Texas A&M seeks to energize fan base with strong November finish

Posted Friday, Nov. 01, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
More information Texas A&M vs. UTEP 8 p.m. Saturday, Kyle Field Records: Texas A&M, 6-2, 3-2; UTEP, 1-6, 0-4 TV: ESPN2 Radio: KRLD/105.3 FM

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August expectations have a way of altering a fan base’s perspective on November reality.

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has noticed that in his second season in Aggieland. He mentioned it this week as the Aggies (6-2, 3-2 in SEC) prepared for a nonconference game against UTEP (1-6) at 8 p.m. Saturday at Kyle Field.

“We’ve got the same record as we had at this point last season,” Sumlin said. “But people aren’t as excited by it.”

That is because No. 12 A&M, which entered the season with hopes of contending for a Southeastern Conference or BCS title, is now a long shot for either because of losses in league play to No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0) and No. 11 Auburn (7-1, 3-1).

That has forced a tweak of the Aggies’ realistic goals for this season. At this point, A&M cannot mathematically improve on last year’s 11-2 record unless it winds up as a surprise competitor in the SEC championship game.

“From here on out, we’re playing for a better situation in the postseason, whatever that may be,” Sumlin said. “Our guys are motivated by that. I think that’s a little bit of a carrot out there for them because of that.”

With four games remaining and upcoming contests against No. 13 LSU (7-2) and No. 9 Missouri (7-1), Sumlin called it “too early to be talking about BCS bowls” as a potential reward for this season. But A&M players cited that as their probable best-case scenario in a season that has not played out the way they envisioned at the start of fall drills.

“It’s been a little frustrating as of late,” quarterback Johnny Manziel said. “We aren’t where we were last year as far as all around in every aspect of our game, but we are getting better. We just need to continue to get better and grow as a team.

“We have a coaching staff that won’t quit until we are where we need to be. If we just give in to them and understand that they have a big plan for us and buy into all of that, then we will be fine.”

The Aggies begin their November stretch run as prohibitive favorites over a UTEP team that will start backup quarterback Blaire Sullivan in place of A&M transfer Jameill Showers, who dislocated his throwing shoulder in last week’s 45-7 loss to Rice.

A&M, coming off a season-best defensive effort in last week’s 56-24 victory over Vanderbilt (seven sacks, 329 yards allowed), must win its remaining games to maximize its bowl possibilities.

That means playing with a heightened focus throughout November, running back Ben Malena said.

“We understand what’s at stake. We understand that the opportunities for the 2013 Texas A&M Aggies are [limited],” Malena said. “But we have some real football ahead of us, some meaty games left in the conference… that can shake things around.”

Those games come later, after Saturday’s matchup against UTEP. And the Aggies must win this one to maximize bowl hopes and to further the hopes of Manziel, wide receiver Mike Evans and offensive tackle Jake Matthews to earn national honors.

Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, is among the top three candidates in most straw polls to capture that award again this season. Matthews earned All-America acclaim last season and is a strong candidate to repeat.

Evans, the team’s leading receiver (46 catches, 1,086 yards, 10 TDs), is a front-runner for the Biletnikoff Award who deserves more attention as a Heisman candidate, in Sumlin’s estimation.

“I’m surprised there hasn’t been any Heisman talk about Mike,” Sumlin said. “I think he’s as good a player as there is in the country.”

Evans will get a chance to back that up Saturday against UTEP, when A&M begins its November efforts to try to make fans as excited about their 2013 finish as they were in 2012.

Head to head

Total off.584.9407.4
Pass off.377196.4
Rush off.207.9211
3rd down 56.1%45%
Ps allowed32.638.7
Total def.473.8467.7
Pass def.263.6218.1
Rush def.210.1249.6
Def. 3rd down 38.5%45%

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

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