Behind Enemy Lines: The Battalion’s Angel Franco previews Alabama’s game against Texas A&M

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Behind Enemy Lines: The Battalion’s Angel Franco previews Alabama’s game against Texas A&M

Photo courtesy of Angel Franco

Photo courtesy of Angel Franco

Photo courtesy of Angel Franco

Photo courtesy of Angel Franco

Ben Stansell, Sports Editor

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No. 1 Alabama will go up against another high-powered offense on Saturday when No. 22 Texas A&M comes to Tuscaloosa. The Aggies lead the country with 73 plays that went for more than 10 yards. Since we at The Crimson White don’t normally cover the rest of the SEC in depth, we caught up with Angel Franco, the sports editor of the Battalion, to get an in-depth look at Texas A&M.

Q: Hiring Jimbo Fisher from Florida State was one of, if not the, biggest coaching moves in college football last offseason. In what ways has he changed the atmosphere and direction of the program since taking over?

A: It’s been about 10 months since A&M was able to hire him, and I still don’t know how that happened. However, Fisher has changed everything. You can feel it around Kyle Field and the facilities. He’s implemented this confidence in the team (not saying Kevin Sumlin didn’t do that), but he just demands so much from his players. Making sure they attend class, dress the part with suits and making them so much more knowledgeable about the game. The players are buying into his system, and you can feel the change.

Q: Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams leads the SEC in rushing through three games. How critical is he to what the Aggies do on offense, and do you think he will have similar success against Alabama?

A: He’s one of the most, if not the, most important parts of finding success against the Crimson Tide. If A&M can get him in going at a solid pace, other parts of the offense open up. He’s a dynamic and patient runner out of the backfield, but he’s also good in the screen game and throwing blocks. Getting him going early and finding holes down the middle of field will be A&M’s key to success.

Q: Quarterback Kellen Mond gave Clemson fits with his knack for extending plays. How big of a factor do you think Mond’s mobility will be in Texas A&M’s ability to find offensive success against the Crimson Tide?

A: Mond’s mobility is his biggest weapon. His ability to extend plays even after the pocket collapses is what has kept a lot of A&M drives a lot in the last three games. It made a big impact against Clemson, especially in the second half. That being said, protecting the ball and smart running is something that needs to be done. Especially when it comes to taking unnecessary hits while running.

Q: Outside of Mond and Williams, who are Texas A&M’s biggest playmakers on offense?

A: Tight end Jace Sternberger and wide receiver Kendrick Rogers. Having a tight end on the field is new for A&M. Adding the bigger body has paid off. Sternberger also is really good at pass protection. Rogers is huge, 6 feet, 5 inches tall and wide catch radius. He is one of Mond’s favorite targets. He was out for Louisiana-Monroe, but Fisher said he was expecting to have him against Alabama.

Q: The Aggies returned most of its defense from last year, but it is now coached by new defensive coordinator Mike Elko from Notre Dame. How has he improved the defense?

A: I think it’s a combination of Elko and strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt. In past years the A&M defense looked exhausted after a drive or two. Schmidt’s impact in the weight room and nutrition has complimented what Elko is trying to establish. I think Elko has overall made the defense tougher. Against Clemson, they came up big time after the fumble out of the end zone for the touchback. It’s only been three games, and two were non-conference opponents. Clemson was a good showing, but we won’t truly know until SEC play how much of an impact Elko has made.

Q: What do you think Texas A&M’s defense will try to do to slow down Tua Tagovailoa and Alabama’s dangerous receiving corps? Do you expect them to have more success than previous teams have?

A: I think the A&M pass rush will have to be the best it’s ever been. A&M’s front seven is good, and even better when they put pressure on the quarterback. Obviously, Tagovailoa is as dangerous outside the pocket as he is in it throwing down the field. I think adding pressure early will be the key to holding Tagovailoa. A&M’s secondary has its moments where it’s lights out but also allows big, explosive plays. I think they’ll have more success than other teams, but I don’t see it being much.

Q: What is your score prediction for the game and why?

A: 42-35 Alabama. I think it will be a close game much like the A&M-Clemson game, and I think Alabama will have the upper hand being at home. I expect it to be a shootout between Mond and Tagovailoa