Out of title mix, Texas A&M still seeks spot in BCS bowl

Posted Friday, Oct. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Texas A&M’s grandest preseason goals have been pushed to the side by a porous defense and a pair of losses to SEC opponents.

No. 16 Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2 in SEC) will play its final five games of the regular season knowing the Aggies no longer project as realistic contenders for a national championship or an SEC title.

But the Aggies still hope to wind up in a BCS bowl game and realize they must close with a flurry to make it happen.

The first step in that direction could be taken against Vanderbilt (4-3, 1-3) when the teams meet at 11:21 a.m. Saturday at Kyle Field.

“There’s been years when two-loss teams have been in those games, so you can never write that off,” receiver Travis Labhart said of the team’s BCS hopes.

“Obviously, there are teams with no losses currently. But that’s still in the back of your mind. Because if you win out, you never can tell. It’s college football. Upsets happen every week.”

In fact, one of last week’s most notable upsets put A&M in its predicament. The Aggies fell to Auburn 45-41 as a 13-point favorite in College Station.

The loss dropped A&M out of the Top 10 in the BCS standings and the weekly polls.

It also raised a question about the significance of A&M’s home-field advantage when playing in front of its 12th Man rooting section.

As a second-year member of the SEC, A&M is 6-0 when playing conference games on the road, including last year’s 29-24 upset of top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

But the Aggies are only 2-4 against SEC opponents at Kyle Field, including an 0-2 mark this season.

“Losing at home gets our attention,” coach Kevin Sumlin said. “There’s a bunch of things we control that can dictate whether we win or lose.

“We’ve got to get better on defense, there’s no doubt about that. We’ve got to shore up some things up front.”

Sumlin also said the Aggies must perform better on third downs, and better in the offensive line, than they played against Auburn to knock off the Commodores.

Vanderbilt is coming off a 31-27 upset of then-No. 15 Georgia, highlighted by a 17-0 surge in the fourth quarter.

A&M, meanwhile, has surrendered 21 fourth-quarter points in its past two games: the loss to Auburn and a 41-38 victory at Ole Miss on Oct. 12. The late swoons concern defensive coordinator Mark Snyder.

“Are we getting worn down? That’s something we’ve talked about in meetings, but I don’t have an answer,” Snyder said. “That has not been our habit in the past.”

But the issue surfaced again last week, causing A&M to lose for the second time this season, despite topping the 40-point mark in every game. The loss has forced a downsizing of preseason dreams for a team that expected to be in the national championship chase in late November.

“Hopefully, we can win the rest of the games,” receiver Mike Evans said. “And, hopefully, something happens down the road and we can try to get to a BCS bowl. If not, then another great bowl.”

A significant key for A&M will be the availability of quarterback Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner who left the Auburn game nursing a sore right shoulder.

The ailment caused him to miss one fourth-quarter series, but Manziel returned to finish the game. Manziel wore a sling on his throwing arm at Monday’s practice for precautionary reasons, and Sumlin indicated he planned to limit his quarterback’s throws in practice this week to rest his arm.

Sumlin said the was “hopeful” Manziel would play against Vanderbilt but has been preparing backups Matt Joeckel and Kenny Hill for the possibility of more playing time, just in case.

Joeckel, a junior, played at Arlington High School. Hill, a freshman, played at Southlake Carroll.

“We feel confident in both of those guys,” offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said of A&M’s backup quarterbacks.

“It’s a different team when Johnny’s out there. But Matt knows our offense. He’s been in it two years and he can operate it. Kenny is really, really talented. If he’s out there, we feel like he can make plays for us as well.”

Vanderbilt at Texas A&M

11:21 a.m. Saturday, Kyle Field

Records: Texas A&M, 4-2, 3-0 SEC; Vanderbilt, 4-3, 1-3

TV: KTXA/Ch. 21

Radio: KRLD/105.3 FM

Home, sweet home?

Texas A&M is undefeated in road games in two seasons as an SEC member but has struggled in Kyle Field. The Aggies are 2-4 at home in conference play, including an 0-2 mark this season. A breakdown:

2013Auburn 45, A&M 41
2013Alabama 49, A&M 42
2012A&M 59, Missouri 29
2012LSU 24, A&M 19
2012A&M 58, Arkansas 10
2012Florida 20, A&M 17

Head to head

CategoryTexas A&MVanderbilt
Points per game46.933.3
Total offense588.7412.4
Pass offense377.1264.3
Rush offense211.6148.1
3rd down conv.55.2%40.7%
Points allowed33.926.6
Total defense494.4365.9
Pass defense267.9206.1
Rush defense226.6159.7
Def. 3rd down conv.41.1%39.6

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

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