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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

Texas A&M utility Gavin Grahovac (9) throws the ball during A&Ms game against Georgia on Friday, April 26, 2024, at Olsen Field. (CJ Smith/The Battalion)
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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Texas A&M’s ground game vital for matchup with Alabama

Sophomore+running+back+Isaiah+Spiller+led+the+Aggies+with+117+rushing+yards.
Photo by Photo by Meredith Seaver

Sophomore running back Isaiah Spiller led the Aggies with 117 rushing yards.

The Aggies are 1-0 after winning a close 17-12 contest against Vanderbilt on Saturday, and the main reason why Texas A&M struggled to find an offensive rhythm was turnovers.
The offense coughed up the ball three times, which all came at points in the game when the Aggies could have thwarted the Commodores’ momentum with a score to give the A&M defense some breathing room.
They will almost certainly not have the same luxury against Nick Saban and the No. 2 Crimson Tide this weekend.
“On offense, we’ve got to clean up the turnovers,” said A&M coach Jimbo Fisher. “If you get the opportunity for two or three scores you can get control of the game.”
Alabama faced the Missouri Tigers in its first game of the season and held the Tigers to just six points until the fourth quarter when Missouri managed to score 13 points, making the final score 38-19. However, six of those points came on a touchdown run from Missouri as game time expired while both teams’ reserves saw playing time late in the game.
The Crimson Tide also caused two turnovers, both fumbles and held Missouri quarterback Shawn Robinson to just 185 passing yards while effectively stopping the run as running back Larry Rountree logged only 67 rushing yards.
Look for the Aggies to lean on their ground game in Tuscaloosa as Isaiah Spiller and the speedy receiver-running back hybrid Ainias Smith combined for a touchdown and 168 yards on the ground.
Spiller said he likes the duo of Smith and himself and thinks the pair can challenge opposing teams.
“Ainias is a great player — very fast, shifty, [he] can shake you so I feel like me and him in the backfield can really give a defense a lot of problems,” Spiller said.
Smith had his best play on an option pitch from senior quarterback Kellen Mond that he took 25 yards to the endzone, which gave the Aggies a lead they would not relinquish. Spiller, on the other hand, showed his value as the downhill runner as he broke off a couple big runs — his longest going for 57 yards on the first play out of halftime. Spiller led the Aggies in rushing yards with 117.
“I just had to hit it,” Spiller said about his long run. “I had seen [sophomore left guard] Kenyon [Green] blocking the linebacker, so I had to cut off of that and that’s when I broke it.”
In regards to the passing game, Mond and the new-look receiving corps struggled to get on the same page as he threw 11 incompletions to his 17 completions. Caleb Chapman was the Aggies’ leading receiver with 40 yards to his name as well as a touchdown catch. Jalen Preston, Chase Lane and Kam Brown combined for nine grabs on the evening.
One point Fisher pointed out in the postgame press conference was that the offense only ran 55 plays over the course of the game, which appears to be an outlier given the fact that the Aggies averaged just under 70 plays a game during the 2019 season. This can certainly have an effect on things like play calling and the overall offensive rhythm. Vanderbilt also won the time of possession battle as they held a seven-minute advantage in that department.
“Ideally we’d like to have 70 to 80 plays a game,” Fisher said. “The big thing is that we’ve got to convert third downs.”
The Crimson Tide features several high-level players at each position but linebacker Dylan Moses; cornerbacks Josh Jobe and Patrick Surtain II; defensive lineman LaBryan Ray; and safeties Daniel Wright and Jordan Battle headline Pete Golding’s defense.
Ray has already shown his ability against Missouri as he logged his first sack of the season, while Jobe had a sack of his own. Wright had a tackle for loss and led the team in tackles with 11 — Jobe had the second most with seven.
Alabama’s Surtain only had one tackle on his stat line, but the junior cornerback is one of those defenders teams try to avoid as he earned 2019 honorable mention All-America honors, totaling eight pass breakups and a pair of interceptions. He is expected to be a high first-round 2021 NFL Draft pick barring injury.
In fact, Surtain is one of several members of the Crimson Tide who could be a first round draft pick with Ray, Moses, and receivers Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith joining him as players who have received first-round grades.
So, with two extremely talented cornerbacks and a pair of formidable safeties, the Aggies will have to control the line of scrimmage and enforce their will early against Alabama’s front seven if they want to win this game.
Passing yards are going to be difficult to produce against Alabama’s secondary, so the running game will be very important for A&M to get going early so Mond can have some more time in the pocket on both play-action passes and the longer-developing pass plays later in the game.

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