Tuesday, October 9, 2012
A&M comeback win something to build on
By Sam Khan Jr.
Quarterback Johnny Manziel finally played like a freshman vs. Ole Miss, but he showed poise to bring Texas A&M back.
They committed six turnovers. They had five penalties, as many as their two previous games combined. They trailed by 10 points with fewer than eight minutes to go on the road against a Southeastern Conference opponent.
And even with all that, the Texas A&M Aggies still came away with a victory on Saturday.
There's little doubt that the Aggies have played better overall games in their first four games of the season -- which includes a 20-17 home loss to Florida -- than they did against Mississippi, against whom they pulled out a 30-27 come-from-behind victory. And while the Rebels might not be of Florida's caliber, they are still a respectable SEC squad, and road wins in the SEC aren't easy to come by.
Considering that the Aggies made it harder on themselves than they had their previous four outings, there's a lot that can be drawn from the fact that Texas A&M still pulled out a win.
Tailback Ben Malena rushed 18 times for 142 yards and a touchdown vs. Ole Miss.
"For us to turn the ball over like that and go on the road in the SEC and win is something I think our team can build confidence from," coach Kevin Sumlin said after the game. "We'll be very very honest with ourselves on Monday as we always are and we'll fix some things that need to be fixed. But the confidence of the team that really in these situations a year ago, didn't close them out, and some young guys who it's their first time in this situation, there's a lot of things you can draw from that will help us the rest of the year."
Perhaps that is the biggest difference between this year's Aggies and the previous installment. In 2011, the Aggies had trouble closing out games. Six times last season, they lost a game in which they at a double-digit lead at some point.
The tables were turned on Saturday, with the Aggies trailing by double digits, but they closed with authority.
"What you can draw from this is that you have to believe and you have to keep playing. Period," Sumlin said. "Sooner or later, if you do your job and you just keep playing and believing, good things are going to happen to you."
That holds true for the entire team, including redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, who committed his first turnovers of the season on Saturday. He threw two interceptions and fumbled twice, yet still showed the confidence to engineer two fourth-quarter scoring drives to fuel the comeback.
"He never hangs his head," Sumlin said. "That's a learning situation, and again, every situation that he's in is new at this level, particularly playing in this league, going on the road. It had gone for four weeks without giving the ball to the other team. He may have been pressing a little bit, he may have been pressing a little bit in the second half and we talked to him about the same thing. We've got 10 other people out here that can help us win games and the more he plays, the more he'll understand that. He made plays to help us win also."
The Aggies defense also got key stops in the fourth quarter, particularly a fourth-and-short stop at the Ole Miss 39-yard line that gave the Aggies the ball back for the go-ahead score and an interception by Toney Hurd that effectively ended the game, killing the Rebels' final scoring chance.
"That gives us great confidence as a team," Hurd said. "Special-teams wise, offensively and defensively, it took every piece of the puzzle to get this win. Offense went on a long drive, kickoff came down and stuffed them, defensively we gave up a few yards but in the end, we held and we got the win. A great team win."
There was also plenty of players redeeming themselves after making mistakes early in the game, a big point of emphasis for Sumlin, who often says "It's not what happens to you, it's how you react to it." One example was senior receiver Ryan Swope, who fumbled in the second quarter to kill a potential Aggies scoring drive but caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
"I think we're just going to use this as momentum going into next week," Swope said. "We did not play good football today, including myself. I had a poor first half. ... We really didn't play good today and we didn't execute really well, so we've got to take a look at this film and be real critical of ourselves and we've got to fix those little things and come back and work hard in practice. We're better than that and we have some improvement to work on. That's why we practice and we've got plenty of time to watch this film."
As the Aggies move forward in the rough-and-tough SEC, they have the confidence to know that they have a team talented and poised enough to stay within striking distance of winning any game, even when faced with dire situations. That's particularly key for the younger players on the squad, of which there are many playing starting or key roles.
"They learned that anything is possible," senior linebacker Sean Porter said. "They learned to keep pushing. We can win games. We have enough talent to beat a lot of teams. We can compete with anybody. I think these young guys learned just never quit, keep pushing and eventually, something good will happen."