This week’s win over Western Carolina from the FCS was a nice break from the slog of SEC play. The result itself was never going to be in doubt, but it still gave us an opportunity to analyse where this A&M team is after such a disappointing home loss to Auburn. The answer wasn’t particularly positive as the Aggies struggled early on before eventually pulling away from the visitors. The Texas A&M slump continues.
These cupcake games against FCS opponents can be useful as an opportunity to give your players an easier game, and for younger players on the roster to get some game time. But on the whole they aren’t that exciting for the fans and are sometimes a poisoned chalice for coaches. If you blow the opposition out then you get no credit because that’s what you should be doing; and if you struggle or even lose then the criticism from the media and fans is harsh. You only have to look at the reaction to Auburn needing overtime to beat Jacksonville State or Washington State losing to Portland State.
To be fair the game went ok apart from a slip in the second quarter where the Aggies conceded 14 points in under a minute. Following a Western Carolina touchdown, Christian Kirk fumbled the ensuing kick-off which was returned for a second touchdown. Once the game was all square the Aggies managed to slowly slip away despite Kyler Murray throwing a second interception late in the first half with just a seven point lead. But it’s clear a mid-season slump is still apparent with the Aggies.
The much maligned pass offense was down two key players on Saturday as both Josh Reynolds and Speedy Noil were suspended for breaching team rules. There’s been no official confirmation of which rules they broke, but the suspensions certainly seem to have been convenient timing considering the game they missed. The backup receivers did a solid job. Jeremy Tabuyo impressed the most with 53 yards and a touchdown catch.
It’s clear that Kyler Murray just isn’t ready to be a starting quarterback at this level of college football. He’s just not polished enough as a passer; and quarterbacks who aren’t a threat to beat teams with their arms will struggle to consistently make plays rushing the ball. Johnny Manziel put up highlight reel rushing touchdowns over his career with A&M, but he was more than capable of beating teams through the air as well. That opened up lanes for him to run. This isn’t a big criticism of Kyler Murray, as he’s only a true freshman playing in one of the toughest conferences in college football. It’s natural that it takes time to grow used to the faster pace and grow as a player. I fully expect him to come back a better player next year for the experience.
The reason we believe this is because Kyle Allen went through the exact same thing last year, taking his knocks and gradually improving before a very strong bowl game. He started this year solidly with wins against Arizona State, Arkansas and Mississippi State before struggling against Alabama. He was thrown under the bus against Ole Miss when he was injured and then benched.
The rumors of broken promises to Kyler Murray over playing time may have had more of an effect on the decision to bench Kyle Allen than his play. He’s clearly still the best quarterback in College Station. Who starts against Vanderbilt? You’d have to assume Murray at this point, but his play needs to improve to come back with a win.