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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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June 16, 2024

Sumlin’s biggest challenge

Carters+Column
Photo by File
Carter’s Column

Much has happened since the appalling 59-0 beat down Texas A&M suffered in Tuscaloosa, Ala. last October. Kevin Sumlin has positioned himself to coach the biggest game of his career against the Crimson Tide Saturday and potentially one of the most important games in Aggie history.

For starters, Sumlin made an immediate change at quarterback after last year’s loss, giving Kyle Allen the nod and favoring him ever since. In turn, the underclassman holds wins over four then-ranked teams and an 8-2 record to his name. However, it was not merely Allen’s continuous improvement that led to the Aggies success — it’s also Sumlin’s initiative.

Running the ball became a serious issue, as A&M ended 78th in total yards on the ground in 2014. After the season, Sumlin brought Dave Christensen in to help, and in turn, the Aggies rush about 40 yards more on average. Moreover, this has been executed without backup running back James White.

John Chavis was snagged from LSU to take over the project of the 103rd-ranked total defense in the country. Players such as De’Vante Harris and even Myles Garrett have continued to develop since the hire. The improvement shows with the defense holding opposing offenses to about one less touchdown and 75-less yards than last year’s average, placing the Aggie defense at No. 39 in the nation.

Sumlin was not perfect in his decision-making or coaching before these changes. For the most part, Sumlin lost every major game he was expected to win in after his first season at A&M. Notching an 8-4 record with a Manziel-and-Evans-led ball club should not go unnoticed. 

Even without Manziel and Evans, this was the year for the highly-paid Sumlin and his staff to showcase how good they truly are with the favorable schedule and all of their recruits being on the field instead of Sherman’s. So far, they have been magnificent. 

At the midpoint of the season, the SEC is the Aggies to take. Standing in their way is Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU — and the former two are slated next. Despite the outcome, simply placing the Aggies in that position after being projected to finish in the mid-bottom of the SEC should also not go unnoticed for Sumlin.

There are also a few personal accomplishments we can glean from Sumlin thus far in the season. With the exception of Manziel’s second year, the head coach held a quarterback competition each fall practice. Now, it seems like Allen is the answer for the long run, which is promising for an offense that needs chemistry and a fast pace.

The home woes against ranked opponents diminished when Mississippi State came into town, as Sumlin garnered his first in a 30-17 win. Before that, A&M upset then No. 15 Arizona State and remained undefeated in the Sumlin era against Arkansas with a 28-21 overtime thriller.

Each problem seems to be fixed for the time being, but there is still much football to be played. Luckily for A&M, they have a major upper hand coming into the two-week gauntlet of Ole Miss and Alabama.

The Aggies come off a bye week and should feature a completely healthy team Saturday, which no one has seen so far. Alabama, on the other hand, dealt with Arkansas, one of the most physical teams in the SEC who certainly delivers scratches and bruises. 

Like the Razorbacks, the Crimson Tide have a ground-and-pound attack that prefers to control the clock, while they ask their quarterback to be a game manager. A&M contrasts completely, as it wants to score as quickly as possible and air it out. 

Likewise, both defenses differ. While Alabama struggles defending the pass that ranks No. 53 in the nation, A&M’s rush defense is questionable, ranking at No. 64. Because both offenses excel in what the opposing defense conflicts with, this contest should be primed for a shoot out. 

If Christian Kirk is limited, and the top-tier Crimson Tide rush defense keeps Kyle Allen predictable by forcing a higher-than-usual throw count, advantage Alabama. Should the defensive line tandem of Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, along with the Aggie secondary, provide pressure on a questionable quarterback in Jake Coker, A&M will only have to set its eyes upon Derrick Henry.

It is asking a lot to expect Sumlin and the Aggies to at least win two-out-of-three against Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU. A win Saturday will not only be a start and heighten the expectations, but it can place Sumlin on a path for something special.

Carter Karels is a journalism sophomore and sports editor for The Battalion.

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