Revival: How Texas A&M's Early Mistakes can Lead to Late Victories
ATHENS, Ga. - If you're not found in "The Horseshoe" come Saturday morning up in Columbus, Ohio, the 12th week of College Football could be one to miss. All attention has turned to rivalry week as schools prep for bragging rights against opponents and a chance to better their resume come Bowl season.
There is another game that fans around the Southeastern Conference will likely flip on the channel. Between the hedges of Samford Stadium, No.4 Georgia's mission to succeed in the SEC East is far from complete. Although the team won't have a chance to go undefeated in conference play, a 7-1 record seals a successful season under Kirby Smart.
Enter Texas A&M: the team who arrived at the ball after the clock struck Midnight. Three early-season losses will knock the Aggies out of the College Football Playoff conversation.
It also makes them the ideal option to play the spoiler role over the next two weekends against Georgia and top-ranked LSU.
"I think we’ve gotten better,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. “I think you’ve seen the results. The young guys are really learning to embrace the physicality and all the things we’re doing. I think we’re a much better football team. Hopefully, it will show in these last two games. We’ll find out.”
The Aggies (7-3, 4-2 SEC) suffered three losses before the midway point of the season. All three opponents ranked inside the top 10 before kickoff, with two teams ranked No.1 (Clemson and Alabama). Even with proper play-calling, smooth execution and turnovers, the Aggies would learn a hard lesson to begin their year with questions.
Every week in the SEC is never going be "according to plan."
Four games since their mid-October loss to the Crimson Tide now has the team trending in the right direction. It began with the emergence of the run game featuring Isaiah Spiller. The freshman phenom now ranks 8th in the conference in rushing yards. Three times this year, he's reached the triple-digit marker on the ground, including a record-tying 217-yard performance against UTSA.
The limited turnovers from junior quarterback Kellen Mond have added to the equation. Since his two-interception outing in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Mond has been flawless at home. Building off his five-touchdown performance against Mississippi State, the San Antonio native has thrown for 432 yards and four total touchdowns.
To put it into context, the Aggies committed four turnovers in their three losses. Over their final three games at home, the team has yet to produce one.
“We’re at a completely different place than we were back then,” linebacker Anthony Hines said. “We’re really starting to be more locked in on the little details. We’re going to try to emphasize those even more. Try to sharpen up even a step further so we can be successful."
A&M's resurgence has been put at the helm in SEC circles. Over the three losses, the team averaged 78 total rushing yards. On their four-game winning streak, one would need triple that number to even be close. A&M currently is averaging 279 yards from the line of scrimmage when the ball touches either No.25 or No.28's hands.
The defensive identity has returned in glorified fashion. In three of their four victories, Mike Elko's squad has allowed 17 points or fewer against opponents. A late surge from the Bulldogs' offense negated them from closing off the square.
But the combined record of team's they've beaten during the rebound sits at 16-26. The schools have blundered each other nearly out of bowl contention while Georgia's sole loss came behind the hands of a three-interception performance from Jake Fromm.
Fisher was signed to a 10-year, $75 million contract to bring the program to the next level. He'll have the chance to prove the process is trending forward come this afternoon "between the hedges" of Samford. A win against a top-five certainly should give the fanbase confidence in the future.
A win against a rank-opponent in general should. A&M's only knock during the impressive turnaround is they've yet to a face a team inside any Top 25 ranking.
Experience matters in big-time outings. The Aggies feature four key players who played a role in the 74-72 seven overtime victory last season against the then-ranked No.8 ranked Tigers.
But experience comes in many forms -- including losses. For Texas A&M, their knowledge of tasting defeat could play in their favor. The journey to improvement begins at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.
And that's where all the focus will need to be. Not in the past, not what's ahead, but in the moment.
The moment where A&M can prove their revival is real.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a football game," Mond said. "You can’t hype it up too much because then you’re just adding extensive pressure on yourself. We just got to go in there and play our game.”