Texas A&M defeated South Carolina 35-28 Saturday at Kyle Field behind a strong performance from freshman quarterback Kyler Murray and a defense that once again stiffened in the second half. What did we learn?
Kyler Murray is capable of leading this team.
It was fair to question whether or not Murray, who had only played sparingly prior to Saturday, was ready to take over and play mistake-free football for four quarters. But not only did he do so, throwing 28 passes without an interception, he also was the most dynamic player on the field, accounting for nearly 400 yards of offense and providing the offensive spark the Aggies had been lacking in recent weeks.
That he was able to run (156 yards on 20 carries) was not a surprise. Murray has blazing speed and great natural ability in the running game. But that he was able to pass so accurately (71%) while keeping the ball out of harm's way was impressive. He played a very good overall game and gave the Aggie coaches (and fans) plenty to be excited about.
It will get tougher, as South Carolina has one of the worst defenses in the SEC, but Murray appeared to be pretty far along.
Donavan Wilson continues to have a nose for the ball.
Wilson has been talked about quite a bit this season as he always seems to be involved in big plays on the defense. Sacks, forced and recovered fumbles, and interceptions keep showing up in his stat sheet. But 2/3 of the way through the season, let's look at the actual numbers on that.
Overall, Wilson has five interceptions, six tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. But the most impressive part? In the eight games he has played this year, he has been in on a turnover (or two) in every single game except one.
The Aggies used to have a player that had a nose for the football like that, defensive back Jay Brooks, who played at A&M from 1997-2001. He made enough timely big plays to earn the nickname "Big Play Jay." Part of what Brooks had a knack for was blocking kicks, which is about the only thing Wilson hasn't done yet.
But Wilson has managed a higher ratio of big plays this year than Jay Brooks ever did. He has stripped the ball, he has recovered it, he has intercepted passes in dramatic fashion in tight man coverage, he has read the quarterback's eyes and intercepted passes in zone coverage, and he has taken one of those to the house (Saturday vs. South Carolina) for a touchdown that was much-needed.
The law of averages would suggest that eventually, Wilson will actually have a quiet game. But that fact that he hasn't had one since September is worthy of high praise.
Myles Garrett also has a knack for big plays at big moments.
It would be easy to talk about Garrett every single week. While Aggie fans certainly appreciate him, he has been so consistently excellent that it just becomes expected of him that he sack the quarterback and force a fumble at some point.
But it's been impressive to note just how often his biggest moments have happened during crunch time. Saturday he did it again, as he notched a sack and a forced fumble on South Carolina's final drive as they attempted to tie the game. He finished with two sacks.
As opposing teams have focused on stopping Garrett by any means necessary, he has had to endure long stretches of working very hard without seeing sacks show up in the stat sheet. Yet on multiple occasions, he has broken through and helped the Aggies clinch a victory by sacking the quarterback when the Aggies absolutely needed it. In fact, he has forced a fumble in five of the six games A&M has played this season against Power 5 opponents, and the one game (Alabama) that he didn't, he blocked a punt.
Late sacks against Arizona State, Arkansas, Mississippi State, and now South Carolina have all helped the Aggies clinch victory. Even in the Ole Miss game, one of the two game where he went sackless, he single-handedly caused the turnover (batted a pass and then caught it) that led to A&M's only points of the game.
Like Wilson, Garrett has shown up with big, game-changing plays in almost every single game. With a 10+ win season still in sight, Garrett and Wilson will have to keep showing up with big plays at opportune times.