Football and Existentialism
Aggies annihilate Bulldogs 70-14
By Emily Bevan, 5:45PM, Mon. Sep. 24, 2012
Saturday night at Kyle Field, the Aggies hosted the Bulldogs of South Carolina State. And by "hosted," I mean the Aggies obliterated (destroyed, whipped, crushed) a team that traveled across the country to participate in their own slaughter.
If I think about it too hard, games like Saturday's matchup between Texas A&M and SCSU bring on a kind of existential crisis: what, exactly, is the point?
A superficial look at the game's highlights and stats yields Nietzschean answers: there is no point, and God is dead. The Aggies put up 49 points in the first half alone, to the Bulldogs' mere 7. Johnny Manziel scored five TDs in the first half – three passing and two on the ground – earning the right to sit out the second session. Sophomore running back Ben Malena racked up two rushing touchdowns in the first half before coach Kevin Sumlin unleashed a chastened Christine Michael (who sat out against SMU for breaking team rules) in the second.
The Aggies scored in every phase of the game. Dustin Harris returned a SCSU punt 96 yards for a touchdown, and Deshazor Everett took a late-game interception off Bulldog QB Richard Cue 22 yards to the end zone.
SCSU responded to their punishment with a mix of affable resignation and ill-timed celebration. Head coach Buddy Pough gave his players sad smiles and what-can-you-do shrugs whenever Bulldog punter Nick Belcher took the field – 12 times in all. And when WR Lennel Elmore caught a 39-yard pass from Cue for the Bulldogs' second touchdown of the game, he (and his teammates … and the sideline …) did a lot of chest-bumping for a squad still trailing by 49 points.
While the Aggies needed this win, their victory was inevitable. And so I have to wonder, why play these games at all? Why keep teams like SMU (sorry, Ponies), SCSU, and Sam Houston State on the schedule? What good does it do anyone?
Following this line of inquiry, both the Aggies and their beleaguered opponents appear to fill predetermined roles that supersede the personalities and intentions of the individuals involved. Ultimately, perhaps, these hollow categories – winner/loser, FBS/FCS, Aggie/Bulldog – swallow the motivations behind the teams' hard work and struggle. Freedom vanishes.
Slowly, the meaning drains out of the game like rain off Astroturf. And then the fan-cum-philosopher is left with a question even more daunting: If this matchup has lost all meaning, what about the others yet to be played? What about conference play? What about national titles and Heisman Trophies and player of the week/month/year awards?
But before we get too carried away, let's look at it from another angle. If both teams summoned their creative energies and individual will and really tried to ignore the numbers posted on Kyle Field's several scoreboards, it's possible– just possible – that the players and coaches may have come away from Saturday night's reaffirmation of predetermined essences with something less philosophical and all together more useful. That is to say, maybe they learned a thing or two.
Saturday's game exposed some weaknesses in the Aggie offense. The offensive line fell short of expectations and A&M's running game never overwhelmed. As amazing as Manziel looked in the second quarter, he still needs to learn his offense if he's going to succeed in conference play. Of his skills in the open field, coach Sumlin said, "As we continue to play and our competition gets stiffer and stiffer, it's going to be difficult to do those types of things." Games like the scheduled romp over South Carolina State are fun (for awhile), but they also build confidence, set big-name programs apart, and give a young team like Texas A&M lots of real-time practice, a chance to tune problem areas before the season's bigger tests begin.
For the Aggies, those tests begin next week, when Arkansas comes to College Station hoping to rebound from a 35-26 home loss to Rutgers. The game revives a Southwest Conference rivalry between the two teams. Existentialism aside, the Aggies enter the upcoming battle with identities to forge and prove; the Razorbacks lead the all-time series 41-24-3, and have taken the last three nonconference meetings at Cowboys Stadium. Whatever the result, a win will hold significance for either team. It can't get here soon enough for me.
Buddy Pough concurred on the Bulldogs' behalf. "We've had a good experience for having competed against them," he said. "I'm just looking forward to getting back to our league now and seeing what we can do at our own level."
That's not philosophy; it's just common sense.