Texas A&M looks to keep strong start going vs South Carolina
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Kevin Sumlin has been here before. This time, the Texas A&M coach believes his ninth-ranked Aggies can keep rising past September.
Texas A&M (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) looks to start 5-0 for the third straight season when it plays at South Carolina (2-2, 1-2) on Saturday. But those marks have been the high points of the past two years when the Aggies were waylaid by the SEC Western Division schedule, finishing 3-5 down the stretch in 2014 and 2015.
Sumlin's a lot more confident the Aggies can improve upon last season. They defeated then 17th-ranked Arkansas 45-24 last week.
''Guys understand that,'' Sumlin said. ''Have different perspective on that than maybe they did as freshmen and sophomores. Maybe they handle it little differently as juniors and seniors.''
Sumlin acknowledged maybe winning came too fast and too easily for his young team in 2014 and 2015. So he emphasized staying strong and not fading throughout the offseason.
''Guarantee things change?'' Sumlin said. ''No. Performance guarantees change.''
On the field, the Aggies have shown all the right moves.
Graduate transfer quarterback Trevor Knight leads an offense that's averaging 43 points a game, third best in the SEC. Defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall have combined for 10 tackles for loss and power a group that's held opponents to 16 points a game, also third best in the league.
''We remember nobody was talking about us at the beginning of the season,'' receiver Christian Kirk said. ''Now, everybody's talking about us. We're 4-0, top 10 in the country. But we've got to forget about all that.''
The Texas A&M offense may have a difficult task putting up big numbers against the Gamecocks, who have given up 17 points a game so far in coach Will Muschamp's first season. South Carolina's offense, dead last in the SEC, struggled with freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain.
Muschamp said McIlwain has played well and will continue to start.
''I'm just trying to be very realistic; where we are and where we're headed,'' Muschamp said. ''And moving forward with the guys that are going to do it the South Carolina way and that's with great effort, toughness and discipline, urgency and energy in everything we do.''
Things to watch when No. 9 Texas A&M faces South Carolina.
STREAKY STARTS: A victory by Texas A&M would make it 5-0 for a third straight season, something the program last accomplished in 1939-41. The Aggies are also looking to go 3-0 in conference playing, which they have not done since 2004 when they were in the Big 12.
WHAT'S THE RUSH?: South Carolina has been slow to get its running game going. The Gamecocks are the lone SEC team averaging under 100 yards rushing this season (90.8 yards a game). The Gamecocks get some help with injured freshman Rico Dowdle expected to see his first college action.
VAST DIFFERENCE: Part of Texas A&M's success has come from its big-play attack while limiting the opposition's ability to make big plays. The Aggies have scored 11 touchdowns of 20 yards or more while allowing only one TD of 15 yards or longer this season.
HOME STAND: South Carolina is done traveling for a while. The Texas A&M game starts a five-game home stand at Williams-Brice Stadium. The run includes the bye week, meaning the Gamecocks don't play on the road until Nov. 12 at Florida.
OFFENSIVE POWER: Texas A&M is among three Football Bowl Subdivision teams with 1,000 yards passing and rushing. The Aggies have gained 1,107 yards through the air and 1,077 yards on the ground, joining No. 3 Louisville and Oregon in that productive club this season.
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