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Texas A&M Football

Cover Story: An opportunity missed, but a rise validated

September 15, 2013

For the better part of the offseason, it seemed as if the majority of the media attention — in one way or another — focused on Texas A&M football.

Over the past seven days, Aggieland became the center of the college football universe, with the hype reaching never-before-seen levels. We’re talking the kind of spotlight reserved only for the nation’s most powerful and high-profile programs. Alabama, with three national titles in four seasons, is certainly used to the sort of focus, scrutiny, promotion and praise that the ‘Game of the Century’ showdown brought with it. 

Based on the Aggies’ unforgettable shootout with the two-time defending champs on Saturday, Texas A&M should probably start getting used to playing in these types of games, as well.
TexAgs The Aggies and Tide treated the nation to a showdown that made clear the level the two teams are playing on. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"left","Size":"large","Caption":"The Aggies and Tide treated the nation to a showdown that made clear the level the two teams are playing on.","MediaItemID":35595}
Despite long odds and an even longer line of experts, analysts and general skeptics lining up to call last year’s win over Alabama — and even last year’s Heisman Trophy-winning campaign — a fluke, neither Johnny Manziel nor the Aggies wilted under the massive amount of pre-game hype and big-game pressure.

Rather, the Aggies flourished in the moment, exploded out of the gate to a 14-0 lead, weathered an emphatic answer by the Crimson Tide and responded with a furious fourth-quarter rally that kept an entire nation glued to its television sets.

In what was the highest-rated regular-season college football game in seven years, the Aggies lost a 49-42 heartbreaker.

But, in big-picture terms, A&M football won big.

Yes, that’s right, Manziel and Co. fell just one touchdown short of scoring the most significant win in school history and emerging as a national title front-runner. But the quarterback and the program proved to all of America that the Aggies are good enough to still figure into this year’s BCS championship race and that Texas A&M has indeed established itself as one of college football’s top ten programs.

In just sixteen games as head coach, Kevin Sumlin has transformed the Aggies from Big 12 also-ran to one of Southeastern Conference’s true power players.
That was just one of many things that we learned during Saturday’s wild, back-and-forth Kyle Field thriller. What else did the Tide’s victory in this epic showdown tell us? For starters, Alabama has an excellent chance of pulling off the three-peat and the Aggies are going to win a lot of football games this fall … maybe the remaining ten of them.

Of course, 91 points and over 1,200 yards also tells us that both Alabama and A&M aren’t above being upset — and certainly not above losing to No. 6 LSU — if they don’t shore things up on defense. That’s not a comparison of the two defenses but rather a simple statement of fact.

We also learned that the Aggie offense can and probably will light up every team on the remaining schedule and that Mike Evans is now a bona fide star who could be a future Biletnikoff Award winner and first-round NFL Draft pick.

TexAgs Manziel reminded many that he is the best player in college football and has elevated his game beyond even last year's heights. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"right","Size":"large","Caption":"Manziel reminded many that he is the best player in college football and has elevated his game beyond even last year\u0027s heights.","MediaItemID":35556}
As for Alabama, A.J. McCarron and the Tide offense proved that the potential is indeed there to overwhelm opponents with size, speed and talent at every position. Nick Saban’s offense looked every bit like the physical juggernaut it did throughout last fall, perhaps even featuring more explosive firepower than a season ago.
In addition to the Tide now having the inside track to play for yet another national championship (number four in five years), the two major takeaways from the SEC shootout were as follows: By Saturday evening, Manziel was the front-runner in the 2013 Heisman Trophy race; and, Texas A&M-Alabama is fast becoming one of college football’s most fascinating, riveting and competitive rivalries.
It’s more than a bit ironic that, after being all but written off for the award prior to the 2013 season by most of the members of a national media hell-bent on finding a more ‘presentable’ winner, Manziel somehow reclaimed the pole position in this year’s Heisman race in a losing effort.

Make no mistake, if Johnny becomes only the second player ever to repeat as the stiff-arm winner, Saturday’s mind-blowing performance will be his ‘Heisman moment.’

The sophomore signal-caller was beyond brilliant, putting together a four-quarter show that has to rank as one of the greatest in history. Johnny Football shredded Saban’s vaunted Crimson Tide defense to the tune of 562 yards and five touchdowns — a total that ranks as the second-most in SEC history (behind Manziel’s own 576-yard total versus Louisiana Tech last fall) and the most ever allowed by an Alabama defense.

Let me say that again: Manziel went for 562 and five TDs against Alabama and Nick Saban. As they should, the Manziel talking points have once again shifted toward his incredible on-field exploits. No one is better and everyone knows it.

Manziel may well have cemented his legacy against the Tide on Saturday, and did so with the entire nation hanging on his every move. He’s a transcendent talent good enough to leave even Saban himself laughing and shaking his head in disbelief.
Saban, who told Sumlin that the wild affair “took ten years off of (his) life” during the postgame handshake, was able to smile only after the game had ended. Thanks to the combination of punishing ground attack, lethal play-action passing game and porous (putting it mildly) Aggie defense, the visiting head coach got a win that those close to him believe he felt he absolutely had to have.

TexAgs The rapidly budding rivalry is fast becoming one in which the stakes, and the payoff, will be high for years. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"right","Size":"large","Caption":"The rapidly budding rivalry is fast becoming one in which the stakes, and the payoff, will be high for years.","MediaItemID":35606}
This one was personal for Saban and the Tide, just as it was for Sumlin, Manziel and the Aggies. Alabama may have won the national championship last year, but the one thing standing between it and perfection were the SEC neophytes from College Station.

This time around, the champs held on to the belt in what can best be compared to a 12-round heavyweight prize fight. Playing in what virtually every media member and longtime SEC Football observer told me was one of the most impressive game atmospheres they had seen, the Aggies and Crimson Tide traded haymakers for sixty minutes before Saban’s squad recovered one final onside kick and escaped Kyle Field with a hard-earned victory.
Though the two teams have only met twice, the drastically contrasting teams — both in style of play and the personalities involved — make for tremendous football and perhaps even better theater.

Combine that with the two programs' historic ties in so many ways and there’s no denying that A&M-Bama has the makings of something special. More than anything else, however, A&M appears set to join LSU as Alabama’s primary threat(s) to SEC West supremacy on an annual basis.

Unlike Bama-LSU or even the Aggies and Longhorns, you don’t get the sense that there is much hate between the coaches, players and fan bases on either side. Rather, there is a great deal of mutual respect — something unique in today’s cut-throat, intensely competitive world of college football.

Even without Manziel (who will almost certainly take his talents to the NFL following this season), Sumlin and the Aggies versus Saban and the Tide should be a game carrying SEC and BCS title implications for the foreseeable future. Saban’s post-game mood and demeanor alone — the normally dour head coach could have even been described as funny and pleasant — was pretty indicative of how relieved he was to score a road win over a team that, early in the game, looked like it might be Alabama’s kryptonite.
On Saturday at least, Alabama was the better team — albeit not by very much. The defending champs took control midway through the second quarter and held on to win an unexpected shootout. As a result, Bama remains the national title favorite while the Aggies, as Johnny himself pointed out in the post-game press conference, have to get back to work, continue winning games and let the chips fall where they may.

TexAgs The viewer base, one of the largest in years, was also treated to the emergence (on a national scale) of Evans as an elite wideout. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"left","Size":"large","Caption":"The viewer base, one of the largest in years, was also treated to the emergence (on a national scale) of Evans as an elite wideout.","MediaItemID":35581}
It will take more than a couple of upsets, but if A&M somehow manages to win out, this year’s college football season just might end in a rubber match for the ages.
The Ags’ hopes of winning out are attached to an offense that Saban said might be one of the best of all-time. We all know Manziel might very well go down as the GOAT (Greatest of All Time, for those confused by that one) but his battery-mate Evans is also making a strong case for being the best at what he does, as well.

Evans’ seven-catch, 279-yard outburst was every bit as amazing as Manziel’s afternoon. The 6-5 receiver made jaw-dropping play after jaw-dropping play while literally toying with the Crimson Tide secondary.

A man amongst boys at the college level, the sophomore might garner a few Heisman votes of his own before all is said and done.

In addition to Evans, Malcome Kennedy (three clutch touchdowns) and the entire A&M receiving corps stepped up and made one big grab after another. Ben Malena and Tra Carson pounded out some tough yards, and it was all done behind what has to be considered one of the two or three best offensive lines in all of college football. It’s going to be difficult for anyone on the schedule to outscore the Aggies this fall, as Alabama learned on Saturday.
Unfortunately, Aggie fans may want to get used to watching shootouts similar to Saturday’s wild one because, as of now, the A&M defense has to qualify a serious disappointment and an even bigger concern. We knew coming in that the Ags were going to struggle to replace good players and senior leaders such as Sean Porter, Jonathan Stewart, Spencer Nealy and Dustin Harris, plus Damontre Moore’s pass-rushing prowess.

What we didn’t know was that a couple of veteran replacements were going to struggle so mightily in the early stages of the season.

On Saturday, the Ags were hopeless against the Tide ground game to the point of being overwhelmed. When McCarron sat back to pass, he had all day to throw the football and found wide open receivers on most of his 29 attempts. It goes without saying that the Aggies are bad on defense and have to get much better. I, for one, have zero doubt that Mark Snyder will make that happen … I’m just not sure how he’s going to do it.

TexAgs With the state of the defense, the Aggies' future, exemplified brightly in the freshmen, may have to come now. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"right","Size":"large","Caption":"With the state of the defense, the Aggies\u0027 future, exemplified brightly in the freshmen, may have to come now.","MediaItemID":35524}
The formula might have to involve speeding up the learning curve for several promising true freshmen and pushing them into the starting lineup sooner than originally anticipated. As the season goes on, guys like Jordan Mastrogiovanni, Daeshon Hall, Darian Claiborne, Isaiah Golden and Shaan Washington are going to get better and better. Talent on the starting unit, quality depth and he defensive numbers will improve as a result.
If there are two things I’m sure of, it’s that Snyder probably wishes the daunting test that the ‘Bama offense presented came a few weeks later in the season — and that he could have suited up a few of the nationally-ranked defensive recruits who watched the game from the Kyle Field stands on Saturday.

The good news is that, thanks to a gameday atmosphere the likes of which few prospects will see this season and the competitive nature of the game, Snyder will no doubt see several of those same guys in maroon and white as soon as next season.

Until then, however, the Aggies are going to have to get by with what they have. If the defense doesn’t improve, the A&M offense is still more than good enough to outscore anyone left on the schedule save perhaps LSU. Ole Miss should also be feared, but the Ags would probably take their chances in an up-and-down shootout with the Rebels.

On the other hand, if Snyder is eventually able to work his magic for a second straight season, the Aggies have an excellent shot at finding themselves right in the middle of the BCS mix.
Since arriving in Aggieland, Sumlin has been steadfast in his belief that his A&M teams will eventually get used to playing in games like the one that had America talking all the way into an NFL Sunday. Welcome to life in the League of Champions, where even top-10 teams tend to have a difficult time making it out of September without a blemish.

The good news is that Sumlin’s players didn’t seem at all phased by the atmosphere, the opponent or what was at stake. Rather — with Manziel and Evans leading the way — the Aggies rose to the occasion and, despite losing a game that actually lived up to advance billing, may have won over a nation of doubters in the process and established A&M as part of the national elite.
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Cover Story: An opportunity missed, but a rise validated

8,139 Views | 8 Replies | Last: 9 yr ago by aged78
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Cover Story: An opportunity missed, but a rise validated
Paradise Ag
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Saturday was terrific exposure for our program, and our athletes and fans delivered.

Its obvious that we're all optimistic about the direction Sumlin is leading our team.

That's an awfully good feeling we've been missin' for a while.
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Excellent article.
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Tremendous article, Sir. Thanks.
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