War Eagle Extra

Ryan Black commentary: Texas A&M's downward trend unlikely to change Saturday

AUBURN, Ala. — If Texas A&M's season was represented on a graph, the line would trend upward for the first five games. Texas A&M got off to a fantastic start in the opener, upending South Carolina 52-28 on the road to end the Gamecocks' 18-game home win streak.

From there, the Aggies returned to the Lone Star State and beat up on a trio of in-state foes (Lamar, Rice and Southern Methodist) by a combined score of 169-19. (Truth be told, Texas A&M might have been able to top all three of those squads with its second-team offense and defense playing the entire game.)

Next up was Arkansas, in a neutral site game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Texas A&M had to fight and claw and sweat for the first time this fall, but it was able to emerge with a 35-28 victory in overtime, giving the Aggies their first 5-0 start since 2001.

That's where the graph starts to shift, though. And not a subtle, small change downward. No, this is a straight nosedive. First was a 48-31 road defeat to Mississippi State, followed by a 35-20 loss a week later at home to Ole Miss.

The lowest point was still to come, however.

Traveling to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for the first time since a 29-24 triumph in 2012 — which stood as Alabama's only loss during a national championship season — Texas A&M hoped to get things back on the right track. Any hope that might happen was extinguished almost instantly. The Crimson Tide scored on the opening possession of the contest and never let up. It was 45-0 at the half. By game's end, Alabama had a 59-0 victory in hand.

It was the second-worst loss in Texas A&M's history; first was an equally dismal pummeling by Oklahoma in 2003, when the Sooners walloped the Aggies 77-0.

So after three straight losses, one would have thought the Aggies' first open date of the season came at the perfect time to lick their wounds and try to figure out how things had gone so wrong, so quickly.

Things took a turn for the bizarre at the beginning of last week, however, when the team announced it was reopening its quarterback competition. Yes, Kenny Hill's spot. The position the sophomore signal-caller played so well early this season, his parents had already filed papers to trademark their son's new moniker, "Kenny Trill."

But the decision to hold a midseason battle at quarterback came into better focus prior to kickoff last Saturday: Hill had been suspended for two games for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

His replacement, true freshman Kyle Allen, looked like, well, a true freshman making his first career start last week. He failed to complete even 50 percent (13-for-28) of his attempts and barely inched above the 100-yard barrier (106). He tossed one touchdown but balanced that out with an interception.

And Texas A&M had to fight to the bitter end before finally putting away Louisiana-Monroe to take a 21-16 victory. (Interesting tidbit: The 21 points were the fewest the Aggies have scored in a win since noted offensive mastermind Kevin Sumlin became coach in 2012.)

To say Texas A&M is in a bit of disarray at the moment would be a fair assessment. (Remember the graph?)

Of course, you wouldn't know that by listening to Gus Malzahn. Throughout the week, Auburn's coach has talked up his opponent to the extent you'd never know it's a team that didn't score a point the last time it played in the state of Alabama. Or that it almost lost to a Sun Belt Conference foe — at home — a week ago.

Instead, Malzahn's phrase of choice has been how the Aggies were ranked in the top 10 "about a month ago."

Sumlin, for his part, was a bit more realistic. Auburn is ranked No. 3 in every major poll — including the only one that counts now: the College Football Playoff rankings — for a reason. That's why Sumlin knows the Aggies need to have a near-flawless performance.

"For us to go over there and win it’s going to take our ‘A’ game, but we know that," he said. "I like where we are. I like our attitude right now. I like the way we’re practicing. I think our guys are in a place right now where we have some guys playing that haven’t played a lot that are anxious to play and anxious to prove themselves."

In all likelihood, that pent-up excitement will mean nothing once time expires Saturday. Any result that doesn't involve the Tigers winning by double-digits would register as a surprise. Still, South Carolina proved how little the oddsmakers knew the last time Auburn played in Jordan-Hare Stadium, as the three-touchdown underdogs gave the hosts a scare in a game that came down to the final play.

Texas A&M is a three-touchdown underdog itself as of Thursday afternoon. Given their diminishing returns in the last four outings, though, the Aggies don't inspire confidence they could duplicate the Gamecocks' showing.

The graph doesn't lie.

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