November 26, 2009
7:00 p.m. Central
Will anyone be up late tonight? Perhaps around midnight? Will you hear the echos from Kyle Field in College Station? Possibly, because the Aggies’ faithful will jam in to the stadium to rouse the demons of the season and hope to bring them upon the ‘Horns on Thanksgiving Day. This is a trap game for the Longhorns, and they need to be prepared for A&M’s best in this final regular-season game. One more game, ‘Horns, and then you prepare for the final step to the national championship.
Since the Aggies have been preparing for this game since they became a university, let’s get to the details.
Eyes Of TX’s Prediction
Texas 42, Texas A&M 20
Texas A&M Aggies (6-5)
It’s been an up-and-down year for the Aggies, but when you consider where they came from last year, it’s as if they’ve reached the pinnacle of football lore. Unfortunately, despite their turn-around in 2009, the team is still horribly inconsistent, but they have some talent to keep them excited from Thanksgiving this year to August next year.
The offense starts with quarterback Jerrod Johnson, who at 6’5” and 243-pound is a presence in the pocket. Although he has the athleticism to be an all-around quarterback running and throwing the ball, Johnson is primarily a pocket passer. He has accounted for 2,874 yards and 24 TDs on the year, and despite a 59 percent completion rate, he’s only thrown five INTs this season. He actually doesn’t run much through designed rushing schemes, averaging only 32 yards a game, but his long strides do make him a threat when the pocket collapses and he tucks the ball to run. Generally, though, Johnson will use his legs to create time in the pocket or rolling out to find his wide receivers, and that is the concern for Texas on Thursday night.
The receiving corps is led by some familiar names. Wide receivers Ryan Tannehill, Jeff Fuller and Uzoma Nwachukwu are all reliable targets downfield, and even though the Aggies try to focus on the running game, these guys are their best on-field athletes when they have the ball in their hands. Fuller is the possession receiver, and despite a broken leg which sidelined him for four games this year, he is back and productive in the Aggies offensive scheme. Nwachukwu is the deep threat and can lull defenses to sleep until he breaks out for a big play, and the freshman has accounted for 19 yards per reception and six TDs, both team highs. Surprisingly, the most productive wide out is also the back-up quarterback in Tannehill. He has come off the bench to lead the team with 40 receptions on the year, and catches everything thrown his direction. This group will dictate A&M’s success on the offensive side of the ball — can they get open against a stout Texas secondary? Can they break off their routes, come back to the quarterback, and create opportunities when Johnson is under pressure in the pocket? Can they get yards after the catch? If Texas’ tackling in the Kansas game is any indication, don’t think they won’t try.
The running game, as usual with A&M teams of old, is what they rely upon to help get their offense in rhythm. The two-pronged attack is led by Cyrus Gray and freshman Christine Michael. Gray is the faster of the two backs, and leads the team with 741 yards on the year. He also has good hands out of the backfield, and using him on screen passes and toss plays could make the Longhorns back-off their pass rush early. Michael, on the other hand, is the “between the tackles” back, and he has eight TDs this season. He will be a stud in the years to come in College Station, and it will be interesting to see how many reps he gets on Thursday, as he’s not as consistent as Gray. Comparisons to Texas’ Cody Johnson wouldn’t be uncommon, as Michael has great feet for a bigger back, and they use him a lot in goal line situations.
The offensive line could be the biggest deficit the Aggies have to overcome this week. The line doesn’t have any headliners, and they have played inconsistently over the course of the season. While they’ve given up 24 sacks on the season (good for 73rd nationally), if they can protect Johnson in the pocket and create running lanes for Gray and Michael, they have a chance to show the highlight-reel offensive playbook fans have seen at times over the course of the season. Too bad Eyes Of TX doesn’t see that happening against the Texas front seven.
The Aggies’ defense is also a liability, especially against the offensive game plan Texas will bring to the table. They are led by stud defensive end/linebacker Von Miller, who will surely play in the NFL. Miller is a great pass rusher, and Texas will have to scheme against him to make sure quarterback Colt McCoy has time to throw in the pocket. Miller has tallied 15.5 sacks on the season, and that is good enough to lead the nation. Because of Miller, or opposing team’s need to double-team him, the Aggies are averaging three sacks a game which ranks 11th nationally. Outside of Miller, however, the defense is remarkably unremarkable. The “Wrecking Crew” days are gone in College Station, as the Aggies give up an average of 31.2 points per game, and more than 416 yards per game to opposing offenses. Broken down, that looks like 157 yards per game rushing and 259 yards per game passing. Oh, and they’ve given up a league-worst 43 TDs. Yikes. The defense is going to have to get pressure on McCoy, keep the Texas receivers in front of them, and make sure tackles to have a chance to upset the ‘Horns at home and make their season.
Special teams for head coach Mike Sherman’s squad is neither a strength or a liability, as their kicker has hit 11-of-16 field goals on the year. Their kick return and coverages are both average, although running back Gray back returning kicks has the potential for trouble, especially the way the ‘Horns covered in the kick game against Kansas.
#3 Texas Longhorns (11-0)
If you’re a Texas fan, you have mixed feelings about this game. On paper, the Aggies shouldn’t get in the way of Texas’ run for a chance to make the national championship game. Then again, it’s the Aggies, and they hate nothing more than “t.u.” and would love to knock the ‘Horns from their 2009 pedestal. In College Station, with the 12th Man on their side, anything is possible. But, the ‘Horns are 24-1 since they lost to the Aggies in 2007, and that streak shouldn’t be in jeopardy on Thursday.
Overall, the ‘Horns need to protect McCoy. Miller and the Aggies defense will come after the quarterback all day, trying to force him to make bad throws and trying to hit him hard and often (knowing them, even after the whistle blows). The offensive line has to protect McCoy and give him time to throw downfield. The deep ball against Kansas was a welcome sign in the Texas offense, and this secondary provides another opportunity for offensive coordinator Greg Davis to take advantage of the Aggies as well. This week, the running back-by-committee continues, as Tre Newton will get the start and Johnson will get his fair share of carries as well. Both backs will need to pick up the blitz, or be the check-down receiver for McCoy if he’s seeing pressure. A combined 100- to 120-yard game from the backs would be acceptable.
On defense, the ‘Horns just need to play smart and tackle. Don’t think defensive coordinator Will Muschamp hasn’t been all over his guys for their “poor” performance against the Jayhawks. The secondary will get a solid test from Johnson’s arm and the plethora of talented receivers A&M will bring to the table, and they will need to hold their coverage as Johnson scrambles to buy himself time. The defensive line will need to provide the push up front to make Johnson hurry his throws, and the linebackers will need to remain clean to pick-up the running game, take down Johnson on scrambles, and watch the running backs on screen passes out of the backfield.
Overall, this is the biggest week of the football season for the Aggies. If they won one game year-in and year-out, this would be it. They will be jacked up, ready to play, and will have a huge crowd on hand swaying and “cheering” them to victory. Unfortunately, there won’t be much kissing your girlfriend in the stands at Kyle Field, and Texas will make this a feast. On Thanksgiving, thanks go to the Aggies for pushing the ‘Horns to 12-0 on the season.