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With Ainias Smith Out, Texas A&M Will Rely On 'Maturity' From Young Offense

The Aggies will need mature play from their underclassmen receivers in place of senior Ainias Smith.

Jimbo Fisher has said on multiple occasions that he hopes to see Texas A&M fight through adversity. He wants to see what the Aggies are made of when their backs are against the wall. 

Offensively, the fifth-year coach might be getting his wish, though it comes at the cost of losing one of his best players. 

Senior receiver Ainias Smith will miss the remainder of the 2022 season after suffering a broken fibula and ankle injury in the No. 17 Aggies23-21 win over No. 20 Arkansas in Arlington at the Southwest Classic. Smith left the game in the third quarter after A&M quarterback Max Johnson rolled over his leg on a designed second-and-10 run. 

Smith is expected to undergo surgery in Birmingham, Ala. later this week and should make a full recovery in time for the 2023 NFL Draft. Smith also could elect to redshirt or use his COVID-19 eligibility waiver and return for one more season if he’s unable to test at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Ind., next spring.  

“It’s just an unfortunate situation,” Fisher said Monday at his weekly press conference. 

The Aggies (3-1, 1-0 SEC) have explosive weapons on offense that could fill the void lost by Smith. Reps and maturity are two areas where the receivers might struggle adjusting to the role entering October. 

Smith had been a go-to weapon and security blanket for all four quarterbacks since arriving in College Station in 2019. In four years with the team, the senior caught at least one pass per game over his past 27 appearances.

Among the healthy receivers, only freshman Evan Stewart has recorded more than five catches (14) and over 100 yards receiving (114). Stewart was suspended, along with three other freshmen, for the Aggies’ win over Miami in Week 3 after violating team rules before kickoff. 

Maturity off the field is one major concern for the Aggies’ offense. On the field, the results are nearly mirrored. A&M was penalized for two illegal shifts Saturday against the Hogs (3-1, 1-1 SEC) during the first quarter. The Aggies were also called for two false starts, a block in the back, an illegal hit below the belt, and a holding penalty. 

“We need to keep drilling and drilling and relaxing in the game,” Fisher said. “That’s not a discipline (issue). As much as anything, it’s anxiety and nerves from those young guys. They’ve just got to relax at the beginning of the game and get their poise and go play.”

The Aggies are set to begin a string of road tests before returning to Kyle Field on Oct. 29 to face No. 14 Ole Miss. First up, a trip to Davis Wade Stadium to take on Mike Leach and Mississippi State’s high-temp offense. 

A&M will need to play disciplined when facing current SEC passing leader Will Rogers in coverage. It’s more than that, though. Davis Wade Stadium is known for its ability to eradicate offensive production due to its obsessive fans ringing cowbells through four quarters of action. 

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Fisher said that it’s the player's responsibility to learn the call before leaving the sidelines. The offensive tempo will be moving quickly, and the Aggies can’t afford to hamper their production with careless penalties that will push a drive backwards. 

“A lot of those guys get disoriented and (don’t) get their eyes over there in time,” Fisher said. “When you signal and go no-huddle and go fast or whatever, they have to get their eyes over there, too.”

Fisher might have a point. Despite picking up back-to-back wins over top 15 opponents, the Aggies are still missing a certain element to their offense. In large part, it could be due to a lack of maturity when breaking the huddle. 

Currently, A&M ranks dead last among SEC schools in total offense (321 yards per game), passing offense (193.8 yards per game), and scoring (21.3 points per game.) Outside of a few big runs from Devon Achane, the Aggies’ ground game has been inefficient in moving the chains. 

Achane rushed for a season-high 159 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas, but 63 of those yards came on a breakaway run in the second quarter. Of Achane’s 335 yards, 135 have come on “explosive plays” of over 20 yards. As a unit, A&M has only scored five offensive touchdowns since Week 2’s loss to Appalachian State. 

The offensive woes only continue on paper with the loss of Smith. Fisher said that receivers Moose Muhammad III and Yulkieth Brown should handle reps in the slot. On punt returns, Muhammad and Achane both have experience, meaning they'll get the first crack to expand their rep count on special teams. 

“Losing Ainias is huge,” A&M tight end Max Wright said. “The versatility that he brings … can play anywhere on the field that he wants, and he’s also a great blocker out of the backfield. 

“There are definitely young guys who are ready to step up.”

Fisher wanted to see what his team was made of when pushed to fight through adversity. He’s about to have his answer come Saturday in Starkville at 3 p.m. 

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