COLLEGE STATION -- Momentum at the right time can be a difference maker for a program. It was for Texas A&M in 2020.
A 28-point loss to No. 1 Alabama was used as fuel the remainder of the season. The Aggies would win eight straight to finish 9-1 and No. 4 in the AP Poll, their highest finish since 1939.
Momentum propelled the Aggies into one of their more complete seasons in program history. Now the question is: Will this new-found momentum last through a bye week?
"I think we're starting to mold," A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. "Now, we'll find out."
No. 17 Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2 SEC) played to near perfection Saturday in front of more than 103,000 fans in a 44-14 win over South Carolina at Kyle Field.
The Aggies could have been sluggish. Teams will sometimes get caught up in knowing what's ahead, with attention drifting from the mission.
That wasn't the case Saturday night. A 95-yard punt return for a touchdown by Ainias Smith set the tone early. Tight end Jalen Wydermyer showed off his big-play ability with a pair of touchdowns, from 25 and 28 yards out.
The run game was spectacular. Isaiah Spiller nabbed his 15th career 100-yard performance while averaging 5.7 yards per play. Devon Achane turned on the jets, averaging 7.7 yards a carry and finishing with a season-high 154 on the ground.
A&M scored on eight consecutive drives and tallied 292 yards on the ground. Even when QB Zach Calzada struggled with his consistency, it wasn't a problem.
The Aggies were in control with their foot on the gas and only let up when walk-on quarterback Blake Bost entered the game in the closing minutes.
The Gamecocks, coming in off their first SEC win of the season over Vanderbilt, seemed to had the drive. The talent? Not so much. South Carolina suffered a multitude of injuries entering the game, including three on the offensive line.
Gamecocks quarterback Zeb Noland didn't stand a chance. Defensive end Tyree Johnson led the way with two sacks. The Aggies totaled five sacks and didn't allow a positive run until the final three drives.
Noland finished 7 of 12 passing for 30 yards. Backup Jason Brown, who played the final 15 minutes, threw a late touchdown to Traevon Kenion. He also threw a pair of interceptions to freshmen Tyreek Chappell and Deuce Harmon.
"We have a lot of talent on this defense," Johnson said. "A lot of talent on this team in general. Our defense as a whole, we try to practice like that each day."
Fisher wouldn't say this was the team's best performance. Why should he? There's always room for improvement - room to push for what’s next.
A&M, it seems, has turned a corner. Since the thrilling 41-38 victory over then-No. 1 Alabama, the Aggies have allowed just 28 points, 21 of which have come in the second half.
Said Fisher: “I think we're learning to become more efficient. I don't know to say it's the best, but it was one of our better ones."
It was here at Kyle Field that Calzada walked off the field in tears following a 26-22 loss to Mississippi State. A&M was a favorite to make a run at the College Football Playoff. They instead were 3-2 and about to feel the wrath of Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.
That version of A&M football would have been dead-on-arrival for upcoming games against Auburn and Ole Miss. This upgraded version of the 12th Man's team seems ready to take on any opponent.
Should they win out, the Aggies would need an Alabama loss to win the SEC West. A solid chance for a New Year's Six Bowl is still in the mix regardless of what happens in the division.
"We ain't going to change," Fisher said. "We'll get Monday off; we'll practice Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday very hard and get back to fundamentals. They'll be physical, hard, tough practices."
Earlier this week, Fisher downplayed any rumor that he was interested in the opening at LSU. He told reporters that he feels like A&M is building "something special" for the future.
Maybe it's not the future. Perhaps its the present. Maintaining momentum is the key.
That shift comes Tuesday when A&M returns to practice. There’s no off days in the SEC, only open Saturdays to regroup.
"We're not going to be able to let off the gas," Smith said. "This is not an off-week and I'm not taking it as an off-week."
Want to join in on the discussion? Click here to become a member of the All Aggies message board community today!
Want More Aggies News? Check Out The Latest In Texas A&M News Here