The college football season has been filled with uncertainty from start to finish because of COVID-19. Everyone connected with the College Football Playoff is keeping their fingers crossed that next Monday’s national championship game between Alabama and Ohio State comes off without a hitch. No one would be surprised if the game would be delayed or, God forbid, canceled.
The sport’s daily roller coaster rides in 2020 makes what Texas A&M accomplished that much more remarkable. The fifth-ranked Aggies (9-1) arguably had their best season in more than two decades. A&M got better as the season progressed, ending with an eight-game winning streak capped with Saturday’s 41-27 Orange Bowl victory over North Carolina.
A&M proved to be bigger than its obstacles, which started before the season with key starters opting out. The Aggies during the season dealt with injuries and the dreaded pandemic. A&M’s final challenge was to move past the disappointment of just missing out on the CFP. The Aggies were in somewhat of a no-win situation against 13th-ranked North Carolina, which was missing four key starters. The Tar Heels, though, played as if they also had something to prove and were better than the Aggies for three-plus quarters. But A&M, in keeping with the season’s theme, scored three touchdowns in the final 11 minutes to erase a 27-20 deficit.
“I got a lot of respect for that team in the locker room in there right now,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said afterward. “There’s a lot of guts and there’s a lot of toughness, there’s a lot of competitiveness. [The] guys overcame. [It] didn’t look good at times; [we] played sloppy at times. ... But every time something happened [bad], we were able to step up.”
One constant for the Aggies in this highly trying season was their ability to focus on the task at hand. Their competitive nature allowed them to overcome whatever happened, whether on or off the field.
Most point to A&M’s 41-38 victory over then fourth-ranked Florida as the turning point. It really was the week before when A&M lost to 52-24 at Alabama. The level of competition between the two was much closer than the score indicated, particularly on the lines of scrimmage. A&M’s youth in the secondary proved no match for Alabama’s vaunted passing game that accounted for 435 yards and four touchdowns. A&M played hard, it just didn’t play smart. And if sophomore Ainias Smith doesn’t drop a fourth-down pass just before halftime, it might have been a one-score game heading into the third quarter instead of Alabama having a 35-14 lead en route to a blowout score.
A&M learned to win from that game, or maybe the Aggies realized they were just as good as the Crimson Tide. The Aggies certainly were a different team from that point forward. It seemed as if Smith didn’t drop another pass as he grew into a leader, as did many of the team’s other underclassmen.
One of Saturday’s biggest plays, the go-ahead 76-yard touchdown run by true freshman Devon Achane, demonstrated the program’s growth. He was in the game because 1,000-yard sophomore rusher Isaiah Spiller was on the sidelines, banged up. A&M didn’t miss a beat as Achane received key blocks from tight end Jalen Wydermyer and Smith, another pair of sophomores who have maturity well beyond their years. That’s because the offense is led by a line that features four seniors and takes orders from senior Kellen Mond, the second-winningest quarterback in school history who ended the season accounting for 23 touchdowns and only three interceptions. This Mond-led team often didn’t win pretty, but it didn’t beat itself either, at least after Alabama.
“This senior group put us in a heck of a position of knowing how to work and put us [in position] to pass that on to the next generation,” Fisher said. “Of how we need to play and what we need to do — [so] a special thank you to them.”
A&M senior defensive tackle Jayden Peevy will return for another year, taking advantage of the NCAA not counting this season toward a player’s eligibility. Peevy made the announcement Sunday night via Twitter.
“Thank you Aggieland, this is God’s plan,” tweeted Peevy, who included an entertaining 80-second video.
Peevy tackled North Carolina’s Josh Henderson for no gain on fourth-and-1 with 3:24 left with the Aggies ahead 34-27. Peevy’s tackle was his sixth, a career high. He ended the season with 34 tackles, second most among the linemen to DeMarvin Leal’s 37. Peevy had five tackles for loss, two quarterback pressures and a fumble recovery.
Senior wide receiver Camron Buckley, who missed the season with a knee injury, also is returning for 2021. Buckley who warmed up with the team Saturday night before donning street clothes for the game, also made his announcement Sunday on Twitter.
“Coming Back to help lead this team to even bigger accomplishments,” Buckley tweeted. “This szn was just the appetizer.”
Buckley has played in 39 games with four starts. He had only 11 catches for 121 yards in 2019 with no touchdowns, but he had 34 catches for 474 yards with a touchdown in 2017 and had 17 receptions for 282 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman.
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