The Other Side: A Preview of the Aggies with The Battalion 

Nick Robbins, Contributing Writer

The No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (5-0) will take on the Texas A&M Aggies (3-2) under the lights this Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Crimson White sat down with The Battalion’s assistant sports editor, Grant Gaspard, to discuss the upcoming battle. 

Robbins: Texas A&M was an underdog last season and pulled off the unlikely upset. How does the team feel ahead of this year’s matchup? 

Gaspard: “A&M was in a similar situation last season where it was 3-2 overall coming off a devastating loss to Mississippi State and having to play No. 1 ranked Alabama. However, this time, they’ll be playing in Tuscaloosa rather than Kyle Field and won’t have the same home-field advantage. After talking with the team on Monday, the players believe if they can execute their assignments on each play and win their 1-on-1 matchups, there could be a similar result to the 2021 season. They have shot themselves in the foot numerous times over the past two weeks and will need to clean up those mistakes before playing Alabama this Saturday.”  

Robbins: Some folks feel Texas A&M has disappointed this year — what are your thoughts on the season thus far?  

Gaspard: “They have definitely not lived up to the expectations that were set at the beginning of the season, however, this is a young team. With wide receiver Ainias Smith now out the rest of the season, they lack experience at the wideout position but have depth and talent in guys like Evan Stewart, Chris Marshall and Moose Muhammad III who will need to step up and fill into their roles sooner than expected. The defensive line that everyone was raving about before the season hasn’t lived up to its full potential, however, this could be the fault of defensive coordinator DJ Durkin who I think hasn’t utilized them the way other defensive coordinators would have. They only have three quarterback hurries in the past two SEC matchups which is inexcusable with the number of four and five-star caliber players they have. If the Aggies clean up their miscues, freshmen live up to their potential and the defensive and offensive coordinators (Jimbo Fisher) game plan accordingly, the rest of the season should be a cakewalk. However, after last weekend, everything seems to be in shambles, and it may be a tough ride.”  

Robbins: Some fans have started to feel this is a rivalry. What is the feeling on campus in regard to Alabama and Texas A&M being a rivalry?  

Gaspard: “Similar to every other team in the SEC, the 12th Man strongly dislikes Alabama and no matter what sport they compete in, expect a highly packed and engaging atmosphere. I believe the 12th Man thinks this matchup is a rivalry every year they compete in football and is a game that is highlighted on everyone’s schedule before the season even begins. By definition though, a rivalry is a competition to find out who the superior team is and, as of now, I think everyone knows who the superior team has been over the past 15 years. Once A&M develops and its latest recruitment has taken over the team, this could be an intense, must-watch rivalry for years to come.” 

Robbins: With Bryce Young’s status as day-to-day, what preparations are being made in case of a Jalen Milroe led team? 

Gaspard: “Following the press conference on Monday, defensive back Antonio Johnson and coach Fisher discussed with the media how they will be game planning for both quarterbacks throughout the week so they will be ready for whoever starts. Not tons of film on Jalen Milroe other than the Arkansas game and that can’t help much because Bill O’Brien wasn’t prepared for Young to get hurt and didn’t prepare for Milroe’s style of play. However, we know he has insane speed and if O’Brien utilizes that this Saturday, the Aggies should prepare to play against a run-heavy offense with Milroe, Gibbs and McClellan taking turns with the ball. This has been the Aggies weak point throughout the season as they allowed an “Air-Raid” style offense in Mississippi State to nearly double their rushing yards per game average last weekend with 144 and allowed 244 yards the week before against Arkansas. A&M says they are preparing for both quarterbacks to start — however, they should be more focused on stopping the run.” 

Robbins: Are there any major injuries within the Aggies’ roster ahead of this week’s matchup? 

Gaspard: “As of right now, Max Johnson is day-to-day after injuring his thumb on his throwing hand against Mississippi State, which leaves the quarterback situation unsettled for this matchup. Corner Jaylon Jones left the game early last weekend after taking a shot to the head and Fisher labeled him as day-to-day. Offensive lineman Jordan Spasojevic-Moko is out for the season after a leg injury against Mississippi State. He was a backup who came in quite a bit to help relieve some of the lineman during the game. Played a little bit of center last game as Bryce Foster struggled with his snaps. Lastly, wide receiver Ainias Smith injured his lower leg against Arkansas and will be out the remainder of the season.” 

Robbins: Who are the players on both sides of the ball that you expect to make an impact this weekend? 

Gaspard: “On the offensive side of the ball, I expect running back Devon Achane to make the biggest impact for the Aggies come prime time. He has been our main source of revenue when speaking of all-purpose yards. Against Arkansas, he literally was half of our offense as he accumulated 50% of the total yards. In the first half against Mississippi State, he accumulated three of the five total throws completed and had 70 of our 72 rushing yards. Moose Muhammad III is another name to watch out for as he has stepped up tremendously after his weak performance against Arkansas. He had six receptions last week for 119 yards and a touchdown. Tons of talent at the wide receiver position, but Moose is the only one who has shown any grit the past week. Defensively, watch out for secondary players such as Antonio Johnson, who leads the team in tackles, and Demani Richardson, who isn’t scared to hit anything that walks. They set the tempo defensively and if they’re hot, the defense will be hot. Linebacker Chris Russell Jr. has also played well and has made his presence known each week.”  

Robbins: What has Texas A&M learned from the struggles and some of the losses so far this season? 

Gaspard: “A few things I think the Aggies need to work on are execution, simple mistakes and avoiding playing down to their opponents’ level. The past five weeks they have struggled with blocking assignments from the offensive line to the wide outs. With more playing time, practicing and learning the playbook, executing these simple assignments should clean itself up. Simple mistakes such as catching the ball, holding onto the ball and more importantly learning how to snap the ball have been costly to the Aggies. A&M was able to capitalize on these mistakes against Arkansas, however, these mistakes were too costly against Mississippi State, and it lost by a large margin because of it. Lastly, I believe with the talent they have that they can compete and win against any team in the nation. However, since I first started covering the Aggies, I noticed they enjoy playing down to their opponents’ level and that has cost them numerous games. For example, the loss to Appalachian State was a game they should have won very comfortably but ended up losing by three. This is a young team with little to no experience playing at the collegiate level and as time goes on, these mistakes will fix themselves and they’ll be a team that’ll be hard to compete with in the future.” 

Robbins: What are the keys to victory on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball for Texas A&M this weekend? 

Gaspard: “Starting at the wide receiver position, they are a young group of individuals who will be going up against a talented secondary at Alabama. Evan Stewart can be one of the top receivers in the nation if he plays up to his potential and cleans up his errors. He had three dropped passes last weekend, one leading to an interception and the other costing us a touchdown and forcing the Aggies to settle for a field goal. With Smith out the remainder of the year, he needs to clean up his mistakes and grow into his role quickly because he is a major key to this victory. Bryce Foster needs to make his snaps more crisp because it is costing the Aggies valuable seconds on each play and Jimbo needs to look at getting tight end Donovan Green more involved because he has been valuable every time he has caught the ball this season. Texas A&M has had talented tight ends in the past and I believe Green is the next man up. Defensively, the Aggies need to clean up their run defense if they have any hopes of winning this game. Alabama has one of the top running backs in the nation in Jahmyr Gibbs and if they can fill up the gaps and stop the run game, which they haven’t had any success at recently, they will be successful. Don’t have any worries about our secondary with Richardson and Johnson leading the pack, however, this is one of the most talented receiving cores we have faced yet. Those two guys need to set the tempo and if Jaylon Jones is absent this game, freshman Denver Harris needs to step it up for the Aggies and play more aggressively. If the Aggies can stop the run game and force O’Brien to pass the ball, this could be a different game. Interested to see how DJ Durkin schemes for this game and hopefully he utilizes his defensive line better than he has been and gets them more involved.” 

Kickoff is set for Saturday, Oct. 8, at 7 p.m. CT on CBS.

Questions or comments? Email Austin Hannon (Sports Editor) at [email protected]