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UCLA Sports

UCLA looking to counter loud with fast in season opener at Texas A&M

Kevin Sumlin
Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin has a new quarterback and plenty of adversity with which to deal.
(Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press)

Texas A&M has long cherished the voluminous advantage created by Kyle Field, where fighter jet flyovers might go unnoticed because of the din of crowds that routinely exceed 100,000.

Some of the recent noise around the Aggies hasn’t been nearly as pleasurable.

Linebacker Josh Walker was suspended this month after his arrest on suspicion of assaulting his girlfriend and interfering with her call to 911. Walker is accused of pushing the woman, causing her to fall onto their child’s rocking horse.

Drama abounds in other corners of the program as Texas A&M nears its season opener against No. 16 UCLA on Saturday in College Station, Texas. Quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray transferred in December after the Aggies completed a second consecutive underwhelming season, leading to the arrival of graduate transfer Trevor Knight from Oklahoma.

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Knight has a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama on his resume but more recently a loss to Baker Mayfield in the battle to retain the starter’s job with the Sooners, leading to his departure from Oklahoma. Sometimes having a college degree actually does come in handy.

Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin, once touted as a possible USC savior, has some salvaging to do to keep his current post. His teams started each of the past two seasons 5-0 before finishing 8-5 and in the lower half of the Southeastern Conference’s West Division.

It’s safe to say that Texas A&M has underachieved in the post-Johnny Manziel era.

Their dip in offensive production prompted the hiring of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who happened to occupy the same role at UCLA and apparently didn’t mind the awkwardness of playing his old team to start his new gig.

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“In this profession, that happens,” Mazzone recently told reporters. “This is not the first time I’ve wound up across the field from somebody I just coached for. It’s going to be exciting.”

Most of the Aggies’ excitement revolves around their defense. Defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall spend so much time in opposing backfields they might have to pay rent. Garrett led the SEC last season with 12 1/2 sacks, 19 1/2 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles.

Sumlin recently said Garrett, considered a possible No. 1 pick in the 2017 NFL draft, had been clocked at a cheetah-like 19 to 20 mph during training camp. His name was uttered in reverential tones halfway across the country at UCLA’s camp.

“Every NFL personnel that’s come around, they’ve basically said he’s a very talented young man,” Bruins offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu said. “He’s earned all the accolades.”

Knight arrived holding some familiarity with the Aggies’ offense because running back Keith Ford also transferred from Oklahoma. Knight is new to Texas A&M but will hardly be making his college debut.

“He’s a fifth-year guy; he’s been around. He’s been in big bowl games; he’s won big bowl games,” UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. “He’s not a guy like it’s his first start out there.”

The Bruins’ biggest challenge against a team that appears somewhat in disarray could be the decibel level. Polamalu said a fast start could help lower the volume and the possibility of false starts.

Of course, Texas A&M could have 100,000 ways to make that difficult. UCLA Coach Jim Mora noted the aptitude of yell leaders and students in making things uncomfortable for visitors, something the Aggies choreograph during yell practice at Kyle Field the night before games. Crowds as large as 25,000 attend.

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“I mean, it’s crazy,” Mora said. “They try to make you feel seasick the way they do it.”

It’s exactly the kind of clatter the Aggies prefer.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch


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