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Pass or fail: Football bye-week grades

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Sophomore QB Max Johnson (14) throws during the Southwest Classic against Arkansas on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Kyle Heise/The Battalion)

Quarterback — B
It’s hard to give a definitive grade for this position, as junior Max Johnson had to step in for sophomore Connor Weigman after Weigman’s season-ending injury. However, the quarterback play for A&M this season has its fair share of ups and downs.
Before Weigman’s injury, he threw for 979 yards on 82 completions with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. So far, Johnson has thrown for 898 yards on 67 completions with seven touchdowns and four interceptions.
The biggest difference between the two is the number of sacks each has taken. Weigman only took three sacks in his starts while Johnson has taken 10 sacks so far, with seven coming during his starts.
A&M fans pointed fingers at the offensive line play for the number of hits Weigman took when he started, which is fair, as the offensive line struggled in pass protection. The issue for Johnson is that he has taken significantly more sacks than Weigman behind an offensive line that still struggles in pass protection.
It’s fair to say it’s because Weigman didn’t play Alabama or Tennessee, but sacks can be attributed to the quarterback at times. Johnson tends to hold onto the ball too long, which could be caused by different variables, but Johnson should know that he doesn’t have a long time behind bad pass protection.
Johnson also isn’t as mobile as Weigman, so getting rid of the ball quicker should be his focus heading into next week. Offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino also needs to help his quarterback with short-developing plays to scheme around the offensive line.
Running Backs — B
Coming into the season, it was unclear which running back for the Aggies would emerge as RB1. What A&M did know is that they had three talented options they could work with in the backfield.
Sophomore running back Le’Veon Moss has taken the majority of the carries for the Aggies. Moss has averaged 5 yards a carry this season, while showcasing his quickness and ability to break tackles.
If there was one area A&M’s coaching staff would like to see Moss improve in, it is the passing game. Moss was targeted four times in Week 7 against Tennessee, only hauling in one catch, while dropping a key pass on third down and eight early in the third quarter.
Moss has been more of the every-down back for the Aggies, but behind him are some weapons the Aggies have been able to use in other ways. Junior running back Amari Daniels has been the Aggies’ big-play threat, while freshman Rueben Owens has been a hard-nosed runner with the ability to make plays in the passing game and open space.
Since arriving in Aggieland, Daniels has had to sit behind running backs De’Von Achane and Isaiah Spiller. However, when he had the chance to touch the ball, he showed off his big-play-making ability with his speed. Daniels’ biggest run of the season came at the end of the game against Auburn, in which he ripped off a 79-yard run to put the Aggies in the red zone.
Aggie fans waited all off-season to see the five-star Owens. At times this season he has shown flashes of the “five-star” name with his tough running and the plays he makes in the passing game. However, he’s still a freshman, and he still needs time to adapt to the college game.
A&M’s run game hasn’t been the strongest part of the offense, but it’s nowhere near the weakest. The running backs are still young and should keep improving as the season goes on. However, the stats will back up their growth only if the Aggies see an improvement from their worst offensive group, the offensive line.
Offensive line — C
The Maroon Goons had high expectations coming into the season with many key players returning. One of the biggest returns for this A&M team is starting sophomore center Bryce Foster, who missed a majority of last season with an injury that ended his campaign after only four games.
However, Foster has been a huge liability for this unit so far this season, receiving a PFF grade of 34.1 which was the lowest among every starter for the Aggies. He has also been a weakness in the passing game with a protection grade of 16.7 that sees him also last among starters.
In the performance against Tennessee, sophomore QB Max Johnson was pressured on 64.1% of his dropbacks which is the highest pressure percentage that A&M has ever had since the stat began being tracked in 2014.
A&M’s offensive line ranks dead last in the SEC in pass-blocking evaluation, which already showed challenges for the mobile sophomore Conner Weigman. Now with the pocket passing Johnson, the flaws truly are beginning to show for this unit.
When Jimbo Fisher talked about Johnson and said, “We ain’t blaming him,” I believe that he was trying to take some of the blame off the backup Johnson and tell the public how limiting the poor offensive line play can really be.
To be fair to the boys up front, they have played to elite front sevens in the past two weeks, with NFL-caliber players all over the field. They can’t let this limit them though as there is talent all over the SEC, and if Jimbo ever wants to win anything in maroon and white then he’ll need to sure up these offensive line woes.
Wide receivers/Tight ends — A
It was no secret the artillery of weapons the A&M wide receiver corps held coming into this season with the likes of junior Moose Muhammed III and the sophomore duo of Evan Stewart and Noah Thomas, as well as the shining star with the return of Sub-Zero, graduate Anais Smith.
The receivers looked elite to start the season, demolishing opponents with starting quarterback sophomore Conner Weigman. However, with the move to Johnson, some cracks are starting to show as the offense has to shift to catering towards the left-handed throws.
The receivers have been the least of this team’s issues and if A&M can just find someone to get the ball to these blazing flashes of Maroon and White, then the offense could truly prosper.
If the offensive coordinator can win Lamar Jackson a Heisman with the lack of weapons around him that he had, I see no reason why these star receivers can’t help carry A&M’s offense even without Weigman under center.
Starting Tight End Donavon Green tore his ACL in a pre-season scrimmage, which launched sophomore Jake Johnson up the depth chart. Johnson has shown good chemistry with his brother.
But he is far from an elite talent and the likes of Georgia’s junior Brock Bowers. Johnson has lots of room for improvement and it will be interesting to see how A&M uses tight ends with the likes of freshman Jaden Platt waiting to see the field.
Defensive line — A+
Simply put, the Aggies defensive line has been dominant this season. From defensive linemen alone this season, the Aggies have accumulated 19 sacks and 36.5 tackles for loss.
The emergence of the D-Line has also consisted of a much-improved run defense that ranked 123rd last season in rushing yards allowed per game. The Aggies are ranked 20th in that category this season due to the disruption the line has caused, while also containing running quarterbacks.
A&M has faced a pair of mobile quarterbacks in Arkansas’ senior KJ Jefferson and Alabama’s redshirt sophomore Jalen Milroe. Jefferson accumulated negative three rushing yards against the Aggies, while Milroe went for -31.
This type of grade was expected for the Aggies after signing five composite five-stars and two composite four-stars along the defensive line in the 2022 class. The Aggies have also received great play from veterans such as junior defensive lineman Shemar Turner and senior defensive lineman McKinnley Jackson.
Turner has 3.5 sacks coming off the edge this season, while Jackson has clogged up the running lanes with his 325-pound frame.
If the Aggies are to right the ship the rest of the way, the Aggie defensive line will likely continue to have to perform at the A+ plus grade they have been performing at.
Linebackers — A
The starting linebackers for the Aggies have been fantastic so far this year and fully deserve a high grade.
True freshman Taurean York has been all over the field in his first year of college ball. The former three-star flipped his commitment from Baylor to A&M a few days before signing day and has proved his recruiting ranking wrong this season, as he is second on the team in tackles with 41. York also has a sack and a forced fumble on the year.
Junior Edgerrin Cooper has been a star for the Aggies at linebacker and was recently named to ESPN’s midseason All-American team for his play so far. Cooper has been a menace in the pass-and-run game this season. He leads the Aggies in tackles with 45 and has a team-high six sacks.
Getting after the quarterback is a new dynamic to Cooper’s game this season. In his previous two seasons combined, he only had half a sack. Cooper also leads all FBS players in tackles for a loss with 13.5.
Defensive backs — C
This may seem like a harsh grade in comparison to the other defensive positions, but the Aggies have struggled in coverage downfield this season.
Coming into the season, the Aggies needed to replace Antonio Johnson and Jaylon Jones who departed for the NFL. Head coach Jimbo Fisher brought in seniors Josh DeBerry and Tony Grimes through the transfer portal, but the Aggies are still looking for answers in the passing game.
A&M is ranked as the 12th-best defense in passing yards allowed per game, but the Aggies also give up 13 yards per completion which ranks as the fourth-worst out of the top 50 passing defenses.
In the Week 6 loss, Alabama senior receiver Jermaine Burton caught nine balls for 197 yards and two touchdowns against A&M. This past weekend, Burton only caught two passes for 60 yards versus Arkansas.
Miami junior quarterback Tyler Van Dyke also erupted for 374 yards passing and five touchdowns in A&M’s Week 2 loss to the Hurricanes.
Senior Josh DeBerry struggled in both of these games, but he is fourth on the team in tackles with 31 and has two interceptions on the year. It is worth noting that he looked a lot better playing in the slot versus Tennessee in place of sophomore Bryce Anderson, who missed the game due to injury.
The defense has yet to see senior Tony Grimes in action this season. The former North Carolina Tarheel transferred to A&M this past offseason, but a lingering lower-body injury has kept him sidelined.
A&M fans shouldn’t point at the defensive backs as the reasons the Aggies have dropped some winnable games this year, but it is very apparent that this group is the weakness of the Aggie defense. The unit will need to step it up with A&M facing some high-scoring offenses for the rest of the schedule.

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