After a four game stretch that included three losses and just 21.75 points per game for the Aggies, a much-needed "break" appeared on the schedule in the form of FCS opponent Western Carolina. It was supposed to be a comfortable win in which A&M dominated from start to finish and got things feeling good again. Instead, the Aggies found themselves tied at 14 midway through the second quarter and didn't really pull away until the late third quarter.
That said, let's go for one positive, one negative, and one question.
Positive: Kyler Murray got much-needed reps and Kyle Allen showed positive signs.
This is the part that has Aggie fans talking the most this week. Kyler Murray was hit and miss, although I maintain that he played much better than the average Aggie is giving him credit for. He started the game with an awful interception but after that was much better, leading several good drives and making some good throws.
He was also playing without two of his four starting wide receivers, a fact that seems to be overlooked by many fans who were underwhelmed with Murray's numbers.
Overall, he made a handful of big mistakes and could have thrown a couple more interceptions if the defense had caught them. There's no denying that he needs to eliminate those errors if he is on the field for the next couple weeks. But the good news is that he got the reps, he got the win, and he has things on film that he can learn from.
The other good news is that Kyle Allen made his return, and in his limited action looked very good. Through five games, he was the best quarterback in the SEC this year. The struggles that followed have been well documented, but if he is healthy again, he is capable of beating any team, in my opinion.
Allen looked decisive, comfortable, and threw the ball well enough to certainly appear healthy. I expect that we won't know who will start this week's game until Friday, but I'm going with the glass half full view on the quarterback situation.
Negative: the team was sloppy overall and took too long to pull away.
This is hard to quantify, but everyone who watched the game seemed to agree: it was frustrating and the Aggies just didn't look like a good team.
As usual, A&M did some good things but also seemed to be just a little off with finishing drives and executing. On the third drive of the game, Murray threw a perfect pass to Tra Carson that would have either been a touchdown or a 1st and Goal, but Carson dropped it. A&M then missed a field goal.
Later, Murray threw a perfect pass to Jeremy Tabuyo but Tabuyo slowed up and then wasn't able to make the play, which would have been a 20+ yard gain. Another drive saw A&M settle for a field goal because on 3rd and 1, the Aggies ran play action but didn't block anyone and Murray was sacked.
Other times, Murray missed receivers or just made bad reads.
Defensively, while the Aggies certainly did some good things, allowing Western Carolina to go 82 yards in two plays for a touchdown was frustrating. Fumbling the ensuing kickoff and seeing WCU scoop and score for 14 points in nine seconds was downright maddening.
The Aggies still seem to be playing in a bit of a funk. The simple fact is this: A&M must execute better, both offensively and defensively, if they expect to beat Vanderbilt.
Question: How will the quarterbacks be managed going forward?
Kevin Sumlin now has to decide where to go from here. Did Murray do enough, despite the mistakes, to earn the start against Vanderbilt? Or is Kyle Allen healthy and back in position to close out the year as the starter? Murray wasn't benched for poor play Saturday, to be clear. Sumlin said after the game that they had wanted to get Allen a full quarter of action.
Based on Sumlin's comments the last few weeks, he will likely declare that this week will be an open competition and that whoever practices better will play. But will Sumlin prefer to let them split reps and compete or to declare a starter early in the week so that one can get first team reps and really hammer down the game plan?
Allen still only has about 12 career starts, and Murray has three. The "veteran" here is still just a true sophomore who hasn't had real reps against an FBS defense in three weeks. Murray, on the other hand, is coming off of three straight starts but obviously lacks experience and if he starts, you have to understand that there will be rough spots
Handling this decision for the next couple weeks is critical in giving A&M its best chance to win. Believe it or not, there's a very real scenario in which A&M would finish the season in second place (tied) in the SEC West if they can win these last two games.