Beat Reporter’s Take: Five Questions With Alex Miller of The Dallas Morning News

On this week’s edition of Beat Reporter’s Take, Alex Miller of The Dallas Morning News joined us to discuss Texas A&M’s run defense, the development of quarterback Kellen Mond, how he sees this game playing out and more. You can follow Miller on Twitter @AlexMill20.

  1. Texas A&M has had what has seemed like a very up-and-down season, has there been a common thread in the inconsistency and is this about what you anticipated in Jimbo Fisher’s first season?

I think most pundits picked A&M to finish in the 7-5 to 8-4 range, which is where the Aggies are on track to finish. Most knew this would be somewhat of a rebuilding year, especially with the overhaul Jimbo Fisher is conducting. But although the Aggies seem to be more competitive and have shown more effort and grit, there still seem to be shades of the old regime. A&M has fallen apart in the second half of its last two losses, particularly last week against Auburn. Furthermore, the Aggies have struggled to score touchdowns in the red zone and their secondary has been the defense’s weak link all season. One shouldn’t have expected a complete 180 turnaround in year one, but progress is definitely being made.

2. What has been your take on Kellen Mond’s development from his freshman season to year two?

Kellen Mond has definitely improved as a passer, especially in downfield throws. He has also had to work with an extremely unexperienced receiver unit, and has been without his top target — Jhamon Ausbon — for the last four games. Fisher has also been able to utilize Mond’s legs too, calling designed QB runs that have been successful at times. Likewise, Mond needs to improve on his progressions and still gets easily frazzled in the pocket at times. However, Mond has been been quick to acknowledge the areas he needs to improve in and has seemed to be very receptive to the intense hands-on coaching Fisher gives him.

3.  A&M has the best run defense in the conference. Ole Miss has run the football pretty well this year, but has struggled agains some of the better defenses in the SEC. What’s made the Aggies so successful against the run and secondly, is a there an area in the A&M defense you think Ole Miss could exploit?

The Aggies have been successful defending the run this year because A&M’s front seven is heavily experienced and it finally has the size to fill gaps consistently at a high level. A&M’s sack totals aren’t anything noteworthy, but the Aggies did return the SEC’s sack leader from 2017 — Landis Durham. The linebacker play has improved tremendously too with Otaro Alaka and Tyrel Dodson anchoring the second level. However, the Rebels can really make some damage in the passing game. A&M’s secondary has been quite terrible this season and has given up 39 completions of 20-plus yards, 12 of which have gone for touchdowns. Jordan Ta’amu and the stout Ole Miss receivers could have a field day if they get going early on Saturday.

4.  The Ole Miss defense hasn’t stopped anyone at all this year. Do you think this could be just what the doctor ordered for Mond to get confidence throwing the football? Or will he even have to with Trayveon Williams next to him in the backfield?

This could be a game where Mond is able to get his mojo back passing, but the Aggies will definitely turn to Trayveon Williams and freshman running back Jashaun Corbin to establish a firm run game. Of A&M’s first 20 plays last week against Auburn, 18 were runs. Corbin is a bigger bodied back than Williams, and both have been utilized more in the screen game during recent weeks. Still, I think Mond could have a solid game passing. Tight end Jace Sternberger is due a better outing and Ausbon is expected to return to action this weekend, although it might be in a limited capacity. Expect A&M to have a balanced attack on Saturday, but Williams could really flourish.

5.  How do you see this one playing out? Score prediction?

I think this game could turn into a shootout, especially if Ole Miss gets it going through the air. A&M will likely keep Scottie Phillips below his season average though, so if A&M can be its normal self in pass defense and keep AJ Brown and DaMarkus Lodge from making huge plays, the Aggies should hold their own on defense. Offensively, I think A&M should run for quite a few yards and move the ball well, per usual, and control the clock. This contest has trap game written all over it, but the Aggies prevail. Texas A&M 34, Ole Miss 28.