By Jack Holmes/Contributor
Texas A&M (5-3) will host UTSA (3-4) at Kyle Field on Saturday afternoon, breaking from their SEC slate to face their final non-conference opponent of the season.
The Aggies are coming off an impressive 49-30 win over Mississippi State, while the Roadrunners held on to beat Rice 31-27.
Here are five things to look for in this weekend's lone-star state matchup:
1. Will Texas A&M become bowl eligible?
With six wins being the threshold, the 5-3 Aggies need just one more win to become bowl eligible this season. Making a bowl game is a yearly expectation for the maroon and white, but with this season's schedule that included two No. 1 teams in Clemson and Alabama (and possibly LSU in November), missing out began to look possible.
After UTSA, the Aggies only have three regular season games remaining. The only one they will likely be favored in is South Carolina at home, before heading out as road underdogs to No. 8 Georgia and No. 1 LSU. If Texas A&M win the next two at home but fall on the road, they will end the season with a 7-5 record, just one game within the threshold.
With that said, head coach Jimbo Fisher said his team is not looking past the Roadrunners this weekend.
"They present a lot of problems defensively," Fisher said. "Different things they do on offense and special teams, they'll have some tricks and things there. We have to go play. I don't care who you play. I don't care if it's Alabama. I don't care if it's UTSA. It's how you play and how you prepare … The game rewards that."
Texas A&M took down N.C. State 52-13 in last year's Gator Bowl on New Year's Eve.
2. Can the Aggie defense continue to force turnovers?
Texas A&M enters Saturday's game with hot hands, having forced an interception in four consecutive games. The Aggies rank 15th in the nation with nine interceptions on the season. They forced two fumbles and an interception last week against Mississippi State, and Devin Morris' first-quarter interception made him the seventh Aggie with a pick off this season. Linebacker Buddy Johnson said he feels something building.
"I definitely feel the momentum," Johnson said. "Guys are buying in, and Coach Fisher's doing a great job of making sure we're not losing track of the big picture."
Lowell Narcisse will lead the Roadrunners at quarterback this weekend, as Frank Harris was lost for the season with a shoulder injury against North Texas earlier this month. UTSA ranks 116th in the nation in total offense, and ranks last in Conference-USA in yards per game with 142.
Narcisse has thrown three interceptions to three touchdowns this season and has averaged just 117 yards per game in his first three starts. The quarterback is a threat with his legs, though, rushing for 358 yards and three touchdowns this season.
The Aggies will have chances to extend their turnover streak on Saturday.
3. Will Kellen Mond keep his strong play rolling?
Aggie quarterback Kellen Mond ranks third in the SEC with 2,003 passing yards. He has also thrown sixteen touchdowns and six interceptions so far this season. His last outing against Mississippi State was particularly outstanding. He completed 73.9 percent of his passes for 234 yards and three touchdowns, never turning the ball over. Mond, who was not sacked, look comfortable throughout the game. It was one of the most complete performances he has had in maroon and white.
"I pretty much trusted my eyes," Mond said. "We kind of ran some versatile stuff, but also just base stuff in our playbook that everybody can go out and react and play ball. I was getting the ball out of my hands pretty quickly. I didn't get sacked. Just getting the ball out of my hands quick and trusting my offensive line and my receivers and their route running. I felt clean."
The Roadrunners have the 19th best passing defense in the nation, allowing just 183.7 yards per game. It will not be a cake walk, but Mond should be able to lead the Aggies to a comfortable victory. If Texas A&M gets out to a considerable lead, I would expect Jimbo Fisher to pull Mond and give one of his younger signal callers some live game action.
4. Can the Aggie defense get back on track against the run?
Although Texas A&M has been fairly stout against the pass, with opposing offenses averaging just under 200 yards, they have struggled to stop the run. In their last two games against Ole Miss and Mississippi State, the Aggies gave up 239 yards and 250 yards, respectively. The Rebels and Bulldogs averaged 5.9 yards per carry, and had numerous runs of over 30 yards.
"Being very sound and disciplined in what we're trying to do," safety Keldrick Carper said of limiting big plays on the ground. "One of them was a missed tackle in the hole and [the running back] got loose. A couple of other ones, [we] just probably overran some things. It's not schematics, it's just having to make the play when you need to make the play."
UTSA has a respectable rushing offense that ranks fourth in Conference-USA, averaging 180 yards per game. Sincere McCormick leads the team, with 567 yards and six touchdowns on the ground, while quarterback Lowell Narcisse has totaled 358 yards and three touchdowns. Both are averaging over five yards per carry.
Stopping the Roadrunners on the ground should provide a decent test for the Aggie defense.
5. Will Texas A&M continue to lean on their freshmen talent?
The Aggies' young players continue to make plays each week, and Saturday's matchup against the Roadrunners should be no different. Both freshmen running back Isaiah Spiller and tight end Jalen Wydermyer led the way again. Spiller totaled 90 yards and a touchdown on the ground, while Wydermyer caught two passes for 62 yards and a touchdown.
Spiller and Wydermyer, along with quarterback Kellen Mond, lead the team in scoring with five touchdowns each this season. Wydermyer and freshman wide receiver Ainias Smith are the highest scoring freshman receiving duo in the country with eight total touchdowns.
"I knew that group coming in was a very talented group and had a chance," Fisher said. "You don't ever know how people are going to adapt and how quickly they're going to adapt … With the injuries that occur and the transfers that occur, it's not like playing with 85 guys anymore. Your freshmen are going to have to make an impact."
The Roadrunners have allowed an average of 393 yards in each game, including 210 yards on the ground. Saturday should provide another good opportunity for Spiller, Wydermyer and other young players to make some big plays in front of Aggie fans at Kyle Field.