Texas A&M vs. Alabama

Jimbo Fisher

Texas A&M is average halfway through the season, and there’s a good chance that won’t change much unless the Aggies limit costly mistakes, something they haven’t done thus far.

A&M (3-3, 1-2 SEC) has lost to top-ranked Alabama, third-ranked Clemson and 11th-ranked Auburn, which are a combined 17-1. Most teams would be 0-3 against those teams. The Aggies are 3-0 against Texas State, Arkansas and Lamar, which are a combined 8-11. Most teams would be 3-0 against them.

A&M’s middle-of-the-road season could continue because what’s ahead pretty much mirrors what’s already passed. A&M has difficult road games at 10th-ranked Georgia and second-ranked LSU, but the Aggies also play Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas-San Antonio and South Carolina. All but the Ole Miss game will be at Kyle Field, and those teams are ranked 60th or worse by CBSsports.com.

That adds up to a 7-5 record, just a slip-up from a break-even season. A&M also could finish strong and match last season’s 8-4 regular-season record, but this team hasn’t done enough yet to show that is a likely possibility.

Last year’s team headed into the second half of the season with a lot of confidence. It started with a solid effort in a 28-26 loss to second-ranked Clemson, and after a hiccup at top-ranked Alabama, the Aggies got momentum back with a hard-fought 24-17 victory over Arkansas and a 20-14 overtime victory over 13th-ranked Kentucky.

This team is searching for any kind of confidence. The schedule hasn’t helped. A&M was relatively competitive against Clemson and Alabama, but you don’t get a pat on the back for being almost good, though that’s probably what many of the younger players need.

A&M’s offense and defense combined for their best game of the season in Saturday’s 47-28 loss to top-ranked Alabama. A&M had one turnover, as did Alabama. A&M had three touchdowns, two less than Alabama’s offense. But special teams was atrocious, and we’re talking the worst showing in a decade. Alabama had 287 more yards in returns. You can’t spot the nation’s top-ranked team three football fields of field position. A&M’s offense is not good enough to make up that kind of hidden yardage.

Special teams hadn’t been a concern, but what has been troubling for A&M is mistakes at crucial times. It was dropped passes, turnovers and penalties against Clemson. It was a slow start against Auburn, and it was turnovers and playing down to the competition against Arkansas.

“We’ve just got to learn to get over that hump, and we got to push through it,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. “And against good people, you can’t almost get there. You’ve got to be all the way, executing on 100% of every play.”

Saturday’s kicking problems were a low punt that led to a long return, coverage issues and a missed block that allowed Alabama to score a touchdown off a blocked punt to put a bow on the victory.

A&M, a 17-point underdog, lost by 19. It could have been closer, but it kind of felt as if the Aggies lost by more.

Many thought heading into the season Alabama would be A&M’s best chance for victory as opposed to Clemson, Georgia and LSU. Unfortunately, the only upset was Auburn being better than expected and beating the Aggies at Kyle Field.

Fisher hasn’t lost confidence, but it’s time for the Aggies to win some games.

“It felt like [against Clemson and Alabama], that we could play with those teams if we play with enough consistency,” Fisher said. “And that’s what we didn’t do. That’s what we’ve got to find and learn to play the second half of this season now.”

A&M’s second half starts at Ole Miss (3-4, 2-2), which is coming off a 38-27 loss at Missouri. The Aggies, who dropped out of the rankings for the first time this season, are 5.5-point favorites. In other words, oddsmakers have Ole Miss making one more mistake than the Aggies.

That’s a fine line A&M needs to win.

Add punt coverage to Ags’ problems

Texas A&M went into the bye week needing to work on its running game and finding a way to get more pressure on the quarterback. That’s still the case after rushing for 125 yards — 90 by quarterback Kellen Mond — and coming up with only one sack. But you can add special teams after allowing 311 return yards.

Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle averaged 32 yards on four punt returns, and the Crimson Tide’s 152 yards was the most allowed by A&M since 2002, when Texas Tech’s Wes Welker had 166 yards on six returns, including an 88-yard touchdown in a 48-47 overtime victory.

A&M has been solid in special teams. Since Welker’s effort, A&M had allowed less than 166 yards in punt returns for the season 10 of the last 16, including the last three.

Waddle, who added three receptions for 48 yards and a touchdown, showed the importance of one recruit. The sophomore from Houston Episcopal picked Alabama on signing day last year over Texas, Oregon, TCU, Florida State and A&M.

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