Football is returning to Columbia this Saturday when the South Carolina Gamecocks 4-2 (1-2 SEC) host the Texas A&M Aggies 3-3 (1-2 SEC) at Williams Brice Stadium. Both teams are coming off a bye week and are in search of a win to kickstart the second half of their seasons.
The Daily Gamecock talked with Jordan Epp, the sports editor of Texas A&M’s student newspaper, the Battalion, to preview the primetime matchup between the Gamecocks and Aggies.
The Daily Gamecock: So far this season Texas A&M has earned some big wins and suffered some tough losses leading to a 3-3 record, what’s the atmosphere within the program right now?
Jordan Epp: “From an outsider's perspective, it feels like we don't know what to expect from the team on any given Saturday. Because sometimes it feels like the team has it put together, and then sometimes it doesn't.”
“There's all this pressure on A&M to perform. But I think we're a year away from where people expected us to be, at least. And because of this pressure, there's this whole air of who's starting at quarterback every single week. There's this air of who is going to be the team's playmakers. Who's going to step up on defense, I think it's just general confusion on what this team's identity is, and whether or not that is the right identity going forward.”
What do you think the expectations are for this team for the rest of the season and is a bowl game in the Aggies’ future?
“I think when you're at a school like A&M, a bowl game is essentially mandatory. Not in the sense that we deserve a bowl no matter what, but that is the expectation, at a minimum for the team every single year, is make a bowl. And that's not even what people enter the season thinking. People enter the season thinking about more. And that's kind of where A&M is at now. I think A&M is a very good team. They're very talented, and talent ends up speaking, and so I think A&M will reach full status by the end of the season, even if there's a tough schedule ahead.”
Interestingly both teams have just had a bye week, do you think that Texas A&M will use the opportunity to develop a more solid gameplan for an offense that has underperformed at times?
“Normally, with a team coming off of a bye week, you think, 'Okay, they automatically have a leg up on the opponent because they had an extra week of preparation.' But because both teams had that extra week, I don't necessarily know if that will allow for that. Because I think both teams were able to be retrospective. So, I think, if anything, the bye week will provide the teams more time to self-scout, because both teams have things that they can execute better on.”
Who are the standout performers on each side of the ball for Texas A&M that Gamecock fans should keep an eye on?
“The number one person that every South Carolina person, every South Carolina fan, should know, is junior running back Devon Achane. He is the engine of the offense; he is the entire offense at times. As long as the A&M's offensive line can build a hole for him to hit, he will hit it at full force, full speed. And every single time he touches the ball, he has the chance to take it 15 yards, 25 yards, 55 yards. He is one of the most electric players in college football.”
“Antonio Johnson on defense, junior defensive back, he plays a safety-slot corner-linebacker hybrid, where he is just a chess piece. He is like the queen in chess, where you can move it in every single direction as far as you want. That is who he is on defense. Because he allows for A&M to do everything that they want to on defense.”
With Jimbo Fisher now in his fifth year as head coach of the football program how does the team continue to respond to him and is there still belief in him among the fanbase?
“I think there's a discrepancy between the team and the fans. I think the team is fully behind Jimbo Fisher. I think the team will ride and die for Jimbo Fisher, and they understand that even though there are probably things that could be better about the team, that a lot of it kind of is this team is young and is making mistakes."
"Looking at the people outside of the organization itself — so all the fans — I think that's the people who are more critical of Jimbo Fisher. And for fair reasons too, absolutely. I think that Jimbo can definitely be the type of guy to turn the season around. I think he's shown an ability to right the ship here and shown the ability to create a team that is capable of reaching high heights.”
What do you think will ultimately determine the outcome of Saturday’s game?
“I think that the X-factor for this game is just about whether or not A&M plays its brand of football. What A&M wants to do is establish the run, they want to play strong defense and I think if Jimbo Fisher could win every single game 10 to zero, he would gladly do it. He just wants to be able to enforce his will on the other team.”
"23-20 Texas A&M."