In a season that had started off as an extremely pleasant surprise in College Station — Texas A&M started 6-0 with three wins over ranked opponents — a cold, hard reality may be setting in for the Aggies.
A season that had so much promise — College Football Playoff promise, even — is running the risk of being derailed.
The 33-14 loss at No. 1 Alabama a few weekends ago wasn’t a huge shock, because, well, Alabama is Alabama. But this past weekend’s loss to Mississippi State was completely avoidable and completely unacceptable for the Aggies.
Texas A&M was trending to still be one of the best teams in the country, even after losing to Alabama. A 52-10 win over New Mexico State put the Aggies back into the win column and simply winning out and beating the teams they should beat would have likely netted the Aggies a nice prize at the end of the season.
Mississippi State came into last weekend’s game having lost three of its last four. The Bulldogs were certainly a team Texas A&M should have beaten, especially considering that the Aggies were still ranked as the No. 4 team in the nation (a CFP team) at that juncture.
It all fell apart, though.
Senior quarterback and super transfer Trevor Knight was knocked out of the game in the second quarter and the Bulldogs went on to upset the Aggies, 35-28. But as if that bad news wasn’t enough, head coach Kevin Sumlin recently announced that Knight will miss the rest of the season with that sprained shoulder injury.
Talking about falling apart, Texas A&M’s season — at least when compared to the expectations just a few weeks ago — could be on the ropes.
It’s worth keeping in mind that there’s still a chance Knight returns for a bowl game appearance, but in the here and now, the Aggies will be putting their trust in junior Jake Hubenak, who took over for Knight after the injury.
Hubenak completed 11-of-17 passes against the Bulldogs, putting up 222 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. His pick came at the end of the game, with 14 seconds left and the Aggies trying to put together a miracle drive starting off at their own 20. It’s hard to blame a quarterback for a desperation interception, but it was the pick that sealed the seven point loss for the Aggies.
The junior from Georgetown, Texas, has played in two other games this season, getting snaps against Prairie View and New Mexico State in two Texas A&M blowouts. On the season, including the Mississippi State game, Hubenak is 23-of-38 for 350 yards, three touchdowns and the interception. He’s rushed 14 times for a total of two net yards.
And perhaps that’s the biggest worry for Texas A&M’s offense heading into a season ending stretch with games against Ole Miss, UTSA and No. 24 LSU.
Knight was a revelation for Texas A&M as a transfer from Oklahoma. He had thrown for 1,911 yards and 13 touchdowns (six interceptions) this season before the injury but was truly an X-factor for the Aggies on the ground. Knight rushed 88 times for 583 yards and 10 touchdowns for Texas A&M. The Aggies used him in read-option situations and he’s been incredibly tough to stop — averaging 6.6 yards per carry.
Knight had a dual-threat dynamic that made the Aggies’ offense one of the best not just in the SEC, but in the country. Yes, he could still make big throws, but defenses really had to worry about his ability to hurt them with his feet. He basically gave the offense another rusher to attack with and subsequently another blocker (the running back).
It was a great dynamic for Texas A&M, but unfortunately it may be a dynamic that was lost when Knight went down with injury.
Hubenak does have experience and even starting experience. He was the starter in Texas A&M’s bowl game last season, completing 28-of-48 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns (one interception) in a 27-21 Music City Bowl loss to Louisville. So at the very least, Hubenak won’t be a deer in the headlights against Ole Miss. It also helps his case that the game will be played in College Station in front of an Aggie friendly crowd.
But what Hubenak has in experience he lacks in X-factor.
Knight’s ability to run was an X-factor for Texas A&M’s offense and Hubenak simply doesn’t have it. That was something Sumlin talked about when discussing the Mississippi State loss this past weekend.
“I don’t know that there are many guys that can run like Trevor. It’ll probably change some things we do a little bit. The quarterback-read game isn’t the same for everyone. It’ll change our scheme a little bit, but [offensive coordinator] Noel Mazzone has done a good job of playing to our guys’ skill sets,” Sumlin said, via thebatt.com
Hubenak has only rushed 14 times in his college career. He’s totalled eight yards and no touchdowns. This season, he’s averaging 0.1 yards per rush.
Still, Sumlin seems to be confident that with some tweaks, Hubenak can rush the ball effectively for the Aggies.
“He’s run before, and he’s run pretty well,” Sumlin said, via Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle. “Jake is not a 4.5 guy (in the 40-yard dash) like Trevor, but he’s effective.
Being effective is the key, and Texas A&M better hope Hubenak can pull it off. The quarterback run game has been more than effective for the Aggies in 2016, so losing that element on offense could be devastating.