No. 9 Texas A&M strives to end recent October plunges

Contrary to poet T.S. Eliot's contention that April is the cruelest month, Texas A&M has a somewhat different opinion.

The Aggies will argue very strongly that based on recent history, it is October that has that dubious distinction.

Consider for the last two seasons that the Aggies have gotten off to great starts — 5-0 in 2014 and 4-0 in September last year, seemingly putting themselves in position to make runs at favored Alabama and others in the SEC's West Division.

But then came October, and the Aggies were shown not to be contenders but mere pretenders. They were 0-3 in October two years ago and 2-2 in the month in 2015.

But coach Kevin Sumlin is hoping that the changes to his staff, which included Noel Mazzone replacing Jake Spavital as offensive coordinator, and the offseason program and approach by his players will make a difference this time around. The Aggies are once again 4-0 — including two SEC wins — as they kick off October on Saturday with a date against South Carolina at 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network) in Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.

“We made some drastic changes throughout the program,” Sumlin said. “We made some subtle changes throughout the program. Does that guarantee that things are going to change? No. Because performance guarantees change.”

Well, so far, performances have been pretty good. The Aggies have thrived with Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight at quarterback and freshman running back Trayveon Williams emerging as the team's leading rusher.

Williams has rushed for 389 yards, 84 more than Knight, and has gone for 280 yards in the last two outings against Auburn and Arkansas. He had 153 yards in the 45-24 win over Arkansas as the Aggies broke the game open in the second half.

“Explosive” is the word Sumlin uses to describe the running back who came out of Houston's C.E. King High and enrolled at Texas A&M in January after originally committing to TCU.

“He did a lot for C.E. King,” Sumlin said. “They had him all over the place. He's a guy that was always explosive. He was a little bit thinner, really a different build — kind of high-split, long-legged guy, but had great hands. A guy we fortunately got flipped.”

Though the status of defensive end Myles Garrett and receiver Ricky Seals-Jones remains somewhat in doubt because of injuries that Sumlin refuses to discuss, the Aggies figure to have their way against a South Carolina team that is struggling offensively. The Gamecocks will put one of the nation's lowest scoring offenses up against what is statistically a Top 20 defense for the Aggies.

Coach Will Muschamp's Gamecocks (2-2, 1-1) saw their scoring output drop to an average of 14.3 points per game with their 17-10 loss to Kentucky last week. Only Florida International scores less with its 13.5 average.

The Aggies, meanwhile, are holding their opponents to 16.0 points a game, good for a tie for 18th with Army among FBS teams.

With freshman Brandon McIlwain starting at quarterback, no ground game to speak of, and their most experienced receiver, sophomore Deebo Samuel, sidelined by a hamstring problem, it's easy to see why the Gamecocks are struggling getting points.

They were shut out in the first half before rallying to beat Vanderbilt 13-10 in their opener, got two touchdowns in the second half of a 27-14 loss at Mississippi State, and scored a season-high in a 20-15 win over East Carolina before their loss at Kentucky.

“Just disappointed with the lack of execution offensively and defensively just not playing blocks,” Muschamp said after the loss to the Wildcats. “We'll continue to work and continue to improve. We've got a young group.

“It's frustrating in the passing game because of the lack of continuity.”

But Sumlin has respect for the Gamecocks' defense, which ranks fifth in the SEC behind Florida, Alabama, Texas A&M, and LSU in scoring defense in allowing just 17.3 points a game

“Defensively they're always going to be good,” he said. “They're still trying to get an identity offensively, but defensively, there's never been a Will Muschamp team that hasn't been salty.”