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5 things to watch as Texas A&M hosts South Carolina

Texas A&M (6-3) will host South Carolina (4-6) at Kyle Field on Saturday night in their last home game of 2019.

The Aggies are coming off their second bye week of the season, while the Gamecocks enter this week after a disappointing loss to Appalachian State.

Here are five things to watch in this weekend's SEC matchup:

1. Can the Aggies take down a desperate South Carolina team?

The Gamecocks are currently in desperation mode. With only four wins, South Carolina will need to beat Texas A&M and Clemson in their final two games to even be considered for a bowl game. To make matters worse, they are coming off a home loss to Appalachian State, a Sun Belt Conference team.

"I expect them to be fired up and ready to go," linebacker Buddy Johnson said. "This game can change their season a little bit. This could get some eyes on them, so I expect them to come out ready to go and juiced up. We have to come out prepared and fired up too."

Despite the Gamecocks' recent struggles, the Aggies cannot overlook a team that beat No. 3 Georgia on the road in October. Desperate teams can be dangerous teams.

2. How will Texas A&M's defense fare against another freshman quarterback?

The Aggies have faced an unusually high number of freshmen quarterbacks this season. Ryan Hilinski is fourth on the list. The signal caller has had a good year in terms of total yards, with 2,077. That's good for fourth best in the SEC just behind Aggie quarterback Kellen Mond.

However, his other statistics are not as promising. Hilinski ranks eighth in completion percentage at 60.4 percent, ninth in touchdown passes with 11 and last in average yards per throw at 6.1 yards. Johnson said he is confident in his defensive coordinator's game plan.

"The game is changing a lot," Johnson said. "There's a lot of young guys stepping up and playing in bigger roles now. I think Coach Elko always does a great job with his scheme … trying to get the younger guy to where he can't think in the pocket. Sending different blitzes at them and throwing different coverages. 

"We just have to be ready and force our will upon him and see how he folds under pressure."

While not overlooking Hilinski, the Aggies will need to pay attention to the Gamecocks' backfield. Three of their running backs average more than 5 yards per carry and have combined for 12 touchdowns this season.

3. Will Isaiah Spiller continue to dominate on the ground at Kyle Field?

Freshman running back Isaiah Spiller is coming off the best game of his career. He totaled 217 yards and three touchdowns against UTSA two weeks ago, tying Trayveon William's single-game freshman rushing record.
 
Spiller has been excellent at home this season, totaling 565 yards (94 yards per game) and five touchdowns. For the season, he is averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Fisher said several factors have gone into improving the running game.

"We've gotten better up front," Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "Our tight ends and our edges have gotten better. Our backs and the lanes they've run, and how they got a run, the physicality they got a run with. Taking care of the football. Those things have all gotten better."

South Carolina has allowed an average of 136.6 yards per game on the ground this season, so Spiller may be in for another big night at Kyle Field.

4. Can Kellen Mond keep up his efficient and effective play for a third consecutive home game?

Aggie quarterback Kellen Mond has played an efficient style of football while leading Texas A&M to victory in their last two games at Kyle Field. Combining his games against Mississippi State and UTSA, the junior completed 75 percent of his passes for 445 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Mond also averaged 10.1 yards per attempt.

"I feel really good," Mond said. "In the past three weeks, this is the best I've thrown the football. Just getting back in a rhythm and trying to get better each and every week is something that I look forward to doing. Also my receivers making big-time plays".

The Gamecocks rank 11th in the SEC in passing defense, allowing 228.6 yards per game. Look for Mond to continue his strong play and entertain Aggie fans in the final home game of the season.

5. Will the Aggies' offensive line be able to hold up against a stout defensive front?

One of the strongest aspects of this South Carolina team is their defensive line. Junior Aaron Sterling and senior Javon Kinlaw, who is 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, have combined for 11.5 of the teams 21 sacks this season. The defensive line as a whole is a tackling machine at the line of scrimmage. 

Fisher did not hold back in his praise of the group's talent.

"When you look at their defensive line, they are one of the top in this league," Fisher said. "When you go across the board, ends and tackles, they play the run and they play the pass. … Those guys are a pain, and they're coached very well."

The Aggies' offensive line will need to be ready for tough fight on Saturday night.