Jeff Tarpley from GigEm247 answers questions about the Texas A&M Aggies in our "Ask The Expert" feature...
Q: There are a lot of rumors surrounding Kevin Sumlin's future as the head coach of the Aggies. What can you tell us about those rumors and are those rumblings having an effect inside the locker room? Does the result of this game have an impact on Sumlin's future in College Station?
Tarpley: Despite what’s happening outside the locker room and off the field concerning Kevin Sumlin’s future in College Station, the Aggies may have played well but they have continued to play hard. They were overwhelmed to an extent by Mississippi State but they had a lead on Auburn in the second quarter before things started breaking down. Even then, they found themselves down by three scores twice and still fought back to cut into the lead. The emergence of Nick Starkel has refocused the receiving corps and the offense is more productive under his guidance.
Q: Texas A&M fans have traveled to Oxford in great numbers over the last several years. Do you think they travel well Saturday night considering the uncertainty surrounding the program?
Tarpley: The Aggies traveled well in 2012, 2013, and 2015 when the team was ranked much higher, there was a lot more at stake, and the future was much brighter. In contrast, I think you’ll see an appreciable decline this season as you have in A&M’s last two games at Kyle Field since the Mississippi State loss. Fans don’t see much of a future with Sumlin at the helm and are anticipating a change at the top which would probably cause them to re-invest themselves in the program both from a time and financial standpoint. In addition, the game doesn’t mean much win or lose since the Aggies have already clinched a bowl game and there’s not much else to play for.
Q: The Aggies got a dose of quarterback Shea Patterson last season in College Station. Of course, he's out for the season and Jordan Ta'amu has taken over and has gotten off to a terrific start. What can the Aggies do to slow Ta'amu, who has thrown for more than 350 yards in each of his three starts?
Tarpley: A&M’s secondary is young and with the loss of Myles Garrett it’s hard for them to get pressure with a four man rush. The Aggies also like to play a lot of man coverage and teams that run the ball well can get them without safety help in the middle of the field and throw deep routes like Auburn did off of play action.
Thus, you’ll see them blitz a lot in order to provide their front seven with single blocking in addition to speeding up passers. In addition, that type of pressure tends to force more errant throws which helps out the defensive backs. Nonetheless, A&M tends to struggle with teams that can cause confusion in assignments via wheel routes and bunch formations and they give up lots of big plays as a result. In addition, Ta’amu is a great runner and the linebackers are going to have to help out on him or else he can hurt A&M when he takes off.
Q: Texas A&M is still a relative newcomer to the SEC. Is there any feeling or sense of a rivalry developing with Ole Miss in College Station in light of some fantastic and competitive games between the two programs?
Tarpley: I think Aggies tend to view Ole Miss in the same light as they did Oklahoma State and Texas Tech in the Big 12….a program without the location or resources to beat them on a consistent basis but a program that nonetheless finds a way to win because they have been better coached. A&M’s inability to beat Tech and Oklahoma State helped cost multiple A&M coaches their jobs and the losses to Ole Miss have been a problem in how Sumlin is been perceived as well.
Q: The Ole Miss run defense has struggled, to be polite, this season. It figures to be a game where Texas A&M may want to establish its dominance on the ground. Do you see it that way?
Tarpley: A&M likes to run its RPOs just like Ole Miss does and the Rebels’ linebackers have to play well. They like to run plays to the perimeter and draw interior defenders outside the box so they can run the ball between the tackles. Poor reads and insufficient numbers on their part will enable backs like Keith Ford and Trayveon Williams to hit gaps created by defenders’ eyes and feet that leave those defenders looking elsewhere or out of position. A quality running game will also take pressure off of redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Starkel who will be making the start and allow him to operate with a slower pass rush and deeper defenders out of position trying to stop the run.
Q: Do you expect Texas A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk to return for his senior season or leave early for the NFL?
Tarpley: It will be interesting to see what Kirk does. His numbers are down this season from his first two years and part of that was playing with freshman quarterback Kellen who’s not as accurate downfield as Starkel and has tended to take off more instead of looking for secondary receivers. If there’s a coaching change, Kirk may not want to play under another coach and also many decide that staying another year wouldn’t do him any good anyway. However, if his draft stock takes too big of a hit, Kirk may decide to come back and see if he can move up with a great senior year, particularly in a new offense.
Q: What do you see the Aggies' biggest concern being with Ole Miss on Saturday?
Tarpley: Ta’amu and his receivers. They’re averaging over 400 yards a game throwing the ball since he took over and A&M’s pass defense has had enormous issues at time this season. The Aggies don’t want to get into a shootout where they’re trying to keep up with a young quarterback and receiving corps and need to force negative plays such as sacks and turnovers so that they can keep the score down.
Tarpley: If the Aggies’ RPOs don’t help them run the ball, the Rebels garner another 400 yards through the air, and the home crowd keeps the Rebels’ energy level up, then it’s going to be hard for the Aggies to go home winners. However, A&M wins if they can run the ball (a portion of the team that’s been up and down all season) and if they can slow Ole Miss’ passing game down and keep them from generating big plays.