Thirty minutes. The UCLA loss was a game of thirty minutes. The first thirty, the Aggies dominated the Bruins, running all over their SoCal opponents to the tune of a 31-10 halftime lead. The 2017 Kevin Sumlin plan hit on all cylinders; the defense looked fast and physical, the offense imposed its will. Then came the second half, a second half that will be the talk of the news cycle for the next weeks, UCLA roared back, helped by A&M gifts.
In the end, the narrative isn't about the dominant first half; it's about the comeback led by Josh Rosen and A&M blowing a 34 point lead. Blame it on A&M's losing Nick Starkel due to injury, but the seeds of this loss were sewn two seasons ago when A&M's two five-star quarterbacks both decided to transfer, and A&M was forced to scramble to find a grad transfer to replace them. The seeds of this loss were sewn when A&M endured multiple November to more physical, better SEC teams. The seeds of this loss were sewn by Sumlin's failure to truly remake his program and instead to simply change out the curtains.
A&M's highly compensated defensive staff, including coordinator John Chavis, failed to get the Aggies playing more like his LSU units and instead, even with numerous NFL draft picks, backslid. Tonight the Aggies fell apart, dropping interceptions, chasing receivers, falling into dejection, and ultimately suffering a season crippling loss. On offense, the Aggies left a more seasoned veteran, Jake Hubenak, on the bench even while true freshman Kellen Mond struggled. Was that decision based on the fear of losing another 5-star QB, or was it based on the best interests of the team? Mond was handed an incredibly difficult task, to play significant snaps in a road game against a Power 5 team. He was unable to give the Aggies the balance they needed to secure the win.
The Aggies didn't help him either. Instead of relying on a running game that churned out yardage for two and a half quarters, the Aggies abandoned their two most productive offensive players, Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford, to go to the air. In the three series leading up to UCLA finally taking the lead the Aggies ran seventeen plays, five runs and twelve passes. Mond was most successful when he broke contain on passing plays to get upfield. When he threw the ball, he completed just three of seventeen attempts.
Once again A&M couldn't rely on its much-publicized physicality, the Aggies got cute. Sumlin spent all offseason trumpeting a new strength coach and a new attitude. The annual redefining of the program has become A&M's newest tradition. Now A&M must somehow rebound from tonight's loss to prove us all wrong. Two cupcakes against Nichols State and Louisiana Lafayette won't do it. A&M will have to somehow put this devastating night behind them and beat the teeth of the SEC, and all that, perhaps, relying on a backup quarterback.
For Sumlin, he has to know no one is buying the sales pitch any longer. His road to saving his job just got a lot harder.