. Online, in-person, and anywhere else you can find an Aggie fan, panic has already settled in.
It’s an expected reaction. Football experts across the nations had the Ags as a preseason dark horse to possibly make it to the College Football Playoff. We at LWOS made it clear that the Aggies were set up nicely for a great season. So, when a team barely squeaks by Vanderbilt, their fans have little hope they will have success against better teams.
However, there is more to the lackluster Texas A&M performance, which should give fans a great deal of ease. It seems that fans are forgetting to take a moment and consider the nuance or reasons why certain things are happening or not happening. This happens all the time. Remember, “fan” is short for fanatic.
Consider the Nuance in the Aggies Win Over Vanderbilt
This article will examine the low points of the Aggies’ performance this past Saturday, and provide reason and nuance for them. The goal is to give insight and remind those pulling for Texas A&M to not panic. Things are not as bad as they seem.
What happened: Statistically average Kellen Mond
2020 is make-it or break for Mond. The true senior is likely to hold multiple Texas A&M passing records by mid-season and is trying to boost his draft stock. Surely, he was thinking that Vanderbilt would be a great way to start the season. Yet, for Mond – at least on paper – he put out another performance typical of his previous seasons. He completed just over 60% of his passes and threw a touchdown, not to mention three fumbles. Some Aggie fans had little patience for their quarterback and were calling for his removal before the first quarter was over. However, besides the fumbles, there is a reason for the statistical let-down.
The Nuance: Drops. Penalty on a big screen. Working in young players. Fisher appeared to be on a limited plan.
The main reason for Mond’s numbers is not his doing, but drops by his receivers. Six passes that likely should have been caught hit the ground. If we add back just four of those, Mond is up to 75%, multiple drives are continued which leads to more plays and more yards, etc. etc. The Aggies only ran 55 plays, a small sample size for what they are capable of. If Mond’s completion percentage was something that bothered you, don’t let it. Furthermore, a costly holding penalty negated a huge pass play to Ainias Smith that would have landed Texas A&M on the Vanderbilt two-yard line.
Fisher also seemed to be working from a limited set of plays and really focused on getting younger players some reps. Freshman wide receiver Kam Brown made his first start against the Commodores. Of the three other wide-outs who caught passes (Caleb Chapman, Chase Lane, and Jalen Preston) their catch total pre-2020 was just five. Frankly, it would have been foolish for the Aggies to go back to the wells they know are full against a team like Vanderbilt. Fisher knows what he has in his returning players and elite freshmen like Demond Demas and Devon Achane. It is only logical for him to work in as many other players as possible to prepare for the tougher opponents this season. The young players likely gained more from their experience against starters in a tight game rather than back-ups in a thirty-point blowout.
If Mond’s receivers would have caught more balls his numbers would have been far greater than what they were. If he was able to work with a more open playbook and his other playmakers, that too would have likely enhanced his numbers and performance.
What Happened: Mistakes in Special Teams and Fumbles
The game could not have started off worse for the Aggies. A misguided decision by the return man started the Aggies off on their own seven-yard line for their first drive. Later in the first quarter, an over-confident Smith tried to return a punt from eight yards deep in the endzone. On that same play, a blindside block penalty in the endzone resulted in a safety for Vanderbilt.
Mond had three fumbles throughout the game. One was in the red-zone, the other two were near the middle of the field. Texas A&M did not recover any of the three dropped balls.
The Nuance: No Momentum. Mental, fixable mistakes.
When it comes to fumbling the football, the next week of practice is vital. Ball security will be a huge focus for Mond this week, as ]Saban will certainly try and exploit that part of his game. Mond has never had a notable issue with fumbling the football, and he should be expected to hold on to the ball successfully this coming Saturday.
Both of the special teams’ mistakes were so egregious, the crowd actually started cheering for touchbacks and fair-catches. Like fumbling the football, these are occurrences that can be coached out of players in as little as one practice. In fact, this mistake was not committed again for the rest of the game, so it may be the case it is already forgiven and fixed.
So, when it comes to mental mistakes like fumbles and procedural goofs, there should not be much worry. This is especially true in this case for the Aggies: Vanderbilt was their first game in a crazy year filled with distractions. Mistakes should be expected. In fact, it might be a good thing they made their mistakes in week one against a weak team. This could act as the kick in the pants they need to get their minds right for Alabama.
If Texas A&M does not make these mistakes against the Commodores, they have what would have allowed them to possibly win big: momentum. Each of these costly turnovers and errors was absolute momentum killers. When they managed to start chugging along, the Aggies looked like a well-oiled machine against Vanderbilt. Each of the times they scored, they traveled more than 65 yards each drive.
Of their just 10 drives, three ended in points, three ended in fumbles, two were knees to end the first and second halves, and they punted twice. If Mond can manage to hold on to the football, Texas A&M would likely have scored on six out of their 10 drives. Plus, on the first drive, multiple dropped passes ended their progress.
The point of this section is the Aggies kept shooting themselves in the foot. If they can correct these very fixable aspects, they should be in good shape from here on out.
What happened: No Demas
To everyone’s surprise, freshman Demas did not play at all. Why? According to Fisher, “it just wasn’t the right time” for him to see the field. In his stead, they looked to Lane, Chapman, Preston, and Brown. Outside of their early drops, the quartet played well, with the lengthy Chapman scoring a 17-yard touchdown.
The Nuance: Fisher has a plan.
Fisher’s statement of Saturday being the wrong time, logically states there is a right time for Demas to go in and play. Five-star recruits don’t commit to teams who have no plan to use them. $75 million coaches get hired because they implement strategies that work. Fisher did not play his best wide-receiver because he has something up his sleeve.
Texas A&M was the clearly better team on the field. The play said so; the betting agencies said so; everybody knows it. Why, then, should Fisher reveal his best player to an Alabama team who is as vulnerable as they have been in recent history? Sure, if they needed him, it is likely Demas would have gone in. Although, Fisher had trust in the other young players and knew they needed the playing time.
It is clear that Fisher feels they can beat Alabama and that Demas could be the difference in the game. If he did not feel this way, there is little reason as to why else he would be sat for the entire game. Fisher and the Aggies seem to be holding their cards close to the chest as of now. Perhaps this Saturday could be the unmasking of an improved Aggie offense. Look for Demas to start and play a huge role moving forward.
Though the Texas A&M made some mistakes, dropped passes, and didn’t look very creative, there is still a great deal of optimism heading into next week’s battle. Fixing the mental mistakes and holding on to the football could be the only thing standing between the Aggies and a lot of points. Fisher seems to have a sneaky plan for his team, and this week, we will learn who Fisher really is. This Saturday will reveal if he can get his team to overcome mediocrity in the face of giants.
Main Photo: Vanderbilt quarterback Ken Seals (8) is sacked by Texas A&M’s Micheal Clemons (2) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in College Station, Texas. Texas A&M won 17-12. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)