Monday Thoughts

Mark Passwaters, Publisher
Aggie Yell

"Special" doesn't begin to describe Christian Kirk

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He's double-teamed at least half the time he runs a route. Teams will intentionally not punt to him. But Christian Kirk is still putting up amazing numbers.

On Saturday, he moved into fourth place on A&M's all-time touchdown receptions list with 20. He did that in 30 games. But he's scored more than that: he's got another 6 scores via punt or kickoff return. Last year, he was able to return 13 kicks. He took 3 to the house. In order to get his hands on the ball more now that punt teams won't kick to him, he's returning kickoffs. And he took one of those back Saturday.

26 touchdowns in 30 games. That's an amazing tally, especially when you consider how hard teams try to avoid letting him touch the ball. But when he gets it, he'll kill you. Especially if you're Arkansas.

The Razorbacks allowed Kirk to touch the ball (fair catches excluded) 8 times.

He scored on 3 of them.

I don't think Kirk gets the credit he deserves, either in Aggie circles, the SEC or nationally. He is, almost without question, the most exciting player in college football. A&M is fortunate to have had that guy twice in the past half-decade, but they don't come around very often most of the time. Get a good look, because he'll be gone after this year.

But he'll probably will do some more damage first.

Last look at Arkansas

Amazingly, the 451 yards of total offense given up by the Aggies Saturday is the least Arkansas has gained since this thing moved back to Jerry World as an SEC West game. That is not festive, and is an indicator of how bad the defense has been.

Arkansas had 226 yards of rushing, but had 107 of those in the first quarter. For the rest of the game, Arkansas had 119 yards of rushing on 32 carries, or a much more pedestrian 3.7 YPC.

Going soft continues to kill: Austin Allen was 8-17 for 94 yards and had been sacked 5 times going into the fourth quarter. A&M backed off and largely rushed four and here's the result: Allen was 4-6 for 135 yards and 2 TD and was only sacked once.

Keith Ford's value continues to be understated. Not only did he have two huge touchdown runs of 23 and 44 yards, he made several huge blocks in pass coverage than gave Kellen Mond time to complete passes for first downs. He now has 232 rushing yards and 5 TDs on the ground, averaging more than 5 YPC.

We continue to see the maturation of Mond at a rapid rate. 325 yards of total offense and outstanding poise in critical situations -- two fourth downs and overtime. His touchdown pass to Kirk in OT was possibly the best throw he's made to date.

Damion Ratley has become a consistent and important receiver at last. He only had two catches Saturday, but both were huge: the 50-yard bomb and, even more importantly, a 7-yard grab on 4th and 4 on the final possession of regulation. He seems much calmer this year and is just doing the basic things right. If he continues to play like this and Jhamon Ausbon continues to improve, the Aggies could have three very dangerous receivers down the stretch this year.

A&M's defensive problems stem from the same thing: inconsistency. They'd shut down Arkansas for several drives in a row, then give up huge plays. It wasn't like the Hogs were getting 7 or 8 yards every play; they'd get nothing for 5 and then hit one for 30. Some of that is youth, and a lot of that is discipline. That discipline has to be instilled by the coaches.

Mond hardly the bottom of the SEC barrel

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Kellen Mond has made 3 starts. He has completed one pass more than 50%. He's thrown for 649 yards, 6 TD and 2 INT and has run for another 157 and another score (really, two). I will submit that, since the UCLA game especially, he's been pretty darned good for a true freshman QB. In fact, I'll bet a lot of SEC teams would like to have him now.

I read Saturday Down South's completely idiotic SEC QB rankings tonight, and they had Mond 13th out of 14. I would advise the author to stop sniffing glue. Thanks to his rapid emergence, Mond has moved pretty quickly into the middle of the pack in the conference.

Let's look at the "competition", shall we?

Tennessee has already tried to bench Quinten Dormady and the other options were worse.

Mond is easily better than anything Florida has, whether it's Felipe Franks or Luke Del Rio.

Danny Etling at LSU only looks capable against A&M.

It's tough to knock on Drew Lock at Mizzou, because his team sucks, but I'm pretty sure the Tigers would make the trade.

Stephen Johnson at Kentucky is putting up very similar numbers to Mond.

Mond outclassed Austin Allen just this weekend.

Here's one to have fun with: Jarrett Stidham has completed 70% of his passes for 864 yards, but has only 3 TDs to go with 2 INTs. And his rushing numbers are nothing compared to Mond's. So who do you take there?

Kyle Shurmur at Vandy has better numbers at the moment, but we'll see where that stands at the end of the year.

Jake Bentley at South Carolina has thrown for 1,001 yards, but has only 1 more TD than Mond, 2 more INTs and is no running threat. That's pretty much a wash, no?

I'm not crazy -- Jalen Hurts, Nick Fitzgerald, Shea Patterson and another freshman, Georgia's Jake Fromm, are clearly ahead of Mond. But when (or if) you get on the kid, remember that he's only a quarter-season in and a lot of the teams in the SEC would give their right arm for his.

My preseason concerns vs. where things stand now.

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Some of these I mentioned on the board, some I just wondered about. But here's a look at a few of the questions I had coming into the year and whether we have an answer for them yet.

1) can the Aggies put together a decent DE unit?

Answer: Yes. Or, more precisely, they've got two good ones who do most of the work. Jarrett Johnson (4 tackles, 2 sacks) hasn't gotten a lot of numbers, but has been a consistent source of pressure. He's also held his own against the run. The real hero here is Landis Durham (14 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble) who came out of nowhere to be a force. He's been all over the place. Qualen Cunningham (3 tackles) has held up, but has been outclassed by Durham. Nobody else has made an impact (or tackle).

2) can A&M put together a good group of corners?

Answer: Yes -- next year. I've seen good things from Charles Oliver, Debione Renfro and Myles Jones. They're all fearless, will help in run support and have short memories. The problem is they're also getting eaten alive, especially the true freshmen. I think they're going to be REALLY good next year and moving forward, but they're getting some tough lessons right now. And that will cost A&M dearly this season.

3) Can Starkel and Mond do the job?

Answer: Sure looks like Mond is going to be able to. Actually, he's already doing it. I feel bad for Starkel, because he's probably never going to start another game barring injury.

4) Are the running backs as good as I think?

Answer: Oh yeah. I said they were as good as anyone in the country outside of Tuscaloosa and they're proving me right. Tray Williams, when healthy, is one of the five best backs in America. He'll be an All-American. Keith Ford is gonna punch you in the mouth. Kendall Bussey was someone I told you not to forget and he's making me look like a savant. But even a 100-yard game from Jacob Kibodi? In 4 carries? Nobody saw that.

5) Is the line as good as Sumlin is saying?

Answer: no. Nowhere close. Koda Martin has done a really good job since he came in at left tackle, Connor Lanfear is just nasty and Erik McCoy is first class. The other two positions remain question marks and one of the guys being counted on to take a step forward, Colton Prater, has lost his job (after playing four different positions). 12 sacks in four games is bad. They're an effective in the running game, but pass protection needs to seriously improve.

6) I think the wideouts are good now. Are they?

Answer: Premature, Tex. They're getting there. Kirk is awesome and Ratley is emerging, but Ausbon isn't dominant yet and guys like Hezekiah Jones haven't done anything so far. Rosauud Paul looks really good, but Aaron Hansford (technically a tight end) is dropping a lot of passes. Maybe Clyde Chriss can be an X factor.

7) Can the linebackers seriously improve?

Answer: Yes. Well, Tyrel Dodson and Otaro Alaka have done well. Dodson (25 tackles, 4 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 INT, 1 TD) has played at an All-SEC level so far and Alaka (22 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack) has played consistently well save for the first half last weekend. Anthony Hines (7 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) has done some good stuff in limited duty and Buddy Johnson has shown some flashes. It's a much faster and more aggressive group and they seem to know what they're doing.

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