On a day when its SEC counterparts have been far from perfect, Texas A&M didn’t have to be.
Sure, the Aggies let a 15-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate in frighteningly short order. Kevin Sumlin and crew needed overtime, three interceptions and a gutsy fourth-and-goal Trevor Knight keeper in this one.
But as the final whistle blew, there was a defender clad in maroon and white batting away UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen’s final pass to seal the Aggies’ 31-24 win at Kyle Field.
For a team whose identity has been so wrapped up in a fast-paced spread offense, the question was never whether Texas A&M could put up points this season. The question was, what happens when the offense isn’t on point?
On Saturday, we got a promising answer from second-year coordinator John Chavis and a unit that looked more Ferrari than last year’s used pickup — sometimes it runs, sometimes it doesn’t. Texas A&M hired Chavis with this type of game in mind, and that’s exactly what the Aggies got on Saturday.
The pass rush was tremendous, swarming Rosen in the backfield time after time. There was aggressive blitzing, with Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall also supplying the pressure you’d expect.
The linebackers raced to either sideline, made tackles in space and filled gaps in the box. Top Bruins rusher Soso Jamabo averaged less than 4 yards per carry.
The secondary intercepted an elite passer in Rosen three times and came up with key disruptions. The sophomore completed only 56 percent of his passes.
Ignore the 468 total yards of UCLA offense. The Bruins attempted 87 plays, which averages out to a little more than 5 yards per snap. In the biggest situations, this unit shined.
One of the nation’s best third-down offenses last season, UCLA went just 5-for-18 in those situations on Saturday. And of course there was the fourth-down stop in overtime, and key interceptions from Justin Evans and Priest Willis.
As a bonus, we saw a rejuvenated ground game on the offensive side. Freshman Trayveon Williams averaged 6.3 yards per carry, and Oklahoma transfer Keith Ford added 65 yards and a touchdown.
Trevor Knight looked jittery at times and made some head-scratching throws. But even amid the late collapse, he didn’t have to be anything more than an average quarterback in this one. (Which is exactly what you want if you’re Texas A&M.)
Bottom line: The Aggies knocked off a ranked opponent at home, and looked dominant in spurts. This might not have been their best day, but fundamentally, Texas A&M looks much more well-rounded than the 2015 edition.
And more potent than LSU, for that matter.
Myles Garrett & Co looking nasty today. Great stat from CBS: Josh Rosen's been sacked 5 times, knocked down 10 times & hurried 21 times!
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) September 3, 2016