No. 23 Texas A&M has a long way to go on offense, but it still found a way to beat Arkansas in the final minutes despite being down for the majority of the second half.
Quarterback Kellen Mond is carrying this offense in the air and on the ground, and he had a considerably better game than he did last year against the Razorbacks.
The turnovers were limited from Mond, as he threw touchdowns and found reliable receivers in key moments of the contest. Although he still threw a bad pick to Montaric Brown to the upper left part of the end zone late in the third, he still had a stellar outing in Arlington.
Wideouts Jhamon Ausbon and Ainias Smith had 80-plus yards on the receiving end, including a touchdown early in the first quarter from Smith. The true freshman has also been doubling as a punt returner, and head coach Jimbo Fisher plans to make him a bigger part of the offense as soon as possible.
“We’ve got to get this guy going,” Fisher said of Smith after the game. “He’s making plays for us, Quartney [Davis] and him. He’s doing a nice job, too. For a really young guy, he was doing a nice job and also in our punt return game.”
The run game continues to struggle, with tailback Jacob Kibodi leading the team with 38 yards on the ground against Arkansas. The Razorbacks had the 76th best rushing defense going into the matchup with A&M.
Mond wasn’t far behind Kibodi, with 33 rushing yards, and he made a few major plays with his legs that extended drives late in the game for the Aggies.
Isaiah Spiller, on the other hand, turned the ball over for the second time in consecutive games. The true freshman tailback finished the contest with a touchdown but ended the game with zero yards on the ground after losing the fumble for -12 yards.
“I thought, defensively, that our up-front guys and linebackers were going to have to play well in the run game,” Arkansas head coach Chad Morris said. “I think they did a really good job of that, and again, this is just something we’re going to have to continue to build on.”
So where does A&M go from here?
The game with Arkansas was going to be a be-all, tell-all situation with the run game, and the performance from the tailbacks was all Fisher and staff needed to know as they prepare for Alabama in two weeks.
A&M’s offense will have no other choice than to rely on an air-raid system if the Aggies want to be competitive against SEC rivals. The win against Arkansas proved that A&M doesn’t have the foundation for a consistent run game like they did last year, due to a lack of experience along the interior of the offensive line.
The offensive line sustained some key losses last year at guard and center, and it has cost A&M in Power 5 matchups. Against Arkansas, the A&M offensive line paved the way for 38 total yards from the tailbacks, plus another 71 rushing yards from Mond and wideout Quartney Davis.
The loss of Jashaun Corbin has crushed the quality depth at tailback, and the loss of Deneric Prince to the transfer portal hasn’t helped either.
Fortunately for the Aggies, Mond has been locating his receivers better and younger targets have stepped up to the plate.
The Mond to Quartney Davis connection was a game-changer for A&M against the Razorbacks. With Ausbon also being a reliable downfield target and Smith disrupting the secondary, it could mean trouble for other defenses.
Davis also carried the ball 18 yards on a double-reverse play for a first down on the second drive of the game, proving that Fisher still has a few tricks up his sleeve in playcalling. Plays like those were the difference for Auburn against A&M, and it could be a game-changer for the offense in big games.
What needs the most improvement?
The offensive line has struggled more this season than any other offensive unit this season. The interior is in shambles, most importantly at center and right guard. Offensive line coach Josh Henson placed Kenyon Green at the right guard spot, and he seems a bit out of his element. The true freshman played offensive tackle in high school but won’t get any time at those two positions with Dan Moore Jr. and Carson Green protecting the edges.
Ryan McCollum has been one of the best interior linemen when healthy, but he hasn’t been on the field due to injury over the past few weeks. McCollum started the season at center, and Colton Prater has taken his place in his absence. With Prater in, the line looks a bit weaker and out of sync. Against the Razorbacks, the offensive line gave up four sacks against one of the weaker pass rush units in the country.
Without a reliable interior offensive line unit to create gaps for tailbacks, the run game won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
“I felt like we’ve got to eliminate a lot of the self-inflicted wounds and just focus on doing our job,” Davis said. “We’ve got to play better on offense and be able to run and pass the ball more efficiently.”