Texas A&M is riding a huge confidence wave after a win over South Carolina in its final home game — and it should be. It was exactly the momentum booster the Aggies needed before facing No. 5 Georgia in Athens next week.
The Aggies saw statistical season highs across the board and massive improvement in key areas they struggled with earlier in the season. Most notable was the combined rushing total of tailbacks Cordarrian Richardson and Isaiah Spiller.
“Here's what I like the most: we're practicing better on the practice field,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We [aren’t] having the mistakes. Practices are getting over because we're not having repeats. They're coming ready to practice, being physical in practice, being more consistent. It's showing up on the field.”
Richardson had the best game of his career against the Gamecocks on Saturday, posting 130 rushing yards, a 75-yard rushing touchdown and a wide-open 17-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Kellen Mond.
If the Central Florida transfer hadn’t already solidified his place in the tailback rotation with Spiller, he certainly did against the Gamecocks. Richardson provides the quality depth that A&M has needed all season, and it is coming to fruition at the best time.
“He decided he wanted to do things right,” Fisher said. “When [players] decide they want to do things right, we play them. Until then, we don't. And I don't mean that in a bad way, he's a good player. I love him. But there's so many little things before you put a guy in the game.”
Spiller was also another piece that didn’t go unnoticed. The freshman posted 129 yards rushing on 24 carries, which is the most he’s rushed for against a conference opponent.
This was the first game in which two Aggies rushed for 100 yards or more since A&M played Arkansas in 2017, and that was when Mond and former A&M running back Keith Ford were still carrying the ball.
Defensively, A&M excelled on third downs, allowing only two of South Carolina’s 15 conversion attempts. The Gamecocks didn’t have a third down conversion until the fourth quarter.
“We locked in and executed [the game plan],” linebacker Buddy Johnson said. “We had guys step up in big roles tonight and make plays. That's what it's all about. I think we kept the quarterback contained and made him make the throws. Our defensive backs just stepped up and were making great plays.”
South Carolina freshman quarterback Ryan Hillinski was 16-of-41 passing with 175 yards in the air, and he only managed to get the offense in field goal range twice. The six points the Gamecocks scored were the fewest A&M has allowed in a conference game since facing Vanderbilt in 2015, when the Aggies took a 25-0 victory in Nashville.
A&M was dominant along the defensive front, allowing only 45 rushing yards in the game. Ten of those yards came on a fourth down punt attempt at the end of the first half, when punt protection collapsed and forced South Carolina punter Joseph Charlton to run.
The Aggies’ depth at every position has come full circle since facing Alabama, especially at defensive back. With a newfound sense of confidence, A&M will head into Athens next week with a full head of steam.
“This is huge for our team, this win,” Johnson said. “If we can continue to practice how we're practicing, then good things will happen for us.”
A&M hits the road to take on Georgia in Athens on Saturday, Nov. 23. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m., and the game will be televised on CBS.