Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond is not the Southeastern Conference’s best quarterback, but with a good finish to the season, he could be in position to claim the honor next year.
Mond raised eyebrows at the SEC Media Days by proclaiming himself the league’s best at his position. Few bought into the boast considering Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, last year’s Heisman Trophy runner-up, led a veteran group of proven signal-callers. Tagovailoa was the coaches’ preseason first-team pick, and Georgia’s Jake Fromm, who led the Bulldogs to the SEC title game last year, made the second team. Mond followed on the third team.
The guy who had the right to toot his own horn during July in Hoover, Alabama, was LSU senior Joe Burrow, who has become the SEC’s best quarterback and the odds-on favorite to win this year’s Heisman. Burrow has completed 236 of 299 (78.9%) for 3,198 yards and 33 touchdowns with just four interceptions.
Burrow is a unanimous pick as the SEC’s best in a poll conducted by The Eagle of 11 media members who cover the conference. Tagovailoa received all 11 second-place votes, and Fromm received all but one of the third-place votes. Mond edged out Florida junior Kyle Task for fourth place. Task received four more fourth-place votes than Mond, but Task received a pair of six-place votes and an eighth-place vote, while Mond received only fourth- and fifth-place votes along with one third-place vote.
While not the SEC’s best quarterback, Mond heads into Saturday’s game against South Carolina with solid numbers this season. He’s completed 190 of 295 passes (64.4%) for 2,214 yards and 17 touchdowns with six interceptions for a passing efficiency of 142.40. During A&M’s current three-game winning streak, he’s completed 49 of 72 (70.8%) for 617 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions.
Mond’s progress at times this season has seemed inconsistent, a trend that most Aggie fans hoped would not follow him from his freshman and sophomore years. But A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher says there’s more to what Mond is doing — and how much he’s improved as a junior — than meets the eye.
“Nobody is ever where you want them to be or gonna be,” Fisher said. “But [Mond] understands his role and how to compete and how to play and understands our offense and is very open to his thinking and seeing things. What I’m saying is he understands the run game. He understands the pass game, getting us in and out of the right plays and in and out of the right protections. He’s making good decisions.”
Mond also hasn’t thrown an interception in his last 62 pass attempts.
“He’s being accurate with the ball,” Fisher said. “I think he’s really playing good football, and I think he’s using his legs when it’s the right opportunity.”
Mond didn’t look to run in a 45-14 victory over Texas-San Antonio two weeks ago heading into the bye week, but before that he had at least nine carries in five straight games, averaging 60 yards against Auburn, Arkansas, Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
“People say he should look to run. You don’t look to run — you react to run,” Fisher said. “There’s called runs. If you called run or [a read play], you do it. But you’ve got to react. You just can’t say I’m going to go look to run. You see, he’s letting the game come to him.”
As Mond has run more this season, he’s also limiting his mistakes. He lost four fumbles last season but has lost only one this year.
“He’s just getting more confident running the ball, throwing the ball, getting the game plan down to where we’re not thinking as much as reacting,” A&M junior wide receiver Jhamon Ausbon said. “He’s just giving us an opportunity to make plays down field and getting some more of those chunk plays to help us out in the drive.”
A&M had 15 plays gain 20 or more yards over the last three games.
Mond’s had a season-high 90 yards rushing on 16 carries against Alabama with runs of 20 and 36 yards. He had a 22-yard run against Ole Miss and a 36-yard run against Mississippi State.
“It’s hard to game plan against that,” Ausbon said. “When you’re in coverage, you can only cover so many guys, and the quarterback is never accounted for. It’s tough to account for a guy like Kellen, and then also having him throw the ball, too, it’s really a balanced offense when it comes down to that.”
Mond’s legs have helped A&M average 198.5 yards rushing the last four games after managing just 89 yards on 33 carries against Arkansas.
“Just keeping the defense on their heels, showing the presence that I’ll be able to run, I think it’s always big having that, especially on third down,” Mond said. “Guys have to spy you or at least keep containment on you, so they’re not crazy edge rushers. I think that’s something that’s always going to be in the game plan.”
A&M’s offense started slowly in losses to top-ranked Clemson and eighth-ranked Auburn with Mond getting much of the blame, but he didn’t have a lot of help. Veteran receivers dropped too many passes, and the running game struggled after losing starting tailback Jashaun Corbin to a season-ending injury. With Corbin out, A&M had young backs running behind a line that sorely missed center Erik McCoy and tackle Keaton Sutherland, who are both in the NFL as are fullback Cullen Gillaspia and All-American tight end Jace Sternberger.
“Yes, [Mond] did shoulder a lot of [the offense early], but I think he did very well,” Fisher said. “He gave us opportunities to be successful in those games, kept us in those games. We competed in those games, and he played hard, showed his toughness. That’s part of a quarterback.”
Now Mond is starting to get some help.
Freshman running back Isaiah Spiller has rushed for 385 yards and five touchdowns during the three-game winning streak, and tight end Jalen Wydermyer has a chance to be a freshman All-American with 19 catches for 287 yards and six touchdowns.
“Their production is still a product of [Mond] doing the right things,” Fisher said. “I think he’s shouldering it in a different way, not as much physically as maybe mentally, because we can do more. And [he’s] put them in position to handle the ball more in key situations and do things.”
Fisher, a former collegiate quarterback, constantly says other players share in how good or bad the quarterback plays.
LSU, Alabama and Georgia have surrounded their quarterbacks with talented, experienced players. LSU’s offensive starters other than Burrow have combined for 158 starts, and Alabama’s offensive starters sans Tagovailoa have 169 career starts. Fromm has the most experience around him with the rest of Georgia’s starting offense owning 193 career starts, part of the reason why the Bulldogs have been pointing to this season as their year to make a run at a national championship.
Mond is surrounded by starters with 151 career starts, the heavy accent being on receivers who have 58. The group’s only senior is center Colton Prater, whom many projected would be a backup to junior Ryan McCollum, but McCollum has been battling injures. Next season, Mond could be surrounded by starters with almost 200 career starts.
Mond and A&M’s offense, which already has played a trio of top 10 teams, still have games at fifth-ranked Georgia and top-ranked LSU this season. Against ranked teams this season, Mond is 79-of-133 passing for 835 yards and five touchdowns with only one interception along with 30 carries for 117 yards. A&M averaged 19.3 points and 356.3 yards in those games with four turnovers.
Mond is 20-10 as a starting quarterback, tied for fifth in school history. He needs six more victories to trail only Corey Pullig, A&M’s all-time leader with a 33-6-1 record from 1992-95.
Pullig was a great game manager, something Fisher said is the greatest compliment you can give a quarterback. Mond is becoming better at that.
“You’ve got to trust your eyes and make decisions based off [what you see],” Fisher said. “The game is bigger than any of us, players and coaches, and I think he’s doing a really good job of trusting his eyes right now and reacting to what he sees.”