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July 17, 2013

SEC Media Days, Day 2: Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin on expectations, Kliff Kingsbury

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

HOOVER, Ala. — Kevin Sumlin and Hugh Freeze are both entering their second seasons as coaches in the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division. Much like Freeze did on Tuesday, Sumlin took to the podium at SEC Media Days on Wednesday doing his best to temper the sky-high expectations people have for the Aggies at the outset of the 2013 campaign.
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin spoke on Wednesday at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. The second-year coach spoke on the high expectations people have for his team this season as well as former assistant Kliff Kingsbury taking over at Texas Tech.

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin took to the podium on Wednesday at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. The second-year coach spoke on the high expectations people have for his team this season as well as former assistant Kliff Kingsbury taking over at Texas Tech.

“The excitement level is really, really high,” Sumlin said. “What we have had to do with our football team is separate ourselves from our fans, not from a closeness standpoint, but from a reality standpoint.”

Sumlin had no problem with students and alumni of the university allowing themselves to dream big and ponder the prospects in front of the Aggies this season. Sumlin’s more worried about making sure his team doesn’t rest on its laurels after an 11-2 season in 2012, which included handing national champion Alabama its only loss and routing former Big 12 rival Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

“As a team, we have to set the reset button,” he said. “We signed 31 new players, 31 guys over the last year that are going to come in. Many of them are going to have to help us this season as true freshman. That’s quite a large number when you have 85 guys on scholarship.”

Sumlin cited last season’s success as a key factor helping the team on the recruiting trail. But the good vibes from last season haven’t just helped the Aggies on the field, as the coach noted it has led to a rise in applications to the university as well as more donations from donors. On top of a $450 million expansion to Kyle Field, Texas A&M has made plans for multiple other facility upgrades.

This includes a player development center with a new weight room, a nutrition center named after former Aggies coach R.C. Slocum and an expansion to the lobby at the team’s football facility.

“You add all those up, the new player development center was about $9 million, lobby expansion $5 million, nutrition center (was) $12 million,” he said. “That’s (all) donor-funded. We haven’t borrowed a dime for that.”

Sumlin: Aggies ‘solidified’ offensive line in spring, have question marks in secondary

Despite the loss of Outland Trophy winner and the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft in Luke Joeckel as well as center Patrick Lewis, Sumlin said the offensive line is set heading into the fall.

“We’ve rotated some guys in there and we were able to get through spring football with what I think is a solidified starting five,” he said. “We’ve created a little more depth there.”

The same can’t be said of the team’s back end on defense, as the starters in the secondary are still up in the air.

“Our secondary has a lot of moving parts,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of capable guys. We have more depth back there, more experience, but the key will be to get those guys in the right place.”

Kingsbury ‘a very, very talented individual’

One of the biggest pieces of the Aggies’ success last season was offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, who called the plays for the conference’s top-ranked offense. However, when his alma mater, Texas Tech, came calling at the end of last year, Kingsbury couldn’t turn down the opportunity. Sumlin said of all the accomplishments  in his coaching career, having his assistants which includes West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen and Nevada head coach Brian Polian move on and take over their own programs is something he takes great pride in.

“I think we’ve developed a culture and a mind-set and really helped guys become head coaches,” he said.

There was no doubt in Sumlin’s mind that Kingsbury will do great things in Lubbock, Texas.

“He’s a very, very talented individual,” Sumlin said. “He’s a guy that understands the game of football, understands the politics of the position.”

It didn’t hurt Kingsbury’s career that he’s had a mentor in Sumlin, either — and he made the most of it, as the 33-year-old coaching wunderkind was constantly jotting down notes during their talks.

“(It) kind of bugged me because he was writing stuff I was saying all the time,” Sumlin said. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes. He’s been able to talk a bunch of times to me about things that happened. There’s no handbook for this job. Things come up that you don’t realize (will) come up that are outside of football.”

July 13, 2013

Auburn Season Preview: Scouting Texas A&M

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

With the 2013 season drawing closer by the minute, it’s never too early to begin taking a look at Auburn’s opponents in the coming campaign. On Day 4, we kick things off with the Texas A&M Aggies. Playing as well as any team in the country at the end of last season, the Tigers will head on the road to take on the Aggies in Game No. 7.

Who: Texas A&M

When: Saturday, Oct. 19TAM-Logo

Where: Kyle Field (82,600) | College Station, Texas

All-time series: Texas A&M leads 3-0.

When last they met: In short, it wasn’t pretty for Auburn. Texas A&M came into Jordan-Hare Stadium and obliterated the hosts 63-21, the most points the Tigers had allowed since Georgia Tech rolled to a 68-7 victory on Nov. 29, 1917. The Aggies moved the ball at will against the Tigers’ defense, as the visitors put it in the end zone on eight of its first nine possessions. Texas A&M piled up 621 yards of total offense, setting a record for the highest total by an Auburn opponent. At the center of the rout, not surprisingly, was Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel. The redshirt freshman phenom racked up 350 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns. He completed 16 of his 23 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns (two going to senior receiver Ryan Swope) and adding 90 yards and a pair of touchdowns with his dazzling feet. While Manziel and the Aggies’ offense was making it look easy, the Tigers were struggling to keep someone — anyone — at quarterback. Starter Clint Moseley left the game after just three plays, injuring his ankle following a sack. Kiehl Frazier was next up, but made little headway, going 6 of 11 for 89 yards. Finally, true freshman (and Columbus native) Jonathan Wallace came in and gave the offense a bit of a spark, leading the Tigers on three scoring drives. Of course, by then it was far too little, far too late. If you want to point to a game that put the final nail in the coffin on the Gene Chizik era, this was probably it.

The coach: Kevin Sumlin (11-2 last season in first year at Texas A&M; 46-19 record overall after going 35-17 in four seasons at Houston from 2008-11)

2012 record: 11-2, 6-2 SEC; tied for second in SEC West with LSU (beat Oklahoma 41-13  in Cotton Bowl)

Total offense: 558.54 ypg (3rd in Division I, 1st in SEC)

Scoring offense: 44.46 ppg (4th, 1st)

Total defense: 390.23 ypg (57th, 9th)

Scoring defense: 21.77 ppg (26th, 7th)

2012 Year-in-Review: All-in-all, it was a pretty decent debut season for Texas A&M in the SEC. OK, I’m being (a bit) facetious, but 2012 was an incredible year by any standard for the Aggies. A double-digit victory total, a blowout win over former Big 12 rival Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl and being the only team to hand Alabama a loss last year is difficult to top. Hard as it is to believe now, fellow league newcomer Missouri actually received more love at last year’s SEC Media Days. (Missouri was picked to finish fourth in the Eastern Division, somehow even receiving two votes to win the division crown. Meanwhile, Texas A&M was slotted fifth in the West, and didn’t have any media member toss a division title vote its way.) The Aggies decided to let their play do the talking for them. Texas A&M lost only two games, with one coming in the season opener against Florida, 20-17, which marked both the first contest of Sumlin’s tenure and Manziel’s first time as the starting quarterback. The Aggies then went on a five-game winning streak, escaping with a pair of close wins in back-to-back weeks on the road, versus Ole Miss (30-27) and Louisiana Tech (59-57), respectively. (Note: The game against the Bulldogs was originally scheduled to be the Aggies’ season opener Aug. 30, but had to be pushed back to October due to Hurricane Isaac.) Texas A&M suffered its second defeat the following week, falling to LSU 24-19 at home. The Aggies rallied back to close the season on a six-game tear, knocking off top-ranked Alabama 29-24 in Bryant-Denny Stadium — snapping the Crimson Tide’s 13-game win streak in the process — and pummeling Oklahoma 41-13 in the Cotton Bowl.

Biggest area of concern: After Outland Trophy winner Luke Joeckel left early to enter the NFL Draft (where he went No. 2 overall to Jacksonville) and center Patrick Lewis graduated, the Aggies have had to revamp their offensive line, shifting people all around. But at least the Aggies aren’t lacking for talent. Having Jake Matthews come back for one last go-round was big, with the Aggies electing to move him from right tackle to left to take Joeckel’s old spot. Junior Cedric Ogbuehi slid out from guard to fill Jake Matthew’s vacated right tackle position. Jarvis Harrison returns after starting all 13 games as an offensive guard last season, while Jake’s younger brother, Mike Matthews, will move into the starting lineup at center after seeing action in seven games last year. While the Aggies shouldn’t worry about the offensive line’s ability, it does need to be concerned about players getting comfortable starting in different positions than they have in previous seasons. It’s one thing to do it in practice, but a different thing altogether in live games. If it gels quickly, expect another magnificent season offensively for Texas A&M.

Key returning player/unit: Only a contrarian wouldn’t pick the reigning Heisman winner, right? Well, I’m not going to be “that guy (or gal).” Whether Manziel enters the fall as the best player in college football is an argument for another day, since South Carolina defensive end and freak-of-nature Jadeveon Clowney would have a lot to say about that title. But there is no doubt the whirling dervish of a quarterback is the most exciting player in the sport as he spins around every whichaway, keeping both opponents and his own teammates and coaches unaware what he might do next. (And yes, this could also be applied to his off-the-field life given his penchant for always making headlines, whether he’s appearing in a country music video, attending a 2 Chainz concert or taking in an NBA Finals game.)

Extra point: Texas A&M finished tied for fifth (along with fellow SEC member Georgia) in the final Associated Press Poll last season, its best end-of-season showing since 1956. That year, the Aggies also finished No. 5 in the final AP Poll. The only other top-five finish for the Aggies came in 1939, when they finished the season ranked No. 1 to capture their sole AP national title.

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