Important X-factors to watch for in Aggies matchup with Ole Miss

Aggies Jimbo Fisher
Ole Miss is next up for the Aggies. Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images.
Heading to Tuscaloosa, the Aggies are on a slippery slope

Coming off the bye week the Texas A&M Aggies were riding some positive momentum after coming up one play short of upsetting the #1 ranked Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. They rode that momentum into Colombia, South Carolina hoping to start a winning streak in the second half of the season. Instead, the Ags met a buzz saw in the Gamecocks, who jumped out to a 17-0 lead within the first five minutes of the football game. Shane Beamer had his squad ready to play and the environment was too much for this uber-young Texas A&M team. They dropped their third straight game and fell to 1-3 in SEC play. Disappointing for Jimbo Fisher in a year that carried so much expectation is an understatement. Let's examine precisely what has gone wrong for the Aggies and how this season could possibly be salvaged.

The two biggest things that I believe have plagued the Aggies in 2022 are the youth and inexperience and the offensive line play. Let's start off with the offensive line play, as the group has struggled to pass block and get any decent push for run plays. Things aren't going to get any easier for the unit as Jimbo Fisher announced Monday that starting lineman Bryce Foster, Aki Ogunbiyi and Jordan Moko are all out for the season. We have seen flashes of what the unit could be, during the second half of the Arkansas game and spurts of the Bama game as well. But for the majority of the season, offensive line coach Steve Addazio’s group has struggled big time. That has led to both QBs Max Johnson and Haynes King getting injured due to the opposing pass rush. Now with true freshman QB Connor Weigman getting snaps, Fisher should be concerned about the well-being of his five-star signee. Unless this key group can turn things around in a hurry, then an already anemic offense runs the risk of getting worse.

The next biggest issue I think that has impacted the Ags in 2022 is youth and inexperience. Now I get that might sound like a bad excuse given that these freshmen were a part of the highest-rated recruiting class of all time, so it’s easy to say that they should be ready to play at a high level. Hear me out on this, while most of them are four and five-star signees, they still have only 7 games of experience and playing time together. Teams take a while to gel, freshmen take time to get used to systems, routines game day operations and all of that good stuff. So I do think it is fair to give Jimbo Fisher a little slack when it comes to the amount of inexperience that is on the field.

With these two issues and many more staring the Maroon and White in the face, they welcome the Ole Miss Rebels to Kyle Field fresh off a loss to LSU. With this being the first home game back in Kyle Field in over a month, expect the 12th Man to show up and create an intimidating environment for the Rebs. The Rebels’ offense should be the X-factor in this one, if the Rebs can get the ground game going, the Aggies are in for a long night and this bad season could get worse. I see the Aggies hanging around in this one, but not being able to muster enough offense to hang around. Ole Miss wins 34-21 and the Ags fall to 3-5.

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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