Aggies not taking the Panthers lightly

Though Texas A&M is facing Prairie View A&M, a team that doesn’t pose the same challenges of a top 25 opponent, Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said his players aren’t taking the Panthers lightly.

“Don’t take any of these games lightly. Starts with us in games like this. Things we have to get better.”

The two kick off at 11 a.m. Sept. 10 on the SEC Network.

Add in the fact Texas A&M (1-0) is used to playing later in the day, and Sumlin said coaches will emphasize a need to be focused on the Panthers early.

The Aggies needed overtime to beat UCLA 31-24 in the season opener. Sumlin called that a valuable learning experience since Texas A&M had a 24-9 lead going into the fourth quarter. Finishing is a huge part of what he wants his players to learn. And he wants to see backups contribute quality minutes as the starters are catching their breaths.

Perhaps the biggest teaching moment, however, was when the Aggies punted and downed the ball on the UCLA three-yard line late in the fourth quarter. But the Bruins drove the length of the field to tie the contest.

Expect to see the Aggies continue to rotate defensive players against the Panthers. Sumlin said he has been pleased with what he has watched so far.

Hardreck Walker, Keke Kingsley, Daylon Mack and Zaycoven Henderson all logged meaningful minutes during the win against UCLA. Sumlin said he’d like to see Henderson conserve some of his energy and not be so ready to play hours before kickoff.

Qualen Cunningham and Jarrett Johnson are doing well rotating with defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, the coach added, and complimented James Lockhart by noting how strong he is against the run.

“Two deep of pretty quality players,” Sumlin said. “Does nothing but help you.”

Linebacker has been a concern for the Aggies, but the coach said that Shaan Washington and Otaro Alaka “were as advertised.” Claude George was flagged for a “foolish penalty,” Sumlin said, adding George has to think. Tyrel Dodson will get better as he gets more experience, the coach added.

“Game speed is different, particularly against a team like UCLA,” he said. “Things happening fast out there. Could tell early on in special teams, (UCLA’s) whole secondary was starting on special teams. They had their best guys out there covering kicks. For Tyrel, covering kicks later in game was at different speed for him. Great learning experience for those guys.”

Sumlin also feels good about the depth at running back thanks to Keith Ford, James White, Trayveon Williams, Kendall Bussey and Kwame Etwi. What pleased the coach most was having the position record 30 carries, not simply giving one back all those touches. Ford is a “battering ram,” while Williams has a different style and White is a combination of the two,

“That will extend all guys’ freshness and hopefully competitiveness during week,” he said. “Our offense is comfortable with that. Change of pace is good. Helped our running game to keep fresh people in there.”

This game also marks the return of receiver Speedy Noil, who was suspended for undisclosed reasons, from the Music City Bowl loss to Louisville to end the 2015 season and last weekend’s win over UCLA.

“For all of fall camp Speedy was fantastic as a teammate, with his effort and with everything he’s done,” Sumlin said. “Would expect for him to show up and go back to work which he did (Sept. 6). Was best fall camp he’s had. For him it’s consistency in his actions. Worked really, really diligently in offseason to understand positon (wide receiver). Will be excited to play Saturday.”

Though Sumlin acknowledged the receiver has played well enough in training camp to start, those plays are going to Damion Ratley and other reserves. The coach said the receiver understood and accepted that, but there are plenty of plays to go around.

Sumlin said Prairie View mixes up its blitzes and scenarios and will bring players from different positions in an attempt to confuse the quarterback and the offensive linemen. The key, he added, was to watch film and look for keys.

Offensively, the Panthers led the Football Championship Series in scoring offense last season by averaging 45 points per game.

“This will be about our guys maintaining focus, waking up Saturday morning, understanding the challenges, focusing, growing up bit and we’ll see where we are,” Sumlin said.

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