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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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A&M football needs a good first impression against New Mexico

Photo by Robert O’Brien

The Aggies walk out onto Kyle Field before A&M’s game against Sam Houston State at Kyle Field on Sept. 3, 2022.

First impressions are everything.
Coming off a 5-7 campaign, Texas A&M football’s season-opener versus New Mexico at Kyle Field on Saturday, Sept. 2, at 6 p.m. gives the Aggies an opportunity to show the 12th Man that this team is different.
Different from the 2022 squad that failed to develop a consistent offensive attack. Different from the Aggies that couldn’t stop opponents’ rushing attacks to save its life. Different from last season’s group that lacked discipline and maturity.
The maroon and white want to put last season behind them. Last year is last year, and the focus has shifted to 2023. That starts against the Lobos, who are aiming for a bounce back season of their own after going 2-10 and ending 2022 on a nine-game losing streak.
While New Mexico is no opponent to write home about, last year’s home loss to Appalachian State showed the importance of taking one game at a time and not overlooking any opponent. Sure, fans and even players could be tempted to look ahead to the Sept. 9 matchup at Miami, but the Aggies need to take care of business versus the Lobos first.
“Each and every year you learn from your mistakes, you learn from the past,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Every game is a big game. Every game is an important game, and that’s the way you have to look at it … Hopefully maturity will understand that, hopefully leadership will get that across. The coaching staff, we’ve been preaching that all the way through too.”
Regardless of A&M’s role as 38-point favorites, the first game of the season presents a challenge to all teams due to a lack of knowledge of what to expect from opposing offenses and defenses. In New Mexico’s case, the Lobos brought in Bryant Vincent from UAB as offensive coordinator after averaging just 13 points per game in 2022.
“First games are a pain,” Fisher said. “You don’t ever know what somebody does in the offseason. You’ve got new people, new schemes, new coordinators, what they do, have they changed? … First games are always nerve-wracking in that there’s no film out there to go off of, so they’re very challenging.”
It may be Fisher’s sixth season as the headman in College Station, but he needs a strong season-opener. He’s not necessarily on the hot seat, and he certainly helped his cause with a 38-23 upset of No. 6 LSU to wrap up last year, but there aren’t many reasons why the Aggies shouldn’t contend for SEC titles year in and year out.
Fisher ventured outside the program for help in offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino, who was hired in the offseason to provide a spark to an offense that struggled to find its footing last year. Petrino is regarded as one of the top college coaches of the past 20 years, dating back to his time at Arkansas and Louisville, although that’s led to concerns over Fisher and Petrino butting heads in the locker room.
The hope amongst the A&M faithful is that those concerns are much ado about nothing, and the Fisher-Petrino dynamic furthers the Aggies’ development and potential. With signs pointing to Fisher handing playcalling duties over to Petrino, fans could see Petrino’s “Feed the studs” philosophy early on versus the Lobos.
That mindset focuses on putting the ball in the hands of A&M’s top playmakers, including a strong wide receiver corps of sophomores Evan Stewart and Noah Thomas, junior Moose Muhammad III and graduate Ainias Smith, the latter of which will take the field for his fifth season on Saturday.
“[It’s] probably the most exciting feeling that I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Smith said. “I know all the guys are definitely ready and pumped. We’ve definitely been tired of going up against each other, and we’ve been saying it for the past week. Now that we get to go up against somebody in a different uniform, it’s definitely exciting.”
A&M fans need no introduction to Smith, as he finds himself in the top 10 in A&M history for career receptions and receiving touchdowns, while coming in at No. 11 in receiving yards and punt return yards. The Missouri City native expects to field kickoffs and punts this season, adding a boost to the special teams unit after the departure of Devon Achane to the NFL.
“I feel like the most successful teams are the most successful on special teams,” Smith said. “Those teams that take special teams as serious as they do their own position, I feel like those teams will be the ones to be able to overcome adversity or make a big play on special teams when some people aren’t expecting it.”
Smith was forced to watch most of the Aggies’ struggles from the sideline last year after suffering a leg injury in the fourth game of the season. As A&M prepares to take on New Mexico, he expects a stronger mentality in the Aggies’ locker room in 2023.
“This year, we’ve really been emphasizing in our room, ‘Let’s not play down to anybody’s level,’” Smith said. “My mentality to the guys was, ‘Let’s kill.’ Whoever’s in front of us, let’s go ahead and destroy them and make sure that they don’t want to come out on this field.”
Joining Smith for a fifth year is defensive back Demani Richardson, with 43 starts under his belt. As a leader on defense, Richardson said he feels a different sense of effort amongst the unit entering this season compared to 2022.
“I feel like we’re much more prepared, and I feel like we’re more confident,” Richardson said. “Playing hard every play and just playing to our standard.”
Make no mistake, A&M has a chance to put together a very good season in 2023. That starts with taking care of business against New Mexico and taking things one day and one game at a time.
“We can’t take our foot off the gas,” Richardson said. “We have to prepare each week like it’s the same … We can’t just say, ‘It’s New Mexico.’”

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