Texas A&M Aggies: Tra Carson

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- With a backfield as deep as Texas A&M's was in 2013, it wasn't easy to find a healthy number of carries for everyone.

Four scholarship running backs, all with different talents, shared carries not only with each other, but with quarterback Johnny Manziel, who was the team's leading rusher and had the most carries of any Aggie each of the last two seasons.

[+] EnlargeTra Carson
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsTra Carson is making a push for more carries in Texas A&M's backfield rotation.
For instance, Tra Carson's role primarily consisted of short-yardage situations, including third downs and goal-to-go scenarios. Given his size (6 feet, 230 pounds), it seemed appropriate. But in several instances, including late in the season against Missouri and in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Duke, Carson showed he was more than a power back: he had some agility and speed also.

"Maybe y'all should have [been surprised] because y'all hadn't seen me do it," Carson told reporters last week. "But I wasn't surprised."

With Manziel and running back Ben Malena -- last season's leader in touches and yards among the running backs -- having moved on, there are likely to be more touches to go around this fall for the running backs: Carson, Brandon Williams, Trey Williams and redshirt freshman James White.

Carson put together a solid spring and is positioning himself to be more than a situational back this fall.

"He's really smart, he understands what we're doing," running backs coach Clarence McKinney said. "He's running the ball really well right now, and as you know, when he gets that opportunity to get in the secondary he can really hurt you."

When he arrived in Aggieland, Carson needed some work and patience. A transfer from Oregon, he had to sit out the 2012 season per NCAA transfer rules. McKinney said there was some obstacles for Carson, but he waited his turn and met that challenge head on.

"Tra's biggest issue when he first got here has been conditioning," McKinney said. "He's lost about 15 pounds since he's been here. He's picked up our offense."

Carson said he was initially drawn to Oregon coming out of high school because of his friendship with current NFL running back LaMichael James, who hails from the same high school that Carson does -- Texarkana (Texas) Liberty-Eylau -- and was playing for the Ducks at the time Carson committed.

Though he appeared in 10 games as a true freshman, Carson decided Oregon wasn't the right fit and decided to return to the Lone Star State.

"For me, it was the weather, it was too far away from home," Carson said. "I wasn't ready to make that adjustment as an 18-year-old kid out of high school. Now that I'm matured, it's just different."

Carson said he and James remain close friends to this day.

Now a junior, Carson is working to be a well-rounded player -- not just a running back -- for the Aggies. He played on special teams last season and continued to get work in that phase this spring, earning practice time as a member of the kickoff return team, though not as the primary return man. Malena served a similar role last season.

With 58 carries in 11 games last season, Carson has yet to be a full-time player. If Carson has to carry an increased load this season, McKinney has no doubt that he can.

"He just understands what we're doing really well," McKinney said. "He's really great in protection. He's not just a big back that's in the third-down and goal-line package. He's a guy who can make people miss and he can play in our open sets as well as our big sets. He's a complete back."

SEC's lunchtime links

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
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LSU and Ole Miss will hold their spring games on Saturday, with six more teams set to play their games next Saturday. As spring practice winds to a close at many of the schools around the conference, let's take a look at some of today's headlines.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Running back is one of positions on Texas A&M's roster with few, if any, real question marks or concerns heading into 2014.

There is talent and depth. Most of the returning players have experience. The main question might be which player emerges as the most reliable and productive.

The candidates are plenty, though, and that's pleasing to head coach Kevin Sumlin.

[+] EnlargeTra Carson
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsTra Carson has had a good spring, but still faces plenty of competition to be Texas A&M's first-string running back.
"We feel real good with our depth at running back," Sumlin said.

Junior running back Tra Carson has been the most consistent of the group this spring. Sumlin has praised his work several times in recent weeks, and the 6-foot, 230-pound Carson seems to be positioning himself well for the fall.

"I think Tra Carson has been very, very solid," Sumlin said. "I think James White has progressed and is probably a little bit further ahead than I thought he would be. Brandon Williams is doing well. Trey Williams -- they're all good backs. It depends on what you want to do."

Both Trey Williams and Brandon Williams had to miss brief portions of spring practice with minor injuries, but they have returned. Sumlin noted earlier this spring, particularly when Trey Williams was out, that every day he missed was "not helping his cause." Since returning, both have been able to shoulder more of the workload in practice.

"Trey's healthy and has been involved in the return game, obviously," Sumlin said. "Brandon has come back. We worked Tra Carson pretty hard early. Those guys missed a little bit, so Tra Carson's getting a little bit of a rest right now and they're catching up. But we know what we've got in those three guys."

Trey Williams is the returning yardage leader of the group, with 407 yards and six touchdowns on 58 carries last season. Carson is the returning leader in touchdowns (7) and logged 329 yards on 62 carries in 2013. Brandon Williams contributed but didn't play as much as Carson or Tra Williams, logging 44 carries for 269 yards and a score.

But with Malena (115 carries last season) gone, there are carries available. It's reasonable to expect the returning trio will get more carries, but don't count out White, a redshirt freshman, being a factor as well based on his spring performance.

"I think the surprise has been James White," Sumlin said. "He has really come on to be pretty solid. He's a guy that's going to play special teams for us this year, and then we'll see where he fits in this group. James does everything pretty good. He's big enough at 215, 220 [pounds]. He has soft hands, is a good runner, a good blocker, so he's another guy that gives us a mix."

Sumlin expects all of them to push each other as the Aggies wrap up spring practice and continue preparing for the 2014 season.

"That competition will continue and they know that," he said. "It's good for all of us to have to compete for playing time, and that's what happens in a real program."
Editor's note: This is the third part in a weeklong series of predictions for Texas A&M spring football practice, which begins on Friday.

Texas A&M is not hurting for talent at running back.

It is perhaps the deepest position on the Aggies' roster and typically has been since Kevin Sumlin arrived prior to the 2012 season. The team has consistently used a rotation of running backs and that is likely to be the case this season, with the junior trio of Tra Carson, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams all returning and redshirt freshman James White joining the fray.

The previous two seasons saw Ben Malena emerge as the No. 1 running back in terms of workload and total production, but Malena has bid Aggieland farewell.

With Malena gone (as well as quarterback Johnny Manziel, who led the team in rushes each of his two seasons as quarterback), there are many carries up for grabs for the returning backs. Who will get the lion's share this fall?

[+] EnlargeTra Carson
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsTra Carson's combination of size and speed make him a prime candidate to become Texas A&M's featured running back.
That can be a game-to-game, or even series-to-series, decision for the offensive coaching staff because all of the above names are talented. But if I had to guess which back might emerge as the next one to lead the Aggies in rushing attempts, Carson comes to mind.

He's the biggest back of the group, checking in at 6-foot-1 and around 235 pounds. He showed the ability last season to not only be a short-yardage back, but also illustrated his knack for getting larger chunks of yards by consistently breaking tackles.

The Texarkana (Texas) Liberty-Eylau product will never be confused with Trey Williams or Brandon Williams in terms of pure speed, so it would be unreasonable to expect him to start breaking off 60-yard runs. But he had a carry of 10 or more yards in eight of the 11 games in which he appeared last season, including touchdown runs of 29 yards and 21 yards in the final two games of the season. He finished last season with 329 yards and seven touchdowns on 62 carries.

His size and physicality makes him an ideal between-the-tackles back, and running backs coach Clarence McKinney noted last season that Carson has the best hands of the running back group. So even though he hasn't been used much in the passing game (Carson had three catches last season), McKinney's words suggest that Carson can fill that role when needed.

Trey Williams (58 carries, 407 yards, six touchdowns in 2013) is probably the most elusive back of the group and showed that in several opportunities last season. He'll continue to be a significant part of the Aggies' attack and likely could see his touches increase also with Malena and Manziel gone. His smaller frame (5-8, 195) is something to keep in mind when it comes to workload, however, and Williams has dealt with nagging injuries throughout his A&M career.

Brandon Williams had a lot in terms of expectations going into last season, but a foot injury during preseason camp disrupted his season's start. Once he got on the field, carries came sparingly (44 attempts). But he has appealing speed and playmaking ability, so it will be interesting to see how his workload is affected and where he winds up in the pecking order.

In A&M's uptempo offense, there is no such thing as an "every-down back," though Malena was as close to one as the Aggies had the last two seasons. I'm betting Carson is the most likely to emerge as the next one in that role this spring and fall.

Style and substance for A&M RB Malena

November, 13, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- For his last walk through the tunnel at Kyle Field, senior running back Ben Malena felt like he needed a grand entrance.

[+] EnlargeBen Malena
AP Photo/David J. PhillipBen Malena knows how to have fun, but he's also proven to be a strong leader for Texas A&M.
As part of senior day on Saturday, the Aggies' last game at home this season, each senior was introduced one-by-one and given a chance to be applauded by the crowd. So Malena, with the flair and flamboyance that has been his signature all season, walked in with the flashiest entrance of all.

When Kyle Field public address announce Chace Murphy introduced Malena, his teammate -- sophomore running back Tra Carson -- walked through the tunnel with a black cape, with the words "CASH OUT KING" in bold gold text, all caps.

Like a boxer stepping into the ring for a championship bout, Malena strutted in behind Carson, with his right hand in the air, fingers rubbing together for the "Cashing out" sign that has become a signature move for Malena and the Aggies when they score touchdowns. Of course, it wasn't complete without his headband, which has also become a Malena signature, with the hashtag "#CASHOUTKING" draped across the forehead.

Not a bad way to enter for the final time in front of the home crowd.

"I was sitting there talking to my roommate, and I figured if they're going to give me an opportunity to run out like they do in the NFL and call people one by one, I've got to do something crazy," Malena said after the game on Saturday. "I had my roommate do it and thanks to Tra Carson. He helped me out with walking it out. It was pretty cool."

With cameras trained on virtually his every move each Saturday, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel gets the majority of the national attention/discussion for his on-field actions, but it's Malena who has displayed the most style and flair among the Aggies this season. And he's become a fan favorite while doing it.

"Day to day, I guess he's kind of like Superman and Clark Kent," offensive coordinator and running backs coach Clarence McKinney said with a laugh. "You don't notice him during the day. You don't notice him in meetings. You don't notice him at practice. He doesn't say a whole lot. But when the lights come on and it's time to play that game, he's a different person."

But there is substance to accompany Malena's style. He's perhaps the most consistent of the team's four scholarship running backs when it comes to production. He leads the team in rushing touchdowns (nine) and has been a steady, though not necessarily explosive presence, averaging 4.9 yards per carry.

He's a threat in the passing game as a receiver, catching a pass in all but one game this season and he's the best pass-protecting running back the Aggies have. He also is a willing special teams player, be it on kickoff return or kick or punt coverage -- whatever the coaching staff asks of him.

But probably his most talked-about quality among A&M players and coaches is his leadership.

"He's had some great moments here," head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "He's really been an emotional leader for us, maybe not as much as y'all see during the game, but in particular during practice time and in the offseason. There's a reason he's a captain and a reason why he plays a lot of special teams. He's been a leader by example, and this year he's been a vocal leader."

The style part seems to come naturally to Malena. He's been "cashing out" for years, even back to his early seasons at A&M when he was wearing No. 23 (he wore No. 1 in 2012 and this season). In an in-stadium jumbotron segment called "Ask the Aggies" that plays during home games, several teammates called Malena one of the "coolest" players on the team. And he likes to have fun with it, evidenced by his answer when a reporter asked him before senior day what his headband would say.

"I can't give that information out," Malena said smiling. "I change it up sometimes. I can't give the senior day bandana away. [My teammates] ask me every week, 'What's it going to say this week? I say 'Man, if I tell you, I have to kill you. You just have to wait until Saturday.'"

Malena enjoyed his senior day to the fullest, jumping into the crowd to celebrate the Aggies' win over Mississippi State with fans after the game. He even tossed his bandana into the crowd as he walked toward the locker room.

"I figured, why not?" Malena said. "Might as well jump in the stands and enjoy this moment."

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- No. 15 Texas A&M (7-2, 3-2 SEC) looks to make it three in a row while Mississippi State is looking for its third win in four games when the two meet this afternoon at Kyle Field. Here's five things to keep an eye on:

1. Last game at Kyle Field for some Aggies: It's senior day at Texas A&M today and 13 seniors will have their last game in the maroon and white, notably offensive tackle Jake Matthews, running back Ben Malena and linebacker Steven Jenkins. But could it also be the last game at Kyle Field for a pair of redshirt sophomores, Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans? Both are draft eligible after this season. Neither has indicated a surefire decision as of yet, but considering how coveted they'll be as prospects, it's likely something they'll both take under serious consideration. Today will also be the last time Kyle Field looks the way it does, as some major work will begin soon as part of the $450 million renovation project on the stadium.

2. Dak Prescott will play: The Mississippi State quarterback has had an emotional week. His mother Peggy lost a more than year-long battle to cancer on Sunday and coaches and teammates joined Prescott at her funeral on Tuesday. He returned to practice on Wednesday, and Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger on Thursday that Prescott will play today. He's a dual-threat quarterback who leads the Bulldogs in rushing with 568 yards and 10 touchdowns. Given his difficult week, his presence could be a significant emotional boost for the Bulldogs.

3. Continued improvement on D? Texas A&M has looked like a different defense lately, having strong performances the last two weeks against UTEP and Vanderbilt. The Aggies held each team to fewer than 330 yards of offense, fewer than 130 rushing yards and combined for nine sacks in those two games. It certainly doesn't hurt that they faced a backup quarterback each week and Mississippi State, with Prescott at the helm, will likely bring a tougher challenge. This should be a solid test to see how much progress the A&M defense has truly made.

4. Handling Mississippi State's front seven: The Bulldogs are one of the bigger teams the Aggies will face this year, offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said earlier this week. The Bulldogs can generate a pass rush and have had 16 quarterback hurries in their last three games. They're also efficient at getting three-and-outs, holding opponents to three offensive plays or fewer 36.4 percent of the time, or 4.5 drives per game, which is second in the SEC behind Alabama.

5. Key players returning for A&M: The Aggies will get the services of offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and defensive tackle Alonzo Williams back today, according to Kevin Sumlin. Both have missed the last two games with injuries. Ogbuehi will slide back in his right tackle spot and the offensive line will go back to normal after shuffling in Ogbuehi's absence. Williams will plug back in next to true freshman Isaiah Golden and give the Aggies a playmaker as well as some much-needed depth on the defensive interior. The status of running back Tra Carson (sprained neck) who was injured against UTEP, is uncertain, though Sumlin said earlier in the week that Carson "wants to play."

Running back depth key for A&M

November, 7, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Coming into this season, there was much discussion from Texas A&M coaches about its options in its offensive backfield.

[+] EnlargeTrey Williams
AP Photo/Eric Christian SmithTexas A&M's Trey Williams is averaging 7.6 yards per carry.
The stable of running backs the Aggies was both deep and talented this summer. Ben Malena was the returning starter of the group, the senior who found his way into the starting lineup a year ago, and Trey Williams, who contributed as a freshman, was back for what he hoped would be a super sophomore season.

A pair of sophomores, Tra Carson and Brandon Williams, joined the group. Both had to sit out last season because of NCAA transfer rules, as Carson transferred from Oregon and Williams from Oklahoma.

How carries would be divided was a frequent question from fans. All four were talented and highly touted recruits coming out of high school, and there was no question each had the ability to earn playing time.

But because of injuries, the Aggies haven't always had all four backs healthy and available for the entire season. Because of that, the depth they have built has become valuable as players shuffle in and out of the lineup.

On Saturday, in the Aggies' 57-7 victory over UTEP, Carson gave the Kyle Field crowd a scare after being carried away on a stretcher. Fortunately for the Aggies, Carson only had a sprained neck, but it underscores how critical it has been to the Aggies to have so many options.

"It's really helpful to have more than one guy," offensive coordinator and running backs coach Clarence McKinney said. "If you've got one guy and he goes down, you're scrambling for the next guy. Our situation, it's unfortunate that Tra had the injury that he went down with, but the next guy up is just as good, if not better. That's a really good position to be in as a running backs coach."

Early in the season, it was Trey Williams and Brandon Williams who battled through ailments. Brandon Williams had offseason foot surgery and missed the season opener against Rice. Trey Williams battled an ankle injury that caused him to miss the Aggies' games against Sam Houston State and Alabama. Carson has appeared in every game this year, though his status for Saturday's game against Mississippi State is uncertain.

The only player who hasn't missed game time because of an injury is Malena, who has 456 yards and eight touchdowns, best among the Aggies' running backs.

As Trey Williams (297 yards, five touchdowns) has become more and more healthy, his per-carry production has improved. He is averaging a team-high 7.6 yards per carry and has shown the explosiveness that the Aggies hoped to see when they recruited him at out of Spring (Texas) Dekaney High School.

Carson (269 yards, five touchdowns) has served as a hammer, a back who can get it done between the tackles. The contributions of Brandon Williams (206 yards, one touchdown) wasn't as significant at midseason, and he did not get any touches at Ole Miss or against Auburn. But he has carried the ball 16 times in the last two weeks, and he scored a touchdown against Vanderbilt.

Not surprisingly, quarterback Johnny Manziel is again the team's leading rusher (564 yards, eight touchdowns) but having a host of guys to hand off to has been valuable to A&M's offensive success and running game, which ranks 25th in the country (210.78 yards per game) and fourth in the SEC.

Tra Carson's injury not serious

November, 3, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- It was a scary moment for all involved and the thousands watching -- those that remained at Kyle Field and at home -- as Texas A&M sophomore running back Tra Carson lay on the turf before being strapped to a backboard and carted off the field.

In the aftermath, it appeared that Carson's injury isn't as serious as the scene suggested, according to head coach Kevin Sumlin.

Carson, who suffered an injury in the neck area, didn't have to go to the hospital and was allowed to go home after getting attention from the training staff and medical personnel. Sumlin said Carson was sitting up in the locker room and had feeling in all his extremities. X-rays were negative.

"Really they were precautionary measures out there," Sumlin said after the game. "Any time you have something like that where a player complains of something in his neck [you want to be careful]. He was in pain out there, which, at first, you think that's a bad situation, but that's a lot better than not having feeling or numbness or anything like that. We'll see where he is but all signs, right now, point to nothing very serious and not nearly as bad as it looked at the beginning."

Carson suffered the injury with 13:43 remaining in the fourth quarter after being tackled at the Texas A&M 30. Upon hitting the ground, Carson sat up and grabbed the area left of his lower neck before laying back on the turf and briefly writhing in pain before the training staff attended to him.

After several minutes on the turf, in which Kyle Field became silent, Carson had his head and neck immobilized and was strapped to a backboard before being loaded onto a cart and taken to the training room.

Fortunately for the Aggies, those measures were exactly what Sumlin said they were: precautionary.

"It was kind of scary," senior running back Ben Malena said after the game. "I just went and talked to him awhile ago in the locker room, and he's fine. He's walking around, talking and giggling with everybody. They just wanted to keep him down and cart him off for precautionary reasons."

Carson is fourth on the team in rushing this season with 269 yards. The transfer from Oregon has five touchdowns and is one of four running backs the Aggies use regularly. Carson scored a touchdown on a 1-yard run in the second quarter of the Aggies' 57-7 win over UTEP on Saturday.

After the game, Carson posted a message on his Twitter account.


COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has a saying that is echoed by his players, especially at this time of the season.

"It's about us."

The message is clear and self-explanatory. And if the Aggies are going to do what they hope to -- win out the remainder of the season -- Sumlin wants them to take heed of those three words.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesTexas A&M signal-caller Johnny Manziel threw four more touchdown passes on Saturday night. He now has 26 TD passes on the season, matching his total from 2012.
On Saturday night, in a 57-7 win over UTEP at Kyle Field, it was all about the Aggies, who took care of business by dominating a beaten-up team. What's interesting is that No. 12 A&M (7-2) has the same record as it did at this time a season ago. The feelings are different, but that's partially because last season the Aggies exceeded expectations. Few outside of this town expected them to do much better than 6-6 or 7-5 in their first season in the SEC. This season, the bar was set so high that the same record at the same point seems almost pedestrian.

And while their own preseason goals -- an SEC championship and a run at a BCS national championship -- are out the window, there are still things left for Texas A&M to play for. If the Aggies win the remainder of their games, who knows? They might just sneak their way into their first BCS bowl since 1998.

The final three-game stretch is a challenging one. The Aggies host Mississippi State next weekend, then are off the following week before the difficulty level ramps up with trips to LSU and Missouri to close out the season. Both of those teams are still playing for a chance to go to Atlanta to play in the SEC title game, and in order to knock them off in their respective stadiums, the Aggies will have to put together a complete game, for four quarters -- something they really haven't done yet this season.

But in the past two weeks, in a 56-24 victory over Vanderbilt and on Saturday in the blowout win over UTEP, the Aggies have begun inching closer to playing that type of game. Throughout the first seven games, the defense was mostly poor while the offense carried the load. Special teams had issues, too, as the Aggies battled an inconsistent situation at place-kicker before moving Josh Lambo into the role, one that he has taken and run with.

The past two weeks, the Aggies defense has performed admirably. It had probably its best all-around performance against the Commodores, and on Saturday, against a much weaker opponent, the Aggies really only had one bad drive on defense, the nine-play, 73-yard touchdown drive that gave the Miners an early 7-2 lead.

UTEP, which came into the game without starting quarterback Jameill Showers (shoulder injury), couldn't move the ball with consistency against A&M when the Aggies began to rack up points. On top of that, A&M's defense was ball-hawking in the second stanza, coming up with three turnovers. The offense turned those into 21 points and blew the game open. UTEP finished with just 198 total yards, and life was understandably difficult with backup Blaire Sullivan running the offense. Still, this is an Aggies defense that had trouble stopping virtually everybody earlier this season.

"We've been having great practices the last few weeks," junior defensive end Gavin Stansbury said. "Also, I think it has to do with confidence. You have to have confidence in yourself and in your team to have a great game."

While the defense has stepped up its efforts the last two weeks, the offense has had its hiccups. Last week it was bitten by the turnover bug, giving the ball away four times. On Saturday against the Miners, the Aggies seemed out of sync in the first quarter. Quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans couldn't get on the same page, though opportunities were there. The Aggies punted twice in the first quarter -- a rarity for them in any single frame.

What began as a snoozer with Texas A&M's offense sputtering turned into a rout with an explosive second quarter by the Aggies, who outscored UTEP 27-0 in the second quarter to take a commanding 36-7 halftime lead. From there, no doubt remained of the outcome as Manziel led two more scoring drives in the third quarter before calling it a night, after throwing for four touchdowns and running for two, including an impressive 49-yarder that looked like the 2012 version of Manziel.

The A&M special teams started well, meanwhile, blocking a punt that led to a safety and giving the Aggies an early 2-0 lead. But the unit had its issues, too. Punter Drew Kaser, who serves as the holder on point-after-touchdown kicks and field goals, bobbled a snap, which left a point off the board. Freshman LaQuvionte Gonzalez also muffed a punt in the second half, though the game was well in hand.

Those are issues that have to be rectified if the Aggies hope to close out the final three-game stretch with three wins. They still haven't put a good performance from all three phases together on one night, though they might be inching closer to doing so.

"It's hard to say, when you win 57-7, to say that you didn't play a complete game," Sumlin said. "As a coach, there's some positives there. Our guys understand that we can be better than we were tonight."

Quartet powers Aggies' running game

October, 2, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Nobody is going to confuse Texas A&M's offense with an old-school, power running attack.

The Aggies are a team that likes to operate at a fast pace, spread things out and get the ball to their playmakers in space.

[+] EnlargeTra Carson
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsTailback Tra Carson rushed for 64 yards on nine carries in the Aggies' win over Arkansas.
But that doesn't mean they can't run the ball right at an opponent, which is what they did in their most recent win over Arkansas.

The second half of the Aggies' 45-33 win consisted of them running the ball 29 times and throwing just seven passes. For the first time since the AT&T Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma in January, the Aggies finished the game with more rushing yards (262) than passing (261). And that second half stretch included two drives, one of nine plays and one of seven, that were all running plays that ended in touchdowns.

"That's probably the first series we've had ever since we've been here [as a coaching staff] that we didn't attempt one pass and scored in a seven-, eight- or nine-play drive," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "That says a lot about your team, your versatility and about where our confidence factor lies with our offensive line and our running game."

What it also says is that the Aggies are deep at the running back position. All four of the Aggies' scholarship running backs -- Ben Malena, Tra Carson, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams -- touched the football on Saturday and combined for 203 rushing yards.

It was just the second time this season that all four have been available for a game, and was perhaps the best performance for the group this season.

"It's a luxury," offensive coordinator and running backs coach Clarence McKinney said. "It was really good to see all four of those guys out there. They were not only being competitive within the game, but they were competing with each other. That's how they do it every day."

Malena is the starter and elder statesman of the group. He emerged as the starter last season, claiming the top spot over then-senior Christine Michael, who's now with the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL. Malena's combination of running, receiving and blocking ability makes him a versatile option that fits the A&M offense well. He is the leader among the team's four running backs with 303 yards and seven touchdowns. Coaches have praised his reliability and leadership all season.

But Saturday was a true showcase for Carson and Trey Williams, who provided a formidable one-two punch themselves. Carson, who has impressed since his Aggie debut on Aug. 31 against Rice, is a big, physical, north-south type of running back who also has good speed for someone carrying 230 pounds.

Averaging 5.6 yards per carry, he's second among the team's running backs this season with 229 yards and four touchdowns.

"You see Tra Carson out there running hard," Malena said. "It takes more than one guy to tackle him."

Trey Williams had a 100-yard game last season in a blowout against Auburn, but he hasn't always been healthy in his A&M career. He's still not 100 percent healthy but showed that he's getting close to that on Saturday, leading the team with 83 rushing yards and a touchdown while averaging 9.2 yards per carry.

"He's really, really good with the ball in his hands," McKinney said. "And he showed a little bit of that on Saturday and hopefully that'll kick start him for the rest of the year."

Brandon Williams missed the season opener while recovering from offseason foot surgery but has gradually been working his way back into the lineup. He showed his burst with a 20-yard carry against Arkansas and also has a touchdown reception to his name this season.

"He's the guy that probably has the most wire-to-wire potential," Sumlin said. "He's a home-run threat from anywhere."

The fascinating part about the Aggies' playcalling on Saturday, which led to 44 rushes and 30 pass attempts, is that there were no designed runs called for quarterback Johnny Manziel. McKinney noted that Manziel is going to run whether or not a run play is called for him but they wanted to limit how many hits he took.

Manziel wound up carrying the ball nine times for 59 yards with the four running backs accounting for the other 35 carries. He is still the team's overall leading rusher with 314 yards on the season.

But as the Aggies get deeper into their SEC schedule, they can do so knowing that they have a multitude of running back options to go to and so far, all of them have proven capable of delivering.

"We've got a variety of guys," Sumlin said. "Our staff has done a good job with those guys and making sure they're sharing the wealth and that the more you can share it, the healthier you're going to be throughout the year. We're not even halfway [through the season] and we've got some bruised up guys.

"They know that and they help each other and I'm pleased with the direction that whole position has gone."

Assessing the Aggies after five games

September, 30, 2013
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Texas A&M is 4-1 after its first five games of the season. The Aggies split their first two SEC games and get a brief break with an open date this weekend. With the bulk of their league schedule coming up after the off week, let's analyze where the Aggies are and what's ahead:

The good

[+] EnlargeMike Evans
AP Photo/David J. PhillipTexas A&M's Mike Evans might be the best receiver in the nation and a Heisman candidate.
Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans: These two had high expectations coming into the season based on their 2012 performances, and you could argue that they have exceeded them thus far in 2013, especially Evans. The sophomore receiver is making his case to be considered among the best receivers in the country, if not the best. Only Oregon State's Brandin Cooks has more receiving yards than Evans' 691, but Evans's schedule includes Alabama, which he torched for a school-record 279 yards. Manziel ranks in the top 10 nationally in several categories, including total offense, passing efficiency, QBR, touchdowns responsible for and passing yards. He has made a concerted effort to become a better pocket passer, showing more patience when dropping back, but it hasn't taken away from his signature scrambling ability that makes him such an offensive force. If the Aggies continue to win and these two continue to play as they have, one could make the argument that both deserve to be in the Heisman Trophy discussion.

The offensive line and running game: There were some questions coming into the season about how the Aggies' offensive line would fare after losing Luke Joeckel to the NFL draft and center Patrick Lewis to graduation. So far, the Aggies have continued to shine in this area. The protection provided to Manziel when he passes has been stellar, and the Aggies have not had much trouble running the football, averaging 221.4 yards per game. On Saturday against Arkansas, the Aggies actually had more rushing yards than passing. And the last two weeks, we've seen the coaching staff use all four scholarship running backs (Ben Malena, Tra Carson, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams) effectively. Malena continues to be a steady force, Carson has provided a hammer who can break tackles and get short yardage but is explosive enough to get chunks as well, and the Williamses are both explosive talents with a lot of speed.

Deshazor Everett: The junior defensive back has been the Aggies' best defensive player this year. Though cornerback is his usual home, he moved to safety for the last two weeks to help alleviate some issues in the secondary. He performed well in both positions, is second on the team with 31 tackles and leads the team with two interceptions, including a pick-six against Arkansas. If the Aggies had more Everetts, their defense would be better off.

Play-calling: The offensive staff, led by offensive coordinator and play-caller Clarence McKinney has done a solid job of ensuring the offense utilizes its many weapons. There has been plenty of balance in the play calls (Texas A&M has run the ball 202 times and attempted 179 passes), the pace of the offense remains high, and it appears the Aggies have had an answer for almost anything opposing defenses have thrown at them. The one game in which the Aggies came up short was due to two turnovers against No. 1 Alabama.

The bad

The defense: To say the Aggies have struggled defensively is an understatement. Texas A&M is 112th nationally in yards allowed per game (476.8), 109th in yards allowed per play (6.59), 107th in rushing yards allowed per game (214.8) and 94th in passing yards allowed per game (262). Some of those struggles were the result of missing personnel in the first two games because of suspensions, but that's not an excuse anymore. Alabama and Arkansas both moved the ball with relative ease against the unit. In the second half against Arkansas on Saturday, the A&M defense did show the ability to get some key stops and make a few plays, so that might be encouraging, but it will have to build on that when it faces Ole Miss on Oct. 12.

The kicking game: The Aggies had to make a change at place-kicker, removing Taylor Bertolet from PAT and field-goal duty and replacing him with walk-on Josh Lambo. The issues haven't just been with the actual kickers, but there were also a couple of botched holds in the first four games. Leaving points on the board might not cost Texas A&M against nonconference foes like Sam Houston State or SMU, but it will cost them in SEC play if it continues to happen. Is Lambo the answer? He had a solid day on Saturday against Arkansas, going 6-for-6 on PATs and hitting a 39-yard field goal. So far he's 2-for-2 on field goals and 7-for-8 on PATs with his only miss coming as the result of a fumbled hold.

What's ahead

Texas A&M has a chance to heal up some injuries this week, which is critical after three starters -- defensive tackle Kirby Ennis, linebacker Darian Claiborne and Evans -- got banged up. Safety Floyd Raven, who has been out with a collarbone injury, continues to make progress in hopes of a return before long.

With the meat of the SEC schedule coming up, the Aggies have to get better on defense if they hope to realize some of their season goals. The offense continues to put up 40 points per game, but if for some reason it has an off night, A&M has to be able to rely on the D to help it pull through. Aside from the kicking game, special teams has been solid overall, and if Lambo is the answer at place-kicker, that's a positive for A&M moving forward.

Perhaps most notably, the drama is behind the Aggies. The constant headlines and media circus that followed the team, specifically Manziel, is in the rearview mirror. Led by Kevin Sumlin, the Aggies handled it well and didn't allow it to distract them from the task at hand.

What we learned: Week 5

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
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FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas — There are plenty of things to take away from Texas A&M's 45-33 road win over Arkansas on Saturday. Here are three:

The Aggies can -- and will -- use four backs: Saturday marked the second consecutive week the Aggies had all four running backs healthy and available, and it was probably the best utilization of all four. Tra Carson, Ben Malena, Brandon Williams and Trey Williams combined for 203 rushing yards. Trey Williams had perhaps his best game to date, rushing for 83 yards and a touchdown on nine carries and flashing the quickness and elusiveness that made him such a coveted recruit. He had a 100-yard game last year against Auburn, but that was in a 63-21 victory; Williams got it done in crunch time on Saturday. Carson continues to be a force, using his 230-pound frame to break tackles and get yards after contact. He finished with 64 yards, second-best on the night.

The defense still needs a lot of work: The Aggies were gashed in the running game (201 yards, 6.7 per carry) and gave up plenty of big passing plays. Arkansas averaged 7.3 yards per play on Saturday. Injuries are hitting the unit as well, with tackle Kirby Ennis and middle linebacker Darian Claiborne both leaving the game. They did show resiliency, coming up with key stops in the second half, and that's encouraging, but this unit has a lot of work to do if A&M hopes to beat better SEC teams later in the season.

The road is still kind to the Aggies: Since Kevin Sumlin took over as head coach, Texas A&M has yet to lose away from Kyle Field. They have won seven consecutive true road games and eight games away from Kyle Field since the start of last season. Pulling out wins in a place like Razorback Stadium, with 72,000-plus fans doing hog calls and making a lot of noise, is never easy, but the Aggies continue to take care of business on their road trips.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 5

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
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Week 5 in the SEC provided what could have been the game of the year between Georgia and LSU. The nation’s No. 1 team played up to its ranking, and there were plenty of impressive performances across the league. It’s time to hand out the helmet stickers.

Aaron Murray, QB Georgia: It wasn’t long ago when Murray was labeled the quarterback who couldn’t win the big game. It’s time to throw that away. The senior finished 20-of-34 for 298 yards and five total touchdowns in Georgia’s biggest game of the year. He has always been productive -- he could soon become the SEC’s most productive quarterback of all time -- but add the clutch factor and there’s no reason not to think he’s a top contender for the Heisman this year. The Bulldogs control their own destiny in the SEC East, and Murray and company would love nothing more than a chance to avenge last year’s loss to Alabama in the conference championship. They have to get through Florida first.

Zach Mettenberger, QB LSU: It doesn’t matter how well somebody plays, there has to be a winner and there has to be a loser. Unfortunately for Mettenberger, he finished on the losing side Saturday, but the former Georgia quarterback played admirably against his former team. He finished 23-of-37 for 372 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Down the stretch, he made clutch throw after clutch throw to keep the Tigers in the game. LSU wide receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry had close to 300 yards receiving between them, but it starts with Mettenberger. He had a terrific homecoming but came up just short.

The Alabama secondary: Before the game, Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace said he thought they could score on anybody. Evidently not Alabama. The No. 1 team in the nation shut out the Rebels, 25-0. Wallace singled out the Crimson Tide cornerbacks, saying they weren’t exactly first-rounders, but Deion Belue and Eddie Jackson stepped up on Saturday. Jackson, a true freshman, was especially impressive locking up Wallace’s favorite target Donte Moncrief for most of the game. He also came down with the Tide’s lone interception. As a whole, the UA secondary held Ole Miss to just 159 yards through the air.

Mike Davis, RB South Carolina: At halftime, it didn’t look good for South Carolina. The Gamecocks trailed Central Florida, 10-0, and quarterback Connor Shaw was lost for the game with a shoulder injury. But Davis didn’t care. He put his team on his back and carried it to victory. It started with a 53-yard touchdown run on the opening drive of the third quarter, the first points of the game for the Gamecocks. He scored twice more in the fourth quarter to extend the lead and put the game away. The sophomore back finished with 26 carries for 167 yards and three touchdowns as South Carolina survived a difficult road test.

The Texas A&M offensive line: Johnny Manziel gets most of the credit for Texas A&M’s high-powered offense, but it was the offensive line that absolutely dominated Arkansas up front on Saturday. The Aggies rushed for 262 yards against the Razorbacks, averaging six yards per carry. No one player reached 100 yards rushing, but Trey Williams and Tra Carson played well down the stretch, and starting running back Ben Malena scored twice. Manziel still finished with 261 yards and two touchdowns through the air and another 59 yards on the ground, but it all started with the offensive line.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- To the casual fan, it would be easy to surmise that Texas A&M is a one-man team.

With much of the national conversation surrounding the Aggies' quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, someone who hasn't paid close attention might jump to the conclusion that Manziel is the man who makes everything happen for Texas A&M.

It can seem like that at times. Manziel's performance certainly has a major role in the fate of the Aggies, but they proved Saturday that they are much more than just Johnny Football -- even with the game on the line.

With Arkansas breathing down their necks and the crowd of 72,613 at Razorback Stadium raising the decibel level as the host squad threatened an upset of No. 10 Texas A&M, the Aggies handed over the game not to their quarterback but to their running game. It helped them put away the Razorbacks 45-33 on Saturday night.

When the Razorbacks narrowed an 11-point lead to just four midway through the third quarter, A&M put the game in the hands of its offensive line and sophomore running backs Tra Carson and Trey Williams. Nine plays and 68 yards later, Williams hit pay dirt with a 17-yard touchdown run to extend the Aggies' lead to 38-27.

Arkansas cut the lead back to five, and early in the fourth quarter the Aggies went back to Carson and Williams, who ate up 56 yards before starting running back Ben Malena put the finishing touch on another touchdown drive, punching it in from a yard out for the final margin of victory with 10:08 to go.

[+] EnlargeTra Carson
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsTra Carson was part of an RB quartet that posted more than 200 rushing yards against Arkansas.
Only once in those two scoring drives did Manziel run the ball, and he didn't throw it on either of those two series. He was responsible for two touchdowns, his lowest single-game total since the Aggies beat Alabama last November. And the Aggies still put up more than 40 points for the eighth straight game (best in the FBS) and at least 400 yards for 17th consecutive game.

"I think it just shows another dimension of our offense," Malena said. "People look at our offense being so spread out, being the 'Air Raid' offense, but I think we had two or three drives where we didn't throw the ball but maybe one or two times. I think it just shows how good our offensive line is and how talented our running backs are."

For the first time since their win over Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl in January, the Aggies finished with more rushing yards (262) than passing (261). That helped the Aggies' struggling defense immensely, particularly in the second half when they were able to chew up the yardage. The drives weren't long in terms of time (each of the two aforementioned scoring drives lasted 3:06 or less), but they did give the defense time to catch its breath.

And the Aggies were able to possess the ball for 9:45 of the final 15:00.

Saturday was the second consecutive week that the Aggies had all four of their scholarship running backs — Carson, Malena, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams — available and it was the first time this season Trey Williams looked like the explosive back the Aggies signed in the 2012 recruiting class and got to see flashes of last season. Each of the four contributed, and they combined for 203 rushing yards.

Coming into the season the coaching staff discussed the benefits of having four backs as talented as these. Saturday was a manifestation of what the coaches hoped could be when utilizing each of them.

"All of our backs have their own value," coach Kevin Sumlin said. "They all have their own pluses and we utilize them all and I think we're able to keep them all fresh that way."

And though Manziel didn't have to put the game on his shoulders in the second half, he played flawlessly when he had the ball. He was efficient as usual (23-of-30, 261 yards, no interceptions) and gave Arkansas headaches with his scrambling ability (59 rushing yards). Perhaps the most telling sign of the respect he has earned came late in the second quarter when Chris Smith and Deatrich Wise Jr. pulled Manziel down for a sack. The crowd erupted perhaps as loud as it did the entire night, and Wise proceeded to egg the crowd on with a celebratory sack dance.

But that was the only time the Razorbacks sacked Manziel.

"We ask him to make plays and he makes plays," Sumlin said. "He took care of the ball."

The defense, which didn't play well for large stretches on Saturday, even found its footing in the second half. Each of the three times that the Razorbacks were within five points or fewer in the second half, the Aggies responded with a stop.

Junior defensive back Deshazor Everett came up with the Aggies' biggest defensive play, a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown, on Arkansas' opening drive of the second half.

"Coach [Mark] Snyder told us on the sideline that he was going to change the call and he wants me to stay inside of [Julian Horton] and wait for the slant route," Everett said. "He dialed it up and called it and it was perfect. They ran the slant and I jumped it, just like he told me to."

After the next two times the Razorbacks narrowed the gap, the Aggies' D responded with three-and-outs each time. For a unit that was gashed for 483 yards, 201 rushing, 6.7 yards a carry and 7.3 yards per play — and lost starting defensive tackle Kirby Ennis and middle linebacker Darian Claiborne to injuries in the process — it was a significant turn of events in an SEC road game.

The Aggies get next weekend off before traveling to Oxford, Miss., to take on Ole Miss. The open date comes at an appropriate time, with Claiborne, Ennis and receiver Mike Evans all suffering injuries on Saturday, though Evans returned to play the remainder of the game after a brief first-half exit. There are still several areas in which the Aggies must get better, but Saturday they showed a side of themselves that some might not have seen.

Planning for success: Texas A&M

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
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With the Alabama showdown in the rearview mirror, Texas A&M looks ahead to its next challenge, a nonconference matchup against SMU on Saturday at Kyle Field.

The No. 10 Aggies (2-1), are coming off their first loss of the year, so let's take a look at a few keys to them getting back on the winning track:

1. Get some stops: Texas A&M ranks 112th in the country in total defense (allowing 489 yards per game), the rushing defense is 115th (260 yards allowed per game), and the unit struggled mightily against Alabama. Granted, the Crimson Tide are the nation's No. 1 team but the unit had its share of struggles against Rice and Sam Houston State while missing personnel due to suspensions. This will be the second straight week that most of the starters are available, so there should be some improvement. If there isn't, it's a serious concern.

[+] EnlargeMike Evans
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesAggies receiver Mike Evans looks to continue his high-scoring ways against SMU.
2. No turnovers: The Aggies had two last week and that was critical at the end when they came within just seven points of Alabama. The Crimson Tide turned those turnovers into 14 points, one of which was an interception return for a touchdown. Taking care of the ball is critical.

3. Keep it rolling on O: The Aggies' offense seemingly has no problem putting up points. Quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans were brilliant against Alabama. Look for them to continue to connect. Other receivers are emerging as well, like Malcome Kennedy. Manziel ran the ball a lot last week, but look for the running backs to get more involved again this week -- Ben Malena and Tra Carson in particular were effective in the Aggies' first two wins against Rice and Sam Houston State.

4. Avoid the letdown: Replicating the enthusiasm for a game like last week's against Alabama is hard, especially when you play a nonconference game. But the Aggies pride themselves on being able to keep things consistent and not let their emotions get too far up and down. SMU is a team the Aggies beat convincingly last year in its home stadium, 48-3, so if the Aggies are better than they were a year ago, logic says they should be able to take care of business at Kyle Field on Saturday.

5. Put it away early: Depth is always something teams want to develop, and it's critical for the Aggies to do so in order to rely on younger players to contribute later should injuries occur. This week's game is a chance for the Aggies to do that by building a big lead and allowing second-teamers to play significant minutes in the second half. If they can do that, it will help the Aggies' depth.

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