Back Even In Defeat, Aggies Show Mettle

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Even In Defeat, Aggies Show Mettle

By Matt Smith
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Saturday’s night tussle wasn’t a game that Texas A&M was going to win under any realistic circumstances, but the Aggies can be proud of their effort Saturday night.

A maximum of two SEC teams are going to play winnable games against Alabama this season – Auburn, and perhaps Georgia if it meets the Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship Game.

Saturday’s night tussle wasn’t a game that Texas A&M was going to win under any realistic circumstances. The 27-19 final looks much closer than the game actually was, but still, the Aggies and their oft-disgruntled but never-wavering fans can be proud of their efforts Saturday night at Kyle Field.

There was no backing down from the team that has won the league title the past three seasons, the team that has beaten the Aggies by an average of 32 points over the past three years, the team that had outscored its first two SEC opponents by a margin of 125-3.

Texas A&M never seriously threatened Alabama, but put it in its first deficit since the season opener and nearly cut a 21-point second-half deficit to seven early in the fourth quarter before all-world defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick made a toe-tapping interception with the Aggies inside the 20-yard line. The Crimson Tide finished with just a slim 355-308 total yards advantage. 

Starting a true freshman quarterback against Alabama can be a recipe for disaster, but Kellen Mond was fearless in fighting back from the mental and physical blows dealt by the Crimson Tide defense. Mond finished 19-of-29 for 237 yards, including a beautiful touchdown strike to Christian Kirk and the equally picturesque interception by Fitzpatrick.

For as poorly as Mond looked in the first three games of the season after replacing an injured Nick Starkel, he’s been that effective in SEC play, with wins over Arkansas and South Carolina and the quality defeat Saturday night. His rushing touchdown with 17 seconds left made it a one-score game, but Alabama iced the game by recovering the ensuing onsides kick.

The Texas A&m defense had struggled against the pass in the season’s first month, but held Jalen Hurts to just 123 yards through the air (although it was aided by some drops) and only 5.8 yards per attempt. A strip of wide receiver Robert Foster – Alabama’s first turnover since last year’s Iron Bowl against Auburn – gave the Aggies new life trailing 24-3 and kept the crowed of 100,000-plus in their seats until the final whistle.

At 4-2, Texas A&M and head coach Kevin Sumlin now face a crossroads game next week at Florida. The 3-2 Gators were beaten as well on Saturday, investing a lot of emotional capital in its loss to LSU. Catching Florida on the heels of that game should bode well for the Aggies if they can carry forward this performance.

If the Aggies can go to Gainesville and win, with three home games a visit to hapless Ole Miss ahead, 9-3 would be in play, which is probably the mark Sumlin needs to avoid a firing. Of course, Sumlin may understand that this marriage may simply be a ticking time bomb and choose to voluntarily move on after the vitriol he received after the loss to UCLA.

That’s a conversation for later in the season.

Right now, the 2017 Aggies are a unified team playing well and playing hard. That’s better than past Texas A&M teams at this point in the season, which have often been at or nearing the breaking point. This group feels different, and the post-Alabama collapse should be avoided because, even though the players and coaches would never admit it, Saturday night’s result exceeded the expectations going into the game.

Alabama isn’t losing before Thanksgiving. That’s as factual as a prediction can be. But Texas A&M made the mighty Tide earn their 20th straight win over a conference opponent. That hasn’t happened since probably last year’s LSU game. There are dividends to be received from Saturday night’s effort

After four years of fading down the stretch, it’s time for Sumlin and the Aggies to cash in.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.