With a rambunctious crowd screaming as Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" gave way to Darude's "Sandstorm," it was easy to see why No. 9 South Carolina came into the 2014 season riding an 18-game home winning streak. Williams-Brice Stadium hasn’t been an easy place to play in recent years, and there were high hopes the Gamecocks could make a push for the inaugural College Football Playoff under Steve Spurrier.
The first step was taking care of business on Thursday night against No. 21 Texas A&M in front of everyone lucky enough to snag a TV with the SEC Network. The Aggies had other plans, though, riding an up-tempo offense led by new starting quarterback Kenny Hill to a dominant 52-28 win in Columbia, S.C. Texas A&M has frequently caused havoc since entering the SEC, and it didn’t take long for Kevin Sumlin to light and hurl a cherry bomb right at South Carolina.
Here are three quick thoughts from the Aggies’ big win to kick off the 2014 season:
1. Hello, Kenny Hill
The Texas A&M quarterback competition between Hill, a sophomore, and Kyle Allen, the top-rated pro-style passer in the 2014 recruiting class, was a close one. Sumlin's decision to start Hill paid early dividends, as he looked comfortable and calm in the face of a loud road crowd. Hill connected with 12 different receivers and finished 44-of-60 for 511 yards with three touchdowns and zero turnovers. That set a single-game school record for passing yards, topping Johnny Manziel’s mark of 464 set in the team’s 49-42 loss to Alabama last year.
A former four-star recruit out of Southlake, Texas, Hill is mobile with a strong arm, and he threw into tight windows with confidence. He also displayed the ability to lead his receivers, consistently putting the ball in the right spots.
The South Carolina defense had no answer for A&M’s offense, which showed no signs of slowing down after losing guys like Jake Matthews, Mike Evans and that Jonathan Football gentleman.
Texas A&M shows they're bigger than Johnny Manziel
2. About that South Carolina defense …
Spurrier was asked at halftime what his team could do better. He said: “Rush the passer. Cover some guys. That kind of stuff.” He also added that the Aggies were “kicking our butts.” That much was hard to argue. South Carolina gave up 680 yards of total offense (404 by the half) and surrendered more points in the first half (31) than it had in all but one game in 2013 (a 41-30 loss to Georgia). The Aggies' 52 points were the most allowed by a Gamecocks' defense since a 56-17 loss to Auburn in the '10 campaign.
The problem wasn’t necessarily up front, even with Jadeveon Clowney's departure to the NFL. Instead, a poor effort out of the secondary doomed the Gamecocks. Texas A&M used its dizzying tempo -- it ran 99 plays in all -- to keep South Carolina off balance, and the back end of the defense wasn’t stopping anybody.
The Aggies weren't targeting a particular player throughout the course of the game. Rather, they spread the ball around, and South Carolina didn't have the secondary depth to stop the athletes that A&M trotted out as third, fourth and fifth receivers.
3. Myles Garrett, Destroyer of Worlds
Most of the talk about Texas A&M will (deservedly) focus on the offense, but Sumlin has started to recruit some premier defensive talent to College Station, too. Enter Garrett, the five-star prospect out of Arlington with an offer sheet a mile long. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound true freshman has a lot to learn and needs to develop some moves, but his sheer athleticism was too much for the South Carolina offensive line to handle.
A simple bull rush with strength and explosiveness was enough to disrupt the Gamecocks' offense, and Garrett's potential was evident from a handful of plays.
What has kept A&M from being an elite team since it joined the SEC was a porous defense. If that changes, the rest of the league had better watch out.