Congratulations, everyone! We’ve survived the long offseason, and finally UCLA football has returned to us (whether that’s a good or a bad thing is another matter).
But, now that the season has begun, we must turn our attention to our first opponent of the season: the Texas A&M Aggies. This preview is going to focus on the Aggie offense, with the defensive preview coming tomorrow.
Bruin fans are very familiar with Noel Mazzone’s offense at this point. Mazzone runs a spread-style system, utilizing quick passes to the flanks to set up an inside zone running game. This is all complemented by deep strikes to keep the defense honest, and when the offense is humming, it can be incredibly difficult to stop. That said, the system has always had issues against high-level opponents, and Noel Mazzone can be prone to runs of poor play-calling, as evidenced by the second half of last year’s meeting, when a string of three-and-outs allowed the Bruins to get back into the game.
Well, here’s our first big mystery: Texas A&M has still not named a starting QB. This could be some gamesmanship on the part of Kevin Sumlin, as the Aggies did release a depth chart this week that did not name a starter, but from the reports I’ve read floating around, none of the quarterbacks in the competition have really separated themselves from the pack. So take that as you will.
Jake Hubenak is the known quantity of the group, having played a few games last year while Trevor Knight was injured and did an admirable job, putting up decent stats in games against Ole Miss and Mississippi State. That said, he’s also more of a low-ceiling, high-floor option for the Aggies. Reports are that redshirt freshman Nick Starkel may have the edge in camp, if only because Sumlin has been willing to play high-ceiling guys. Also in this competition is true freshman Kellen Mond is also in this race, but seems to have settled into third.
No matter who the starting quarterback is, they’ll at least be able to rely on a solid running back in the backfield. Trayveon Williams has an incredibly good year for a freshman running back, putting up 1,057 yards and 6.8 YPC in his first campaign. And yes, he had more rushing yards than the Bruins had combined ALL YEAR. Williams was very good at breaking off explosive runs, ending up with an average of 8 highlight yards per opportunity (for reference, highlight yards are a stat that measures the yardage gained in the second and third levels of the defense i.e. when the run usually gets on highlight reels). Williams was backed up by Keith Ford, a bigger, more efficient runner.
The Aggies lost 6 of their top 7 wide receivers from last year, which is a less than ideal situation to throw a new starting quarterback into. Fortunately for the Aggies, Christian Kirk is still here. Kirk wasn’t as explosive last year, catching 83 passes with only an 11.2 YPC average, but he’ll need to step up as the top pass option. Behind him on the depth chart is junior Damion Ratley and freshman Jhamon Ausbon. This also highlights the youth in this group: outside of Kirk and Ratley, every other wide receiver on the depth chart is either a redshirt or true freshman.
Texas A&M’s depth chart also lists tight ends, with Kalvin Cline, Aaron Hansford, and Tanner Schorp all listed as co-starters, but the bigger question remains whether they will be utilized in any meaningful way. Bruin fans know just how little Noel Mazzone utilized the tight end position.
The bad news for the Aggies (and good news for the Bruins) is that the Aggies no longer have the services of all-conference left tackle Avery Gennesy. His potential replacement, Koda Martin, received preseason all-conference honors, but on the depth chart he’s listed as an “OR” with potential starting center Colton Prater. And that’s the only real potential issue with this offensive line - the group is young but has plenty of experience, and could be one of the nation’s best in a year. Erick McCoy at LG, Connor Lanfear at RG, and Keaton Sutherland at RT all should be locked in at this point.