Texas A&M Football: 5 Important Lessons Kevin Sumlin Learned in First SEC Season

Michael Taglienti@@miketag98Featured ColumnistMarch 10, 2013

Texas A&M Football: 5 Important Lessons Kevin Sumlin Learned in First SEC Season

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    The Texas A&M football team shocked the nation during their first season in the Southeastern Conference with an 11-2 record. The Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin and the entire program learned multiple lessons during their first season in the SEC.

    The Aggies were expected to struggle to qualify for a bowl game in 2012. They finished the season as the No. 5 team in the country. They proved that they belonged in the best conference in the country.

    The Aggies accomplished this feat with an entirely new coaching staff, while running new schemes on offense and defense.They got better as the season went on on both sides of the ball.

    Despite the early success, the 2012 season was a learning process. This is a look at the lessons that Sumlin and the Ags learned in 2012.

Turnovers Are Huge

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    In a grind-it-out league like the SEC, a lot of teams are content to play defense and let the opponent beat themselves. Although the league is slowly but surely evolving towards a spread-offense league, the elite teams like Alabama and LSU still try to grind out wins.

    This style of play makes forcing turnovers even more important. The Aggies were able to beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa because they forced the Tide into three turnovers.

    On the flip side, protecting the ball is also key. The Ags had five turnovers against LSU. They moved the ball effectively against the Tigers, gaining 410 total yards, but lost the game 24-19 because they gave LSU five extra possessions.

    If the Ags want to make a run at the SEC title in 2013, then they will need to protect the football.

You Can Win Games in the First Quarter

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    The Ags went 4-0 in their last four games in conference play. In those four games A&M averaged a 19-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Aggies would jump out to a big lead early and force opposing offenses to be one-dimensional.

    When an offense is one-dimensional, it is easier to defend. Most SEC teams want to run the ball and grind out wins. They were not comfortable when they were forced to pass in an attempt to come from behind.

    The Ags learned that even in a league as tough as the SEC, it was possible to effectively put teams away in the first quarter.

The Spread Can and Does Work in the SEC

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    Despite the fact that Kentucky and Florida had both proven in the past that the spread offense can be successful in the SEC, there were many people who thought that the Aggies would struggle to win games while running the spread in 2012.

    The Aggies ran the spread in 2012 and set a conference record with 7,261 total yards. They averaged almost 100 more yards per game than the second best offense in the SEC.

    This offense that has been derided as the "chuck and duck" led the SEC in rushing with 242 yards per game. Sumlin proved that his offense works in the SEC just as well as it did at every other school he has coached at.

    The offense was so effective that the Ags have led somewhat of a spread revolution in the SEC. When Auburn needed a new head coach, the Tigers hired their old offensive coordinator and spread disciple Gus Malzahn.

    The spread has had success in the SEC going back to Hal Mumme's days as the head coach at Kentucky. The Ags just reinforced the fact that an offense based on spreading the field and passing the ball can still be effective.

Conditioning Is Key

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    The Ags had very suspect depth in 2012, especially on the defensive line. If they were going to win games, then they were going to need to avoid injuries and have their starters play a lot of snaps.

    The Aggies were able to stay healthy and were in good enough shape to play a high number of snaps. Against Louisiana Tech, some of the starters on the defensive line like Damontre Moore played all 101 snaps of the game on defense.

    Larry Jackson and the Texas A&M coaching staff were able to train the team to a level of conditioning where they were able to play 80-plus snaps on a weekly basis. Their conditioning allowed them to be confident that they could win games late.

    When the other team was tired in the fourth quarter, the Ags still had plenty of gas in their tank. They were able to win games despite their dearth of depth, because their starters could go longer than the opponents.

Every Game Counts

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    A three-point loss to Florida in the 2012 season opener may have cost the Aggies the national championship. The SEC is such a tough conference that you can lose a game and still play for the BCS championship like Alabama did.

    The opposite side to that coin is that if you lose a game, you can eliminate yourself from not only the conference title race but the national title race as well.

    The Aggies were playing as well as any team in the country at the end of the season, and they finished ranked in the top five. They did not get to play in a BCS bowl game because while they were the No. 5 team in the country, they were arguably only the fifth best team in the SEC.

    In the SEC, you have to take care of your business on every weekend because all of the other teams are so good. You can go 11-2 and only be the third best team in your division.