Texas A&M football: Is South Carolina the 'trap' game?
Conventional wisdom had Missouri as the trap game opponent. It’s the game that followed Texas A&M’s season-shifting victory over then-No. 1 Alabama. The Aggies and coach Jimbo Fisher weren’t having any of it. They blocked out the noise and took care of business in 35-14 fashion.
Next up, it’s the Aggies hosting South Carolina at 6:30 p.m. CT Saturday in Kyle Field. Could this be the trap game they were thinking of?
“Without a doubt,” Fisher said. “They’re 4-3. They’re on a winning streak. To come back and win a big game, for them to be able to come back like they did, they’re growing the program. They’ll come in here loose and ready to play and compete against us.
“I mean, all games are trap games. You’ve got to understand the importance of your opponent’s faceless, no matter when you play them. And I think that’s when you start to become a program, that your practices don’t reflect who you play, it reflects how you play. And that’s the most important thing.”
Settling in now as the team most expected them to be at the start of the 2021 season, the Aggies have slain the dragon, overcome the immediate hype, and return home to the friendly confines to face a South Carolina team that they own more than Aaron Rodgers owns the Bears. Texas A&M is 7-0 all-time vs. the Gamecocks.
It’s the kind of a comfort zone that screams trap game. And despite being a 3-touchdown underdog, the Gamecocks (4-3, 1-3) have actually won more games than they’ve lost. No, not inside the SEC, but overall, yes, South Carolina is a couple of victories shy of qualifying for bowl eligibility under first-year head coach Shane Beamer.
Fresh off the first conference victory with their new coach, a 21-20 squeaker last Saturday over Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks will fly into Kyle Field with confidence. And why not? The Gamecocks rank 4th in the SEC in total defense. Only Georgia and Arkansas have yielded fewer passing yardage.
Yes, if the Aggies aren’t prepared mentally as well as physically, they could get caught in this trap looking ahead to significant back-to-back SEC matchups with Auburn and Ole Miss.
Here are some keys to victory on Saturday.
Rev up the run game
It will be crucial for Texas A&M to have its run game at full speed. An offensive line that has seemingly found its way the last couple of weeks will be key in springing RB standouts Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane as it did last week against Missouri.
The duo became the first Aggies to rack up 150-plus all-purpose yards each in a game since 2018 when Christian Kirk and Trayveon Williams teamed up for 370 yards against Wake Forest. Spiller will enter the game ranked 3rd in the SEC with 659 rushing yards (94.14 ypg average) while Achane ranks 2nd in the conference averaging 6.88 yards per carry.
The Aggies are among the leaders nationally, averaging 3.0 sacks and 7.0 tackles for loss per game this season. Negative plays have played a key role in the Aggies ranking 14th nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 16.4 points per game.
They’ll need that type of effort on Saturday to continue to keep the Gamecocks from reaching the end zone. The Aggies haven’t allowed a touchdown to South Carolina in their last two meetings.
Swiss Army Knife
That’s what Fisher likes to call junior WR Ainias Smith because of his do-it-all abilities. Smith is already the only player in Texas A&M history to gain 250-plus yards as a receiver, rusher, punt returner and kickoff returner. He leads the SEC with 162 punt return yards this season on 16 returns.
Smith’s versatility must be utilized to the fullest on Saturday for the Aggies to continue their current win streak.
Kicker Seth Small will be a vital piece to the puzzle on Saturday. Hopefully, the need won’t be as crucial as it was against Alabama, but Small will need to put points on the scoreboard nonetheless. He is 3 field goals shy of the Aggies’ all-time record of 63 set by Randy Bullock (2008-11).