Preview: Can Texas A&M Start the Spoil Party Between the Hedges?
COLLEGE STATION - Although Texas A&M has been a member of the Southeastern Conference for eight years now, Georgia has yet to face the newest team in the conference. All that will change Saturday as the Aggies travel to Athens, Ga. to meet the No.4 Bulldogs "between the hedges" at Samford Stadium.
A four-game win streak now has No.24 A&M looking like potential contenders for the future. The offense has rebounded under the direction of Kellen Mond and the improved run game thanks to Isaiah Spiller and Cordarrian Richardson. On defense, young talent such as DeMarvin Leal and Demani Richardson have given the team a new identity both against the run and in coverage.
For Georgia, there's little left to prove until December. Although a victory would likely help add to their College Football Playoff resume, the team will be guaranteed a chance at the SEC title due to clinching the SEC East for the third-straight season. Jake Fromm continues to be a perfect game-manager while D'Andre Swift is an ideal running back to control Kirby Smart's offense.
Here's everything both Georgia and A&M fans should know for this weekend's showdown.
When: 2:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 23 at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia
Last meeting: Georgia defeated Texas A&M 44-20 on Dec. 28,2009 in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Line: -13.5 Georgia
Records: Texas A&M (7-3 overall, 4-2 SEC); Georgia (9-1 overall, 6-1 SEC)
When Texas A&M is on Offense
The Aggies have relied on a balanced offense during the past month of play. The emergence of a two-back set has allowed Jimbo Fisher's squad to take pressure off of Mond's passing. Richardson led the team with 130 yards and two touchdowns last weekend against South Carolina while Spiller followed with another 100-plus yard performance. The ladder has collected 100 rushing yard games three times this season, including a 217-yard outing against UTSA.
The team might be looking to succeed through the air as Georgia's front seven has eliminated the run. The Bulldogs rank third nationally in run defense, allowing an average of 75 yards per game. The dual-threat ability of Mond could come crucial should the pass rush find their way into the backfield.
Scoring in general against Georgia is a tough task. Auburn became the first team to score a rushing touchdown on the season against them, while Smart's unit is allowing an average of 10.5 points per game. One area they've struggled in is covering the tight end across the middle of the field. Freshman tight end Jalen Wydermyer could be in for a big day for A&M's aerial attack.
When Georgia is on Offense
Swift has been the constant for the Bulldogs' offense this year. The junior has eclipsed 100 yards in a game four times this year and currently ranks second in the SEC with over 1,000 yards on the year. Swift might lead the charge, but senior Brian Herrien is a threat to score, averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
Fromm has played in games like this since his freshman season. The three-year starter continues to be the conductor of flawless drives and impressive outings despite losing three key offensive pieces to the draft last season. That also could be due to the offensive line's ability to maintain their blocking assignments. One of the best in the country, the team has allowed just six sacks on the year.
For the Aggies, it will be about eliminating big runs out of the backfield. Hold Swift and Herrian for minimal gains could swing the momentum in favor of Mike Elko's unit. Even settling for field goals from Rodrigo Blankenship could keep A&M's compose in the right mind late.
Texas A&M Will Win If: They score consistently
In each of their starts away from Kyle Field, the Aggies have had chances to score early. Miscommunication and a lack of protection led to punts and ultimately a loss to Clemson and struggle win over Arkansas and Ole Miss.
It shouldn't be a concern this weekend as Georgia is known for allowing teams to stay in games late. The care will come if once they score, they continue to see drives end outside the red zone. A&M will hope to find the end zone, but field goals will suffice in a close outing. Once they score though, they need to keep it up and maintain that composure.
Georgia Will Win If: Jake Fromm limits turnovers
The Bulldogs; only loss of the season came in a double-overtime shootout with South Carolina. Despite the Aggies defeating the Gamecocks last weekend, that shouldn't give fans a reason to think they're better than the home squad. During that October afternoon, Fromm would throw three interceptions, one returned for a touchdown.
The impending NFL signal-caller has made limited mistakes this season, mainly due to an impressive run game. Should the Aggies eliminate that part of the offensive plan, it will be on Fromm to pick up the pace and score for his roster. So long as he limits his throws and doesn't allow them to turn into interceptions, the Bulldogs could pick up a victory.
What's at stake?
For the first time, A&M really will have nothing to lose in a game. The team has clinched a bowl berth and will finish above .500 for the second time in the Fisher era. Every win from here on out will boost their resume come bowl selection, but a loss doesn't hurt much.
For Georgia, it's nearly a similar situation. With the SEC East clinched, the team could lose and still have a chance at the title in Atlanta. A loss to a lower-ranked A&M team will likely send them outside the top four in the rankings, and ultimately out of the playoff picture, even if they were to defeat LSU or Alabama.
When the 2019 season began, A&M became the first team since 1975 to face the AP top three rosters all in one season. Even with a loss, Georgia ranks outside their initial season position. Throw in the way A&M has looked on the road and the team could be out before the first snap.
Weather conditions are supposed to be rough, meaning this could even the playing field for both parties. Also, this is an Aggies' roster that has transformed into what some would consider promising for the future.
A&M has yet to defeat a ranked opponent. That will change Saturday up in Samford. Fisher and Smart, both disciples of Nick Saban, will trade blows into the final minutes. A Seth Small field goal seals the victory, guaranteeing the team will finish with at least a similar record to last season heading into Tiger Stadium.
Final: Texas A&M 38, Georgia 34