By Week 6 last year, Texas A&M was 3-2 and coming off a close 24-17 win over Arkansas, with losses to then-No. 2 Clemson and No. 1 Alabama.
This season, as the Aggies head into a Week 6 bye week, the 2019 squad is 3-2 and coming off a close 31-27 win over Arkansas, with losses to then-No. 1 Clemson and No. 8 Auburn.
The Aggies went on to finish 9-4, their best record since 2013, and had overtime wins over then-No. 13 Kentucky and No. 8 LSU. Those two wins, and the general grit the team displayed throughout the season, created high expectations going into this season that A&M hasn’t met thus far.
A&M sophomore kicker Seth Small said this bye week is an opportunity for the Aggies to set the tone for the rest of the season.
“We’re in the same spot we were last season, so we get to decide with this bye week what path we go down,” Small said. “We’re starting to gel together more as a team; we’re starting to make more plays at critical moments in the game and take control of that momentum. We just need to do that more often and get our full potential.”
A&M’s offense has struggled to find any momentum, especially in losses to ranked opponents Clemson and Auburn.
A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said the similarities between this season and last will help the Aggies with improvement, which starts in practice.
“You see parallels because the guys have been through it,” Fisher said. “You have guys that have done it and guys that understand the importance of how you have to look at this. But we have to go back and do it, and that’s what it’s going to get down to. And not just do it on Saturdays. I keep saying we have to do it on that practice field.”
When A&M’s momentum struggles show up in practice, Fisher said he stops to focus on educating the team on how to handle those situations in games.
“We practice very similar at times [to how we play]; we have moments, and I’ll stop practice,” Fisher said. “I’ll just say, ‘Do you remember in the game when we had this moment, when we lapsed for a series or two? This is what we’re doing in practice right now. How you’re feeling mentally, think about what you have to do, punch through these situations.’ Sometimes kids don't know they don’t know.”
Looking forward to the rest of A&M’s 2019 schedule, the Aggies have several tough games on their slate. Following the bye week, A&M will host No. 1 Alabama, then travel to No. 3 Georgia and No. 5 LSU to close out the regular season.
Though the defense started out the season strong, holding then-No. 1 Clemson to only 389 yards and 24 points, the unit has struggled against Southeastern Conference opponents Auburn and Arkansas. Junior defensive lineman Justin Madubuike said this isn’t a reason to panic, however, as the Aggies are only a third of the way through the season.
“It’s early in the season, and I believe the best is yet to come,” Madubuike said. “We just have to take it a game at a time and get our bodies healthy and keep locking in to our fundamentals.”
Madubuike said the defense’s approach to improvement is simply looking toward the rest of the schedule, rather than reflecting on past games.
“Every single day is a new opportunity for us to keep getting better,” Madubuike said. “We don’t really worry about what we did against Texas State, against Clemson, against Lamar — those are in the past. If we just take it one day at a time and be the best versions of ourselves every single day, I believe it will work out.”
The Aggies are coming off a 31-27 win over Arkansas, but Madubuike said some issues arose in the game that A&M needs to clean up before moving on to its next game against No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 12.
“It’s a good feeling to win, but it’s just another reiteration that we need to keep getting better,” Madubuike said. “There’s a lot of things that we could have done better in the game. A lot of personal fouls, a lot of fumbles, stuff like that that we could have avoided.”
Fisher said no matter how good the team gets from here, there will always be improvements to make before he would consider the Aggies to be in peak form.
“Any team that says it’s close is wrong,” Fisher said. “We’re definitely not. We can play at a peak level, but we’ve got to play with greater consistency. We have to strain, not just physically, but mentally to stay locked in. It’s the mental strain where great teams play at. They understand the importance of every step of every alignment of every assignment. I know that sounds very trivial, but that’s what it gets down to.”