It has been a tough season for No. 23 Texas A&M’s offense against Power 5 programs in 2019.
Against No. 1 Clemson and No. 7 Auburn, the run game has been practically nonexistent — only posting 83 rushing yards total in those two contests. The offensive line has had little success in creating any space or gaps for the tailbacks, the wideouts have been dropping passes, and junior quarterback Kellen Mond has regressed in his passing game.
A&M fans have been panicking, but this could be the matchup the offense has been needing in order to get back on track with a rigorous schedule ahead of them.
“The next step is learning from our mistakes,” junior wide receiver Jhamon Ausbon said. “We can’t do anything but learn from it. We were moving the ball fine [against Auburn], but we’ve just got to convert, score and help our defense out — put some points on the board.”
Offensive line coach Josh Henson will have the biggest challenge — coaching his unit to protect Mond in the pocket and create lanes for tailbacks Isaiah Spiller and Jacob Kibodi. In the passing game, Mond’s protection so far this season has been average. The edge protection has been suspect at best, and interior defensive linemen have been having a field day with A&M’s interior linemen.
Against Arkansas, A&M will see a mixture of both. Defensive lineman McTelvin Agim has been the Razorbacks’ biggest threat up front, with the ability to rush the edges as well as clog running lanes in the interior. Much like Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown, A&M will have to find an answer for him early on.
There is no reason that Mond should not succeed in this game. The junior signal caller stumbled in the last matchup against Arkansas, throwing for just over 200 yards and throwing two picks. This season, Mond has been progressing as the season continues, but he will find the perfect chance to make a statement win on Saturday.
“When you’re at the beginning of the game, you really don’t have the score, but then at the end of the game, the pressure is on you,” Mond said. “You have to go down and score, so playing with that mindset the whole game is big for us.”
Arkansas currently has the 93rd overall passing defense in the nation and gave up 402 yards in the air to San Jose State in Fayetteville. With how the defensive secondary has regressed for the Hogs this season, Mond and the offense can run several hurry-up offensive drives and get some points up for A&M early.
However, the A&M receiving corps has not lived up to the expectations that were set for the unit prior to the start of the season. With the exception of Jhamon Ausbon, the wideouts have been dropping passes, running sloppy routes and have not been able to produce like last season.
The Aggies also don’t have a reliable receiver at tight end to be there for Mond when other options are locked down. True freshman tight end Jalen Wydermeyer is still a developing young player, and Glenn Beal is utilized along the offensive line more than he is with the ball.
If A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher calls a play with a two-tight end attack against Arkansas, it may be to open up the run game with a screen play or get Agim out of the picture.
Either way, A&M will have to get the run game back-on-track, and Mond won’t be able to do it by himself. Spiller and Kibodi are capable tailbacks that can punish defenders along the line of scrimmage or in the flat. The Aggies won’t be seeing a lot of success without their run game.
With John “Chief” Chavis at Arkansas as defensive coordinator, it won’t be hard for Mond to identify what is going on in the defensive secondary. Chavis runs a base defense in the secondary and doesn’t make a lot of adjustments as the season continues, contributing to why Arkansas hasn’t found any success limiting passing yards.
The Razorbacks have several talented players on defense, but they’ve been underwhelming as a whole this season. Other than giving up 410 yards per game, Arkansas is also allowing just over 27 points per game — the most in the SEC West this season.
This game has a potential for a shootout and will be great for the Aggies if they get a resounding win with Alabama just two weeks away.
“I think we are getting better,” Fisher said. “I think it’s a learning experience. They’re playing very hard, we’ve played two very good football teams, and we have to get better at that.”