5 things to watch as No. 16 Texas A&M hosts Lamar
COLLEGE STATION, Texas – No. 16 Texas A&M will look to bounce back against Lamar at Kyle Field on Saturday night after struggling in a loss to No. 1 Clemson last weekend.
Aggies coaches and players are looking at the upcoming game as a chance to correct the mistakes that were made against the Tigers. It's their last chance to make some tweaks before conference play begins against No. 8 Auburn next weekend.
Here are five things to watch in Saturday night's game:
Will Kellen Mond bounce back after a rough performance against Clemson?
It is no secret that the Aggies' starting quarterback did not play his best game against the Tigers. He ended the game with 236 yards, one touchdown and one interception, but it was his first half that really dragged the offense down. He completed just five of his 14 passes for 51 yards and continually overthrew several open receivers.
"Just kind of the way that I started, I knew it wasn't good enough," Mond said. "Obviously, you don't get things back, but that's one of the things. I need to get off to a better start."
I feel pretty confident that Mond will be able to get off to a stronger start against Lamar. Let's be honest, the Aggie offense should dominate the Cardinals' defense, who play in the Southland Conference. The only other time the two teams have met, Texas A&M beat Lamar 73-3 at Kyle Field.
Mond took responsibility for the offensive performance against Clemson, illustrating his leadership on the team. He said his missed passes led to receivers dropping balls later in the game. He also noted some miscommunication between the backs. Mond is determined to fix those mistakes this weekend.
"It doesn't really matter who you're playing, and that's the way we look at it," Mond said. "We're going to go in this week, find out what we did wrong last week, correct it and come out with another great week."
In the season opener against Texas State, Mond looked sharp, accounting for three passing touchdowns and one rushing TD. Most of his passes were on target and his deep ball looked tremendous. Head coach Jimbo Fisher made it clear that he is still confident his starting quarterback can perform at a high level.
"He takes accountability for everything," Fisher said. "That guy is the hardest worker. The first guy on the field, the last guy off … He's a high quality, character young man that is so fun to coach and be around. He'll have success because he'll work until he does it. He's very talented."
How will Isaiah Spiller and Jacob Kibodi fare as they replace Jashaun Corbin?
Fisher announced on Monday that starting running back Jashaun Corbin will miss the rest of the season with a hamstring injury after landing awkwardly in the second half against Clemson.
"It's a huge blow," Mond said. "Just seeing how hard he's worked, to see him go out like that with a hamstring injury is kind of devastating. But the next man has to step up, and I know Isaiah [Spiller] and some of those guys behind him are ready."
The Aggies will feature a two-man rotation that focuses on Spiller and Kibodi. Fisher confirmed that Spiller will be the starter for now.
"(Spiller) has played pretty well," Fisher said of the freshman's ability to run, catch passes and pass block.
"He has all those skillsets. So does Kibodi. All of our backs all have really good hands. Obviously, Jashaun was doing it at a higher level and more consistently because he was the starter and he'd been there, but those guys are very capable and can do that very well."
Spiller has shown flashes of ability in the first two games of his collegiate career, including an 86-yard dash against Texas State in the season opener. Kibodi has had limited time on the field, but boasts a 10.5 yards per rush average and has scored both a rushing and receiving touchdown.
"(Kibodi's) always a guy that's been consistent but always waited his turn," Mond said. "I know he's a talented guy, and we're going to depend on him with Jashaun going down. We have a lot of young guys, true freshman. I definitely think he's going to be someone who's going to step up vocally and on the field."
Facing Lamar on Saturday night will give Spiller and Kibodi a chance to ease their way into larger roles.
Will the Aggies' wide receivers limit their drops?
Even when Mond threw on-target passes against Clemson, the offense was hindered by several drops from their pass catchers. Junior wide receiver Jhamon Ausbon said that will be a focus this week as the Aggies prepare for Lamar.
"(We need to) just go back to fundamentals," Mond said. "Seeing it in. Whenever you catch a ball, you catch it with your eyes not your hands. ... Don't make the moment bigger than what it is, it's a normal catch, and working on it at practice."
Texas A&M has a group of experienced wide receivers, as Quartney Davis, Kendrick Rogers, Camron Buckley and Ausbon are all juniors. They'll need to step up to help Mond and an injured running game. Ausbon said Lamar will provide the whole team with an opportunity to correct some mistakes.
"It's very important," Ausbon said. "It's how we are going to take these mistakes we made in Clemson, and are we going to make the same mistakes or are we going to build from those things and be the best we can be? We have to dominate this game."
Can the secondary feast on another small program?
Defensive coordinator Mike Elko put a focus on creating more turnovers in 2019. His defense is off to a strong start. The Aggies forced four interceptions in the season opener against Texas State, and they added one more against Trevor Lawrence and the high-powered Clemson offense.
"Those guys, I've seen them step up," linebacker Anthony Hines said of a secondary that only had seven interceptions in all of 2018. "After last year, there was a lot of criticism towards those guys, and I've seen them take that and have a chip on their shoulder. They've attacked it every day, and they've improved leaps and bounds since then."
The Cardinals' starting quarterback, Jordan Hoy, has already thrown two interceptions this season against the likes of Bethel University and Mississippi Valley State. Saturday night could be a field day for the Aggies' secondary. Senior cornerback Roney Elam, who had a one-handed interception against Texas State and forced another interception against Clemson, said he is trying to get one every game.
"Coach Elko has put the secondary and linebackers in the right position to make big plays," Elam said. "I feel it's paying off for me, being in the right position."
Junior cornerback Debione Renfro will make his season debut against Lamar after being suspended for a violation of team rules. He has started 11 games each of the last two seasons, and his presence on the field will only make the secondary more formidable.
"I think they made some really nice plays," Fisher said of his defensive backs. "I think they are getting better and better each week in coverages, knowing where their help is, knowing each other and knowing how to play the coverage in different situations. They've played very well and played the ball for the most part very well."
Can the Aggies fix their discipline issues that came up against Clemson?
Obviously, playing at Kyle Field will make things a lot easier for Texas A&M. Memorial Stadium, or Death Valley as Clemson likes to call it, is a harsh environment for any opponent to play in. The Aggies handed free yards to the Tigers on both sides of the ball all afternoon, as they were flagged nine times for 85 yards.
A few of those penalties cost the Aggies 15 yards, including a roughing the passer penalty against defensive tackle Justin Madubuike with less than one minute to play in the first half. The free yards added to a Clemson drive that resulted in a one-yard touchdown run by Trevor Lawrence.
"No doubt," Fisher said when asked if discipline will be a focus this week. "In those games, it's the little things, the discipline, the minute things that keep drives alive or on offense they kill them. They set you back. They all magnify themselves when you play good teams. You can't have self-inflicted wounds. You have to play smart football."
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