Top 10 Lessons Learned During the 2019 Texas A&M Season
COLLEGE STATION - Texas A&M was set to become one of the top teams in the Southeastern Conference. Three games against No.1 teams and five top 10 opponents had the Aggies finish with a 7-5 record.
There's plenty to learn from a struggling second season under the direction of Jimbo Fisher. Some of the new additions helped the Aggies look like genuine contenders that continue to improve. There are areas though the team will need to improve for next season's success.
Here's everything A&M fans should take away from the 2019 campaign.
1. Offensive life is priority No.1
Kellen Mond could be leaving for the NFL following the team's bowl game later this month. Even if he doesn't return, that won't fix the problems on offense. Mond struggled partially due to offensive line play holding a block in pass protection.
The group is young, but there were days Fisher should have pulled his quarterback before he suffered a severe injury. The Aggies allowed 30 sacks on the season and over 50 pressures in the span of 12 games.
Colton Prater is the only player leaving, but he wasn't the biggest problem. With a year under his belt, Kenyon Green should improve after a below-average freshman season. As for Dan Moore and Jared Hocker, their starting jobs shouldn't be considered safe heading into spring ball.
Expect them to fight for playing time come April.
2. Mond Moving Forward
As stated above, Mond cannot take all the blame for his junior season struggles. The three-year starter has been serviceable as the Aggies' signal-caller and a reason why the team has won.
The issue will be his turnover ratio. Mond threw nine interceptions in 2019, the same number as a season ago. Instead of looking to the end zone, he would force throws in coverage.
Mond's been successful for A&M, leading the team to three bowl games. That said, his leash could be short should freshman Zach Calzada improve during spring camp.
3. Defensive line dynamic
Mike Elko's defense flashed potential, but they took an overall step back from a season ago. Still, if there's one area the team can hold their head up high, it would be in the trenches.
Justin Madubuike and the defensive line impressed as a consistent against the run. The junior led the team in sacks (5 1/2) and quarterback hurries (7) while tallying a total of 45 tackles. He could be done in College Station if he wants to head towards the NFL Draft.
Jaden Peavy contributed while Bobby Brown was named an honorable mention on Pro Football Focus' All-SEC team. Micheal Clemons is serviceable while freshman DeMarvin Leal will terrorize quarterback for at least two seasons.
Elko has issues, but the front line if the biggest strength heading into 2020.
4. Injuries cost wins
The Aggies lost SEC leading-rusher Trayveon Williams to the NFL last season. They also lost tight Jace Sternberger after one season in Aggieland. Jashaun Corbin and Baylor Cupp were expected to become focal points of the team's offense.
Cupp never took a snap while Corbin played in 1 1/2 games before missing the season with a hamstring injury. Jalen Wydermyer and Isaiah Spiller respectively played well but saw many reps for freshman talent.
A&M played the season without center Ryan McCollum, meaning Colton Prater had to move inside and Green was forced to start. The team's top corner Elijah Blades missed the final four games of the season with a shoulder injury.
In the end, injuries and veteran experience cost A&M a win or two. With a healthy team in 2020, that should be a correctable problem.
5. Secondary Struggles
Everyone excepted freshman Demani Richardson to contribute during his first year. He shined against the run, collecting 63 total tackles, second-most on the team.
In coverage, Richardson was exposed against quarterbacks such as Joe Burrow, Jake Fromm and Tua Tagovailoa.
All three are expected to go to the NFL Draft this coming offseason, but the Aggies secondary will need to improve. With young talent that was recruited by Fisher, that could help on the back end. Still, quick receivers delivered blows downfield and cost A&M plays they couldn't recover from.
6. Youthful plans
One of the few positives long-term is the emergence of young talent. Six freshmen made their marks in some capacity of the season that should solidify them as the corp to build around.
Spiller finished top 10 in rushing with 869 yards and will grow during his sophomore season. Wydermyer caught six touchdowns, second-most all-time for an A&M tight end in program history. Both Richardson and Leal contributed against the run on defense near the end of the season.
Ainias Smith finished averaging 11.8 yards per catch and was a consistent threat in the return game. Green will become a veteran leader on the offensive line and the team will also gain back Cupp after a redshirt season.
Pairing these playmakers in a talented veteran roster should be promising for the future.
7. Little leaving
Charles Oliver, Braden Mann and Prater all have graduated and will leave the program following their bowl game. Outside of the three, A&M may not lose much else to the NFL Draft.
Madubuike, wide receiver Jhamon Abuson and linebacker Buddy Johnson will likely be the candidates with the most to gain should they leave. All three increased their draft stock and could be heading out the door. Meeting with scouts and finding out their draft grade could decide on what happens next.
Johnson's loss would be the most significant as the team is thin at linebacker. Aubson and Maubuike would be missed, but their production could be replaced. A&M should still be able to field a veteran roster against Abilene Christian.
8. Losing a consistent
You know a team is in a decent position when their most significant loss is a punter. Then again, few punters have been as impressive as Mann throughout their time in Aggieland.
The reigning Ray Guy Award winner has been one of the key reasons for the Aggies' success early in the Fisher era. Averaging 49.3 yards per punt throughout his career, Mann excelled for the Aggies special teams and will do the same for an NFL roster come next season.
Oh, and if you want a special teams player who can tackle, here's your guy.
9. All according to plan
Texas A&M finished with an 8-4 record last season following their seven-overtime victory against LSU. If one was to truly decipher the schedule this season, that's probably right where they were destined to finish again.
Clemson is near impossible for road teams to win at while Alabama possessed one of the greatest wide receiver units in the modern football era. LSU is a veteran roster who blazed the way through the competition thanks to their offensive production.
Georgia and A&M had yet to face each other since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012, making previous tape impossible to watch. Outside of Auburn — a game they probably should have won, A&M did precisely what they needed to this season.
And frankly, Aggie fans should be more upset about the near-upset over Georgia than the Auburn game.
10. Fisher's future?
Is the former Florida State coach the guy to fix A&M? Who's to say, but $75 million is saying he should be. The reality is, A&M fans believed that because he won a title at Florida State, he'd do so at A&M.
Building a new program takes time and two years isn't enough to prove anything just yet. Outside of the Auburn loss, Fisher probably is right on schedule with the mold he is building. Sitting at 16-9, the second-year coach has A&M back to the bowl season and right in the heat of recruiting.
Next season will honestly give Aggie fans a clear picture of the program under Fisher's leadership. For the first time since arriving in College Station, a majority of his players will be ones he recruited. Throw in a more manageable schedule and things are looking bright for the maroon and white.
But if the team goes 8-4 again, there's going to be angry A&M fans screaming for Fisher's firing. And this time, they'll have something to stand on.