Playing away from Kyle Field for the third straight week, against an SEC opponent for the third straight week, and playing without four starters, Texas A&M managed to scrape out a 24-13 victory over South Carolina on Saturday. Here are three takeaways from the win.
The Aggies got it done in a different way
For a team that has been winning with big plays and stifling defense, it was a bit jarring to see the Wrecking Crew surrender a 75 yard touchdown on the first play of the game to a team that was one of the SEC’s worst offenses.
Add to that the fact the the big plays A&M had grown accustomed to weren’t quite happening this week (just one 40+ yard play after averaging three per game in the first four games, while Josh Reynolds and Christian Kirk never managed more than 17 yards on any given play), and this win didn’t fit the script.
Yet A&M won. The Aggies still pressured the South Carolina quarterback and disrupted them even without Myles Garrett (Daeshon Hall had two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss) and forced two turnovers. The Aggies still ran and passed for over 200 yards thanks to a dynamic QB/RB rushing attack and a steady diet of short passes to the edge mixed in with just enough downfield passing.
This game was labeled as a trap game all week, and the Aggies could have easily come out flat when playing without so many top contributors and potentially looking forward to this Saturday’s matchup against Tennessee. And maybe they even did play flat. But they still won. And that’s all that matters.
The Aggie secondary hasn’t found its groove yet
This isn’t to say that they’ve played poorly- they haven’t. The Aggies pass defense is 32nd in yards per attempt and 23rd in pass efficiency defense. That would fall into the good but not great category.
After losing two starting cornerbacks last year (both of whom are playing on Sundays now), it was natural to expect a little drop-off at the position. Obviously I’m being picky by picking on them here, but with the amount of pressure the A&M defense puts on opposing quarterbacks, one would hope for a little better production on the back end of the pass defense.
South Carolina, while playing without a few contributors at wide receiver, had their best passing day of the season on Saturday. No, they didn’t pass for 300 yards or anything, but they did have success in the fourth quarter and the game was still in doubt at the time.
As noted above, the Aggies’ secondary is good. I’m not bashing them. But I think great is within reach. And they aren’t there yet.
The Aggies need to figure out what to do with Christian Kirk
This isn’t a criticism so much as it is just an observation. Christian Kirk hasn’t necessarily been invisible, considering he leads the SEC in receptions with 33. But his 8.24 yards per catch ranks just 37th in the conference. Take out the Prairie View A&M game, and Kirk is averaging just 5.9 ypc.
After making a lot of big catches for big gains in 2015, particularly against Arizona State and Arkansas, Kirk has been really quiet in the “big play” department since then when looking at his games against Power 5 opponents.
Noel Mazzone knows that Kirk is a big play waiting to happen and has been trying to get the ball into his hands, but it’s apparent that he hasn’t yet found the right formula to really cut him loose within the context of the offense.
As it stands now, most of Kirk’s catches come on screens and quick outs, plays that for the most part aren’t giving him very much room to run. When I watch other great slot receivers, especially in the NFL, they seem to be able to always get the ball in space, on the move, and often in the middle of the field. For whatever reason, A&M hasn’t been able to do that with Kirk.
For the Aggie offense to reach its full potential, they need to find a way to get Christian Kirk the ball in space. Something to watch for this weekend.