Scouting Report

2022-09-21T07:00:00.0000000Z

2022-09-21T07:00:00.0000000Z

WEHCO Media

https://hawgsillustrated.pressreader.com/article/281526524912859

SCOUTING REPORT

Jimbo Fisher and his staff assembled the nation’s top recruiting class in the offseason and the Aggies entered the season with playoff aspirations, ranked No. 6. It took only two weeks for those goals to take a big hit. Texas A&M was upset 17-14 by Appalachian State at Kyle Field, all but dashing the Aggies’ playoff hopes. Panic alarms were already sounding in Aggieland after the offense looked stagnant in a season-opening victory over Sam Houston State. Losing to the Mountaineers in Week 2 made those same alarms blare, validated fans’ concerns and sent shock waves across college football. What promised to be a bounce-back season for the Aggies appears to instead be regression. Considering Texas A&M’s early struggles and its upcoming schedule, matching an 8-4 record from 2021 might be a stretch if some things aren’t fixed quickly. Fisher’s 35-15 record through his first 50 games was one game worse than his predecessor, Kevin Sumlin, who was 36-14. Fisher is locked into a deal which pays him $9.5 million annually through the 2031 season. The Aggies have been solid on defense this season. As good as they have been stopping opponents from putting up big numbers, they haven’t been able to compensate for bad offense. Against an Appalachian State team that gave up 63 points to North Carolina the week before, Texas A&M could only generate 14 points off 180 total yards. With the offense struggling against teams outside the SEC, Fisher and the Aggies must figure something out — and figure it out fast — before conference play begins. TREND Last year, Arkansas broke a nine- game losing streak against Texas A&M by upending the then-No. 7 Aggies 20-10. It was the 10th time the teams have met while both were ranked. The victory ascended Arkansas to No. 8 in the AP Top 25, while it spiraled the Aggies into a season marked by failed expectations. The Southwest Classic will be played inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, for the 11th time since 2009. The rivalry alternated home stadiums in 2012 and 2013 before a return back to Arlington. During the shortened 2020 season, the game was played at Kyle Field in College Station. DID YOU KNOW? Prior to the Aggies winning nine straight, the Hogs had won three consecutive games from 2009-11. Texas A&M won two in a row from 1990-91 after Arkansas won a pair in 1988-89. Of the last 12 games played, 10 have been within two possessions. In the stretch played from 2014-17, three of the four games went into overtime. Texas A&M won each of those. The past two times Arkansas has beaten Texas A&M, both teams have been ranked. In 2011, the Razorbacks battled back from an 18-point halftime deficit to defeat the Aggies 42-38, a game in which Tyler Wilson shattered the school’s single-game passing yards record with 510. Jarius Wright set the program’s single-game receiving yards record with 281, a feat that stood for just one year. Arkansas and Texas A&M are each other’s most commonly played SEC opponent, for now, a result of the teams’ Southwest Conference days. The series dates to 1903 and has been played in six different cities — College Station, Fayetteville, Arlington, Little Rock, Dallas and Houston. TEXAS A&M KEY PLAYER Senior receiver Ainias Smith has been a playmaker for the Aggies since his freshman season in 2019. Entering the 2022 season, he was responsible for 2,475 all-purpose yards. He’s not only seen action catching the ball, but also has been worked into run-game schemes. Smith also returns punts, and has one punt return touchdown in his career, a 95-yard score against South Carolina in 2021. Smith was voted by coaches a preseason first-team All-SEC selection in the all- purpose and return specialist categories. He was voted second-team All-SEC as a receiver. He is the only Aggie to gain 250-plus yards as a receiver, rusher, punt returner and kickoff returner. It has only been done by nine other players in SEC history. The Razorbacks have had some trouble against Smith since the first facing him. As a freshman he caught 5 passes for 80 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown against the Hogs. He found the end zone again his sophomore season and tallied 67 on 6 receptions in 2020, but last season Arkansas held him in check, limiting Smith to 35 yards on 2 catches. Statistically, Smith is one of the Aggies’ 10-best receivers in program history. He is seventh in career touchdowns. After the Aggies’ loss in Week 2, Smith took it upon himself as a senior leader to try to rally his team. “I did not have a message to the team after the game on Saturday,” Smith said. “But yesterday (when they returned to practice), it was to not let one loss define us.” TEXAS A&M ON OFFENSE Texas A&M’s offense wasn’t great in its first two games and was particularly abysmal in the loss to Appalachian State. The Aggies had just one red-zone attempt in its first two weeks, but the team scored three touchdowns on deep passes against the Bearkats in Week 1. It has been a struggle for Texas A&M to piece together scoring drives in which the team consistently moves the ball down the field. Offensively, Texas A&M ranked second- to-last in the SEC in yards per game (338.5) prior to playing Miami, and last in points per game (22.5). Against Appalachian State, the Aggies gained only nine first downs and controlled the ball for 18 minutes, 31 seconds. They only had 38 plays, while the Mountaineers had 82. It was a poor showing on offense, just one week removed from quarterback Haynes King passing for 364 yards. King was replaced by Max Johnson as starter before the Miami game. Dating to 2019, Smith has 26 consecutive games with at least one reception. Against Sam Houston, Smith had a pair of touchdown receptions of 40-plus yards, and hauled in 164 yards, a career high. In the loss to Appalachian State, running back Devon Achane rushed for a touchdown and had a 90-yard kickoff return score. He was on the track and football teams at Fort Bend Marshall High School with Arkansas quarterback Malik Hornsby. He ran the 100 meters in 10.5 seconds and was on the 400-meter team with Hornsby. “We have to keep getting him the ball. He had 10 for 68 on offense,” Fisher said of Achane after the loss in Week 2. Evan Stewart was the second-highest rated wide receiver in the 2022 recruiting class. Through two weeks, he sat atop the SEC freshmen in receptions, averaging five per game. Sophomore receiver Yulkeith Brown snagged his first career touchdown catch, a 66-yarder against Sam Houston to score the Aggies’ first points of the season. The offensive line has protected well this season, but the unit has not opened up the rushing game much at all. The Aggies ranked 114th among FBS teams in yards on the ground entering Week 3, only manufacturing 193 yards. The only teams ranking lower from the SEC were Kentucky and South Carolina, who the Razorbacks’ rush defense shut down. A bright spot on the Aggies’ line is right guard Layden Robinson. He has been battling injury, but is projected to be a late first-round to early second-round selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. Overall, the Aggies have disappointed on offense this season. The team hoped a handful of highly rated recruits, a transfer quarterback and improvement from returners would lead to a dynamic, high- scoring output. It hasn’t added up yet, and has kept the defense on the field for most of the game. TEXAS A&M ON DEFENSE The Aggies’ defense was exceptional early in the season. Without the unit limiting opponents to a mere 8.5 points per game through two weeks (11th in the nation) and 256 yards per game (21st in the country), the team wouldn’t be staying in games. Prior to playing Miami, Texas A&M had given up just 144 yards per game on the ground, and 112.5 through the air. Leading the team in tackles is junior defensive back Antonio Johnson. He was a preseason All-SEC second-team selection and registered a team-high 13 takedowns against Appalachian State. He started every game for the Aggies last year as a sophomore and led the team in solo tackles (53). He played in seven games his freshman season, part of the team that just missed the playoff. Senior linebacker Chris Russell was ranked 10th in the SEC tackling entering the Miami game. He has been in the defensive mix from the moment he arrived in Aggieland, playing 10 games as a freshman. Russell has played in each game since and had his career-high in tackles (10) against Appalachian State. The unit has been on the field often, with the offense near the bottom of the FBS ranks in time of possession. “Our defense played hard and played physical,” Fisher said recapping the

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