There were a lot of very happy folks in College Station Thursday evening.
Oh sure, the Texas A&M fans were happy. When you roll into Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina, and put an end to the nation’s longest home winning streak at 18 and stamp an exclamation point in your season opener with a 52-28 thumping vs. The Head Ball Coach, it tends to make you smile.
But I’m not referring to football fans. The Ashley Furniture Home Store in Aggieland had a promotion last weekend — if a customer buys any furniture and the Aggies defeat the Gamecocks by 10-or-more points, their purchase is free.
Word has it that Ashley did over $1 million in sales from the promotion. That’s a lot of free recliners, bedroom sets and armoires. And smiles.
Not many gave the Aggies a shot to win this game, let alone blow out Carolina. The national narrative was simple, yet flawed – without Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M would regress to the lower half of the SEC.
Ah, but these people don’t seem to pay attention to two things: coaching and recruiting. And I have news for them, Kevin Sumlin has a track record for coaching, and his recent results on the recruiting trail have been ridiculous.
Both came together on Thursday night. And Steve Spurrier didn’t like what he saw.
Sophomore Kenny Hill earned the starting job for this contest after a tight race with true freshman and No. 1 national QB recruit Kyle Allen. Hill was highly-recruited out of Southlake Carroll himself two years ago, and he embraced his first opportunity.
Hill went out and made people quickly forget about Johnny Football, simply smashing his A&M school record with 511 yards and three touchdowns on 44-for-60 passing. While Hill’s performance was simply brilliant, don’t lose sight of the fact that the weapons he has around him are pretty special. Hill connected with 12 different Aggie teammates, and he ended the evening without nary a grass stain on his icy white uniform thanks to a solid performance from the A&M offensive line.
Most people won’t immediately recognize the names of many of the A&M receivers after senior Malcome Kennedy. But get used to them — Ricky Seals-Jones, Speedy Noil, Josh Reynolds, Edward Pope, and Sabian Holmes will all get their share of catches this season.
“I was more excited than nervous,” Hill said. “I was ready to go. I’ve been ready for this my whole life. Everyone was doubting us and we were ready to prove them wrong.”
Prove them wrong, they did, rolling up 680 yards of offense, a South Carolina record for yardage given up in one game.
Then there’s the Aggie defense, another reason a lot of people didn’t put a lot of stock in this team. How can you blame them? The 2013 version was arguably the worst defense that A&M has fielded in the modern era, a distant cry from the “Wrecking Crew” days of the 1990s. Heck, I’m 46 and could have run a wheel route against that D and been wide open.
But there’s this thing called the off-season, where the Aggies “won” on signing day and in the weight room, in general. A&M added significant talent on the defensive side of the ball, and several true freshmen from last year hit strength coach Larry Jackson’s conditioning program in the spring and put on some serious muscle. It showed.
Save a couple of secondary missed assignments, the A&M defense looked, well, pretty decent. They did a good job containing the run and were able to put some pressure on the quarterback, something foreign to last year’s team.
No, this team looks pretty good. They’re young, but good. And that’s a dangerous combination for opponents.
“It was obvious the odds-makers don’t know what they’re talking about,” Spurrier said after the game, referring to Carolina being favored by 10.5 points. “That team was so much better than us it wasn’t funny. They out-coached us, out-played us, they were better prepared and they knew what they were doing. It was a mismatch tonight. If we played them again they’d be a three-touchdown favorite.”
Sumlin spoke for the team’s psyche coming into the game, which played a big role in motivation.
“There was a chip on our shoulder,” he said. “Nobody gave us a chance to win this football game. What we did tonight shows we’re not a one-trick pony.”
No, Sumlin and the Aggies proved that they didn’t win 20 games over the last two seasons only because of a certain quarterback. This team is loaded with talent and recruiting rankings indicate that even more top players are on the way.
There are a lot a reasons why Sumlin was smiling post-game. I’m assuming one wasn’t because he bought a new living room set last Saturday, but you never know.