Right now America’s coaches are speaking to their players about the many lessons the game of football is teaching them. Football, it is said, provides the roadmap for educating young men on the pivotal role perseverance will play in their lives. They learn that adversity and competition are two of the greatest nemeses to be conquered. They’re very serious threats, indeed, yet they are unavoidable. Successfully handling each of these antagonists will make players stronger and more confident when the next challenge arises – whether it is on or off the field.
Normally you can determine how a team’s season is going merely by listening to what the coach is telling his players. Coaches must adequately address adversity or, in many cases, success – as each is extremely important from a team standpoint.
Good coaches use a combination of different approaches, as is likely the case this week in Aggieland. When you’re about to go on the road after playing four straight at home, as are the Aggies, the road warrior ‘psychology’ kicks in. The ‘away’ game is a necessary evil in the sports world and must be approached strategically and intelligently. All stadiums are not created equally.
A&M is about to embark on a two-game road trip for its fifth and sixth games of the season, just as it did in 2012 under the proven road-master, Kevin Sumlin. The first stop is Fayetteville, Arkansas and the second is two weeks later, in Oxford.
If last season’s results are any indication, both of these road games will be much closer than the A&M faithful expect. In 2012, the roles were reversed and one of the locales was different. The Ags first headed to Ole Miss prior to playing the postponement game in Shreveport vs. Louisiana Tech. As memory serves, the Aggies barely escaped each of those venues with two very narrow victories, although they were double-digit favorites in both.
First, the Aggies headed to Oxford installed as a 12-point favorite over the young Rebels. With five minutes to play, the Rebels were poised to hand the new entry into the SEC its first road loss ever in conference play. Then Johnny Manziel happened. After barely escaping a safety, Manziel threw deep on third down, hitting his receiver dead-on to move the ball out to midfield. The rest is A&M lore, and while the Aggies have indeed lost three of five at home, they’ve yet to lose an SEC game on the road (4-0).
Ole Miss is the only ‘last-minute’ comeback on Manziel’s resume, and you’d better believe the Rebs will be out to cause the Maroon some heavy bleeding for that 30-27 loss. Their brilliant backs and receivers along with a beautifully composed scheme will be a handful for the A&M defense.
Following the game against the Rebels, the Louisiana Tech contest featured almost 1,300 yards and a final score of 59-57. Manziel threw for 396 yards and ran for 181 as Texas A&M ended Louisiana Tech’s 12-game regular-season winning streak. The Aggies held leads of 27-0 and 39-16 (at halftime) before the Bulldogs all came almost the way back. A&M was a 10-point favorite when this one kicked off.
I’m thinking Floyd Mayweather did not have $200K wagered on this game and if he did, he wasn’t tweeting about it. Perhaps he went the first half route as he did with SMU last week, but we’ll never know. One thing’s for sure; the
“players” in the desert love Johnny Manziel.
And who did the Aggies beat at home 58-10 before heading to Oxford last season? That’s right; the Arkansas Razorbacks. Last year, the Aggies rampaged for 714 yards at home against the hapless Hogs in the season’s fourth game. The 2012 and 2013 teams look very familiar at this point, although somewhat weaker defensively this year.
Texas A&M heads to Arkansas this Saturday in an eerily similar position
as the team that arrived in Oxford last season – a touchdown favorite and once-beaten at home. We’ve seen what can happen. While Alabama refused to call A&M a “revenge” game a couple of weeks ago, there’s little doubt the Razorbacks will be much less reticent to indeed call a spade a spade.
They should be mentally prepared for the chase, particularly after blowing a big lead at Rutgers over the weekend and being totally embarrassed last year in College Station. There were even locals talking about leaving the SEC after that one. This new Arkansas coaching staff will soon find out what kind of character this team has. It is a pivotal game in the Razorbacks’ season.
Like Arkansas this season, Ole Miss had lost the preceding game before
playing the Aggies last year. The Rebels’ loss, however, was at Alabama, one they entered as a 31-point underdog. They did eventually lose, 33-14, but bounced back strongly against the Ags. It remains to be seen how the Razorbacks will respond from last week’s loss, but one can imagine their coaches are emphasizing what a win over A&M could mean.
It is important for the Aggies to understand they can’t just mail in these next two games – in spite of the fact that Johnny Manziel is playing better than ever. They must keep in mind that although Coach Sumlin’s winning road streak remains intact from 2011, continuing from when he was at the University of Houston, strange things do happen on the road.
It is precisely for this reason coaches try to convey another important lesson to their players: In football, as in life, it’s often when things look the rosiest that the bottom suddenly falls out. This should be this week’s primary focus for the Aggies.