By Brent Zwerneman, Houston Chronicle
COLLEGE STATION – Texas A&M linebacker Otaro Alaka was fielding questions during a postgame press conference late Saturday night when an inquiry came from the back row from teammate Landis Durham.
“OT, can you take us through the sack you had, what were you thinking on that play?” Durham asked, in a veteran reporting move including “can you take us through.”
Alaka glanced quizzically at moderator Adam Quisenberry, smiled and leaned into the microphone.
“She literally just asked that question, Landis,” Alaka said, referencing the previous query.
Alaka went on to helpfully answer Durham’s question, because these days the Aggies don’t mind repeating their answers. The questions of late are primarily about how they managed another comeback victory.
“They haven’t done everything right all of the time, but their effort has been phenomenal,” coach Kevin Sumlin said of the latest comeback, this time 24-17 over South Carolina at Kyle Field. “They’re going to make mistakes, but as long as that effort continues, we’re always going to have a chance.”
That chance slims considerably this Saturday, when the Aggies (4-1, 2-0 SEC) host top-ranked Alabama (5-0, 2-0) at 6:15 p.m. The Aggies and Crimson Tide are playing at night for the first time since A&M joined the SEC in 2012.
“This gives us a little push, and it’s a good win, but we all know that on Monday we have to hit the reset button,” said running back Keith Ford, who rushed for two hard-fought touchdowns in the fourth quarter against the Gamecocks.
A&M has won four consecutive games, and the Aggies either were tied or trailed in the second half in all four. A&M was tied with Nicholls State in the fourth quarter before prevailing 24-14. The Aggies trailed Louisiana-Lafayette at halftime before outscoring the Ragin’ Cajuns 31-0 in the second half and winning 45-21.
A&M followed those two non-conference victories by overcoming three fourth-quarter deficits against Arkansas before walking out of AT&T Stadium with a 50-43 overtime victory on Sept. 23 in the teams’ SEC opener.
The Aggies then trailed the Gamecocks 17-7 late in the third quarter before cobbling together another rebound, thanks to a stifling second-half defense, a Daniel LaCamera 46-yard field goal, and Ford’s two rushing touchdowns. Along the way, A&M freshman quarterback Kellen Mond (19-of-27 for 159 yards and a game-high 95 rushing yards) continued his remarkable and rapid growth and improved to 4-0 as a starter with the Aggies.
Mond substituted for then-starter Nick Starkel in the season opener against UCLA – a 45-44 loss to the Bruins and to date the Aggies’ lone setback on the season. Starkel exited that game with a broken ankle and might return at some point this season.
“The first thing he did well was protect the football,” Sumlin said of Mond’s showing versus South Carolina. “When (an opening) wasn’t there, he hung on to the ball or threw it out of bounds. He scrambled well and slid to not take a bunch of hits. He didn’t just throw the ball up in the middle of the field, maybe like he did earlier in the year.”
The Aggies will need Mond’s maturation at full tilt this weekend, considering the roll Alabama is on since losing the national title against Clemson last January. The Crimson Tide have outscored their last two opponents by a combined 125-3 after a 66-3 rout of Mississippi on Saturday.
“Nothing’s perfect, but we need to certainly work on the things we need to improve,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said.
What exactly those things are seems difficult to pinpoint, considering the defense has allowed a lone field goal in its last two games and the offense has scored at least 50 points in consecutive Southeastern Conference games for the first time since 1945.