College Station, TX – After a tough loss to No. 1 Alabama dictated a drop in the polls, the 10th-ranked Texas A&M Aggies will attempt to get back on track this Saturday night against the visiting SMU Mustangs.
SMU had a bye last week coming off a 31-30 defeat of Montana State on Sept. 7. Although a win is a win, the Mustangs' played poorly for much of the contest and needed a touchdown with just 12 seconds left to bail them out at home against an FCS opponent. In their opener, they dropped a 41-23 decision to Texas Tech.
After a couple of convincing wins over Rice (52-31) and Sam Houston State (65-28) to start the season, Texas A&M hosted Alabama in a marquee matchup last Saturday. The intrigue was high considering the Aggies toppled the Crimson Tide in last season's bout, but this time around they fell just short, losing 49-42.
"(Alabama's) the number one team in the country for a reason," Texas A&M Kevin Sumlin said. "Nobody can say that this team quit. We have a lot more football left, nine more games to play. Right now it's pretty difficult to get through, but we have to get back to work. Our goals are still out in front of us."
"Last year at this time around we beat 'Bama at their place and they still won a championship," Johnny Manziel added. "So we have to keep fighting and know that this isn't the end of our season."
Texas A&M holds a 43-29-7 lead in the all-time series, with SMU going winless in the last 12 matchups dating back to 1985. The Aggies won both the 2011 (46-14) and 2012 (48-3) contests by convincing margins.
Generating yards has not been an issue for SMU through two games, as it churns out 475.5 ypg, but all that ball movement has yielded a rather modest scoring average of 27.0 ppg.
Garrett Gilbert has impressed under center, completing greater than 69 percent of his passes while throwing for 352.5 ypg. He has just one touchdown, but it was the crucial game-winner against Montana State, and he has yet to throw an interception.
The Mustangs' pass-happy ways have benefited both Darius Joseph (23 receptions, 216 yards, TD) and Jeremy Johnson (19 receptions, 243 yards). The pair ranks first and second in the American Athletic Conference in receptions despite having played one less game than most of their competition.
The rushing attack is a largely forgotten portion of the SMU offense. Gilbert is the leading ground gainer with 82 yards, and Prescott Line and K.C. Nlemchi have 54 yards and a touchdown apiece.
Defensively, the Mustangs have disappointed, especially through the air, allowing 315.5 passing yards per contest. The unit has yet to record a turnover.
Kevin Pope has 19 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble, while Stephon Sanders has been equally impressive with 19 stops and 4.5 TFL.
Texas A&M boasts one of the top offenses in the country -- ranking fourth in the FBS in scoring (53.0 ppg) and third in yardage (609.3 ypg) -- and it proved so with a outstanding 628-yard effort against the vaunted Alabama defense.
Despite throwing two picks last week, Manziel was masterful in completing 28- of-39 passes for 464 yards and five touchdowns, to go along with 98 yards rushing. It was the fourth time in his brief career that he's racked up at least 500 total yards, and his totals through two and a half games are video game-like (.708 completion percentage, 984 passing yards, 153 rushing yards, 12 total TDs).
"He played Johnny-like," Sumlin said following the Alabama game. "He took some chances and got away with a couple things but I thought he also stood in there and made good throws, particularly in the red zone."
Manziel's success last week helped Mike Evans achieve a school-record 279 yards on seven receptions, giving him 20 catches, 518 yards and three touchdowns on the season. Malcome Kennedy (13 receptions, 135 yards, three TDs) had all three of his scores against the Tide.
Ben Malena (192 yards, three TDs) and Tra Carson (145 yards, four TDs) have made the most of their timeshare in the backfield. Malena is also a valuable asset as a receiver (eight receptions, 88 yards, TD).
While the A&M offense has soared, the defense has lagged behind, allowing 36.0 ppg and 489.0 ypg, numbers that certainly won't cut it in the hard-nosed SEC.
One saving grace for the unit has been its ability to create turnovers, with Clay Honeycutt, Deshazor Everett, Tramain Jacobs and Nate Askew recording interceptions, and Shaan Washington recovering a fumble. Howard Matthews (26 tackles) and Honeycutt (25 tackles) have really racked up the stops.