Jimbo Fisher finally made good on his 10-year, $75 million contract Saturday.
No, his 21st-ranked Aggies didn’t win the national championship, but they beat a top-five team, Fisher’s first since moving to College Station in 2018. It was also his first such win since 2014, when he was still coach at Florida State and just a single season removed from the Seminoles’ 2013 national championship.
A&M’s 41-38 victory over No. 4 Florida lends credibility to Fisher’s monumental contract, which quickly became a joke among college football fans (outside College Station, at least) who wondered aloud when he would deliver on his ridiculous price tag. Prior to Saturday’s matchup, Fisher had gone 0-7 against top-five teams with the Aggies. A 1-7 record might not seem much different, but for a team still trying to get its footing under a third-year coach, it could be the spark it has been looking for.
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“I think this can be a culture-changing win,” senior quarterback Kellen Mond told reporters after the game. “Especially with all of the young guys we have. … But it’s just Week 3 and we have a long way to go.”
The Aggies found that spark Saturday in the run game: Isaiah Spiller was immaculate, rushing 27 times for 174 yards and two scores against a defense that came in averaging 143.5 rushing yards allowed per game. Mond played excellent ball as well, completing 25 of 35 passes for 338 yards and three scores. And credit an opportunistic defense that had been gashed by Gators quarterback Kyle Trask for 312 yards and four touchdowns: That unit secured a late fumble to give A&M the ball, allowing the offense to drain the clock and finish the game with a Seth Small 26-yard field goal.
Fisher’s Aggies, of course, had come close prior to Saturday. There was the 28-26 loss to No. 2 Clemson in 2018, a failed 2-point conversion the only difference against the eventual national champions. There were close calls in 2019, too, when the Aggies faced three different teams to be ranked No. 1; the closest game was against No. 4 Georgia, a 19-13 loss to the Bulldogs in Athens. The latest attempt came against No. 2 Alabama last week, when the Crimson Tide demolished Fisher and Co. 52-24 in Tuscaloosa.
How easy it would have been for the Aggies to pack it in against a consecutive top-five opponent in Florida. And how much of a relief it must have been for Fisher to finally secure that elusive first win. But now he faces a different challenge: to build off the victory and make sure it isn’t the highlight of his team’s 2020 season.
To that end, Fisher made sure to say all the right things after the game — namely, pointing out the mistakes that made it such a close game. The Aggies committed five penalties for 67 yards, fumbled once and botched clock management at the end of the half, which resulted in a field goal instead of a game-tying touchdown.
“I’m not happy. We won a big game, but we didn’t play as well as we can play,” Fisher said. “It’s great to win and you should expect to win. … We left a lot of plays out there and a lot to clean up.”
The Aggies have ample opportunity to improve over the final seven games of the season. They should be favored in each of their next three matchups, against Mississippi State, Arkansas and South Carolina, before finishing with a four-week stretch against No. 14 Tennessee, Ole Miss, No. 17 LSU and No. 13 Auburn — teams that have looked far from invincible. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that they finish the season with just the one loss to Alabama.
The Aggies would need help getting into the SEC championship game following their destruction by the Crimson Tide, but there’s no reason to think Jimbo and Co. can’t be a part of the conversation heading into late November and early December. It might be too early to expect similar discussions regarding the College Football Playoff, but that ultimately is why Fisher took over in College Station.
He still has to fill out that blank national championship trophy, after all.
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