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3 Things we learned and what we can hope for after Texas A&M’s collapse vs. UCLA

More questions than answers, but all is not lost

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at UCLA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The quarterback situation is... ?

For now I’ll leave the questioning and criticizing of the coaches to someone else (and yes, it’s hard to avoid just going on a rant here) and focus on what we learned about what A&M has at quarterback.

Nick Starkel started and, to be honest, he just wasn’t asked to do much. The Aggies were running the ball so well that passing just wasn’t needed. He did hit a couple nice completions early, so that was encouraging... and then he broke his ankle. A devastating blow to this team, unfortunately. I did feel like Starkel showed enough in his few passing attempts to confirm that he is a good option that can take advantage of defenses that try to stack the box and stop the Aggie running game.

Kellen Mond showed the mobility that fans have wanted, but it seemed pretty apparent that he has limitations in the passing game. True freshman, on the road in his first game ever, not a pure pocket passer... I wasn’t expecting Mond to light the world on fire with his arm.

So that leaves Jake Hubenak. We know what we have (here’s the part where I bite my tongue because we all know he should have entered the game and WHY GOD WHY DID THEY NOT PUT HIM IN) with him. With Starkel now hurt and Mond struggling in the passing game, the coaches have a choice to make. Win games with Hubenak but resign yourself to the fact that the entire plan this year revolved around the two freshmen and it took just one week to abandon that plan. Or stick with Mond and know that defenses will be focusing on stopping the run and forcing him to win with his arm, which likely isn’t happening much in year one.

The likely choice will be somewhere in the middle, play them both and hope that Mond develops quickly enough to be a viable passing threat in a month, but either way, the UCLA game was a disaster, worst case scenario situation with how the QB situation should have worked.

The Aggies can run the ball and play defense

I mean did you SEE that first half??

The Aggies can’t run the ball, or pass, or play defense

I mean, did you SEE that second half??

Ok that’s a cheap way for me to write this, but it’s pretty fascinating. I can’t recall ever seeing such a case of complete and utter dominance switching so starkly within one game. A&M wasn’t getting lucky in the first half. They were physically dominating. They were doing it on both sides. And then, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, the switch flipped completely. There is so much more to be said and much of it already has, so for now let’s just look ahead.

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at UCLA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The optimistic outlook

Even I, the optimist, can admit that this is hard to write right now. But here is the good:

  • A&M was the better team. You don’t go on the road against UCLA and build a 44-10 lead if you suck. So there is good there. A&M did that and dominated. They lost, yes, but it was basically a one in a million event. But it doesn’t change the fact that the Aggies have a lot of positives to look at.
  • If I’m the coach, that’s what I’m telling my team. I’m telling them “hey, we lost, and that’s on me for doing (insert bad coaching decisions here), but you guys went out and whipped them and it took about ten lucky breaks for them to even be in the game.” And yes, that last part is true. A&M choked and Sumlin/Mazzone/Chavis all crapped the bed and were a factor in the loss, but UCLA getting incredibly lucky was necessary too. The Aggies were the better team (moral victory, yadda yadda yadda).
  • We know now that the Aggies running game is strong enough to be “that thing” that defenses have to adjust to. So yes, defenses will stack the box and force A&M to pass the ball, but at least we have established that the run game is good enough to force that adjustment in the first place. What will that do? It will create big play opportunities passing the ball. A&M wasn’t able to capitalize on them in the second half against UCLA, but Jake Hubenak will be able to, and in time, Kellen Mond will too. All is not lost.
  • The Aggie defense looked really stout in standard situations. Yes, Drew Rosen carved them up late, but again, the Aggies dropped a few easy interceptions, Rosen completed a few VERY lucky passes, and basically everything that could go wrong for A&M did. But look back at that first half. The Wrecking Crew dominated. That is the optimistic view for what this defense can be. We saw it. It can continue.
  • Obviously this loss was incredibly deflating. The hot seat got blazing hot for Sumlin. Everyone thinks the sky is falling. That said, we saw a lot of good that can still lead to a good season. The offensive line was very good and didn’t really struggle as much until UCLA started bringing an extra defender into the box. The running backs? Elite. Receiver still has a long way to go but these next two weeks will provide ample opportunity to grow.
  • I had A&M going 9-3 if they beat UCLA. Logic would say that I still believe in an 8-4 season, maybe 9-3 if things go right. Obviously losing Starkel throws a wrench in that though. I would still say Bama and LSU are losses, and it’s hard to imagine sweeping the rest of the schedule, but I am a believer in Jake Hubenak. This team is still looking like an 8-4 team to me. The defense will never be as bad as that last quarter. It’s not possible. The defense will be closer to what they were in the first half.

I know that it was painful. But taking the emotion out of it, A&M showed a lot of good things in building a 34 point lead on the road against a real team. There’s no reason they can’t build on those things and improve on the areas that cost them.