Aggies roll, set up LSU clash
Surprising Blazers provide little competition; attention now turns to elusive win over Tigers
COLLEGE STATION — Texas A&M has cleared the decks for its biggest game of the year — its last one of the regular season.
The Aggies shoved aside Alabama-Birmingham 41-20 on Saturday night at Kyle Field to make way for the big one, at least in their minds: playing host to No. 7 LSU on Thanksgiving weekend.
A&M had scheduled UAB, whose program was on hiatus at the time, nearly three years ago with the notion the contest would serve as a glorified scrimmage for the ballyhooed LSU fi- nale.
The Blazers, having won nine of their 10 games rolling into Kyle Field, had other intentions, but they were wiped out from the first play on. That’s when the Aggies’ Brian Johnson knocked the ball out of the hands of the Blazers’ Andre Wilson, and Larry Pryor returned the fumble 17 yards for a touchdown — nine seconds into the game.
UAB (9-2, 7-0 C-USA) wasn’t
ready to roll over just yet, and marched the ball 75 yards on 10 plays to tie the game on a 9-yard touchdown catch by Wilson, making up for his early miscue. It turned out that was the Blazers’ high-water mark, as the Aggies (7-4, 4-3 SEC) soon punched holes in their early buoyancy.
Later in the first quarter, A&M running back Trayveon Williams went right, and then went right again, scooting to the edge and outrunning the Blazers defense for a 9-yard touchdown, giving the Aggies a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Along the way, A&M’s Braden Mann of Cy-Fair set an NCAA record with his 14th punt of 60plus yards this season, surpassing the mark he held with Wake Forest’s Ryan Plackemeier, who booted 13 of at least 60 yards in 2005.
Williams, the SEC’s leading rusher, followed up his 228 yards rushing a week prior in the Aggies’ victory over Mississippi with 167 against the Blazers.
UAB entered the game among the national leaders in a handful of defensive categories, including third in total defense in allowing 261 yards per game, but the Aggies had blasted by that total in the third quarter, and finished with 444.
The Aggies’ 24 points at halftime also equaled the amount the four previous schools from Texas that UAB had played — Rice, North Texas, UTEP and UTSA — had totaled in their losses to the Blazers. UAB had outscored those Lone Star state foes 142-24.
A&M added scores in the second half on a Seth Small 25-yard field goal and 25-yard and 20yard touchdown pass from Mond to tight end Jace Sternberger. The Aggies led 34-7 early in the fourth quarter when A&M running back Kwame Etwi fumbled and the Blazers recovered on the A&M 11-yard line, and then capitalized on another touchdown catch by Wilson, this one from 10 yards out.
UAB kicker Nick Vogel had already missed three field goals at the point — with one blocked by A&M defensive lineman Jayden Peevy — before Peevy collected another block on the extra point, and A&M led 34-13 with a little more than 11 minutes remaining in the game. The Blazers added another too-little, toolate touchdown on a 10-yard run by Spencer Brown with 4:44 remaining, to give the game its final score.
The Aggies will now try to defeat LSU for the first time in seven tries since entering the SEC in 2012. Their inability to do so was a reason Kevin Sumlin was fired after six seasons as A&M’s coach about this time last year. The Aggies then lured Jimbo Fisher from Florida State to make headway against the program they consider their chief rival in the SEC West.
Fisher is a former LSU offensive coordinator who was nearly hired by the Tigers on a couple of occasions before opting to stick with FSU a few years ago. He won a national title in 2013 with the Seminoles, in his fourth season in Tallahassee, Fla.
A&M also is trying to finish with a winning record in SEC play for the first time since their initial season in the league six years ago, when it was 6-2, third in the SEC West behind national champion Alabama and LSU, and No. 5 nationally.
The Aggies have since tallied four league marks of 4-4 and one of 3-5 in 2014. A&M will play in its school-record 10th consecutive bowl, with the Texas Bowl on Dec. 27 in NRG Stadium a popular choice among postseason prognosticators.
A&M could push its way into a more prominent bowl, however, with a victory over LSU.
Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams celebrates a 9-yard score in the first quarter Saturday at Kyle Field.
Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond runs past UAB’s Jamell Garcia-Williams on Saturday.