Texas A&M seeks to extend lengthy run of road success at Arkansas

Posted Friday, Sep. 27, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
More information Texas A&M at Arkansas 6 p.m. Saturday TV: ESPN2 Radio: KRLD/105.3 FM Records: Texas A&M, 3-1, 0-1 SEC; Arkansas, 3-1, 0-0.

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Texas A&M receiver Malcome Kennedy, a veteran leader from the school’s 2010 signing class, smiled as he explained why these Aggies are a “road warrior-oriented team” that will carry confidence into Saturday’s game at Arkansas.

Rest assured, that is not a phrase Kennedy would have used as recently as 2011, a season marked by blown second-half leads that led to the firing of former coach Mike Sherman.

But it fits now, as No. 10 A&M (3-1, 0-1 in SEC) carries an eight-game winning streak in games played away from Kyle Field into a 6 p.m. kickoff against the Razorbacks (3-1, 0-0) in Fayetteville, Ark. The school record is 10, a mark Kennedy once considered unthinkable but now views as attainable because of a renewed swagger and mindset instilled by Sumlin, who has won his last 13 road/neutral-site games dating to his tenure at Houston (2008-11).

“Man, it’s so much different than it used to be,” Kennedy said, summing up the team’s confidence level. “Now, we’re a team that finishes strong. When we go on the road, it’s something that we look forward to. We embrace that type of adversity. We really couldn’t diagnose what the problem was early in my career. But as coach Sumlin got here… it’s been crazy to watch. It’s just fun to go into somebody else’s place and take a win.”

A&M’s last loss in an opponent’s home stadium occurred Nov. 12, 2011, when the Aggies dropped a 53-50 overtime decision at Kansas State. That winning streak will be tested at Razorback Stadium, a venue where A&M has not played since 1990 but holds only a 5-10-2 career mark. The Aggies are 1-7 in their last eight trips to Fayetteville, dating to an era when both schools were Southwest Conference members.

Now reunited as SEC rivals, the road game is A&M’s first of the season. It looms large because the Aggies lost their conference opener 49-42 to top-ranked Alabama on Sept. 14 in College Station. An 0-2 start in SEC play would derail any realistic hope of rebounding to contend for an SEC title or national championship.

“It’s important for the veterans on this team to lead the way, especially in the first road game, and show the younger guys how it’s done,” said running back Ben Malena, a senior. “Games are harder on the road. Going on the road proves what kind of team you have. It takes guts to go out there, especially in this conference, and get a win on the road.”

As an SEC member, A&M has a spotless road record. Players point to one of Sumlin’s innovations, a daily session called the fast-start drill, as a key factor in making that happen. In the drill, starting units on each side of the ball are put in live-action, 11-on-11 situations and are expected to set the tone, under orders from defensive coordinator Mark Snyder and offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney.

“Coach Sumlin turns up the music. He starts yelling and all the coaches start dancing around and get fired up,” cornerback De’Vante Harris said.

The coaches dance at practice?

“Yeah,” Harris said. “Coach Snyder, you should see some of his moves.”

Regardless of the quality of coaches’ dance moves, players say the fast-start drill has helped them focus in hostile environments. The results are obvious: In 17 games under Sumlin, A&M has scored first in 16.

The Aggies have scored 14 times on their opening possession, including 13 touchdown drives. The defense, during the same stretch, has forced a punt or turnover on 12 opening possessions.

A&M players say the fast starts are essential in road environments to quiet hostile crowds.

“Going on the road, it’s us against the world. If you start fast, you set the tone for the entire game,” defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. said. “We know we have to create our own energy, so we take that mentality.”

The key to generating that energy, in Sumlin’s estimation, is borrowing from the cheers directed at the home team and applying them to your team as the visitor.

“As a competitor, the same type of enthusiasm and enjoyment you get from the home crowd from an electricity standpoint, you have to be able to utilize on the road,” Sumlin said. “I think our team does a good job of that.”

To veteran players, it marks quite a change from the mindset the Aggies carried into hostile environments just two seasons ago.

“A few years ago, we struggled. Now, we’re scoring 40 points a game,” said Hurd, a senior. “We feel like the hard work and dedication is paying off. We’re comfortable fending for ourselves. We look to start fast so we can finish strong.”

Road warriors

Under second-year coach Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M is undefeated in games played away from Kyle Field heading into Saturday’s game at Arkansas. The Aggies’ eight-game winning streak away from College Station dates to 2011 and marks the second-longest stretch in school history, eclipsed only by a 10-game road run in 1939-40.

SeasonOpp. (Bowl/Neutral Site)Result
2012Oklahoma (Cotton Bowl)W, 41-13
2012at AlabamaW, 29-24
2012at Mississippi StateW, 38-13
2012at AuburnW, 63-21
2012La Tech (Shreveport, La.)W, 59-57
2012at Ole MissW, 30-27
2012at SMUW, 48-3
2011Northwestern (Texas Bowl)W, 33-22

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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