Well, that didn't take long. College football returned to our radar over the weekend, and announced its presence with authority — upsets, thrillers and coaches' hot seats ratcheted up well past their boiling point. In particular, there was one game in which we knew the losing coach would have an absolute miserable postgame press conference, and that was Texas A&M visiting the Rose Bowl to take on UCLA on Sunday night.
The two head coaches, Jim Mora Jr. and Kevin Sumlin, are in very similar situations — both have recruited gobs and gobs of elite talent, both are at schools that are in that "should be more elite than they actually have performed" category, and both seem to have a gravitational pull toward disappointing eight-win seasons.
Honestly, college football may have been just as well served to stage a ladder match with a contract extension dangling over the ring for the winner, and the loser having to accept termination on the spot. THAT would have been entertaining. Instead, they played an actual football game that was just as entertaining as my hypothetical, with the Aggies building a 44-10 lead before coughing it up over the final 19 minutes, and losing 45-44.
Yes, in the first half, the Aggies were doing stuff like this on the sidelines...
Add the Texas A&M pimp cane to the list of great college football sideline props in Week 1 pic.twitter.com/n6Nad975J2— Devin Walker (@Devin_Walker5) September 4, 2017
And after the game, their coach looked like this at the press conference...
There is no sidestepping it — this was one of the worst collapses in the history of team sports, and it came at the worst possible time for Sumlin, who will still be highly paid for a couple of years if he's fired, but is probably done being on short lists for NFL head coaching jobs. (True story — one NFL owner showed up unannounced on Sumlin's doorstep in 2013 to discuss his job opening.)
Watch that press conference video, and you'll see Sumlin taking the blame for the loss, and unlike many coaches who do that just to take a bullet for their players, Sumlin is 100 percent accurate. On a night when they ran the ball for more than six yards a clip, the Aggies chose, once ahead 44-10, to drop back and throw ten times before relinquishing the lead. QB Kellen Mond went two for seven and took three huge sacks on those ten drop-backs.
The worst of these play calls was on 3rd and 4 from the UCLA 16 yard line with about five minutes to go in regulation, where a simple run at the very least sets up a short field goal. Instead, Mond was asked to drop straight back and throw, and he took a nine yard sack, making a 34-yard field goal attempt a 43-yard field goal attempt. Braden Mann missed the field goal, and from there, the Bruin comeback continued.
At that very juncture, the win probability for the Aggies was hovering around 99 percent, as it had been for virtually the entire second half to that point. Honestly, once that field goal was missed, it felt like 50/50, at best, that the Aggies would hold on. Josh Rosen's completing that comeback, with Lady Luck on his shoulders, felt inevitable.
Sure, there were adverse plays for the Aggies that had nothing to do with coaching — an interception sailing through the hands of an Aggie defensive back and into the waiting arms of Darren Andrews for a 42-yard touchdown, Mond's toe hitting the sidelines on what would have been a game-clinching TD scamper (the aforementioned missed field goal came four plays later), Rosen's touchdown pass to make it 44-38, which was a modified Hail Mary heave.
But in the end, it all falls on the head coach. (I mean, seriously, if they just run the ball up the middle for the rest of the game, once they were up 44-10, they at least burn off nine or ten minutes of clock, if nothing else, and maybe even pick up a few first downs.) So now the Aggies have two "get well" games to wash the taste of this one out of their mouths, but then it gets REALLY dicey — Arkansas (in Arlington), South Carolina, Alabama, at Florida, Mississippi State, Auburn and LSU looming late in the season.
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And if Sumlin is looking for support from within, well, it ain't coming from Tony Buzbee, a powerful Houston attorney and A&M regent:
Texas A&M regent and noted Houston attorney: pic.twitter.com/WxSHZijQeN— Brent Zwerneman (@BrentZwerneman) September 4, 2017
Wow. Does Adidas make asbestos head coaching gear?
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.