No explanation for Texas A&M's epic failure at UCLA, not to mention no excuses
Midway through the third quarter, I had basically written a column complimenting Texas A&M for an impressive victory over UCLA.
I wrote about how running backs Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford ran over, around and through the Bruins. I wrote about how quarterbacks Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond operated the offense efficiently. I wrote about how the defense didn’t miss Myles Garrett at all.
It started out as the kind of game you wish for when you’re a columnist assigned to write a live column. Sure, you want to be entertained. But when you’re on deadline and, frankly, just want to get some sleep after a long weekend, a first-half blowout usually affords you the opportunity to do most of your work casually after intermission.
Instead, A&M turned a 44-10 lead into a 45-44 defeat. UCLA pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in college football history.
Perhaps more accurately, the Ags pulled off one of the greatest collapses in college football history. The running game went into the tank. Neither QB could make a throw. Defenders let a few potential interceptions slip right through their fingers.
As a result, instead of getting the 2017 campaign off on the right foot with a road win over a Power 5 foe, Texas A&M leaves Pasadena in a complete state of disrepair. Sixth-year coach Kevin Sumlin, already sitting on the hottest seat in the SEC, will likely have a hole burned through his khakis on the 1,500-mile flight back to College Station.
Frankly, he’d be blessed not to get fired on the tarmac at LAX. We’ve already seen that done before with Lane Kiffin at USC.
For 30 minutes, the Aggies were the better team by leaps and bounds. Starkel, making his first start at QB, let Williams and Ford do most of the damage. While he only finished 6-of-13 passing for 62 yards, his arm was hardly needed early.
Starkel eventually gave way to Mond in the second quarter, as was the plan all along for Sumlin. Similar to Starkel, Mond was less than pinpoint as a passer. However, with Williams and Ford combining for 265 yards and 5 touchdowns on 29 carries in the first half alone, all the two signal callers had to do was orchestrate clean handoffs.
On the other side of the ball, Bruins passer Josh Rosen didn’t resemble a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Due in part to A&M’s relentless pressure up front, Rosen was a mere 9-of-23 for 114 yards in the first two quarters. On his final snap of the first half, he was sacked, appeared to roll his ankle and limped back to the locker room.
Everything was going right for the Ags with a 38-10 advantage at the half. The rushing attack couldn’t be stopped. The defense was exceeding expectations against one of the most gifted field generals in America. No turnovers. Clean special teams. A program that had been predicted to finish fifth in the West — seventh and dead last by yours truly — at SEC Media Days had apparently been overlooked.
I must say, it was an easy column to write. Until the last quarter and change, when I began pounding my delete button like few times before in my career.
In the second half, despite a lead that reached 34 points at the 4:08 mark of the third quarter, Williams and Ford were held to 52 yards combined on 11 attempts. Whatever sense or urgency they ran with early had disappeared late.
Starkel ended up leaving the game due to injury — he was forced to watch the atrocity that was the second half on crutches from the sideline — so the ball was in Mond’s hand the rest of the way. Talented or not, he was a true freshman seeing his first action as a collegian. It showed. At no point did he seem comfortable pulling the trigger.
Yes, he did run for 54 yards and displayed some nice shake-and-bake. He adds another element to read-option calls that Starkel doesn’t.
Still, his right arm wasn’t ready for such a stage. Mond completed only 3-of-17 passes for 27 yards and couldn’t get Christian Kirk involved. One of the most dangeous receivers in the country recorded 2 catches for minus-1 yard.
Don’t put this loss on Mond, though. Remember, just last year at Kyle Field, Texas A&M led UCLA by a score of 24-9 late before Rosen found a way to force overtime. The Aggies were lucky to prevail in the extra period, as Trevor Knight scored the game-winning TD on a 1-yard run. Rosen nearly pulled off a miracle.
But what Rosen did Sunday was beyond miraculous. If he ends up being the top pick in the draft, it’ll be due to this game tape.
He threw for 377 yards after halftime and four touchdowns in the fourth quarter alone, including the game-winner with 43 seconds left. Rosen faked a spike and then fired a perfect fade route to the back-left pylon that connected with wideout Jordan Lasley.
Where the Aggies go from here is anyone’s guess. Starkel is probably out for a while. Veteran Jake Hubenak didn’t see any action. That means this is Mond’s team for the foreseeable future, and the SEC plays a lot more D than what he saw from the Bruins. Fortunately, he gets Nichols and Louisiana before conference play begins in Week 4.
A&M was outscored 35-0 the last 17:06. Even with a couple of cupcakes on the horizon, it’s hard to see the Ags getting off the deck.
“You don’t explain it,” Sumlin told reporters at the postgame press conference. “We’re not making excuses for anything. We didn’t get it done as coaches.”
Sumlin is right. There are no explanations for such an epic failure. But there are no excuses, either. And he knows it.