Posted on October 8, 2017, by Travis Pulver
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin entered the season on the hot seat. Losing to UCLA intensified the heat as did less-than-stellar performances against lesser teams. But then it became time for the annual game against the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide.
A win would cool down the hot-seat completely. Taking down the No. 1 team in the land has that kind of power. Another blow-out loss and Sumlin could practically guarantee his time in College Station would come to an end soon.
But a really well-played game that still ends in a loss? Eh– that could buy some him time.
While a good loss counts the same as a bad one in the standings, Texas A&M can take some pride in giving Alabama its toughest game of the season to date. But if they are, no one is going to talk about it openly. Sumlin sure wasn’t open to the idea after the game.
“There’s no moral victory in this deal,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said (ESPN). “When you play that hard and you play that long nobody’s happy.”
Texas A&M’s bend-but-don’t-break defense worked against lesser competition, but few (if any) expected it to work against Alabama. The Aggies running game has played well in recent weeks while Kellen Mond adjusts to the college game. But they haven’t played against a defense even remotely as good as the Crimson Tide.
The team as a whole would have to play better if the Aggies were to have a chance, and they did. Take away a 75-yard run by Damien Harris and a 38-yard run by Jalen Hurts and the Crimson Tide only ran for 119 yards. But when you play Alabama, you can’t allow the big plays, and the Aggies did.
You can’t give Alabama a short field either. If there is one team you can count on taking advantage of a short field almost every time, it is the Crimson Tide. Sure enough, after Trayveon Williams fumbled around the 42-yard line late in the first half. Four plays later, Hurts ran it in from a yard out to give Alabama a 17-3 lead.
But throughout the season, the Aggies have managed to turn it on in the second half and lock-up games (except for UCLA of course). It didn’t look like that would be the case when Alabama took a 24-3 lead on the opening drive of the half.
But the A&M offense began to make little headway against the Alabama defense. When Alabama committed its first turnovers since last November (against Auburn), it was Texas A&M that took advantage of the short field to close the gap to 24-10.
Texas A&M was poised to close the gap even further after driving to the Alabama 10-yard line, but Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepted Mond at the one-yard line. But then the A&M defense did the job and forced Alabama to punt—which the Aggies blocked for a safety.
Alabama was able to extend the lead to 27-12 with a late field goal, and Texas A&M tacked on a late touchdown to make the final score 27-19.
The Crimson Tide practically controlled the entire game. They gained 232 yards on the ground, held the A&M run game to just 71 yards, and forced some crucial turnovers. But they could never put the game away. Kellen Mond was able to keep the offense moving and kept the Aggies in the game.
The question now is whether the Aggies can continue to play as well as they did or play better. If so, it is not hard to imagine them beating Florida, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and LSU. With how Auburn is playing these days, beating them will take another Herculean effort.
A 9-3 regular season should be enough to lock up Kevin Sumlin’s job for another season. An 8-4 finish may even do the trick, as long as the loss is a close, hard-fought game. But then Sumlin will have to do even better next season.
The Aggies will have another tough one on their hands next week when they travel to Florida to play the Gators. Alabama will play a capable team in Arkansas but should have no problem notching another win.