Aggies’ trajectory after disappointing loss to Kansas State

The Texas A&M Aggies suffered through another underwhelming 8-5 season. Where does this talented, enigmatic squad go from here?

Kevin Sumlin’s seat picked up heat again as the Aggies lost 33-28 to the Kansas State Wildcats Wednesday night. Since Sumlin and Texas A&M lost Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M can’t win consistently. They’ve gone 24-15 in the three years since he left early for the NFL Draft. The struggles certainly aren’t a lack of talent. Sumlin regularly brings in some of the best recruiting classes in the country.

If he wants to keep his job and the program in the national spotlight, he’ll have to win in 2017. This will be no easy task as they lost some huge pieces on both sides of the ball. Sumlin will need some players to step up in a big way to break the 8-5 streak.

One-year fix is gone

Offensively, Texas A&M and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone are in solid position. The only glaring hole is at quarterback. Senior Trevor Knight was a breath of fresh air in his lone season. Sumlin experienced brutal quarterback woes in the previous two years. If they aren’t careful they could be back in the same territory next year. They do return current junior Jake Hubenak along with redshirt freshman Nick Starkel.

Hubenak has been capable in all of his starts, but his lack of production on the ground is concerning. He’s a more efficient passer than Knight as noted by his 58.7 completion percentage to Knight’s 53.3. Nonetheless, the offense was more dynamic with a starter like Knight.

Starkel will get a shot at the job, but so will highly recruited freshman Kellen Mond. He’s a brilliant dual threat that can’t be overlooked.

Dec 28, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies running back Keith Ford (7) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter against the Kansas State Wildcats at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Offense Stays Stocked

It’s not all bad for the Aggies. The running back depth on this squad is some of the best in the country. Freshman sensation Trayveon Williams returns after rushing for 1,057 yards and eight touchdowns. Junior power back Keith Ford returns as well. He rushed for a respectable 669 yards and five touchdowns. Junior James White and freshman Kendall Bussey provide depth with nearly 300 combined rushing yards last year.

The offensive line loses two major starters in seniors Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemeanor. However, the Aggies return sophomore Connor Lanfear, freshman center Erik McCoy and sophomore guard Keaton Sutherland. The squad also returns a few other lettermen from this year.

The Receiving corp will take some huge hits with the loss of starters Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones. Reynolds was one of the best receivers in the country in 2016. He was a touchdown machine catching 30 in his three-year career. Junior Seals-Jones declared for the draft after compiling 123 catches, 1,442 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career. The team also loses depth in Jeremy Tabuyo, Edward Pope and Boone Niederhofer.

Luckily for the Aggies, their best receiver Christian Kirk is back. He’s an explosive player with 3,207 all-purpose yards and 21 total touchdowns in just two years as a starter. Beyond Kirk, there are some questions. Soon-to-be senior Speedy Noil has both the production and experience, but he was suspended for the Texas Bowl after an arrest. He’s been a troublesome player his whole career and his future is certainly up in the air.

Junior Damion Ratley will be someone to watch. He’s caught 17 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns in his career. He could be a breakout player in his senior year. Other players provide depth such as Frank Iheanacho and Jamal Jeffrey. They need some of these players to take over the playmaking abilities of Reynolds and Seals-Jones for the passing game to stay potent.

Oct 8, 2016; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies defensive back Armani Watts (23) tackles Tennessee Volunteers tight end Ethan Wolf (82) during the game at Kyle Field. The Aggies defeat the Volunteers 45-38 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Replace Garrett and Hall

On defense, no matter how you slice it, the Aggies will miss Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. The two pass rushers were dominant and could disrupt any offense. Garrett is a likely top pick in the NFL Draft, while Hall is listed as a fourth round defensive end.

The defensive line still features some impressive players especially in the interior with Zaycoven Henderson, Daylon Mack and Keke Kingsley. The trio combined for 102 total tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Kingsley was second on the team in sacks with four.

One of the defensive end replacements already put up some nice production. Junior Jarrett Johnson recorded 3.5 sacks in a reserve role in 2016. Look for him to make the jump in John Chavis’ defense next year.

The linebackers lose star Shaan Washington and senior Claude George. They do return sophomore starter Otara Alaka and contributors Richard Moore, Dwaine Thomas and Cullen Gillaspia. This unit  returns enough production to be strong especially with a great interior defensive line. They should be able to make plays.

On the back-end, the Aggies are extremely deep and talented. The defense loses just one starter in senior Justin Evans. Everyone else is back including Armani Watts. He decided to forego the draft and return for one more season.

Starting corners Nick Harvey and Priest Willis are back for their senior years as well. Harvey led the defense with 10 passes defended. All three backups for the three defensive backs starters return as well. Freshman Donovan Wilson showed some promise as Evans backup recording 59 tackles and an interception in his freshman year. This is by far the most experienced, productive unit with seven interceptions returning and multiple veterans.

There are playmakers around this team, but they need to be difference makers to make up for what they lost. The Aggies depend on the development of their quarterbacks and new defensive ends for an improved 2017.

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