COLLEGE STATION, Texas – No. 23 Texas A&M (2-2) has stumbled out of the gates this season, mostly due to struggles on offense. Despite the early troubles, team leaders like quarterback Kellen Mond and wide receiver Jhamon Ausbon are focused on keeping the team’s mindset positive.
The Aggies have scored limited points early in their two biggest games this season against No. 1 Clemson and No. 7 Auburn. The offense only scored three points in the first three quarters against Auburn on Saturday, before putting up 17 points in the fourth. Mond said the team’s initial tempo and energy is not where it needs to be.
“It’s kind of weird at the beginning of the game [because] you really don’t have to score,” said Mond, who has 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns this season. “But at the end of the game when the pressure’s on, you have to go down and score. Playing with that mindset the whole game is big for us.”
The offense seems to produce better when they go up-tempo, something that Ausbon said he hopes to see this week against Arkansas at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. The wide receiver, who has 364 yards and two touchdowns this year, added that the key to a more consistent offense is for every player to understand the importance of their role on each play.
“A lot of those plays are one block away,” Ausbon said. “I think that if you understand that your block, your catch or your route could be the deciding factor in the game, I guarantee you wouldn’t mess it up.”
Even though the Aggies have not started the season how they wanted to, Mond said he thinks the team is still positive overall. Texas A&M started with a 2-2 record last season but still managed to win nine games, including a lopsided win over N.C. State in the Gator Bowl. He said he sees some other similarities to 2018.
“I feel like last year we were getting used to the new culture, and we didn’t really know what to expect,” Mond said. “It’s possibly the same this year. We’ve got a lot of new faces who are playing a lot of reps.”
Mond added it is important that the team keeps the same mentality as last season by understanding that each game is equally important. Ausbon agreed, saying the team leaders ultimately set the mindset for the entire team.
“It’s very important that we don’t let [doubt] creep in as leaders,” Ausbon said. “I’m not saying that’s not a thought. It’s pretty normal for that to happen, for a team to lose two games that you thought you could win. I think it’s my job and some of the leaders’ jobs to make sure we don’t lose that family and lose that togetherness that we are supposed to have throughout the season.”
It was this game last year when Ausbon injured his foot and was sidelined for four games. The wide receiver said the injury helped him develop as a leader and that he plays with more passion now.
“That was kind of the best thing that happened to me -- the best-worst thing that ever happened to me -- because I got to sit back and finally see,” Ausbon said. “Now I see what the coaches talk about when they harp on us about things.
“I took that leadership approach during those four weeks I was out and became a vocal leader. I started to tell guys what I see and what we have to do to be a great team.”
Ausbon said that Mond has grown as a leader too. The duo has lived together for five years, and he knows that the Aggies’ quarterback truly cares about winning.
“We feed off Kellen,” Ausbon said. “Those games last year we won, those late games, or even Clemson [when] we lost last year. The passion Kellen had, we feed off that. I’ve been trying to tell him that that’s very important to have.”
Despite what many fans believe, the quarterback is more vocal than he appears in games. Head coach Jimbo Fisher said there is more than one way to be a vocal leader on a football team, adding that Mond is knowledgeable about the offense and does a good job answering the questions his teammates have.
“We have an image of a quarterback,” Fisher said. “He is very vocal. He doesn’t yell and scream but talks to guys privately and does a lot of that. … Guys can vocally communicate behind the scenes. … It’s just how your personality is. The key is how your team respects you and how do they respond to what you say.”
Fisher said that when a team has a disappointing start to a season, having team leaders like Mond and Ausbon to lean on is crucial.
“You definitely have to,” he said. “You have to learn to bond together because frustration can set in, anything can set in. That’s part of sports. There’s good and there’s bad.”
Fisher added that he understands that fans are frustrated with the results on the field, but he is going to remain focused on the process; something he has preached his entire career.
“Don’t become result-oriented,” Fisher said. “You’ve got to be process-oriented. That’s part of our program. We have to understand why the results are there. … You can’t get caught up in results. You have to get caught up in the practice and the process of doing it right so it translates to the field.”
That being said, a dominant win on Saturday against Arkansas would mean a lot to this team.
“It’d be huge,” Ausbon said. “Just creating that identity. Three or four games in, I think our struggle is understanding who we truly are. I say that because if you know what you’re capable of, you won’t make certain mistakes. Dominating an opponent … is very important for us.”