COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher is working hard to keep his seventh-ranked Aggies grounded as he is preparing them for their matchup against South Carolina tonight.
Texas A&M (4-1 all Southeastern Conference) plays at South Carolina tonight, a 6 p.m. kickoff on ESPN, and will look to go 7-0 all-time against the Gamecocks (2-3) and remain near the top of the SEC.
In other area games of interest today, Texas hosts West Virginia at 11 a.m. on FOX; Houston plays at Cincinnati at 2:30 p.m. on ABC; Oklahoma hosts Kansas at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN; Texas Tech plays at TCU at 2:30 p.m. on Fox Sports 1 (FS1); Oklahoma State plays at Kansas State at 3 p.m. on FOX; and Baylor plays at Iowa State at 6 p.m. on FS1. In the national game of the day, top-ranked Clemson plays at fourth-ranked Notre Dame on NBC tonight at 6:30.
Fisher believes his players have done a good job blocking out the happy noise from friends, family and fans excited about the Aggies’ ranking.
That takes some work and focus, too, Fisher said.
“You always hear, why are you not having success? Well I ask them, why are you having success?,” Fisher said. “Because you block out the clutter. You play one game at a time. You live one day at a time. You do what you can do today, go to bed, get up, get ready to play the game this weekend, and that whole process puts you in position to have success.”
Having talent and experience doesn’t hurt, either.
The Aggies are led by quarterback Kellen Mond, an efficient, experienced senior who’s thrown for 1,244 yards with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s also found plenty of ways to get tailback Isaiah Spiller involved.
Spiller is third in the SEC in rushing at over 102 yards a game.
South Carolina is coming off a bye week that followed a dreadful showing at LSU in the 52-24 loss. Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said his team appeared to make positive strides during the break.
Muschamp said Collin Hill will remain at quarterback since he gives the team the best chance to win. The Gamecocks hope to repeat their last time at home when they beat a ranked Auburn team who they hadn’t defeated since 1933 — and never in SEC before.
Some other things to watch when No. 7 Texas A&M plays at South Carolina:
The Aggies got a boost last week from receiver Hezikiah Jones who had five catches for 47 yards in his first game in two seasons. Jones had a season-ending injury in fall camp in 2019.
He could be an answer to a receiving corps that lost all its starters from a year ago. “It was huge to get him back,” Mond said after the Arkansas win. “This was still his first game and I look for him to grown and be an elite receiver for us.”
South Carolina, too, got a jolt to its receiver position with the addition of Jalen Brooks, a junior transfer who’s appeal to play this season was granted by the NCAA late last month. Brooks had just one catch in the LSU loss. Muschamp believes two additional weeks of practice with Brooks knowing his role will help against A&M.
Texas A&M linebacker Buddy Johnson has had 10-plus tackles in each of the Aggies’ five games this season. Johnson is fourth in the SEC with 58 tackles and fourth in the league with two forced fumbles. At Mississippi State earlier this season, the senior had 12 tackles, two pass breakups, a sack and a forced fumble.
It hasn’t been the year South Carolina backup passer Ryan Hilinski imagined, yet he never considered looking elsewhere for playing time. Hilinski started 11 games as a freshman because of a foot injury to starter Jake Bentley. Hilinski lost the starting job this fall to grad transfer Collin Hill. Still, Hilinski said his goal was to work hard, improve and be ready when called on.
Texas A&M is seeking its second straight road win this season. It’s lone loss on the year came at No. 2 Alabama last month. Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher said a team with a strong road record can gain a reputation before arriving for the game. “You can’t worry about them,” he said. “You’ve got to worry about how you play and expect that guy’s best.”