The 35-28 win over the Arkansas Razorbacks proved that this 2014 Texas A&M Football team can find ways to finish out tight football games. This is primarily attributed to an increased depth at the defensive positions, but head coach Kevin Sumlin talked about just how much senior leadership means to this team at today's press conference.
There's been a lot said about the young players on this team getting a lot of accolades, but we wouldn't have won that game without our older players playing the way they did. Deshazor Everett, 16 or 17 tackles, playing special teams; Howard Matthews making critical plays on play-action passes, tackling guys in the run game; Malcome Kennedy, coming out of the game and making plays. We've needed some of our older players to step up and there were some unsung heroes in that game.
On Leadership, Malcome Kennedy, and Injury Protocols
One of the best displays of the leadership on this team came as Coach Sumlin discussed Malcome Kennedy's role in rallying the team as they headed into the locker room at halftime, down 21-14.
At halftime I walked in with something I was going to say, I was the last guy in and Malcome Kennedy was standing at the door talking to everybody and he said, 'I've got something I've got to say.' I listened and I was like, 'That's better than anything I could say.' And we started looking at offensive adjustments.
Members of the media poked and prodded both players and coaches to find out what was said by Kennedy in the locker room, but no one would repeat it.
Sumlin highlighted the maturity the team displayed during the game by having "real communication instead of yelling, finger-pointing" on the sidelines, and discussed how the actions of guys like Malcome Kennedy establish a foundation of leadership that the younger players can latch onto going forward.
Malcome Kennedy's leadership was on full display during all phases of the game, but to the fans it was primarily when he returned to the game after being previously injured, and led his team on key drives including the game winning touchdown in overtime. Injuries have been a hot topic this week after the mishandling of Michigan quarterback Shane Morris by Coach Brady Hoke, landing both the Michigan coach and AD in hot water. Kevin Sumlin was asked about how his team handles injury communications on the sidelines:
You see our training staff all wearing earpieces and they're in communication all the time about what's going on. I have the ability, in communication with them, to know what's happening. Someone will come to me and let me know, 'So-and-so is out,' and what the issue is during the game. I relay the information to the coordinators. But the notification process is me and Jeff Banks, the special teams coach. The medical staff is communicating with the player and that's why you're being notified when guys are taken to the locker room, because I'm not paying attention to that. That's the protocol here.
A direct and concise answer like that is sure to have Michigan fans beside themselves, as Bruce Feldman revealed today that Michigan had interviewed Coach Kevin Sumlin in 2011, but opted to take soon to be released "Michigan Man" Brady Hoke instead.
On Youthful Struggles at Quarterback and Linebacker
One of the younger players that seemed to struggle over the weekend was Kenny Hill, as some continue to question his accuracy deep, and his poise as he was being challenged with a deficit for the first time.
When asked about Hill's performance, Coach Sumlin deflected the blame towards the role players that also under-performed at times:
Just like you've heard me say before, the quarterback gets too much credit when we win and all the blame when we're struggling. We had a bunch of dropped balls, bunch of penalties, a lot of things that contributed to us not starting fast besides the quarterback not being where he needed to be.
When asked the same questions, Offensive Coordinator Jake Spavital stated his overwhelming confidence in Kenny Hill, and that this should be obvious as they didn't move away from the deep shots late into the game.
Another unit that showed some major weaknesses at times were the linebackers. Our own Ranger222 discussed in depth the same points that Coach Sumlin made today:
Jordan is still coming off that ankle, I saw him make some plays; he didn't shoot it as much as he has in the past. You can see the difference Shaan Washington makes for us. He's explosive, he can make plays others can't. Donnie Baggs has really improved; from where he was a year ago to where he is now, he's a different guy.
Justin Bass has really given us the opportunity - because he floats around as the missing piece - he doesn't get enough credit. He runs down on kickoff, makes a tackle, Jordan gets dinged up and he goes running in there at MIKE.
Are we perfect? No. We miss A.J. Hilliard because he was in line to have a special season and he was playing really well against South Carolina. Justin's really helped in that situation to keep the other guys fresh on the field.
On the Upcoming Game with Mississippi State
Coach Sumlin talked up the Mississippi State Bulldogs, making it clear that "This team is as good as anybody we're going to play this year." Sumlin was asked if Arkansas' running attack made preperation for the Bulldogs any easier, but Sumlin was quick to point out that the teams play "Two completely different styles," and that Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott is "playing at a high level" that will make the play-action passing attack "deadly." As Defensive Coordinator Mark Snyder would later say about Dak Prescott and the MSU attack:
He's [Dak] really good. He's the cog that makes the engine go, he's got real leadership skills.
...What matters to me is the different type of run game they bring to the table, it's not running backs pounding at you, it's a big quarterback trying to run over you."
Coach Spavital described his perception of the MSU defensive line, a unit on a team which Sumlin earlier described as "a complete team":
They're probably the largest team we'll face all season. They're about 300 pounds across the board, their linebackers are 250 and can run. ...They're very talented in rush defense... But we have faced them before and we're familiar with them. A majority of our offensive line has seen these guys play.
The Arkansas game was predicted to be a close one based on the contrasting styles between the two teams. If last week was any indication, this week could be a tight race to the finish as well.
Check out the press conference videos for more discussion about last week's Arkansas game and the upcoming MSU game:
Football Weekly Press Conference | Kevin Sumlin 9.30
Football Weekly Press Conference | Mark Snyder 9.30
Football Weekly Press Conference | Cedric Ogbuehi 9.30
Football Weekly Press Conference | Deshazor Everett 9.30
Football Weekly Press Conference | Malcome Kennedy 9.30
Football Weekly Press Conference | Kenny Hill 9.30