COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Texas AM has had some ugly wins this season, and Saturday’s win over Tennessee might have been its ugliest to date, but the Aggies finally shook the 5-0 monkey off their collective backs.
But is this team good enough to go toe-to-toe with No. 1 Alabama in two weeks? That still remains to be seen.
For now, Kevin Sumlin and the No. 8 Aggies can quit answering the question “Why is this 5-0 Texas AM team different?” because they’re now 6-0 for the first time since 1994 after beating No. 9 Tennessee 45-38 in two overtimes after a game-clinching interception by safety Armani Watts. But there are still many more questions to be answered during the Aggies’ upcoming off week before they head to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. For instance:
Will Trevor Knight take better care of the ball than he has the past two games, when he turned it over a combined four times?
Can the Aggies close out a game stronger than they have their two big home wins, when they allowed UCLA and Tennessee to creep back and tie the games despite double-digit, fourth-quarter leads?
Will both sides of the ball find more consistency when they take on the Crimson Tide? Because if they don’t, it could spell trouble for the Aggies.
The Aggies looked equal parts impressive and frustrating on Saturday while benefiting from seven Tennessee turnovers. Their defense showed shades of the old Wrecking Crew that was well-renowned in the 1990s, at times showing no mercy to the Volunteers in the way it hit and attacked the football. But in other instances AM let Tennessee march right down the field.
Knight, the senior graduate transfer from Oklahoma who had ball security and consistency issues with the Sooners, showed some of those same traits Saturday. One moment he would throw a ball up in the air that made you scratch your head, or he’d throw a ball at a receiver’s feet on a slant route. Then, in the next moment, he would loft a pretty pass down the sideline for a long completion or keep the ball on the read-option and run for a touchdown, as he did with 3:22 remaining when he broke free for a 62-yard touchdown run to give the Aggies a two-score lead.
The defense was dominant early, coming up with three first-quarter turnovers that turned into 21 Texas AM points. But the Aggies’ offense couldn’t get enough going on its own accord and the defense eventually wore down, with a less-than-100 percent Myles Garrett playing only third downs for much of the day. It wound up allowing the Vols 684 yards, the most Texas AM has allowed all season.
This is not an elimination game by any stretch of the imagination for Tennessee because the Vols must turn around and play Alabama next week. A win there still is likely to keep them in the College Football Playoff conversation, assuming the Florida-LSU situation gets worked out before the SEC championship game.
If it doesn’t, that could become an issue for the Vols, who already beat the Gators two weeks ago. If the Vols can win out and find their way to Atlanta, they would likely still be able to play their way into the playoff.
As for the Aggies, they can enjoy this win, a hard-fought — if not quite smooth — victory, and they are without question SEC West title contenders. This is a much more mature team than Sumlin’s last two Aggies squads, and Saturday’s win is something AM likely wouldn’t have pulled off in 2014 or 2015.
A win in Tuscaloosa in two weeks would make the Aggies playoff contenders. But there’s a lot for this team to clean up before Oct. 22.