Texas A&M (4-3, 2-2 SEC) is fresh off its bye week, ready to welcome South Carolina (2-5, 1-4 SEC) to Kyle Field on Saturday. A victory in Week 9 would not only get them back into the win column, but it could very well save their season.
That latter statement was not meant to be dramatic. In reality, A&M’s season is treading on thin ice after suffering back-to-back conference losses. The College Football Playoff and a run at winning the SEC West might be out the door, but there’s still very much to play for. Namely, to avoid a repeat spectacle of the 2022 season debacle.
For now, all the Maroon and White can do is take it one game at a time, beginning with Saturday’s showdown with the Gamecocks. South Carolina’s record on paper may not suggest they’re a threat, but by all means the Aggies cannot afford to overlook this foe. After all, it was the Gamecocks who walked away with a win when they last met a season ago.
Here are five storylines to keep an eye on as Texas A&M welcomes South Carolina in Week 9.
Will there be any improvement from the Aggies offensive line?
If you didn’t expect this to be storyline number one, you’re lying to yourself. The “fire Jimbo Fisher!” chatter has been loud through the bye week, but the performance from the Maroon Goons over the last few weeks deserves just as much criticism.
In their last loss against Tennessee, the O-line set a record by allowing Max Johnson to be pressured on 64.1 percent of his dropbacks, which was the highest pressure rate since Pro Football Focus started tracking the metric back in 2014.
Simply put, the offensive line needs to be sufficient, at the very least, for the Aggies to have a chance to light any type of spark on the offensive side of the ball.
Can Max Johnson get the ball out quicker?
It’s tough to play efficiently in the pocket when you have a paper-mache offensive line in front of you. Nonetheless, it’s the hand that’s been dealt to Max Johnson, and by all means, he can improve in one key area to make their job a bit easier.
The senior southpaw can’t afford to hold onto the ball for an excessive amount of time. As outlined by PFF, Johnson is ranked 14th in average throw time with 3.19 seconds. Under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t bat an eye. But given how susceptible the Maroon Goons have been, Johnson must at least look to find his targets quicker than he currently is.
Will the real Evan Stewart please stand up?
If the offensive line and quarterback play can oblige by marking even a minute improvement, it should open up the rest of the offense to flow more freely as it did early in the season. A key facet of that is unlocking Evan Stewart to play like, well, himself.
Stewart’s 451 yards are tied with Ainias Smith for most among Aggie receivers, but a bulk of that yardage has come early in the season. After averaging 128.5 yards per game through the first two weeks, Stewart hasn’t surpassed 50 yards in each of his last four games.
Unlocking Stewart’s true skillset as a game wrecker for opposing defenses, will in turn help get this offense back to its high-octane nature.
Can A&M's stellar defense keep this going
What else can you ask from A&M’s defense, namely their front seven? The Maroon and White are allowing just 19.9 PPG to their opponents (32nd) while leading the SEC in sacks (29). It remains to be seen whether Xavier Legette will suit up for Saturday’s contest, but facing Spencer Rattler will pose enough of a challenge for the Aggies’ defense.
Simply put, they can’t overlook nearly anyone remaining on their upcoming schedule from here on out.
Will Jimbo Fisher treat this game as "do-or-die?"
Much has been made about Jimbo Fisher’s game management and overall lack of aggression in A&M’s last two losses, which in reality, they could have won. Does that change come Saturday in what is essentially a “do-or-die” game for both the Aggies season, and the “CEO” of this football program?
Whether or not Texas A&M would actually entertain giving Fisher the boot, a win on Saturday is desperately needed to at least salvage this 2023 campaign. A College Football Playoff and SEC title run is out the door, but finishing strong would at least instill some confidence, as opposed to stomaching what would be a lost season in Aggieland.