- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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How impressive was Texas A&M’s 29-24 win against previously unbeaten Alabama last week?
Going into Bryant-Denny Stadium and winning speaks for itself. It's only the third game Alabama has lost at home in the past five seasons. But when you consider that the Aggies were playing their third straight SEC road game in as many weeks, it’s an even more impressive accomplishment.
Texas A&M, in its first season in the SEC, was the only team in the league that had to go on the road for three straight weeks and play in an opposing SEC stadium. Until this season, the SEC wouldn’t allow a team to play three consecutive SEC road games.
And because the opener against Louisiana Tech was pushed back to Texas A&M’s open date on Oct. 13 because of the hurricane, that means the Aggies have played five of their past six games away from home.
“To run that gauntlet and come out of it the way we did says a lot about the leadership we’re getting from our seniors and the way our team is playing,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “I know, for our seniors, it’s a big deal to have the last few games here at Kyle Field, and they’ve done a great job of leading us, and I look for that to continue this week.”
The No. 8 Aggies (8-2, 5-2) are two close losses away from being unbeaten right now. They lost 20-17 to No. 6 Florida and 24-19 to No. 7 LSU.
As disappointing as those losses were, Sumlin said his team drew some confidence from both games.
“Those were top-tier teams, not only in this league, but in the country, and we had a chance to win both games,” Sumlin said. “Our defense played well enough to keep us in it and give us a chance to win, and we probably handcuffed Johnny (Manziel) and didn’t have the offense available the first part of the year that we do now in terms of volume, and it was his first game, too. Florida had a lot to do with it the second half, and against LSU, we turned the ball over. You can’t turn the ball over five times and miss two field goals and have a touchdown called back and beat a quality football team like LSU.
“We understood that. I think our kids understand that. What we’ve talked about here is more Texas A&M instead of the opponent, and limiting our mistakes. Our guys have taken pride in that and worked on it and understand that if we play a complete game, not a perfect game, but a complete game and limit our mistakes and take care of the football, that we can be a very dangerous team.”
Sumlin’s impression of the SEC hasn’t changed any, but he’s also not surprised that his up-tempo, spread offense has had the success that it’s had against SEC defenses.
“I think you guys anticipated that it wouldn’t (work),” said Sumlin, referring to media skepticism. “We have a system and a style we believe in. We’re very comfortable with it. We understand the strengths and the weaknesses of it. That’s why we run it. That’s what we do. If we didn’t believe it would work, we wouldn’t run it.”
Even though it was just one game, Sumlin conceded that the Alabama win was a degree of validation for the Aggies.
“How this team has performed, not just in that game, but throughout the year, I think, was important just to show that we belonged, that we could hold our own and that we could compete in the SEC,” he said.
2dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
4dEdward Aschoff and Greg Ostendorf