COLLEGE STATION, Texas — If Texas A&M needs a reason to illustrate why it can’t take Sam Houston State lightly, the Aggies only need to look back to earlier this season.
The scrappy Bearkats, last year’s Championship Subdivision runner-up, led Baylor 20-10 at halftime before the Bears rallied for a 48-23 win.
“They’re not going to be awestruck or anything when they come in here,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said.
The ninth-ranked Aggies (8-2) host Sam Houston State on Saturday, a week removed from a 29-24 victory over then-No. 1 Alabama.
Hangover effect, coach? Letdown a possibility?
“We’ve got a lot to play for right now,” Sumlin said. “I met with the seniors (Sunday) and really had a great conversation with them. We’ve been through a stretch and they’ve got two more games in their career at Kyle Field.”
It is Texas A&M’s first game at home since a loss to LSU on Oct. 20. Since then, the Aggies have reeled off wins at Southeastern Conference opponents Auburn and Mississippi State before beating the Crimson Tide in a stunner.
Texas A&M isn’t content with what it has accomplished so far. The Aggies finish their SEC schedule next week against fellow league newcomer Missouri, and also have a bowl ahead, making the possibility of their first double-digit win total since 1998 within reach.
“We feel like we haven’t made a statement yet,” Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore said. “We’re not looking at: ‘OK, we beat Alabama.’ We’re looking at how we can finish off the season. Let’s finish strong. Don’t get complacent. Don’t look at anybody as a lesser opponent ... it’s not about the other team, it’s about us.”
Sam Houston State has already clinched a share of the Southland Conference title this year and brings a seven-game winning streak into the game. This is their final regular-season game before they return to the playoffs next week.
“Obviously we’ve got our hands full this week,” Sam Houston State coach Willie Fritz said. “A&M is big, fast, strong, well-coached and going to be playing with a lot of confidence after beating the No. 1 team at their place.”
Fritz said his team is looking forward to the challenge, and that College Station being only about 50 miles from their campus adds a little bit more excitement.
“We really don’t have anyone who was recruited by schools of that level,” Fritz said. “Some of our transfers we have, they transfer in here because people of that level didn’t think they could play where they were at. It’s a motivating factor for our guys to go in and see how they stack up against the best.”
Likely the biggest test for Sam Houston State will be trying to contain freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, since few teams have done it. Manziel is second in the nation in total offense with more than 379 yards a game. He has 2,780 yards passing and 18 touchdowns and has run for 1,014 yards and 15 more scores.
The Heisman Trophy hopeful threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more by halftime in A&M’s other game this season against an FCS opponent — a 70-14 win over South Carolina State.
Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury has enjoyed watching Manziel grow this season.
“He’s his own worst critic,” Kingsbury said. “If he’s not perfect in every throw, he wants it to be. That’s not something you can coach into a kid. He either has it or he doesn’t. He wants to be the best. I hope he continues to get better. That’s up to him how good he wants to be. He definitely has the skill set and potential to get better and better.”
The Aggies will look to limit Sam Houston’s run game to control this one. The Bearkats have ran for more than 300 yards five times this season, including a season-high 405 two week ago.
The attack is led by Timothy Flanders. Flanders is the school’s all-time leading rusher and has 22 100-yard games in his career and 1,087 yards rushing with 16 touchdowns this season.
“This team is good,” Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. “They are not going to come in here in awe. They are going to try to come in here and beat us and we’re going to have to play.”