Analysis: Texas A&M gets first shutout since 2004 in win over Vandy
A win over Vanderbilt isn’t normally a memorable event, especially when it’s played at night in front of only a handful of frozen fans.
And that’s a shame, because what Texas A&M did Saturday night in Nashville was something worth remembering.
It is true that the Vanderbilt offense is punchless and mostly hopeless. Still, the Texas A&M’s defense — much maligned through most of the Kevin Sumlin era since 2012 — put on a performance worth noting on Saturday night.
The final? Texas A&M 25, Vanderbilt 0. It’s the second number that’s worth noting: Since Sumlin came to Aggieland — which is also the year A&M entered the Southeastern Conference — Texas A&M hasn’t had a shutout. Not in a conference game, and not in a nonconference or bowl game. In fact, the last time Texas A&M shut out anyone was 2004.
The closest they have come under Sumlin was a 73-3 victory over Lamar in 2013. The closest they’d ever come in conference was a 58-10 win over Arkansas in 2012.
The result is somewhat mitigated by the nature of the opponent. Vanderbilt was shut out earlier this year by Houston (34-0) and the Commodores have only exceeded 20 points once this season (47 against FCS foe Austin Peay). Even so, in a season that has seen its share of peaks and values, Aggie fans ought to appreciate the moment.
It’s a positive sign for days to come.
• The quarterback position: Welcome back, Kyle Allen. At a certain point late in Saturday night’s win, the SEC Network flashed a graphic detailing the saga that has been Texas A&M’s quarterback position since the beginning of 2014. A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said after the game that the quarterback battle is effectively closed for next week’s game against LSU. But since he and his staff are now in full-fledged “let’s start thinking about 2016 mode,” the QB position will be at the forefront of that conversation.
At its core, A&M’s QB debate will center around what sort of team the Aggies think they should be. With Allen at his best, A&M can be an explosive passing team. He reads coverages well, has a rocket for an arm and a quick enough release to render pass rushes ineffective. But with freshman Kyler Murray at the position, the Aggie offense bears a closer resemblance to the halcyon days of Johnny Manziel — which is to say, if the first option doesn’t work, let the QB scramble and create chaos. The result has the potential to be either disastrous or explosive, but it’s bound to be memorable.
The suspicion is that Sumlin would prefer Allen at QB, playing like he did Saturday night by throwing for more than 300 yards, with no turnovers and everything under control. Those Manziel games were fun, but coaches age prematurely in games like that.
• Kicking and kicking and kicking: Sumlin was correct in his postgame assessment that placekicker Taylor Bertolet is “a weapon.” It’s nice to have a kicker you can rely on to make six field goals in a game, but that the same time, scoring some touchdowns while in the red zone would certainly be preferred.
• Stepping up on the road: There’s one other thing that A&M accomplished Saturday night that old-school SEC fans understand well. This Vandy game, on a frozen Saturday night in a mostly empty stadium, is the sort of environment where things feel like they have the potential to go wrong. And the Commodores are almost always good enough to wreck things if you give them the chance. So, if nothing else, A&M survived that experience, and now they can end the season on a big high with a win in Baton Rouge against LSU to close things out.
Offense: (B-plus) — When you amass 486 total yards of offense against a defense as tough as Vanderbilt’s, there aren’t too many nits to pick. But since that 486 yards only resulted in one touchdown, there’s at least one.
Defense: (A) — Vandy’s deepest penetration all day was to the A&M 26-yard line. Seriously. That’s a great performance.
Special Teams: (A) — Six made field goals, and a blocked punt. You can live with that.
Coaching: (A-minus) — Yes, it’s Vanderbilt. But still, many people had A&M on upset alert in this game, partly because Vanderbilt – especially its defense – has been very good at home. The Aggies came in well prepared on both sides of the ball and got out of town with a good win.
• Kyle Allen: 18-36, 336 yards, 1 TD
• Tra Carson: 22 carries, 126 yards
• Josh Reynolds: 3 catches, 105 yards, 1 TD
• Taylor Bertolet: 6-7 on field goals
• John Chavis: Defense allowed only 148 yards