I don’t think this was the year anyone wanted it to be.
If Jimbo’s approach was to make this team “businesslike,” then...mission accomplished. Aggie Football plays a very straightlaced, no-frills game. There are certainly clear benchmarks laid out, and a collective plan that must be adhered to without deviance until it’s abundantly clear that it’s not working, at which point, everyone must scramble on their own to salvage the entire operation, with mixed success. Just like in the business world, your input is not valued. Only your collective relief when it happens to work out.
This football team has no real story. No underlying theme of redemption or hope, no superstar to pin its identity to. Kellen Mond is the unquestioned leader of the team, but his is more of a silent leadership by example: a respect earned by enduring the punishments associated with inhabiting one of the SEC’s most collapsible pockets week-in and week-out. There are emerging stars in the freshman class all over the offensive roster, but we hear little of them. No one is breaking records or causing a stir in any way. And that’s fine: that’s not going to happen every single year. But if the goal of the season is to show improvement over last season and the W-L record doesn’t end up doing that, there’s not much left to point at and say “that gives me hope.”
This season felt like an audition throughout the first month, and the result wasn’t terrible: losses to a pair of playoff contenders and relatively easy wins over teams we were supposed to beat. Then it wasn’t quite as close against Alabama as we thought it should be. Then other things started to slip. Eventually it boiled down to each game being a referendum on how the season would be defined. That leads to players not playing loose, which leads to what we saw in 2019: some very tough football being played at times, but a whole lot more in the “missed opportunity” column.
The closest thing to a complete game that this team pitched was the methodical, 30-6 suffocation of South Carolina. It was the offense’s swan song: rolling up 540 total yards, over 300 of them on the ground. The defense held South Carolina to well under 300 yards. And yet this game still felt close until late in the third. The Aggies lost the turnover battle. The first three Aggie drives of the second quarter netted 11 plays, 12 yards, and 3 punts. It’s these pockets of broken football nestled within otherwise stellar performances that leave a trace of bitterness in the mouth at year’s end.
Saturday night in Baton Rouge was Jimbo’s worst loss as a head coach since a 63-20 dusting by #10 Louisville in September 2016 capped off by Lamar Jackson’s five first-half touchdowns that propelled him into the Heisman conversation. Maybe Heisman quarterbacks are a very specific, 43-point deficit-type of challenge for Jimbo. Or maybe Karma decided to teach us a bit of humility after we went a bit overboard with the victory commemorations after last year’s game. Either way, it’s not a great look in the penultimate game of year two of a coaching regime.
So what do we do now? Can we even tell if this year was a net positive or not? Save your earnest recruiting taeks, we all know that pretty much everyone in the top half of the SEC is recruiting lights-out. And we saw the immediate impact this year from Jimbo’s first recruits. But this goes deeper, to the core of the program he’s trying to build: an identity. Because this year was always about building, and that’s a fleeting identity at best.
On a weekly basis, 2019 seemed to be about tap-dancing around the behemoths on our schedule while still trying to efficiently eliminate the weaklings. There was never a unified, consistent approach to football. The best thing that could happen to us in a bowl would be facing a hot team from a Power Five conference that is completely outside our comfort zone. Squaring off against a Minnesota or a Virginia Tech or a Kansas State at the tail end of this season will give us a much better picture of what to expect from Jimbo Year Three than a Texas State-Clemson-Lamar-Auburn lineup in September. The real question is whether or not he’s treating it like the first game of next year, or trying to salvage an already broken 2019 campaign.