■ Kellen Mond ran for two touchdowns and threw for a third, helping Texas A&M pull away from Louisiana Monroe 48-10.
Despite comfortable win, secondary, O-line struggle at times
COLLEGE STATION — By the time the clock approached zeroes at Kyle Field, Texas A&M was probably more than ready for Saturday night’s game to be over.
As the injuries piled up and the crowd trickled down the long, concrete ramp leading out of the stadium, the Aggies had all but cemented their 48-10 nonconference victory against Louisiana-Monroe.
A&M’s final tuneup before SEC play was one in which the Aggies could work out a few kinks before the important part of the season begins. A&M did some of that against the Warhawks, but the performance also showed the Aggies need to address a few key areas between now and their game against top-ranked Alabama next Saturday.
“We got a lot of room to work on some things,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said.
While A&M mostly rolled against ULM, the offensive line and secondary struggled at times against the “group of five” program.
A&M had three touchdowns wiped off the board because of holding penalties. Two of the guilty parties were A&M’s sophomore offensive tackles, Dan Moore Jr. and Carson Green.
“Against the people we’re getting ready to play, we can’t have those penalties, and those are very disappointing,” Fisher said.
A&M sophomore quarterback Kellen Mond was only hurried twice according to the official box score, but he had to pick himself off the floor more often than that as he threw for 210 yards on 16-of-24 passing.
The concerns surrounding the Aggies’ front five were amplified in the fourth quarter, when junior center Erik McCoy limped off the field while favoring his left leg. A&M scored on the next play — a 20-yard touchdown pass from Mond to tight end Jace Sternberger — but the Aggies had four sophomores on the offensive line.
Fortunately, A&M appeared to avoid a major injury to its top lineman. After the game, Fisher said McCoy likely suffered a slight knee sprain.
Coming into the season, A&M’s line was one of the areas of concern in Fisher’s first year. The other was A&M’s secondary, which was next-to-last in the SEC last season in pass defense efficiency.
Last week against No. 2 Clemson, the Aggies (2-1) allowed four passes of 40 yards or more. ULM (2-1) found similar success against A&M. The Warhawks completed four passes of 25 or more yards.
Those plays accounted for more than 43 percent of ULM’s offense. Two of the long passes from ULM quarterback Caleb Evans helped the Warhawks score in the final seconds of the second quarter and cut A&M’s lead to 24-10 at halftime.
“We were going out there, just going through the motions,” A&M junior linebacker Tyrel Dodson said of the defense in the first half. “We can’t do that. We have to create good habits.”
But A&M was as sharp as it needed to be. The Aggies established their running game early behind junior Trayveon Williams, who ran for 128 yards and a touchdown.
By the time the stands cleared out, A&M had locked up the victory and was ready to move on to next week’s game against Alabama, a team as good as any in the country at exploiting weaknesses.
While the Aggies were polishing off the Warhawks, the No. 1 Crimson Tide were in the process of walloping Mississippi in a 62-7 victory on the road. Next week, A&M will start SEC play, the portion of the schedule that will fully gauge Fisher’s success for as long as he’s working in College Station.
Between now and Fisher’s first SEC meeting against Nick Saban, many will likely point out that Saban has never lost to one of his former assistants (Fisher worked under Saban at LSU). The Aggies know they weren’t at their best against ULM on Saturday night.
The last nonconference game until November showed A&M still has plenty to work on before it begins the SEC portion of the schedule, one that will require the Aggies to be as sharp as possible if they want to show resounding progress in Fisher’s first season.
“We’re not to where we need to be,” Fisher said. “But we’re growing in that direction.”
ULM quarterback Caleb Evans (center) loses his helmet as he is brought down by a group of Aggies. A&M, in its final tuneup before opening SEC play against No. 1 Alabama, shut out the Warhawks in the second half and held them to 328 total yards.