COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Seven games into their first Southeastern Conference season, things are going relatively well for the Texas A&M Aggies.
They're 5-2, they're ranked (the Aggies are 20th in the BCS standings) and they're smack dab in the middle of the SEC West.
Their two losses have come to teams that are currently ranked in the top six of the BCS. The most recent game, a 24-19 loss to LSU, is one where the Aggies had their chances only to come up short thanks in part to turnovers, missed field goals and missed offensive opportunities.
In both losses, the Aggies have been close, but haven't closed the deal. While there are things they can take away from those defeats, there is no solace in simply being close.
"There are no moral victories in this deal," coach Kevin Sumlin said Tuesday. "You guys know that. All you care about at the end of the year is wins and losses."
So far, the Aggies have clearly shown they can compete with some of the best. In order to beat those teams, more steps must be taken and those losses, specifically the one to LSU, are learning experiences for the SEC newcomers.
"I think what you can take from it is the analyization internally of where your program is and what you have to do to be at that level, whether it's from the style of play that you have, the execution and the depth and the talent level," Sumlin said. "That's what you take from that game."
Senior safety Steven Terrell said attention to detail is critical. The Aggies performed admirably on defense for most of the game but gave up a handful of big plays which resulted in LSU points.
"It's always the little things," Terrell said. "Little things can change games in big ways. Penalties, little things like that assignment-wise where you have 10 people doing the right thing and one person messing up or missing an assignment it can change the game. It wasn't like that every play. There were maybe four plays like that. But that's the difference. When you get in the big games like that, you have to make the most out of every play."
As Texas A&M moves forward into perhaps its most challenging stretch of the season, a three-game road swing at Auburn on Saturday followed by road games at Mississippi State and Alabama in the following weeks, those lessons will need to be learned quickly if the Aggies still intend to be factors near the top of the SEC West.
One area where the Aggies struggled on Saturday was defending the Tigers after a turnover. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder was disappointed that his group allowed touchdowns after three of the Aggies turnovers.
“It’s a mindset," Snyder said. "… If you want to talk about something negative: sudden change. We’ve got to be better. Great, dominant defenses take the field with an attitude after sudden change and I didn’t quite feel that."
In the grand scheme of things, the Aggies have shown they have the talent and fight to compete with the SEC's big boys..
"I don't think at any point we could honestly say that we got manhandled like some people thought was going to happen to us all year," Sumlin said. "I think the players understand the challenge and are still disappointed about where we are. We know that we can play better, we need to play better. LSU had a lot to do with that. They had extremely talented players and they're well-coached."
Beating the best in the SEC, which are also among the best teams nationally, is a two-fold challenge according to Sumlin. Recruiting will play a significant role in meeting that challenge this year and in the years to come.
"We've got to deal with our current situation with our players now, where they are physically and mentally,” he said. “We're playing, giving them schemes that can give us a chance to win, which we've done. We've got to be able to execute in those big ballgames which we haven't been able to do to close out. And that can be a combination of experience and some other things.
"And the second order of business is to develop depth and increase your talent level, and that's in recruiting. You have a situation where right now trying to win those games for the fans, the seniors, the guys on this team and then developing the mindset of how to do that. And then recruiting and raising your talent level and depth of the talent level to the level of those top-tier teams."