The Aggies are struggling on defense once again.
Texas A&M’s 59-0 loss to Alabama on Saturday was easily the worst of Kevin Sumlin’s three seasons in College Station. The Aggies had little margin for error coming into Tuscaloosa and were simply dominated in every facet of the matchup with the Crimson Tide.
The numbers and box score are not something most Texas A&M fans want to revisit this week – on both sides of the ball.
In Saturday’s loss, quarterback Kenny Hill turned in his third straight subpar outing. The sophomore has seven interceptions over his last three games and threw for just 138 yards against Alabama. The Crimson Tide’s defense had a lot to do with the lack of offensive production, but in the last two meetings against Nick Saban’s defense, Texas A&M scored 71 points.
Hill isn’t solely to blame for all of the offensive issues. The rushing attack has just 85 yards on 59 attempts over the last two weeks. That’s a paltry 1.4 yards per carry.
Getting more production on the ground would help to alleviate some of the pressure on Hill’s shoulders, but the sophomore needs better protection from a touted offensive line (15 sacks), and a receiving corps dealing with inconsistent performances and drops.
While the offense shares blame for managing only two drives of more than 21 yards and punting on its first six possessions, Texas A&M’s defense is once again a major concern.
The Aggies were dominated by an Alabama offense that scored just 14 points in the win over Arkansas last Saturday and scored 17 on Oct. 4 against Ole Miss. The Crimson Tide scored on their first eight possessions and averaged 7.5 yards per play on 80 snaps.
Alabama’s domination on the stat sheet was showcased on the ground (298 yards, 6.6 yards per carry) and through the air (304 yards, four touchdowns).
It’s hard to find positives for Texas A&M’s defense after Saturday’s game, especially when you consider the Crimson Tide’s first punt came almost midway through the third quarter.
After five SEC games, the Aggies are giving up 6.9 yards per play. That’s a small increase from the 6.7 mark last year. Also, conference opponents are scoring 39.6 points per game in 2014. Last season, Texas A&M allowed 37.9 per contest.
Improvement on defense has been somewhat noticeable in the trenches, as true freshman Myles Garrett leads a pass rush that has generated 22 sacks (one more than all of 2013) through eight games. Additionally, it’s hard to expect this unit to be a shutdown group with the quick-strike offense in place.
After picking up the pieces from Saturday’s loss to Alabama, Texas A&M’s overall record stands at 5-3 and 2-3 in the SEC. An upcoming bye week is critical to fixing some of the areas that have plagued this team through the first half of 2014. After the open date, the Aggies host ULM and end the season with a road trip to Auburn, followed by home games against Missouri and LSU.
Considering the upcoming schedule is favorable, Texas A&M still has a legitimate shot to finish 8-4 and hit .500 in SEC play. But this post-Alabama moment is arguably one of the biggest in Sumlin’s three-year stint in College Station.
Transitioning to the SEC wasn’t supposed to be easy. The Aggies exceeded initial expectations due to emergence of quarterback Johnny Manziel, and now have to continue to recruit and develop elite talent to compete with Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State in the SEC West. 2014 wasn't supposed to be Texas A&M's year to contend. Most expected that would be 2015 or 2016.
After going 11-2 in Sumlin’s debut (2012), Texas A&M is poised to see a reduction in its win total for the second consecutive year.
By all sources, recruiting is going well. Momentum within the state of Texas has shifted College Station – for now. There’s plenty of young talent – Garrett, safety Armani Watts, receiver Speedy Noil and linebacker Shaan Washington – waiting to develop.
That’s the good news.
The bad news? To some degree, Texas A&M is a team in transition. The Aggies are trying to recruit at a higher level to compete in the rugged SEC West and are having success. But with the attempts to upgrade the roster come moments like there was on Saturday. Right now, Alabama is simply on a different level than Texas A&M. In order for the Aggies to go higher, recruiting, player development and coaching all have to improve.
With a plethora of young players getting snaps on both sides of the ball, there should be noticeable improvement next year. The key word in that sentence: Should.
But what changes will Sumlin make over the next few weeks? Will he give true freshman Kyle Allen an extended look under center? Will defensive coordinator Mark Snyder still have a job in College Station next year? Why has the offense regressed despite returning one of the nation’s top offensive lines and receiving corps?
Beating South Carolina in the opener changed some of the 2014 expectations for Sumlin’s team. But after eight games, it's clear there are question marks that must be answered – and potentially some difficult coaching staff decisions this offseason.
Texas A&M ran into a buzzsaw known as Alabama on Saturday, and the Aggies were simply no match in 2014. But in 2015? A more-experienced roster and improved depth on defense should help Sumlin’s team take another shot at the top teams in the SEC West.
Again, the key word: Should. The talent and pieces are there to improve.
The rest of the SEC will be watching Sumlin and this team’s development over the last four games. Winning the West title isn’t going to be easy in the current climate of the division. After three consecutive losses, it’s fair to say Texas A&M’s is reeling just a bit headed into the bye week.
Can Sumlin and his staff evaluate both sides of the ball and find answers before the next game?
Momentum isn’t easy to define. But after three consecutive losses, Texas A&M’s momentum in the SEC West seems to be up in the air heading into a critical bye week.