Texas A&M clinched bowl eligibility Saturday for the sixth straight season with win No. 6, defeating South Carolina 35-28.
Thanks to a balanced rushing attack and a couple of big plays on defense, the Aggies were able to squeak by the Gamecocks at home, defeating them by a slimmer margin than would have been expected a few weeks ago.
These are the grades the Aggies deserve based on their performance against the Gamecocks.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin couldn’t have asked for a better starting debut from quarterback Kyler Murray. The true freshman was consistent in the air, as he completed 20 of 28 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown. Murray also dazzled in the ground game, rushing for 156 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
The Aggies finally got its running game figured out. Between Murray and running backs Tra Carson, James White and Kwame Etwi, Texas A&M combined for 321 rushing yards.
The Aggies defense had recently done a great job of containing explosive plays, but they allowed too many against South Carolina. The Aggies allowed a 66-yard run to Gamecocks quarterback Perry Orth in the second quarter that set up a rushing touchdown by Orth. Then, near the end of the first half, Orth hit wide receiver Hayden Hurst for a 47-yard reception, leading to a 3-yard rushing touchdown from running back Brandon Wilds. Wilds also had rushes for 43 and 33 yards in the third quarter.
Texas A&M defensive back Donovan Wilson was arguably the most deserving of the game ball on the defensive side of the field. The sophomore finished with two interceptions, which proved to be the difference in the Aggies’ victory. His pick-six in the third quarter increased the Aggies lead to 35-21, and his second pick helped seal the victory late in the fourth quarter.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Texas A&M punter Drew Kaser has been consistent all season, and the game against South Carolina was no exception. Kaser punted five times for an average of more than 42 yards, and two were downed inside the 20-yard line.
Aggies wide receivers Christian Kirk and Speedy Noil were never given chances to showcase their speed in the return game, as all five kickoffs from South Carolina went deep in the end zone for touchbacks.
The decision to start Murray made Sumlin look smart after the true freshman’s impressive debut. The balanced rushing attack also helped Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital look smart as the primary play-caller for the Aggies offense.
Texas A&M also played clean football for most of the game, committing just three penalties for 35 yards. Compared to last week’s 23-3 loss to Ole Miss, where Texas A&M committed 13 penalties for 100 yards, this was a major improvement.
It wasn’t pretty, but Texas A&M did what it needed to do to grind out a victory over South Carolina.
Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis will need to address some of the problems with giving up big plays. But the Aggies defense has shown all season it’s capable of making key stops and forcing turnovers to keep them in games, so there’s plenty of room for optimism.
If Murray can continue to minimize mistakes and make plays with his feet like he did Saturday, the sky’s the limit for both the true freshman and the Texas A&M offense.