When the first 2016 College Football Playoff rankings came out on Tuesday, everyone knew they meant nothing. Everyone except the guys in Texas A&M gear, that is.
Five days after the selection committee dubbed them Playoff-worthy, the No. 4 Aggies looked more deserving of the Outback Bowl in Saturday’s 35-28 Starkville shocker vs. Mississippi State. They were undone by shoddy tackling, porous run defense, low energy and a puzzling early game plan — all areas they had excelled in to this point.
Injuries played a major factor, too, with quarterback Trevor Knight’s early exit, cornerback Priest Willis’ absence and de facto MVP Myles Garrett playing hobbled. But that’s no excuse; all teams are dealing with attrition by Week 10. This game went south immediately.
“We got whipped,” Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin told reporters after the game.
Sumlin has had Texas A&M sitting on the precipice of greatness since his arrival in 2012. Year after year, the Aggies start hot and fool us into believing they’re a team that can hold up through October and November. Through the meat-grinder that is an SEC West schedule. Then at some point along the way, they’re exposed, and the rest of the country moves on to the teams that really matter in December: Alabama and Auburn.
The 2016 season is simply their greatest bit of trickery to date.
In the wake of this latest collapse, it’s high time for us to accept a few hard truths about Texas A&M football.
- Excluding 2012, Sumlin’s teams have been good, but never great;
- Sumlin hit his ceiling in that 2012 season;
- The biggest problem in this game was avoidable, and falls at Sumlin’s feet.
What was the biggest problem in this game, you ask? Quarterback play doomed the Aggies here.
Missed tackles and backs running free up the gut are exactly what John Chavis was hired to fix, but Mississippi State’s offense has been a strength, and the Texas A&M secondary made its share of nice plays.
Discounting Christian Kirk’s punt return, the unit mustered just 21 points against a Bulldogs squad that allowed 41 points to Samford and 35 points to UMass. The MSU secondary has been a mess this season, allowing an SEC-worst 264 yards a game, and Texas A&M possesses maybe the deepest group of wideouts in the FBS. This should’ve been a huge mismatch.
Trevor Knight (5 of 14 passing) had open receivers but missed them early, and then gave way to backup Jake Hubenak (11 of 17 passing) when he got hurt. Hubenak performed well enough in relief, but the game ended how you thought it might: With a Mississippi State interception.
You know who should have started this game for Texas A&M? Kyle Allen or Kyler Murray.
But Sumlin scared them away, just as he did with Kenny Hill and ex-commit Tate Martell. It’s a recurring problem masked by the 7-1 start. Saturday’s loss has laid it bare again, and Sumlin will be under fire for it.
You have to question the effort, as well. The Aggies clearly took this matchup for what it was — an early-kickoff road game against a divisional cellar-dweller — and played with little urgency, at least initially. There were exceptions, such as Kirk (7 catches, 144 yards, 2 total TDs), but the fire was lacking across the board.
“In the SEC West, this can happen any week. Can’t be a lack of focus or energy or preparation. Credit MSU … they were fired up,” Kirk said, according to TexAgs.
Or discredit the Aggies. They didn’t play like a team with Playoff hopes on the line.
The 12-game regular season is basically a giant filter, weeding out teams that don’t belong among the ranks of the FBS elite. Texas A&M and Sumlin got caught red-handed on Saturday, while Auburn and Louisville went streaking past them in the Playoff race, leaving clouds of dust in their wake.
There will be some tough self-assessment questions Sumlin needs to ask when the season ends. For now, the Aggies simply will rebound the best they can. That’s all they can do.
“Everybody is disappointed,” Sumlin said. “The message is, ‘What now?’ We have to own it and move on.”