Maybe it’s not the player; maybe it’s the system.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and his offensive staff might not have gotten enough credit for their tutelage while Heisman winner Johnny Manziel was leading the Aggies, but after watching Kenny Hill, a first-year starter, pick apart South Carolina in Williams-Brice Stadium, there has to be something to Sumlin’s method.
Hill, who played poised and confident, set a school record by throwing for 511 yards and three touchdowns while leading the Aggies to an improbable 52-28 upset.
It was a little like the performance Manziel gave during his first start against Florida — but better. In fact, Hill shattered Manziel’s passing yardage record and had a season opener that rivaled the performance Jameis Winston gave against Pittsburgh during his first start.
Of course it wasn’t just Hill alone. He got major help from what might be the best offensive line in the SEC and Malcome Kennedy slid into the role of go-to receiver with 14 catches for 137 yards. Three different receivers — Josh Reynolds, Edward Pope and Ricky Seals-Jones — had touchdown catches while three different running backs handled the load on the ground.
But what was most impressive was the A&M defense.
Coming into the game there was a lot of talk about the vaunted South Carolina offense that wouldn’t slip even with quarterback Connor Shaw gone. And, at times, that offense made A&M look foolish. But for the most part, the Aggies defense held its own against the Gamecocks and looked head and shoulders above what they were a year ago.
What A&M showed on Thursday was that the three first-round picks that left a year were just a part of the team, not the whole team. While Sumlin and his staff’s coaching should be applauded, the program’s recruiting should be celebrated. No one saw this win coming. No one thought this team could be competitive without the likes of Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews, but it wasn’t just competitive, it was dominant and scary and, yes it’s early, but it’s definitely putting a new perspective on the SEC West race.
“There was a whole bunch of things being said about us,” Sumlin said during his postgame on-field comments. “We came into this game and no one gave us a chance. I think we proved that we’re not a one-trick pony. We’re not where we want to be, but I’ll put it this way, we’re not going anywhere anytime soon.”
Meanwhile South Carolina has to be stunned. This is a team that was ranked in the top 10 to start the season, the preseason favorite to win the SEC East and a team many thought could be in the four-team playoff by the time the dust settled.
But very little went well for the Gamecocks. The offense looked disjointed at times, the running game, which was supposed to be a strength, managed just 67 yards, and the defense, well, I don’t even have to say anything about that.
Spurrier: "Did anybody like that 3-4 defense? But I don’t know if it would have mattered if we’d play a 6-6 defense."— Josh Kendall (@JoshatTheState) August 29, 2014
This is the most lopsided season-opening home loss since Duke beat the Gamecocks 31-0 in 1960, and the game snaps an 18-game home winning streak, the longest in the nation. The 24-point margin is the worst home loss in coach Steve Spurrier's career.
A&M now has games against Lamar, Rice and SMU before it drops back into conference play against Arkansas on Sept. 27. South Carolina’s schedule isn’t nearly as forgiving. It hosts East Carolina next week before Georgia rolls into town. It has a lot of work to do before then, including shoring up its struggling 3-4 defense.
For more Texas A&M news, visit AggieYell.com.
For more South Carolina news, visit GamecockCentral.com.
- - - - - - -
And don’t forget to keep up with all of Graham’s thoughts, witty comments and college football discussions on Facebook