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Benjamin Watson Q&A
John Nabors Q&A
Brian Hadad Q&A
Jacob Goins Q&A
Texas A&M Football

From Radio Row, Day 2: Benjamin Watson & several SEC insiders

July 18, 2023

Tuesday morning's edition of TexAgs Radio emanated live from the Grand Hyatt Nashville in Nashville, TN, the site of SEC Media Days 2023. Today's special guests included Benjamin Watson, John Nabors, Brian Hadad and Jacob Goins.

Key notes from SEC Network’s Benjamin Watson 

  • I had a documentary a couple of years ago, but I did just release a book. I don’t think we should be scared to talk about our faith because the bible calls us to be ambassadors. It talks about representing our faith. I think it is who you are, and it can’t help but come out.
  • My question on the Aggies is who is going to call plays? I don’t think we have more clarity today than we did yesterday. Jimbo Fisher had the chance to clarify bringing in Bobby Petrino as the offensive coordinator. I don’t know if that is on purpose or if he is still wrestling with how they are going to work that out. He doesn’t owe us anything, but I would have liked to hear that.
  • Another question I have is how are they going to be more consistent offensively. The good thing with Conner Weigman coming back is that they have some more stability at the QB position. They have a bunch of great wide receivers. I mean, Evan Stewart, Moose Muhammad and Ainias Smith are all coming back. Are the Aggies finally going to fulfill those expectations and compete in the SEC West? I think they have the roster to do, so it is a matter of putting those things together.
  • I put A&M as a team kind of under the radar. I only say that because they are not being picked. We have talked about the recruiting class, the NIL and that they have a national championship-winning head coach, but we have also talked about the fact that they haven’t been able to develop a QB to make them to that next level. I think they have the ingredients to make it to the SEC Championship. In the SEC West, I am still looking at LSU and an Alabama team that had a less-than-Alabama year. My pick to win the SEC West is LSU.
  • As a player on the other side of the field, you understand that those guys put on pants the same way that you do. I look back to last year when Missouri was leading Georgia for 50 of the 60 minutes of that game. When you get out there, you have to put your best foot forward. When I look at Georgia’s regular-season schedule, there is no one that should beat them. We should be talking about Georgia as the 2023 National Champions this time next year.
  • I think that QB is probably the biggest question at Alabama with Jalen Milroe and Tommy Rees as the offensive coordinator. There are a lot of questions, and Nick Saban won’t give us an answer. Bryce Young was phenomenal, and he won a few games by himself. That is how important that position is.

Key notes from Arkansas insider John Nabors

  • The biggest issue last year was Arkansas’ secondary. It seems like it has been addressed, and it seems like it is going to get better. We have made some defensive and offensive coaching changes and hit the portal. To me, you still have to see it. Also, at wide receiver, Arkansas lost some key guys like Jadon Haselwood and Matt Landers. There are a lot of transfers coming in that you feel good about, but until you see it, it is tough to get a grasp on it. I think there are going to be issues on both sides of the ball, but I think their strengths outweigh the weaknesses.
  • I don’t know if they get better at offensive line, but as long as Sam Pittman is your coach, you feel like the offensive line is going to be good. It was like when Bobby Petrino was at Arkansas. He was not perfect, but you knew the quarterback play was going to be fine, and the offense was going to be good. Sam Pittman is one of the best offensive line coaches in the country, and he knows what it takes to win in this conference. He will always have at least a good offensive line.
  • Ricky Stromberg was really good. They moved Beaux Limmer over to that center spot. Sam Pittman has been talking about him and loves what he has been able to do. Cody Kennedy has been singing his praises as well.
  • I don’t think we have seen the best K.J. Jefferson yet. With Kendall Briles as his offensive coordinator for the past few years, he did some good things. The one thing that was very glaring was that the backup QB situation was awful. Malik Hornsby and Cade Fortin were the guys that came in. Now that Dan Enos is the offensive coordinator, everyone is hoping that he tweaks K.J. Jefferson’s game which will take him to the next level. Can he make those downfield reads? Can he make a good decision on whether to run or whether to pass? I think those are the things Dan Enos will really help him with.
  • If K.J. Jefferson left and went pro this year, Arkansas fans would say this might be a 6-6 year. Because of K.J. Jefferson, that is where the confidence comes to say this could be eight or nine wins.
  • I think that Demani Richardson's touchdown kept Arkansas from going 8-4 or maybe even nine wins. I think Jefferson lost a little bit of confidence in that one play. In those first few games against Cincinnati and South Carolina, he was rolling. It was the worst-case scenario, and it was based on his decision to dive. The A&M game to me always decides how Arkansas’ season goes.
  • Sam Pittman keeps his gig if he goes 6-6, but it is win or go home next season. Nobody feels you are going to be better the next season after losing K.J. Jefferson and Raheim Sanders. Sam Pittman has been incredible in SEC play and rejuvenating the program, but you can’t go from 9-4 to 6-6 and 6-6.
  • Arkansas fans want you to think that it is no big deal that A&M hired Bobby Petrino, but when they talk to you, they are scared because they know what Bobby Petrino is capable of. Arkansas played Missouri State last year when Bobby Petrino was head coach and probably should have lost that game. The great playcalling and situational awareness that he has is beautiful to watch. If the Bobby Petrino and Jimbo Fisher thing works out, A&M is going to be a problem in the SEC West. He is a quarterback mastermind and can mold an offense to how he needs it to work. If they win and the offense looks good, Arkansas fans will be hurting.

Key notes from Mississippi State insider Brian Hadad

  • It’s good to be here in Nashville. I’m enjoying myself. I always say SEC Media Days are like the first couple of days of school. You see your friends you haven’t seen all summer. It’s chill. Now if we had to stay here for a month, that might be a problem. We’d get tired of each other.
  • Mike Leach was great. He was a guy that you could just text a question and get an answer. Now, it may be a really long answer and not even an answer to the question you asked, but he would’ve said something to you. He’d never say he couldn’t talk. He’d always find time for you. The night before he passed, he was at my house. We have a yearly Christmas party, and I invited him. He showed up with his son, was cracking jokes, eating cookies and having a great time. He walked out the door, and I thought I’d see him another time, and then that was it. That’s really one of the most surreal things in my life that I saw him hours before he passed. 
  • It was the craziest thing. I’d just seen the guy, and then the next day, I’m getting ready to record my podcast, and I get a text from a guy saying something is wrong with Mike Leach. He’s at the hospital and something is going on. I was like, “That’s so weird. I just saw him like eight hours ago.” I reached out to Mississippi State, and they said, “Yeah, it’s not good,” and that was it. Two days later, he’s gone.
  • I think one of the good things about having veteran personnel like Will Rogers, is that change isn’t going to drastically destroy his confidence. He’s seen everything. There’s no defense in the conference he hasn’t faced this year. I think they’ll be fine. It’s going to be different. When you talk to Zach Arnett and Kevin Barbay, they’ll be the first ones to tell you that we will incorporate a lot of “Air Raid” principles into what we do, but we will also add the running game.
  • Mississippi State will be under center for the first time since 2017. Joe Moorhead and Mike Leach never took a snap under center. So, that’s going to be different. That’s why they brought Woody Marks today, so you can see State’s running back and a guy who I think could have a good season. Now, he’s finally getting some chances to get some carries and not just catch the ball eight times a game. There are going to be some differences but also some similarities, but it’s all Rogers. He’s got good players around him, and he’s got a good offensive line. Can he make the throws? If he can do that, Mississippi State is going to be just fine.
  • So, with Leach, it was, “I run the ‘Air Raid.’ I don’t care if you drop 11 guys into coverage. This is my offense, and this is how I run it.” I think Kevin Barbay is a guy where if you give him opportunities to run, he’ll take them, and if you give him opportunities to pass, he’ll take them. One of the first things they had to do was recruit tight ends. They didn’t have a single tight end on the roster because you don’t run them in the air raid. They went out in the transfer portal and got Ryland Goede from Georgia and Geor’quarius Spivey from TCU so they can have some veteran guys. They moved a couple of position players around who played tight end in high school. So, you are going to see those formations. You’re going to see two tight ends. You’re going to see two backs in the backfield. You’re going to see a lot of different things. They have enough veteran playmakers to be good, putting Tulu Griffin in the slot allows him to play his natural position. I think he’s one of the most explosive guys in the conference. He’s the best return man in the conference. They’ve got enough depth at receiver, losing Rara Thomas, Caleb Ducking and Rufus Harvey to overcome those losses. 
  • Will Rogers’ first start was against Vanderbilt, and he wasn’t great in that one. The next week, with 49 guys left on the roster due to COVID-19 restrictions, they went to Georgia, who was in the top 10. They were tied in the fourth quarter and ended up losing by seven. They then went to the Egg Bowl and lost that game, but Will Rogers set a record for passing yards in the Egg Bowl with 440 yards and had a better game than Matt Corral did.
  • Rogers’ sophomore year, he was really good, and then last year, he took a small step back. State took a step back offensively last year, and I don’t know how many people really realize that, and that’s why I like this team this year because State’s defense had to carry them last year. When you look at Will Rogers’ last two games of the year against Ole Miss and Illinois in the bowl game, he was not good, and he’ll be the first one to tell you that. State was at its best last year when they ran the football. They were really successful doing it against Arizona, Texas A&M and Arkansas, but then they got away from it against Kentucky. In the Egg Bowl, they were getting away from it, then Ole Miss was leading. It started pouring down rain, and Mike Leach decided he needed to run the football. Then guess what happens. They win the game. Having that offense working around the running game this year, I think Will Rogers will thrive. He’s not going to see those eight-man drop coverages. You can’t keep playing two deep safeties, so he’s going to have some opportunities down the field that he didn’t have in the last two years.
  • Mississippi State was picked last in 2022, and they finished third. State is consistently the most underrated team at SEC Media Days. They usually are picked sixth or seventh, and they usually finish fourth or suck. That’s probably what they are going to do this year. I have them fourth on my ballot behind LSU, Alabama and Texas A&M. I have A&M third because they are so talented, so I feel like it’s their time. Arkansas is interesting because they have K.J. Jefferson, so I can’t pick them last, but at the same time, they have a ton of holes defensively, and I don’t know what they’re doing in the passing game. Auburn, I know Hugh Freeze from his days at Ole Miss, and that program is going to get better, but it won’t be this year. I have Auburn last this year.
  • Hugh Freeze and Mike Leach have this in common: They will win one they shouldn’t, but lose one they shouldn’t. I wouldn’t be surprised this year when Auburn goes to LSU and wins, but they lose to Cal.
  • Olin Buchanan is one of my favorite guys to talk to. When I asked him why the rivalry has been so lopsided in favor of Mississippi State, he said, “If he knew, he would tell Jimbo Fisher.” Under Dan Mullen, I thought State was the more physical football team, especially in the Dan Mullen vs. Kevin Sumlin years. State would hit A&M in the mouth, and A&M would not hit back. Under Joe Moorhead in his first year, that team was so good defensively, and they were just hard to beat. That team lost five games. That was the absolute floor for that team. They had Jeff Simmons, Montez Sweat and Johnathan Abram.
  • The game in 2021 was one of the biggest surprises. I had no thought that State was going to go to College Station and win that game. Mike Leach just had the right formula. State came out and ran the football and was physical. A&M really didn’t have an answer for it. Now that A&M’s young defense is a year older, wiser and healthier, you should see that A&M's defense be able to step up and be a lot more physical, but I think it will be another competitive game. I have State losing that game now, but it’s definitely a toss-up.

Key notes from Auburn insider Jacob Goins interview

  • I think Hugh Freeze being in the SEC before helps. There have been some things in the past that he has addressed and moved on from that. When he was hired, there were Auburn fans that were really excited about him and fans that were very skeptical about him. I think the success that he has had the last 10 months in the transfer portal and recruiting trail pretty much washed those opinions out. What I have gotten to know and see from Hugh Freeze is that he wanted a second chance, and he has taken advantage of it. He hit it hard as soon as he stepped in the door.
  • I don’t understand people putting Auburn last in SEC West. Auburn has a lot of talent, and it is a completely different team and coaching staff. Auburn fans are excited about this season. The Penn State game from last year was the end of the previous regime. I think the floor for them is seven wins, and the ceiling is nine. I think Payton Thorne is going to be that good of a starter for them at QB. The potential for Robby Ashford is through the roof, but he has not put it all together. You have one of the best RB rooms in all of college football and a much-improved defense.
  • I think Auburn will be better than Mississippi State this year. I think Ole Miss is talented, but I think Auburn will be better. I think Auburn can be better than Arkansas. They have so much talent, but can K.J. Jefferson become greater than he already is? A&M is almost like Auburn, where if it all comes together, the potential is really high. Texas A&M has a lot more talent than Auburn right now. I have Arkansas at four or five in the SEC West right now. 
  • The offensive line is going to be completely new for Auburn. Last year’s roster has nothing to do with this year because of the guys brought in through the transfer portal. Kam Stutts will be here today as one of the three representatives. The offensive line has not been able to give the QB enough time in the past few years. I think they will be good this year. I won’t say great, but good. Elijah McAllister will be here today as well. He was the team captain at Vanderbilt. You have six or seven guys in the secondary who will be playing on Sundays. 
  • I think the obvious weakness for Alabama is the QB spot. They went and got a QB from the transfer portal, Tyler Buchner, but I don’t know if he is going to be the starter. It could end up being Jalen Milroe. He could be really good if it comes together, but if it doesn’t work out, where do they go? I think you see more of a 2009 Alabama where they will run the football and beat you old school. I think they are gettable this year, and I think Auburn and Texas A&M can do it.
  • I think the Texas A&M game will be a really big game for Auburn. I think Auburn has no chance of losing to Cal on the road. Auburn needs to compete for all four quarters against A&M if they want a successful season. 
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From Radio Row, Day 2: Benjamin Watson & several SEC insiders

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