Only the strongest of Aggie Kool-Aid drinkers might have predicted what unfolded Thursday night. Even I was simply hoping the Aggies would keep it close in a hostile environment that has not lost 18 consecutive home games. The atmosphere was intimidating for even a seasoned veteran, but Kenny Hill operated with poise beyond his years. Furthermore, the defense showed a pulse and came up time and time again on third downs to get off the field. All in all, Texas A&M shocked the nation and have worked their way into the College Football Playoff discussion. The dominant performance led Fox Sports’ Clay Travis to compare it to the beginning of Bama’s dynasty 5 years ago.
You can’t understate how impressive this win is. It’s not possible. Very, very rarely do SEC teams go on the road and beat a top ten team by over three touchdowns. It almost never happens in this league. That’s why the best example of what happened in this game is the blackout game, Alabama at Georgia , back in 2008. Alabama rushed to a 31-0 halftime lead and everyone sort of said, “Holy hell.” That’s the night that the 85% truly began to take over Alabama’s fan base. Because that’s the night that Alabama’s dynasty began. Sure, the Tide lost the final two games of the 2008 season, but they served notice in Nick Saban’s second year that they’d arrived. It was the Georgia game on the road that started it all. It may sound ridiculously presumptive right now, but that game is what I thought of as I watched last night’s game. I think this was a dynasty kind of win for Kevin Sumlin’s program.
The Quarterback Whisperer
Which came first, the quarterback or the coach? Everywhere Sumlin has coached he has groomed a record setting quarterback. From Drew Brees to Sam Bradford as an assistant, then with Case Keenum and Johnny Manziel as a head coach; Sumlin inherited all of these quarterbacks. The knock against him was that he kept getting lucky and someday would have to finally play a guy that he recruits. Well Kenny Hill, recruited by Sumlin in 2013, changed that perception with his record setting performance Thursday.
Turn Down for Watts
While several true freshman contributed, none were more impressive than safety Armani Watts. Midway through the third quarter, South Carolina put together a scoring drive cutting the lead to 17. Then following an unusual 3-and-out by the Aggie offense, South Carolina took over. After a couple of completions Williams-Brice stadium was rocking to their favorite song ‘Sandstorm’. The momentum appeared to be shifting as the gamecocks pushed to cut the lead to 10.Then Watts showed off his speed and ball hawking skills by intercepting a deep fade from Dylan Thompson. South Carolina never threatened again. In addition to his game sealing interception, Armani Watts had several bone crushing hits, one that thwarted a would-be touchdown just before halftime.
Two Words. Pass Rush.
Something incredible happened on Thursday. On a crucial 3rd down stop, the Aggies trotted out four fresh defensive linemen. That’s it. There was a completely new rotation of players that provided just enough pass rush to get the Aggie defense off the field. Myles Garrett went beast mode recording 2 quarterback hurries and 1 sack. Daeshon Hall proved to be much more suited to SEC play in year two with another offseason in Larry Jackson’s weight and conditioning program. Julian Obioha, Jay Arnold, and Hardreck Walker all proved pivotal in their efforts to corral South Carolina’s running game. The Gamecocks only tallied 67 rushing yards with Mike Davis averaging a dreadful 2.5 yards per carry.
Kenny and the Jets
Last but not least, the man of the hour. Kenny Hill’s debut could not have been more perfect. In a hostile environment against a top 10 SEC opponent, Hill showed incredible poise. He was 44 of 60 for 511 yards and 3 touchdowns passing. Not only that, but he broke all of Manziel’s single game passing records. Incredible. But it wasn’t just Hill that put up a dominant performance. The entire receiving corps was incredible with 12 different players catching passes. Senior Malcome Kennedy led the way with 14 catches and 137 yards, but the whole group pitched in with 5 players having at least 50 yards. In all, the Aggie receivers averaged 11 yards per catch on 44 receptions.
On Thursday, the Aggies showed that there is in fact life after Johnny. With Sumlin’s steady hand and Kenny Hill running the show, the Aggies may not have to wait another year before they can contend. As Clay Travis put it,
For a long time I’ve been writing that A&M was a sleeping giant. Last night A&M woke up. Let’s toss that sleeping adjective on the scrap heap, A&M’s just a damn giant now.