Texas A&M breathes sigh of relief after South Carolina scare, but Aggies know there’s an elephant in the room

0
46

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Texas A&M’s Jace Sternberger ran toward the team’s sideline, leaped and waved his arms up and down to elicit cheers from the visiting fans at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Eventually, the A&M supporters complied with the junior tight end’s request in the final minute of the No. 22 Aggies’ 26-23 win over South Carolina. A&M had sealed its third straight SEC win, but perhaps the uneasiness from a frantic finish made fans reluctant to celebrate.

A&M survived a late rally from the Gamecocks that ended after a failed onside kick. And for the third straight week, the Aggies’ offense was limited to two touchdowns in regulation.

It hasn’t cost A&M yet, but it might eventually as the Aggies (5-2, 3-1) continue their march through conference play. Even a late touchdown that ended up being vital failed to soothe A&M coach Jimbo Fisher’s frustration about the lack of points.

“It’s not a problem till it’s a problem,” Fisher said of the lack of touchdowns. “We gotta fix that.”

Fisher may have been indicating it could be an issue later in the season. But the inability to end drives in the end zone is the reason South Carolina (3-3, 2-3) hung around at home.

A&M led 16-0 before the Gamecocks found their offensive rhythm. South Carolina used two drives at the end of the third quarter to turn a potential A&M runaway into another tight finish.

Only two of A&M’s five red zone drives ended with touchdowns. Another possession in the second quarter stalled out 5 yards outside South Carolina’s 20-yard line and ended with a missed field goal attempt.

Luckily for the Aggies, backup freshman kicker Seth Small salvaged points out of most of those drives. Small made four of his five field goal attempts, including a 52-yarder that snapped a stretch of three consecutive misses over the last two weeks.

“That’s a really big-time factor,” A&M sophomore quarterback Kellen Mond said. “When we get in the red zone, we want to make sure we’re putting up seven points on the board instead of three.”

Even though the offense wasn’t at its best, it was an important game, especially for Mond. With South Carolina’s defense selling out to stop the run and force A&M to be effective through the air, Mond made the necessary throws to move the offense.

He was 25 of 37 passing for 353 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. After Mond established a connection with Sternberger, he settled into a groove. The majority of the quarterback’s passing yards (303) came after the first quarter, with 145 of those going to his tight end.

Fisher said Mond was “outstanding” and praised his growth and maturity in key moments, including a red zone touchdown with 1:36 left that gave the Aggies a 26-16 lead.

Had they settled for a field goal on that drive, the Aggies could not have withstood a South Carolina touchdown with 48 seconds left that resulted in some late-game queasiness for A&M fans.

Sternberger said the offense knew it should have capitalized on those early trips into the Gamecocks’ territory that ended in field goals, but the offense kept telling itself it needed to get over the hump.

The tight end said there was another obstacle the team needed to overcome. Throughout the week, the players were reminded about previous teams’ inability to capitalize on strong starts to the season.

“We took that personal this week, that we were able to get over that hump,” Sternberger said. “We were able to show that today.”

During A&M’s three-game SEC win streak, the Aggies have scored just enough points to secure victories. A&M’s margin of victory was less than seven points in all of those contests.

If A&M can get the ball in the end zone more often, the Aggies won’t be as frazzled later in the season. After the game, several players ran to the locker room before they were reminded about the celebratory “War Hymn,” which doesn’t happen after losses.

As A&M senior defensive end Landis Durham put it eloquently, “Our score was bigger than theirs, so it’s a win.”

This Topic is Missing Your Voice.

Source : https://sportsday.dallasnews.com/college-sports/collegesports/2018/10/13/texas-am-breathes-sigh-relief-after-south-carolina-scare-aggies-know-elephant-room