By Kristie Rieken
COLLEGE STATION, Texas —
Texas A&M plays the first of three straight road games on Saturday when the 22nd-ranked Aggies visit Auburn.
They aren’t concerned about the tough road stretch, which continues with No. 13 Mississippi State and top-ranked Alabama. First-year coach Kevin Sumlin has won his last nine straight games away from home, including last season when he was at Houston.
“It’s what we’ve got, and you can’t really do anything about it,” senior receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu said. “You’ve got to put it in a positive light, and we’re accepting that challenge and should be confident.”
It is the first time the Aggies (5-2, 2-2 SEC) have had three straight regular-season games away from College Station since playing a neutral-site game followed by two road games in 1994.
But that stretch of games included trips to San Antonio and Austin, so it was far less taxing than the almost 4,000 miles the Aggies will have traveled getting to and from their next three games.
“We’ve got a way we do things in travel,” Sumlin said. “From a record standpoint it’s been pretty successful as a road routine. We won’t do anything to change that.”
He didn’t want to go into exactly what this routine entails, but offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, who was also on Sumlin’s staff at Houston, shed some light onto why he thinks it’s successful.
“I just think he doesn’t make a big deal about it,” Kingsbury said. “We have a routine and he’s big on sticking to the routine and approaching it just like every other game. He’s big on creating your own energy, and going there and embracing that challenge and having fun with it.”
The last time one of Sumlin’s teams lost away from home was on Nov. 27, 2010, when Texas Tech beat the Cougars 35-20 in Lubbock. This season, the Aggies have won at SMU, Ole Miss and in Shreveport against Louisiana Tech.
The Aggies know their biggest road tests are ahead.
“It’s just another game and we treat everything the same,” defensive back Steven Terrell said. “I don’t know if there’s something special about the road games. But he just does a good job of keeping everybody calm and making sure that we stay focused on the task at hand.”
Instead of spending time worrying about where they’re playing, Sumlin is far more concerned with limiting his team’s turnovers this week. The Aggies turned the ball over just once in their first four games, but have given it away 13 times in their last three games.
Another worry for Sumlin is that A&M hasn’t forced any turnovers in two straight games.
“We’ve got to do a better job of that,” Sumlin said of ball security. “I’ve talked about that since I got here. If you look right now at the top 10 teams in the country in turnover record, I think that the combined record in the top 10 might be three losses. So, that’s a major step.”
A key to turning that around will be getting freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel back on track. Manziel didn’t have an interception in his first four games, but has had six in the last three.
“It’s all part of the experience of growing with him,” said Kingsbury, a former standout quarterback at Texas Tech. “I never tell him to try to stop making a big play. That’s what offense is about, being aggressive. He fights. He is going to fight and do what he can to help his team.”