Every college football season brings a cloud of uncertainty. While this year provides a bigger one than usual, Texas A&M football looks like it’s ready to take the next step towards becoming a perennial powerhouse comparable to Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State.
The arrival of the Jimbo Fisher era in College Station has brought an innovative offense and a perfectionist and disciplined mentality. Now in his third year, Fisher has two recruiting classes under his belt with a hand-picked coaching unit that he has cultivated over the greater part of two seasons. Everything is at his control, but with great power comes greater expectations.
The SEC, known for its punishing defenses, has undergone a paradigm shift as games among the best in the conference are now decided in shootouts. Long gone are the 9-6 Alabama vs. LSU games that decided the SEC West Champion. Now, if a team’s offense can’t score at least 30 points per game, they stand a greater chance of losing.
This is why 2020 is an important year for Fisher. His senior starting QB is returning for one more season along with most of his starting offensive line and other skill players like WR Jhamon Ausbon, RB Isaiah Spiller, WR Cameron Buckley and WR/RB Ainias Smith. The potential is through the roof — or is it?
The offense has always been loaded with talent but at times stalls without any definitive reason. In order to find out how the offense can be more smooth sailing for the upcoming season, I reviewed some of the 2019 Texas A&M offensive film to find things worth paying attention to for the 2020 season.
Attacking the Middle of the Field
Many college spread offenses spread the field with lighter personnel (fewer tight ends) to take advantage of the wide hash marks. Lining out wide allows offenses to use their personnel to take advantage of a receiver or running back’s athleticism in space, which is why spread looks are popular at the collegiate level and are becoming increasingly popular at the professional level.
This is fairly important in recognizing what the A&M passing offense does. The Jimbo Fisher “Pro-style” offense uses route combinations relatively uncommon in college offenses hence there is a greater responsibility for the QB to recognize where his throwing windows will be in order to throw a catchable pass.
For example, on this play the offense has called a Hi-Lo Read on the left side of the field and a Curl Flat Combo on the right. When WR Quartney Davis motions to the right, Mond recognizes the defense is playing Cover 2 (Zone) because the cornerback and safety align off the receivers. Mond knows there will be a hole for WR Jhamon Ausbon to attack on his curl and the rest of the play speaks for itself.
Notice that while the receivers on the right were spread out, Mond still threw the ball within the hash mark for a 12-yard gain. There are plenty of instances during this game where the team found space in the middle of the field, but the results were not the same every time.
For example, on this play Mond recognizes the defense is playing a Cover 3 (Zone coverage where defenders occupy deep thirds of the field) because of the single high safety and the alignment of the cornerbacks well off the line of scrimmage. Mond waits for Quartney Davis to break inside on his dig route so he can complete the pass in the hole the zone creates. The throw is on the money.
Conversely on this play, Alabama shows zone coverage because when WR Kendrick Rogers motions inside, no one follows him. At the top of his route stem, he proceeds to get wide open with a clever rip using his off-hand on the linebacker. Mond airmails the pass even though he had no reason. QBs miss throws all the time, but this was crucial as the team was only down one touchdown and could’ve tied the game up early.
Good teams take advantage of opportunities and opposing miscues and this team over the last two seasons has been inconsistent in areas where the best teams thrive. Whether it is inaccurate passes, drops or poorly run routes, something has prevented this team from consistently attacking the middle of the field.
On this throw Quartney Davis and Kendrick Rogers are running a Drive Concept on the right side of the field. Davis breaks inside and Mond throws the ball only where Davis can catch it between the linebacker, safety and cornerback. The ease with which Mond completed this pass is odd considering how badly he missed Rogers on the previous throw.
The passing offense for the last two seasons has shown inconsistency especially against the best teams in the NCAA and everyone is to blame. Being more consistent when throwing over the middle of the field is a big boost for any team because it can transform an offense. Most throws over the middle of the field require less effort from the quarterback and can result in more yards after the catch.
Receivers struggle to separate against man coverage
A&M consistently recruits the best athletes out of high school at each position. Once those recruits get to college, it is up to the position coaches to turn them into the best version of themselves.
One crucial, if not the most important, part of being a wide receiver is the ability to generate separation. With most teams running a healthy balance of man and zone coverage, understanding how defensive backs are lined up alters how a receiver runs his routes or the route altogether.
In the very first video, Ausbon recognizes the defense is playing Cover 2 zone with the cornerback spot dropping to the flat. When he runs his curl, he starts with an inside release and runs toward the hole in the zone to complete the curl out and catch the pass for a 12-yard gain. He didn’t need to run as fast as he could; all he needed to do was create space, which he did with his release off the line of scrimmage.
Watch this play twice; the first time pay attention to the ball and the second time pay attention to Kendrick Rogers running his route at the top of your screen.
At the line, Mond sees a Quarters look but recognizes it is man coverage based on the alignment of the cornerbacks and safeties. Rogers realizes this, so when the cornerback lines off, he tries to accelerate as fast as he can and uses a speed break to try and create separation. The issue is Rogers does not accelerate out of his break, so when Mond throws the ball to where he expects Rogers to be, it is too far right. What initially looks like an inaccurate throw from Kellen Mond is actually a miscue by Rogers.
In this video, Quartney Davis is lined up in the slot and the defender is lined up 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. Davis recognizes this and accelerates through the stem of his route. Unfortunately, this doesn’t challenge the safety’s leverage because he is backpedaling. Instead of braking sharply, Davis rounds his cut and it allows for the safety to make a play on Davis, ultimately pushing him out of bounds.
This might seem like I’m overanalyzing a good deflection from the safety, but Davis is asked to run literally the same route with similar coverage and runs the route correctly, generating separation to adjust to the football in the air, only to drop the ball once he gets to the ground.
In fact, WR Cameron Buckley does the exact same thing in the same game and isn’t able to hold onto the ball because the safety was in a position to make the play for the same reasons Davis struggled to haul in the pass attempt.
As expected, there are plenty of times when the receivers generate separation against man coverage and many times those moments result in positive plays for the offense. But against the best defenses, being consistent with the little things can help the QB and result in more positive plays. Also, paying attention to what the receiver is doing should shed some light on the fact that Mond isn’t as inaccurate as many believe.
The growth of Jalen Wydermyer
Jalen Wydermeyer and Ainias Smith were two true sophomores who had good freshman seasons and are both looking to improve on their successful freshman campaigns. However, of the two, Wydermyer will look to cement himself as a starting option on the offense while Ainias Smith will undergo a position change to running back. The tight end will look to maintain his starting position with the return of redshirt freshman Baylor Cupp and junior Glenn Beal.
Wydermyer was a threat in the passing game last season. At 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, he moves well and possesses a catch radius that he uses to his advantage. At his size, he becomes a legitimate yards-after-catch threat showing solid contact balance to fight for more yards after contact. This was part of the reason why he was used more in the short and intermediate passing game as the season progressed.
The tight end’s first big game was against Alabama where he caught three passes for 49 yards and two touchdowns. His second touchdown showcases impressive nuance for a young athlete.
Alabama plays a Cover 1 but the defense disguises the coverage as zone because number 15 is lined up outside the box. When the ball is snapped, Wydermyer recognizes he has open space to attack down the seam. He does and when number 15 starts to guard him man-to-man, he stacks him allowing him to have leverage on the break of his corner route. Mond recognizes that and throws the ball up to Wydermyer; at the catch point Wydermyer uses his off hand to maintain separation and then uses his long arms to pluck the ball from the air.
The number 15 covering Wydermyer is 2020 second round pick Xavier McKinney, who was drafted by the New York Giants.
Considering how young he is, Wydermyer is already good at using his off hand to generate separation at the catch point. He does exactly that on this play action pass against South Carolina.
However, as previously mentioned Wydermyer isn’t just good at the catch point. Twice against South Carolina, he caught a pass in the flat and turned them into first downs. You might notice something about both plays.
They were the same RPO!
Seeing how complete of a receiving threat Wydermyer is at such a young age should leave Aggies feeling optimistic. Wide receivers can’t always generate separation so having receiving options that can be “open without being open” and earn extra yards after the catch can elevate the production of the offense and prevent it from stalling in critical situations.
The Aggies have every reason to believe they can make some noise in the SEC West in the 2020 season; however, the same inconsistency and questionable talent management of the past can make or break the team in critical games. The team is set up to succeed with the current crop of talent and upcoming schedule; the only question that remains is can the coaching staff fit all of the puzzle pieces together?
Editor's Note: All videos are courtesy of Jesse Fritsch and "It Factor Scouting."