Texas A&M wide receiver Jhamon Ausbon has been a mentor to freshman wideout Ainias Smith since their elementary school days on the flag football fields of Houston.
Ausbon’s recruitment of the young athlete, which dates back to years before college scholarship offers were even on the radar, paid dividends for the 16th-ranked Aggies in their 62-3 win over Lamar on Saturday night at Kyle Field.
Smith pulled in six catches for 66 yards and scored a late touchdown in his home debut for the Aggies. On A&M’s third drive of the third quarter, quarterback Kellen Mond targeted Smith on four straight plays, which would have accounted for 42 yards of a 92-yard drive if not for a penalty negating the first play.
“To watch somebody grow up and recruit them here and to watch them do that — he works hard,” Ausbon said. “As one of the freshman, he works very hard to be at that level to be in the SEC. I’m really happy for him, and he really deserves it.”
Smith capped off the breakout night with a 13-yard touchdown reception from backup quarterback Zach Calzada with 7:19 left in the fourth quarter. As was the case on several plays throughout the night, Smith put his athleticism on display for the score, juking around two Lamar defenders to find the end zone.
Smith’s increased action covered for the absence of starting wide receiver Quartney Davis, who was held out due to minor injuries, said head coach Jimbo Fisher, who added that Davis will return next week.
Smith was a late addition to the Aggies’ 2019 recruiting class, committing on national signing day. The three-star athlete from Sugar Land Dulles delayed his decision, but the Aggies’ desire to sign him was always high, Fisher said.
“We wanted him the whole time,” Fisher said. “It was his choice to be a late addition to the class. It wasn’t my choice, but I’m glad he made that decisions for sure.”
Smith’s fourth-quarter score was an epilogue to an Aggie offensive output that suffered in the prelude, though A&M found traction in the second quarter. While A&M posted 13 points in the first quarter, the Aggies twice settled for field goals in the red zone. Prior to the Aggies’ opening 21-yard field goal by Seth Small, Lamar kept the Aggies out of the end zone on three consecutive plays inside the Cardinals’ 3-yard line.
Redshirt sophomore running back Jacob Kibodi ran in the first touchdown of the game, his second career score and first since 2017, on a 2-yard scamper in the first quarter. Kibodi earned the start over freshman Isaiah Spiller due to tardiness for a team meeting, Fisher said.
Penalties also slowed the Aggies, including a roughing-the-punter personal foul that extended a Lamar drive in the first quarter. The Aggies were flagged for seven penalties, amounting to 53 yards for the Cardinals. A&M had amassed 12 penalties for 115 yards in its first two games.
“In terms of what we did good, it was definitely good — a lot of good actually,” Fisher said. “But a lot of small mistakes and self-inflicted wounds ... we can’t have those in the SEC, because great teams in our conference capitalize off of those plays. Those are the small things that separate great teams from good teams.”
Once Spiller took the field in the second quarter, A&M’s offense found a second gear. The true freshman, who stepped into the feature back role after an season-ending injury to sophomore Jashaun Corbin at Clemson, picked up 57 yards on eight carries and a touchdown in the second quarter. He finished with 116 yards and two touchdowns, breaking the century mark for the second time this season.
“Each and every time he goes out there, he’s getting better,” Fisher said. “He’s never perfect, because there’s a lot to learn, but you can’t complain about a guy who has had two 100-yard games now.”
Mond added a rushing touchdown of his own in the second quarter when he bootlegged right for a 12-yard run to the pylon. He also connected with his high school teammate, Ausbon, for a 10-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
The junior quarterback completed 20 of 28 passes for 317 yards. With that total, Mond became the ninth Aggie to reach the 5,000-yard career plateau and the seventh Aggie to pass the 6,000-yard mark in total offense.
He threw one interception on an overthrown deep pass secured by Lamar defensive back Cameron Hayes, who also had another pick in the bag in the first half but dropped the errant pass that hit him in the chest while diving.
“Kellen I thought played a really good game, pulled the ball, read the ball pretty much,” Fisher said. “He had the one [bad] play in the second half. He didn’t see [Hayes] over the top on the deep ball. Other than that, I don’t think there were too many bad decisions in that regard.”
Calzada took over at the end of the third quarter. The true freshman threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jalen Wydermyer on his first play of the game. The 6-foot-5, 209-pounder stepped up in the pocket to deliver a perfect pass over two defenders in the corner of the end zone.
Overall, Calzada completed 4 of 8 passes for 68 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt freshman quarterback James Foster also saw limited time at the end of the game. Sophomore running back Cordarrian Richardson ended A&M’s scoring with his first career touchdown in Aggieland late in the fourth quarter.
A&M produced 633 yards, marking the second most in the Fisher era and 19th most in school history. The Aggies cracked 500 yards for the seventh time under Fisher.
A&M’s defense held Lamar to 197 total yards, including 75 yards passing — the fewest against A&M since New Mexico had 24 in 2017.
“The guys have learned the scheme,” Fisher said of the secondary. “They learned to play better. They’ve physically gotten better, and I think we’ve got more depth, which has helped us. And I think the competition level has made guys play better.”
Saturday served as a dress rehearsal for an opening to the SEC slate against No. 8 Auburn, which beat Kent State 55-16. While it took some time for the offense to find its stride, the Aggies say they believe they are prepared for the conference gauntlet ahead.
“We are definitely ready for a challenge like that,” linebacker Buddy Johnson said. “I feel like were ready to show the world what we’re capable of, and that will be a big chance for us to do that.”