Forget Alabama, a 52-28 blowout of South Carolina is Kevin Sumlin's best win at A&M
Published: Thursday, 28 August 2014 22:07
by Zach Barnett
It didn't come with the tree-bending, house-splitting, hurricane-like force of Texas A&M's transcendent 2012 win over Alabama. No single victory can match that sort of crashing-into-your-living-room kind of arrival short of winning a championship, SEC or national. But Thursday night's 52-28 destruction of No. 9 South Carolina was every bit the on-the-field accomplishment as that win over the Tide. Scratch that. It was better.
Before we get to tonight, let's add some context to what happened on Nov. 10, 2012 in Tuscaloosa. No. 1 Alabama was seven days removed from an emotionally-draining, vertigo-inducing 21-17 comeback over No. 5 LSU. And they played like it. Texas A&M sprinted to a 20-0 first quarter lead and held on by their fingernail's fingernails for a 29-24 win. Alabama roared back non-existent first quarter (10 plays, 26 yards, two punts, one interception), outgained the Aggies and came within one errant A.J. McCarron pass from winning the game. Aside from that, the 2012 A&M team was a special group - a team I'll always maintain was playing the best football in America by year's end - coached by Kevin Sumlin, but built by Mike Sherman. It's not a knock on Sumlin, but an inevitable reality every first-year coach lives in. There's no doubt Sumlin drove that car better than his predecessor proved capable, but Sherman built the engine.
Two years later, that engine has been completely retooled. Two-thirds of Texas A&M's key contributors are Sumlin recruits. Quarterback Kenny Hill, he of the 511 passing yard (an school record for a first start, one of only six 500-yard efforts in SEC history), is a Sumlin recruit. Running backs Trey Williams, Brandon Williams and Tra Carson, who combined to produce 194 yards and four touchdowns on 34 total touchdowns, are Sumlin recruits. So are Edward Pope (four catches, 75 yards, one touchdown), Ricky Seals-Jones (five grabs, 67 yards, one touchdown), Speedy Noil (five catches, 55 yards), and nearly all of the dozen A&M pass catchers that turned the South Carolina back seven into a ninth-grade biology project. Six-hundred eighty-yards, a South Carolina opponent record, and a certain Mr. Football, a once-in-three-generations talent and Sherman's greatest recruit, had nothing to do with it.
There was one point where South Carolina seemed a worthy opponent of Texas A&M tonight. The Gamecocks slimmed a 10-0 deficit to 17-14 on what effectively amounted to two solo home runs at the expense of A&M cornerback Deshazor Everett who, oddly enough, is one of the few Aggie defenders that is not a Sumlin recruit. The three stops Texas A&M had to have, a sternum-thumping hit that separating ball from South Carolina receiver in the Aggies' end zone and the ensuing sack-turned-intentional grounding of Dylan Thompson that allowed A&M to take its 31-14 lead into halftime, were turned in by true freshmen - Armani Watts and Myles Garrett, respectively. And the one moment when South Carolina appeared to have a modicum of momentum, trailing 45-28, with the ball near midfield after producing an elusive A&M punt, there was Watts again to intercept Thompson.
Spurrier could not be reached for comment for this column, but this should sum up his thoughts on the night.
There is the possibility that tonight's result actually says more about South Carolina than Texas A&M, that those disgusted headset tosses will become a weekly occurrence on the South Carolina sideline. The Gamecocks could prove to be as awful as they appeared tonight, but I wouldn't bet on it. Before the Aggies' 24-point victory seemed so perfunctory, A&M was a 10.5-point underdog for a reason. Entering tonight, Spurrier was 24 for 25 in season openers as a head coach, and 7-0 on opening Thursdays at South Carolina. That's in addition to the Gamecocks' FBS-best 18-game home winning streak. A&M departing Columbia with a win seemed as likely as your dog leaving a piece of perfectly cooked bacon uneaten.
This isn't to deflect praise away from Sumlin's staff, either. Mark Snyder and the defensive staff clearly put their offseason to good use, especially up front - South Carolina rushed 22 times for 67 yards, with a long of 14. B.J. Anderson has injected his offensive line with some sort of serum that makes them immune to losing first-round draft picks. And Jake Spavital dazzled the media throughout the night, specifically after dialing up a 3rd-and-13 draw for 24 yards.
It's far too early to tell what any of this truly means. Dennis Green can keep his voice down, because nobody's duff is getting crowned tonight. There will be Saturdays where the Aggies' defense is there for the picking against more dangerous pickers than Dylan Thompson, and it's much more difficult for an offense relying on so many first-year players to perform week after week than it is to put together one perfect night. The schedule does open up for A&M now, with Lamar, Rice, SMU, Arkansas and a Mississippi State team the Aggies have manhandled two years running until No. 18 Ole Miss visits College Station on Oct. 11. The degree of difficulty rises significantly from there. It's anyone's guess what A&M looks like by then.
And that's the thing, isn't it? If I'm anyone else in the SEC, I'm not so sure I want to find out.