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CESSNA: Texas A&M receiving corps suffers big hit with Caleb Chapman out
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CESSNA: Texas A&M receiving corps suffers big hit with Caleb Chapman out

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Texas A&M vs. Florida

Texas A&M's Caleb Chapman (81) makes a catch against Florida's Marco Wilson (3) during game action at Kyle Field in College Station on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. Michael Miller/The Eagle

Wide receivers don’t grow on trees, they’re developed. It’s a process Texas A&M has had to accelerate this season and the Aggies might have to amp it up even more.

A&M, which already had lost four of the seven underclassmen listed at wide receiver on last year’s depth chart for the Texas Bowl, lost another one with sophomore Caleb Chapman suffering a major injury in last week’s 41-38 victory over Florida.

Chapman accounted for 28% of A&M’s offense in the game with nine receptions for 151 yards with two touchdowns. It was the most productive game by an A&M receiver in 29 games under head coach Jimbo Fisher. Chapman was complemented by Chase Lane and Ainias Smith, who combined for nine catches for 105 yards with a touchdown, along with tight end Jalen Wydermyer who had five receptions for 53 yards. Throw in Isaiah Spiller’s 174 yards rushing with two touchdowns and the offense looked promising considering all are underclassmen.

Chapman’s emergence also offset the departure of senior Jhamon Ausbon, the team’s leading receiver last year who opted out during fall camp. A&M seemed to miss Ausbon in a lackluster 17-12 season-opening victory over Vanderbilt. But the offense has taken off in the last two weeks with the emergence of Chapman and Lane, along with Smith who is getting more snaps at wide receiver, where he had played all last season until the Texas Bowl.

A&M had back-to-back 300-yard passing games in Southeastern Conference play for the first time since 2015. You could argue A&M was better off without Ausbon because the young receivers were getting valuable playing time and with them A&M beat a top five team, something it never did with Ausbon. Losing Chapman is tough, considering how far he’s come, but now Lane, sophomore Jalen Preston and others probably will get even more playing time.

“We’ve got great opportunities for young guys to come up,” Fisher said. “And we’ve got a lot of guys who have played. We’ll figure out what we’re going to do and go forward.”

A&M had moved forward despite losing experienced players because of talented depth, bolstered by back-to-back sixth-ranked recruiting classes. Lane, Smith, Wydermyer and Spiller all played as true freshmen last year. This year’s true freshman receivers include Demond Demas, a five-star recruit, and Moose Muhammad III, a four-star recruit. Both played against Alabama, but didn’t make a catch.

Receiver expected to be a strength this season, even after Quartney Davis and Kendrick Rogers declared for the NFL draft instead of returning for their senior seasons. But senior Camron Buckley suffered a season-ending knee injury in late August and then Ausbon, who last year had 66 catches for 872 yards, opted out to prepare for the draft. A&M also lost tight ends Baylor Cupp and Blake Smith to season-ending injuries.

Fisher managed a laugh during Monday’s Zoom conference when asked if A&M was snake-bitten with injuries.

“That’s ball, man,” Fisher said. “I’ve been in this game long enough — you’re always snake bit. That’s the way it always is.”

A&M was able to bite back after losing Ausbon. Now the challenge is to replace the 6-foot-5, 195-pound Chapman.

Chapman was injured on a 51-yard touchdown catch that tied the game at 38.

“It looks like he has an injury and he’ll probably be out for the rest of the year,” Fisher said.

It’s Chapman’s second major injury. He played two games as a true freshman in 2018 before suffering a season-ending injury. He played in 11 games last season with one start. He had only one catch for 6 yards. Chapman took to social media to thank everyone for prayers and support.

“Without the lows the highs mean nothing,” he said. “Bounce back gonna be scary. See you then.”

A&M was named America’s Team of the Week by the Football Writers Association of America for its victory over then fourth-ranked Florida.

A&M senior quarterback Kellen Mond shared SEC offensive player of the week with Alabama running back Najee Harris. Mond completed 25 of 35 passes for 338 yards with three touchdowns and no sacks. Harris rushed for a career-high 206 yards on 23 carries with five touchdowns in a 63-48 victory over Ole Miss.

Mond also made the Davey O’Brien Award’s Great 8 of the week along with Missouri’s Connor Bazelak, Georgia’s Stetson Bennett, North Carolina’s Sam Howell, Alabama’s Mac Jones, Boston College’s Phil Jurkovec, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Troy’s Gunnar Watson. The same eight quarterbacks made the Manning Award’s Stars of the Week along with Middle Tennessee State’s Asher O’Hara.

Bazelak threw for 406 yards on 29 of 34 with four touchdowns in a 45-41 victory over LSU; Bennett passed for 238 yards on 16 of 27 with two touchdowns with 22 yards rushing and a TD in a 44-21 victory over Tennessee; Howell threw for 257 yards on 18 of 23 with three touchdowns in a 56-44 victory over Virginia Tech; Jones threw for 417 yards on 28 of 32 with two touchdowns; Jurkovec threw for 358 yards on 19 of 35 with three touchdowns and a rushing TD in a 31-30 victory over Pittsburgh; Lawrence passed for 292 yards on 29 of 41 with three touchdowns and rushed for 34 more with a TD in a 42-17 victory over Miami; Watson threw for 338 yards on 33 of 46 with four touchdowns in a 37-17 victory over Texas State; and O’Hara threw for 268 yards on 21 of 41 and 106 yards rushing on 23 carries with two TDs in a 31-28 victory over Florida International.

Alabama at Tennessee will be the CBS 2:30 p.m. game on Oct. 24 with A&M enjoying an off week. The other games will be Auburn at Ole Miss, 11 a.m. (SEC Network); South Carolina at LSU, 3 p.m. (SEC Network); Missouri at Florida, 6 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. (ESPN or SEC Network); and Georgia at Kentucky, 6 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. (ESPN or SEC Network).

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