Texas A&M heads to Vanderbilt with uncertain QB situation
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Texas A&M looked like a Southeastern Conference contender after winning its first five games then a recent slide dropped the Aggies out of contention.
Quarterback issues and run defense have been the biggest problems for Texas A&M (7-3, 3-3 SEC West), which has dropped three of its last five games heading into Saturday night's matchup with Vanderbilt (4-6, 2-4) in the Commodores' home finale.
Kyler Murray, Kyle Allen and Jake Hubenak battled for the starting job at quarterback this week after the coaching staff opened the competition back up.
Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said he would announce a starter shortly before the start of the game.
''I think all quarterbacks that have been in the game have had good moments and some bad moments,'' Sumlin said. ''What we're looking for is consistency in position. Not here and there.''
Allen started the first seven games, but he threw three interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in an Oct. 17 loss to No. 3 Alabama (No. 2 College Football Playoff). Allen threw for just 88 yards the following week as the Aggies fell 23-3 to No. 25 Mississippi (No. 25 CFP).
That's when Murray took over. The highly touted freshman is 2-1 as a starter after going 42-0 with three state titles at Allen High School in Texas. But Murray has thrown five interceptions in his last two games, including three in a 26-10 loss to Auburn on Nov. 7.
On defense, the Aggies have allowed 210.2 yards rushing per game, the highest average of any SEC team.
Vanderbilt will probably try to exploit that with running back Ralph Webb, who has averaged 107.3 yards rushing over his last four games.
''What Ralph told me (Tuesday), though, is he needs to jump in the ice tub,'' Commodores coach Derek Mason said. ''He's been going at it pretty hard and I think . he knows, where we're at in the season, he's got to continue to push.''
Here are some other things to watch when Vanderbilt hosts Texas A&M:
DANGEROUS WEAPONS: Texas A&M freshman Christian Kirk, the SEC's second-leading receiver, has 63 catches for 826 yards and six touchdowns. Teammate Ricky Seals-Jones, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, is the only Aggie with at least three receptions in each of Texas A&M's last six games. He has 37 catches for 473 yards and two TDs. ''Those guys can put you on ESPN real quick,'' Mason said. Kirk also is the nation's leading punt return, as he averages 24.5 yards with two TDs. When Mason was Stanford's defensive coordinator, he recruited Kirk.
SACK FACTORY: Texas A&M has 28 sacks to rank third in the SEC. Defensive end Myles Garrett leads the SEC with 10 1/2 sacks, while Daeshon Hall is ninth with six. ''It's a sack factory,'' Mason said. ''If they get you behind the chains, they're going to come after you and they're good at it.''
STRONG LEG: Texas A&M's Taylor Bertolet leads the nation with five field goals from 50-plus yards this season. He's three short of tying the Football Bowl Subdivision single-season record of eight, set by Tennessee's Fuad Reveiz in 1982. Tony Franklin holds the Texas A&M record with seven in 1976. Bertolet's career long was a 55-yarder in a win over Mississippi State. He is 16 off 22 on field goals and has 185 career touchbacks on kickoffs.
RUSHING MILESTONE: Webb ranks fourth in the SEC with 924 yards rushing, putting him 76 shy of the 1,000-yard plateau. Texas A&M's Tra Carson is 136 yards from the 1,000 mark.
BLACK DEATH: Vanderbilt's defense, nicknamed ''Black Death,'' made two goal-line stands in a victory over Kentucky. The Commodores rank fourth nationally in red zone defense. ''We just go out there with a tough mentality that they're not going to score on us,'' said linebacker Darreon Herring, who is second on the team with 52 tackles. Vanderbilt safety Oren Burks is the SEC's reigning defensive player of the week after intercepting two passes and scoring a touchdown against Kentucky.
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