No. 7 Texas A&M has been on a roll as of late, knocking off Florida, Mississippi State and Arkansas in games marked by a stellar offensive line and run game.
Saturday night in Columbia against South Carolina, the Aggies continued the trend, leading to a dominant 48-3 victory that saw senior quarterback Kellen Mond break the school's record for career passing touchdowns.
“Our offensive and defensive lines came to play,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We were able to shut the run down on defense, kept them in long situations... Offensively, being able to run the football... We just kept pounding and pounding and pounding. Kellen kept making the play-action passes and the plays with his legs, but I think the key was up front.”
Through the past 22 quarters, A&M’s offensive line has not allowed a single sack. This squad has also significantly contributed to the Aggies' prolific rushing attack this season, which tonight granted them 264 yards and possession for 56 percent of the game.
After one empty drive for A&M, the first quarter opened scoring for the game when Mond found sophomore running back Ainias Smith in the end zone. Smith leads the Aggies in receiving yards with 290, despite only posting 25 against South Carolina, and in receiving touchdowns, where he increased his total to five on Saturday. Sophomore tight end Jalen Wydermyer follows Smith with four touchdowns.
“Me and Ainias compete with everything,” Wydermyer said. “It's a little friendly competition, but it's going to do nothing for us but push us.”
Midway through the second quarter, an excellently designed play-action pass and roll to the right by Mond left Wydermyer wide-open to walk into the endzone. Wydermyer posted three receptions for 35 yards contributing to the Aggies' red zone success.
“When you have Isaiah and Ainias, and even [Devon] Achane, running the ball like they do, [South Carolina’s] linebackers have no choice but to step up,” Wydermyer said. “Everybody gets their eyes on the backfield and that's when I just kind of slip out and plays like that happen”
Right before halftime, Kellen Mond found Wydermyer yet again for his second receiving touchdown of the night and Mond’s third passing touchdown. This touchdown tied Mond for the A&M career passing touchdown record, set by Jerrod Johnson in 2010, with 67.
Early in the third quarter after a big catch and run, Isaiah Spiller went down with an apparent leg injury. True freshman running back Devon Achane, also an A&M track runner, came in to replace Spiller. Spiller dominated the ground through the first half, gathering 131 yards on a 7.3 yard per carry average.
“[Spiller] is good,” Fisher said. “He could have came back in, he was ready to come back in. We just elected not to. You get banged and bruised and all nicked up, and we had the game there and we wanted to give Achane some work.”
Midway through the third quarter, A tipped pass on a desperation fourth and four from Collin Hill led to a Leon O’Neal interception, notching the Aggies’ second interception of the night.
Following the interception, Mond found Achane open deep, leading to a touchdown. This was Achane’s first collegiate receiving touchdown and also marked Mond’s fourth passing touchdown of the night, breaking the school record. Mond posted 224 passing yards and five touchdowns, including one rushing touchdown.
The Aggies converted all five of their redzone appearances for touchdowns. In A&M’s last nine redzone appearances, it has converted a touchdown every time. The Aggies, who lead the country in third down conversion percentage, continued to excel in this metric.
“Scoring touchdowns in the red zone is huge,” Fisher said. “[We were] great on third down. On offense we were 12-of-16. I know the first three touchdowns in the first half were all third down conversions in the redzone. That's a difference of 21-0 to 9-0.”
In the final minutes of the fourth quarter, freshman quarterback Haynes King stepped in to replace Mond. King connected with sophomore Max Wright for both of their first touchdowns in college.
Throughout the game, South Carolina’s star running back Kevin Harris was held to just 35 yards. The Gamecocks’ quarterback Collin Hill was also sacked twice
“It starts with the defensive line, just up front,” junior defensive lineman Bobby Brown III said. “Just us working and just like I said earlier... we just have to trust Coach [Mike] Elko and his plan and go out there and execute.”
The Aggies will head to Tennessee next week to take on the Volunteers, who have lost their last four games. These teams have only met once in the last 14 years, where A&M won at home in 2016.