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The Battalion

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

The Battalion

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Five things to look for during A&M-Kent State

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With Texas A&M’s first football game set for Saturday, Sept. 4, sports writer Jordan Epp outlines what to watch for this season. 

After Texas A&M’s Orange Bowl victory over North Carolina in early January, all eyes turned toward the 2021-2022 season. The Aggies kick off on Saturday, Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. at Kyle Field. A lot has changed since then, and here is what you need to know.

1. Haynes King’s starting debut

Following his senior season with A&M, four-year starter Kellen Mond declared for the 2021 NFL Draft, where the quarterback was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings as the second pick of the third round. Redshirt freshman Haynes King is now set to usher a new age for the Aggies.

King was a very successful high school quarterback, going 37-2 as a starter at Longview High School. After a redshirt season to learn under the tutelage of Mond and head coach Jimbo Fisher, King will finally face his first test in the FBS. Kent State allowed the third-lowest passing yards-per-game in 2020, so the dual-threat quarterback gets his opportunity to show the fans his abilities in both the passing and running game against a tough defense.

2. New-look offensive line

Another group to observe this season is the offensive line. The “Maroon Goons” were one of the best units in the country last season, allowing only seven sacks, the eighth-lowest in the nation. Members Carson Green, Jared Hocker, Ryan McCollum and Dan Moore Jr. all left for the NFL following the 2020 season.

The A&M offensive line is new in 2021, but not short of talent. Two-year starter and All-American junior Kenyon Green is moving from guard to tackle, and Tennessee graduate transfer Jahmir Johnson was brought in to play opposite of him. The interior is where the inexperience lies, but is highlighted by junior center Luke Matthews, who started in 2019 before facing an injury-riddled 2020 season.

The unit has been battling injuries as of late, but it will be interesting to see who starts and how the unit performs.

3. Loaded backfield

After posting his second straight season with at least 900 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns, junior running back Isaiah Spiller is poised to be one of the nation’s top prospects at his position in the upcoming draft. Spiller and his bruising running style are set to be a main focus of the Aggies’ offensive identity in 2021.

However, Spiller isn’t the only Aggie fighting for carries this year. Junior Ainias Smith will continue his role as a running back-wide receiver hybrid. Listed as the latter, Smith still handled 49 carries on the season for an average of six yards-per-carry and four touchdowns. The Swiss Army Knife Smith is looking to once more be a dynamic athlete no matter where he lines up on the field.

A&M fans should also keep their eyes out for sophomore running back Devon Achane. In his freshman season, Achane had 31 carries for 224 yards in the regular season before breaking out in the Aggies’ bowl game. The Orange Bowl MVP carried the ball 12 times for 140 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. Later in the year, he was a standout for the A&M track program, earning All-American honors in three events. Achane could be an X-factor for the offense and surprise many people.

4. Defensive prowess

Only allowing 317.3 yards per game, A&M’s total defense ranked ninth in the country and first in the SEC. The group is anchored by junior pass rusher DeMarvin Leal, one of the best defensive ends in the country. Another star on the defensive side is junior safety Demani Richardson. The group looks to contend once more for the title of best defense in the nation.

Last season, Kent State ranked first in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 49.8 points per game. The A&M defense will get an opportunity to show its dominance once again when it faces the Golden Flashes’ high-powered offense to start its season.

5. Return of the 12th Man

A major factor going into the season is the return of the 12th Man. Last season, Kyle Field was restricted to 25 percent capacity during its games over COVID-19 concerns. This season, A&M is expected to be back at full capacity. With about 85,000 more fans in attendance per game, the booming Kyle Field will once again provide a major home field advantage for the Aggies.

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