Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond is the same player who threw 29 passes against Alabama last year. Junior Trayveon Williams is still the starting running back, as he has been since 2016.
But the Aggies have still done an about-face.
“They’re a completely different kind of team than they’ve been in the past,”Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “There’s a lot of regular (formations). They run the ball. They try to run the ball. Really good play-action passes, but still have a lot of elements of spread and they’re a very effective passing team.”
Those are among the hallmarks of a Jimbo Fisher team. They are not necessarily the stamps of Texas A&M in Kevin Sumlin’s seasons as head coach. The Aggies hired Fisher away from Florida State to bring in a championship culture.
Texas A&M uses many of the same faces under Fisher that it did under Sumlin. But there are also key differences. A&M averaged 39 rushing attempts per game in 2017; it averages 46 per game this season. Pass attempts are down. Points are up.
Saban said Texas A&M is the best team Alabama has faced this season. It’s another potent offensive opponent in the conference, but the preparation is more similar to Alabama’s study for the opener.
“Ole Miss was basically in three wideouts, a tight end and a back 95 percent of the time in the game,” Saban said. “And I think multiples of formations are minimized when you do that. … So that makes the adjustments a little easier. This team is completely the opposite (of Ole Miss). They’re very multiple in terms of personnel groupings and lots of formations, motions, adjustments, a lot more similar to when we played Louisville probably in terms of multiples that the defensive players have to adjust to.”
Some of the legwork can be helped by reviewing Alabama’s game plan against Florida State last season. Fisher’s offensive staff at Texas A&M includes two assistants from his last team in Tallahassee. But that doesn’t account for the difference in players from one program to the next. Tight end Jace Sternberger is a junior college transfer who wasn’t part of Texas A&M’s team last season; he already has 10 catches and three touchdowns this season.
Fisher’s first Texas A&M team won’t be an easy study for Alabama’s defense. It’s not as simple as taking another look at last season’s 27-19 win.
“I think everybody that takes over a program is really working hard to establish the principles and values of the organization,” Saban said. “The standard that you want people to work to in terms of effort, toughness, intangibles, discipline, things like that. Jimbo has obviously done a really good job of that.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.