A&M travels to Oxford for first conference road game
Published: Friday, October 5, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 5, 2012 01:10
The Aggies (3-1, 1-1) believe they broke a barrier last week in a home win over Arkansas, notching their first Southeastern Conference win and proving they can retain a large lead. Moving the ball in the friendly confines of Kyle Field and snatching a win from an SEC opponent on the road are two different games.
A&M makes its conference road debut against Ole Miss (3-2, 0-1) Saturday in Oxford, Miss.
Head coach Kevin Sumlin said last week’s 58-10 thrashing of Arkansas was promising, but consistency plays into the equation.
“There are a lot of teams that can play well for three hours one week,” Sumlin said. “But what about the three hours the week after that? The ability to keep focus and maintain a certain level of play takes maturity."
Few have talked about the Aggies this season without mentioning freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel in the same breath. In four career starts, Manziel has yet to surrender a single turnover and accounted for 16 touchdowns and 1,460 total yards. A&M’s leading passer and rusher, the Aggie offense has begun and ended with Manziel to this point in the season. In his last outing, Manziel’s 557 total yards broke school and SEC single-game records.
Sumlin said the quarterback has improved and is learning to handle success.
"Based on results, he's been pretty good,” Sumlin said. “You see him getting better. That's all part of it. As a young guy, you have to handle success at all positions, more so at quarterback. Like me [as head coach], you get too much credit when you win and all the blame when you lose.”
As successful as the offense has been — ranked seventh nationally with an average of 48.3 points per game — the defense has been similarly statistically productive. The unit slots in eighth nationally, allowing 11.8 points per game.
Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said this is a result of the athletes buying into the culture.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Snyder said. “I think the kids are buying in. We asked them to create turnovers; don't give up the deep ball. The kids are doing that, week in and week out. The glaring thing for me [against Arkansas] was simply our tackling ability.”
During week three, Ole Miss competed against the No. 11 Texas Longhorns and fell 66-31. Last week, No. 1 Alabama dispatched Ole Miss 33-14. Senior receiver Ryan Swope, however, said the Aggies should expect a hostile, engaged crowd.
“I expect Ole Miss to be a crazy atmosphere, real loud,” Swope said. “This is going to be special for us and is what I came back for to play, to go out and experience all those SEC schools. It's going to be cool to see everything these teams have to offer. I'm really excited about it.”
The Rebels will likely lean on sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace, who Damontre Moore, senior defensive lineman, said is unlike any quarterback A&M has seen this season.
“We have to be very disciplined,” Moore said. “He's the most athletic quarterback we've played all year. He's a little more agile.”
Five of A&M’s next six games take place away from Kyle Field, including a date with No. 1 Alabama. Senior linebacker Jonathon Stewart said the team must shake the temptation to look ahead.
“If we start worrying about LSU and Alabama, then those future games will become insignificant because we didn't take advantage of the opportunity we had,” Stewart said.
After the 58 points posted against preseason top-10 Arkansas, there were some murmurs of disappointment when the weekly polls were posted and A&M was left out.
Stewart said the polls change nothing.
“If we were ranked [No.] 23 we would be the same exact team,” Stewart said. “We know how much talent we have on this team. We know what we're capable of doing. It's not a big-time priority for us right now. There's still a lot of season to play.”