COLUMBIA, S.C. — Texas A&M has done this before. The No. 9 Aggies beat South Carolina 24-13 on Saturday to start their third season in a row at 5-0.
In 2014 and 2015, the Aggies (5-0, 3-0 Southeastern) finished 3-5, but this season, coach Kevin Sumlin sees a team prepared to handle adversity. After all, they overcame having four starters out for injuries and giving up a 75-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage to win a SEC game on the road.
“They settled down after that first play. There was never panic on the sideline. There was never guys pressing — defense keeping us in the game, offense moving the ball in the second half,” Sumlin said.
Trevor Knight, who came into the game second in the SEC in total offense, threw for 206 yards and ran for 84 more. After that opening TD run from A.J. Turner, the Aggies allowed just 142 yards over the next three quarters and kept South Carolina (2-3, 1-3) from getting in the end zone again.
Knight also had a fumble and an interception, but the senior said that didn’t dampen his enthusiasm at the Aggies start.
“There’s no such thing as an ugly win. Every time you get a win it’s a big time deal. We still have a zero after that dash,” Knight said.
The Gamecocks had chances to end their six-game losing streak to ranked opponents, but kicker Elliot Fry missed two field goals and Jamarcus King fumbled a punt with 3:12 left in the game.
“We’re doing a lot of things better but we don’t have a lot of margin for error,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said.
TEXAS A&M: The Aggie offense remains quite balanced. They ran for 216 yards and passed for 206 yards. Texas A&M came into the game joining Louisville and Oregon as the only teams with 1,000 yards passing and rushing. Armani Watts keeps being a critical cog in the defense. After causing a fumble and recovering it on his own goal line against Arkansas, Watts tipped a pass then dove to pick it off against South Carolina.
SOUTH CAROLINA: A quarterback controversy returns for the Gamecocks. After coach Will Muschamp spent September praising Brandon McIlwain, the freshman entered the fourth quarter with fewer yards passing (34) than punter Sean Kelly who gained 36 yards on a fake punt pass. Muschamp put in season opener starter Perry Orth, who went 11-for-18 for 138 yards in the final quarter. Muschamp said he only pulled McIlwain to spread the field in the fourth quarter and he will evaluate both quarterbacks to see who plays next week.
At least three teams ahead of Texas A&M in the AP Top 25 will lose Saturday, giving the Aggies room to move up. But No. 10 Washington had an impressive 44-6 win over No. 7 Stanford on Friday, and No. 11 Tennessee beat No. 25 Georgia on the road quite improbably on a last play Hail Mary after a Georgia Hail Mary so Texas A&M may get jumped too.
Four starters were out for Texas A&M, including last year’s SEC sack leader Myles Garrett, two receivers in Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones and right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor.
Knight expects everyone to be back next week. “Those guys needed a week to heal up,” he said.
TEXAS A&M: The Aggies can show they are playoff contenders in their next two games. No. 11 Tennessee comes to College Station next week and Sumlin and his players said they saw the final game-winning pass when South Carolina showed it on the stadium’s giant screen during a timeout.
“I turned around just in time to see the catch and somebody told me it was the last play of the game. I said ‘wow, that must have been something else,'” Sumlin said .
Then after an open date, Texas A&M is off to No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 22.
SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks’ five-game home stand continues as No. 25 Georgia makes an unusual October trip to South Carolina.
AP college football coverage at www.collegefootball.ap.org