COLLEGE STATION, Texas – The mood around College Station the morning after Texas A&M shockingly dropped the season-opener to UCLA was one of despair but also apathy.
One prevailing thought: At least the Aggies didn’t wait until November to implode; they got it out of the way in the first game of the season by blowing a 34-point lead.
But since that first-game implosion, Texas A&M has won four in a row overall and has started 2-0 in the SEC play for the third consecutive seasons. Sure, those two conference wins came over Arkansas and South Carolina – no better than middle-of-the-pack SEC teams, at best – but the growth of true freshman quarterback Kellen Mond and the play of numerous other young Aggies have changed the feelings of despair to one of hope.
Alas, top-ranked Alabama comes to town Saturday, and the Tide has beaten A&M by a combined 133-37 the past three seasons. And Alabama comes in having won its past two games, over Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, by a combined 125-3.
For coach Kevin Sumlin, the talk of job security has gone from “there’s no way he survives” to “let’s wait and see where things end up.” No matter the outcome, Sumlin will be the coach when the Aggies head to Gainesville next week.
Still, Saturday’s game will play a role in deciding Sumlin’s fate for athletic director Scott Woodward and the powers-that-be. Get your doors blown off at home, in front of 100,000-plus, and it eventually becomes much easier to let Sumlin go. On the other hand, if the Aggies compete with the Tide and make it a four-quarter game, it can only help.
One aspect to watch is the so-called “Alabama hangover” that every team must deal with. It’s one thing to lose to the Tide; just don’t let Alabama beat you twice. That’s a worry for next week, though.
This week, for the unthinkable to happen, Sumlin and his staff need true freshman quarterback Kellen Mond to play out of his mind. Mond fits the dual-threat mode of quarterbacks who have given Saban’s defenses issues over the past five years. At the same time, Saturday’s game will be just the fifth start of Mond’s career, and Mond certainly needs help, especially from his defensive front seven.
Sumlin knows it can be done. In 2002, top-ranked Oklahoma rolled into College Station having lost just twice in its past 32 games. Sumlin was the offensive coordinator of an A&M team that was 5-4. True freshman quarterback Reggie McNeal came off the bench and threw for 191 yards and four TDs and rushed for 89 yards as the Aggies stunned the Sooners 30-26.
Maybe Sumlin can rekindle that kind of magic with Mond on Saturday night.
(The second part of the 2002 story? A&M finished 6-6, and coach R.C. Slocum was fired at season’s end and A&M hired Alabama’s coach, Dennis Franchione, to replace Slocum.)
(You can follow Dalton Hughes on Twitter @_DaltonHughes)
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