We are back once again with the next installment in our breakdown of the Commodores schedule this fall. Up next is a rarity, a conference opponent who the 'Dores have never crossed paths with, Texas A&M.
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 26; Time TBD
WHERE: Kyle Field (College Station, Texas)
LAST SEASON: 11-2 (6-2 SEC, 3rd place in SEC West; defeated Oklahoma 41-13 in Cotton Bowl)
CURRENT PRESEASON RANKING: Ranked 6th in Coaches' Poll
SERIES HISTORY: First ever meeting
OFFENSE: More so than any other team on the Vanderbilt schedule the Texas A&M season boils down to one simple question: Is Johnny Manziel going to be eligible?
The NCAA has proven time and time again that no one player is bigger than their organization, and for that reason alone there is a growing feeling that Manziel is in trouble. In truth it has been a sketchy offseason for Johnny Football, though nothing will affect his prospects of playing this fall like the 4,400 items of memorabilia he signed and was subsequently paid $7,000 for. The drop off from Manziel to whoever is backing him up is precipitous, combine that with some key graduation losses and you see why the Aggies need their Heisman winner on the field from day one.
This biggest loss on offense is of course left tackle Luke Joeckel, the second overall pick in the NFL Draft. Joeckel was huge in giving Manziel the time he needed to create the crazy plays he is so known for and the Aggies will have to find someone to plus that hole in camp. The other offensive turnover of note is at wide receiver where three players who combined to start 89 games, including star pass catcher Ryan Swope, are all out of eligibility.
Conclusion: If Manziel is able to go then the Aggies are legitimate BCS Title contenders. They will be favored in every game they play other than the clash with Alabama, all because of the dynamic that he brings. Last season Manziel had video game stats on offense with 5,116 total yards. If he can get close to that again the Aggies will be a team to watch out for.
DEFENSE: The Aggies actually had a pretty underrated defense last fall. The unit though sustained a bunch of tough losses and it is hard to see how they will be able to maintain the performances which saw them give up just 21.8 points per game in 2012. Of the six starters who have departed the biggest loss is defensive end Damontre Moore and his 12.5 sacks. There is an argument that the loss of Moore will be felt more than that of Joeckel, especially as the rest of the A&M defense combined for just 18.5 sacks last season.
The trouble is not just confined to who is gone either. Two projected starters in the Aggies secondary, cornerback Deshazor Everett and safety Floyd Raven Sr., are still suspended indefinitely from the team stemming from an April arrest for assault. Starting defensive tackle Kirby Ennis has already been told he is out of the season opener against Rice after February arrest charges for discharging a firearm. If the secondary members are suspended for any length of time it destroys the depth of team which will start only two seniors and has eight freshmen on the two deep defensively.
Conclusion: Everett is the most dynamic player in the Aggies secondary and his potential loss would be a huge blow with all the youth on the team. A&M was in a similar state of flux defensively last season and got through it, but can the stars align twice with such positive results? Vanderbilt should look to attack the Aggies through the air until there is a proven pass rush.
Other Factors: The A&M placekicking game can be best described as weird. Taylor Bertolet made 3-of-4 attempts from 50 yards plus, but he was just 2-of-9 from between 30 and 49 yards. He also contrived to miss seven extra points. His two missed field goals and missed extra point cost A&M huge in a 24-19 loss at LSU. If the 'Dores can keep it close the Aggies kicking game can clearly fall apart.
Conclusion: It can be argued that no one player in the country means as much to his team as Manziel so his status is all important. With scandals like the one he is quickly becoming embroiled in often one revelation leads to many, many more, so it will be very interesting to see if he and the school are able to get him on the field. If they are not then the Aggies slip from a top 5 team to somewhere outside the top 25 and the Commodores should fancy their shot at them. This game is definitely a watch this space kind of contest.
Preseason Preview: Vandy at Texas A&M
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