COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino will make his debut at No. 23 Texas A&M on Saturday night when the Aggies open the season against New Mexico.
Coach Jimbo Fisher is betting on the well-traveled Petrino to revive an offense that was among the worst in the country last season as the Aggies finished a disappointing 5-7.
A former head coach at Louisville, Arkansas and with the Atlanta Falcons, Petrino is back in Bowl Subdivision football for the first time since 2018. Petrino was fired at Louisville after the Cardinals won just two of their first 10 games in 2018; in 2020, he took over at FCS school Missouri State.
He admitted that he was “itching” to get back to college football’s top level but insisted that he is more focused on the players than his reputation.
“I’m not interested in showing people anything,” he said. “My thing right now is to have the opportunity to work with young men to do everything I can to provide them confidence in what they’re doing.”
He will run an offense led by quarterback Conner Weigman, who was named the team’s starter Monday after vying with Max Johnson for the job throughout camp. Weigman threw for 896 yards and eight touchdowns without an interception in five games as a freshman after Johnson’s season-ending hand injury.
Fisher expects Weigman to be more of a leader in his second season.
“I think now that it’s the next year, you really understand the offense a lot more and you’re able to help,” Fisher said. “You can take a lot more of that load upon yourself as you grow in your offense and you know you can play, which he knows he can play. So that can kind of go into your other players a lot more. They can lean on him.”
His first test will be against a New Mexico team that won just two games last year and ended the season on a nine-game skid. It’s the second game in three years between the two; the Aggies won 34-0 at home in 2021.
“Our kids were a little bit intimidated when we got to Kyle Field the Friday night before the game, and I hope that’s not the case this time,” coach Danny Gonzales said. “I think they’re excited to go play.”
Regardless of how the game turns out, Gonzales knows that his team will leave College Station as a winner.
“The great thing about this first game of the season is that we’re going to collect a check for $1.6 million to help our athletic department,” he said. “And we’re going to go have some fun playing this football game.”
The Lobos gained a veteran quarterback this season in transfer Dylan Hopkins. He joined the Lobos for a final season as a graduate transfer after four years at UAB. Hopkins appeared in 33 career games, piling up 4,750 yards passing with 31 touchdowns. Last season, he threw for 1,913 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions in 11 games as the Blazers went 7-6.
WR/PR Ainias Smith returns for a fifth season after breaking his right leg in the fourth game last year. He has 1,612 yards receiving with 17 touchdowns and 384 yards rushing in his career at Texas A&M. He’s also the team’s punt returner and has 551 career punt return yards with a touchdown.
He is encouraging his teammates to put last year behind them and focus on being great this year.
“We’ve really been emphasizing in our room, let’s not play down to anybody’s level,” he said. “Let us play at our level… let’s go ahead and destroy (opponents) and make sure that they don’t want to come back on this field.”
Gonzales is not happy the Lobos have to deal with Smith again after seeing him in 2021.
“I was hoping he’d go to the NFL,” Gonzales said. “He didn’t.”
If the Aggies sell out Kyle Field for Saturday’s game as expected, the crowd of 102,733 would be the largest crowd the Lobos have ever played in front of. They have twice played in front of crowds of at least 100,000: at Texas in 2012 (100,990) and at LSU last year (100,501).
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