The first half of the season is in the books, and so far the Aggies from Texas A&M have been on a roller coaster of a season. It’s been the sort of roller coaster that has a big drop right from the start and then gradually climbs the rest of the way. It remains to be seen how the rest of the ride is going to play out, but signs point to a thrilling finish.
For the first three quarters of the opening game against UCLA, the Aggies looked like they may be contenders for the SEC West this year. Then the roller coaster hit it’s first big drop with an epic meltdown in the fourth quarter that gave way to one of the biggest comebacks in College Football history for UCLA. Most fans believed the team would fold up shop and settle into a losing season. Any victory the rest of the season would be an absolute gift from the football gods. But credit is due to Kevin Sumlin and his staff’s ability to get this team refocused on the basics of football, finding the right combination of players that still wanted to give this season a real shot.
Then began the upward climb, with what appeared to be struggling wins over Nichols State and Louisiana. These games ended up being more like souped-up scrimmages against live opponents. And as scrimmages allow, Sumlin and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone have done a masterful job of simplifying the offense for true freshman Kellen Mond. Mond was clearly overwhelmed on the big stage in the Rose Bowl, but has since gained a ton of confidence thanks in-part to Mazzone adjusting his play-calling to better suit Mond’s game. We saw flashes of play-making ability in the Aggie’s game against Arkansas, although it was apparent that Mond was still being asked to play conservatively to limit mistakes. Sumlin and the Aggies squeaked out another comeback win in overtime against bitter rival Arkansas to continue the upward slope.
The Aggies game against South Carolina wasn’t pretty, but it served as a critical building block on the season’s trajectory, proving that the Aggies could put points on the board when they had to, and that they had the ability to shut out a quality SEC team with an impressive defensive performance in the fourth quarter. Signs point to South Carolina about to go on a run of their own with 4 of 6 remaining games looking very winnable. We’ll see at the end of the season where the win over the Gamecocks ranks.
Most recently we had the stage set for the Aggies annual matchup with Alabama. There are no moral victories if you’re going to run with the big boys of the SEC, but A&M far exceeded expectations in this game. The training wheels were finally taken off Kellen Mond, and coaches allowed (or perhaps encouraged) him to improvise a little more. Mond responded by scrambling and making plays with his feet, which kept Bama’s vaunted defense guessing, and having to respect an extra aspect of the Aggie’s game that they weren’t expecting. Mond dazzled with some big-time runs and big-time throws to Christian Kirk to keep the game close. On the defensive side of the ball, the front seven were harassing Jalen Hurts all night. Hurts should be a Heisman finalist, and he doesn’t get enough credit for his elusiveness in the pocket. Had he not been so effective slipping away from sack-minded defenders that had punched through Bama’s line, it’s very likely the outcome of the game would have been in the Aggies favor.
Throughout the first six games, we’ve seen more underclassmen on the field than ever before in Sumlin’s tenure. Fans are often left turning to their roster or depth chart to try to find the name of the defensive back that they’ve never heard before. This coaching staff has proven that it is willing to take a few lumps with these underclassmen in the spirit of building depth for a stretch-run that could be what saves Kevin Sumlin’s job. After watching the Aggies go toe-to-toe with the best team in the country, it would seem that a 5-1 finish is within reach. If that were to happen, Sumlin would likely not only be taken off the hot-seat, but lauded for a masterful turn-around and given a nice contract extension for several years to come.