Aggies are improved, will find out by how much against Auburn

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said playing a ranked opponent to begin the 2016 season got his team’s attention for weeks leading up to the win over UCLA.

Now that the Aggies (2-0) are starting Southeastern Conference play, Sumlin said he is looking for the same sense of urgency as they travel to Auburn for a 6 p.m. kickoff Sept. 17 on ESPN.

“Got to continue to play at level that gives us a chance to win,” Sumlin said. “Last two weeks liked how we approached the week and dealt with fixing things internally and try to execute that on Saturdays and play to certain standards. So far been able to reach those goals. Can we be better? Yes. But I like our approach now.”

The Tigers (1-1) are entering the contest after beating Arkansas State 51-14. They are led by quarterback Sean White, who has completed 27 of 44 passes for 384 yards, three touchdowns and an interception and ran 14 times for 58 yard.White didn’t play the Aggies last year.

Sumlin said White can run well and throw the ball accurately, which makes him dangerous.

Running backs Kerryon Johnson has 41 carries for 218 yards and three touchdowns and Kamryn Pettway has 15 rushes for 152 yards. As a team Auburn has rushed for 462 yards, which got Sumlin’s attention. He called the two interchangeable.

Receiver Tony Stevens leads the team with five receptions for 91 yards and two touchdowns.

“Whoever is on the field that’s not in the interior five blocking is eligible to carry the ball in that offense,” Sumlin said. “Have to be aware of what’s going on offensively. Got skill guys that can handle that. What’s important is off the play-action fake to not let the ball get over our heads. They got guys who can get deep and Sean can get it there.”

He noted that UCLA is more of a downhill run attack, while Auburn wants to use a lot of misdirection and power to confuse the defense.

“Will be challenge for us coming from where we were last year as a rush defense,” Sumlin said. “Makes sense they’ll try to attack us that way. You have to have lot of eye discipline. Be accountable for different numbers, sort of like option football. Create gaps with all kind of things to get you away from what they’re doing, which is really power football. Takes disciplined guys who want to play their gap and have eye discipline. He knows what he’s doing. Been good at it for a long time. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

While the Aggies are a better team than in 2015, Sumlin said, they’ll find out just how good against the Tigers. But he knows this: the personnel is improved, especially the linebackers thanks to Shaan Washington and Otaro Alaka. He also has been pleased with the defensive line and the secondary.

“Personnel wise we’re better,” he said. “All works hand in hand. Will be another test cause that’s basically where we are as team. Everyone waiting to see who we are and what we can do. Our team enjoys that kind of attitude.”

Though Sumlin is pleased to have quarterback Trevor Knight led the Texas A&M offense, he stopped short of saying it’s an advantage to have an undisputed starter. He did say, however, the game plan involves plays the quarterback is comfortable running and should be effective against the Tigers.

He also noted the play of running back Keith Ford, especially all the things he does that doesn’t involve carrying the football such as pass protection, blocking and kickoff coverage.

“Unselfish player,” the coach said. “Plays with all of that. Loves to play the game. As he gets more comfortable, one year of rust is a year of rust, but physically and emotionally he brings everything to the game on Saturdays. Guys know that. Can feel that. Plays with intensity level.”

The Aggies are beginning their fifth year in the SEC. Sumlin noted that when he was hired, Texas A&M wasn’t supposed to win anything and had been a subpar program.

“We’ve created standard now where we’re supposed to compete for championships,” he said. “Pretty good raise of bar in five years.  Have we made strides? Yes. Is it where we want to be? No. Not for me. Want to build a championship program here. That’s why I came here, and that’s our goal.”

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