Texas A&M Football: Things to Watch for Against South Carolina State
After last weeks thumping of SMU, Texas A&M (1-1, 0-1 SEC) returns to Kyle Field Saturday to face off against FCS school South Carolina State (1-2, 0-1 MEAC).
Make no mistake, this is a game the Aggies should be able to control easily.
Having already lost at home to little known FCS rival Bethune-Cookman before getting routed by Arizona 56-0, the Bulldogs of South Carolina State are seriously overmatched.
That said, this game is the final tuneup for Texas A&M before they enter the heart of their SEC schedule. The Aggies have impressed so far, but still have plenty of room for improvement. Here are some key things to watch for in this weeks game.
1. The Development of Johnny Manziel
After taking a conservative passing approach in his debut against Florida, freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel threw for a Texas A&M freshman record 294 passing last week, earning him SEC Freshman of the Week.
Manziel also leads the Aggies in rushing, having run for 184 yards in his first two games. As impressive as he has been, this could be a dangerous trend against the bigger and faster defenses A&M will soon face in the SEC.
Look for Manziel to improve on getting through his reads and showing more patience in the pocket this week.
2. Kliff Kingsbury Playcalling
New offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury had the A&M offense storming out of the gate against Florida in his debut. Their fast-paced, exciting style of play spread the field and had the Gators on their heels.
However, from the second half through against Florida on through the early part the SMU game, the offense became stagnant and more predictable. Kingsbury himself later admitted he "made some bad playcalls." (h/t TexAgs.com)
Thankfully the Aggies eventually settled into an offensive groove last week, but after saying his "whole premise is to start fast and play fast," look for Kingsbury to return to the pace that had Florida gasping for air.
3. Offensive Line Consistency
After the Aggies struggled in their early pass protection against SMU, head coach Kevin Sumlin accurately described the performance of his talented offensive line this season as being "hit or miss."
With SEC defenses looming and the success of Johnny Manziel closely linked to the protection of his line, look for A&M to work on controlling the trenches on a more consistent basis.
4. Improvement in the Running Game
Despite the success of Johnny Manziel on the ground, the rest of the Texas A&M running game has not been able to get going.
With an impressive group of running backs including Trey Williams, Ben Malena and Christine Michael, there is no reason Manziel should have more rushing yards (184) than the three of them combined (150).
Michael returns from his one-game suspension Saturday, and expect the A&M backfield to get more touches as it tries and improve its running attack.
5. Continue Aggressive 3rd-Down Defense
Last season the Aggie defense allowed opposing teams to convert on 40.4 percent of its third downs. So far this year the Aggies have cut that number in half, holding opponents to 20 percent (6-of-30 overall) and keeping SMU out of the end zone completely.
As senior linebacker Jonathan Stewart said via ESPN.com after last week's game "We've got to do it again next week, we can't just be a one-hit wonder. We have to do it consistently."
Look for the Aggies' defense to continue refining its aggressive style against the inferior South Carolina State offense.
6. Damontre Moore
Junior Damontre Moore has simply thrived in the Aggies' new 4-3 defensive scheme this year. After playing the joker position last year, he moved back to the defensive line and has been making opposing offenses pay.
With five sacks collected already, he's on pace to challenge the Texas A&M single-season record of 20 set by Jacob Green in 1979. Look for him to try and wreak havoc on the Bulldog offensive line.
7. Avoid Injury
With six of their next seven games against SEC West opponents and no bye week, the Aggies can ill afford to lose anyone to injury against an FCS opponent.
Look for A&M to get its starters the reps they need, build a large lead and allow their backups substantial playing time.
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