*NOTE* First off, I would like to apologize for the lull in between posts here. Work has been crazy, and Laura and I have been without internet at the house for a couple weeks. All is back up and running now however, so Im hoping to get back into the groove. Thanks for reading!
Everybody told me Saturday would be an ugly loss. Having beared witness to every game prior, I had no reason not to believe them. This is not a very good A&M team at the moment, and in a year in which 4 of the 6 Big 12 South teams are ranked in the top 20, it's tough to see things turning around in the standings anytime soon. Saturday's game in Stillwater did however open some eyes towards what could be. Let's break it down.
I will say that I have always been a big believer in the philosophy that you can typically grade how deep a team is by the play of their Special Teams. Depth seperates truly "good" teams from mere flashes in the pan. Texas A&M has struggled all year in the special teams department. To me, this simply highlights the fact that beyond the starting 11 on each side of the ball, the talent at Texas A&M is either very young or sadly, not very good. Oklahoma State drove this point home by averaging an amazing 33.8 yards per punt return, including a 78 yard jaunt up the sidelines for sophomore Dez Bryant. Bryant appeared to be bottled up initially at his own 20, however he was able to somehow break away from three different A&M tackelers. Beyond the initial tackler, we saw very poor pursuit from the rest of the team, as Bryant was able to hit the sideline and race untouched to the endzone. Throughout the year thus far, A&M's kickoff and punt teams have looked slow and timid. In a facet of the game where only those of the most reckless nature tend to prosper, timidity is a death sentence. A&M must tie up these issues, as a young team can ill afford to consistently give up good field position to the opposing team, especially those who still lie ahead on the schedule.
Going in to Saturday's game, Oklahoma State brought with them a rushing attack averaging well over 300 yards a game, a running back in Kendall Hunter who has been drawing comparison to OSU alum Barry Sanders, and a quarterback in Zac Robinson who is just as acclaimed for his feet as he is his arm. Considering A&M had been gashed by lowly Army on the ground the week prior in a narrow 21-17 victory, many were expecting Oklahoma State to run roughshod over the Aggie defense. Surprisingly, A&M's defense held tight in the first half and only gave up one touchdown to one of the country's best offenses. Ok, granted special teams and the offense did give up THREE touchdowns themselves in the first half, but the defense held strong in the first half and showed glimpses of what could be. I feel we are starting to see linebackers who understand their critical role in this defense. On the defensive line, we are beginning to see the push from big guys like Kellen Heard that was expected this year, yet had been missing in action up until then. In the secondary, true freshmen Trent Hunter and Terence Frederick have begun making contributions. Hunter, the defending Big 12 player of the week following his 17 tackle performance against Army, played well against a much more daunting opponent. One of the highlights included a goal line stand in which A&M was able to hold OSU out of the endzone on a 4th and goal from the 1 yard line. To say that was unexpected would be an understatement. The defense has an opportunity to build on their effort this week against a more vanilla offense in Kansas State.
Last year, A&M trotted out 26 and 25 year old Mark Dodge and Misi Tupe to head the linebacking corps known as "The Geritol Gang". Well, consider this year's offense the "Gerber Gang". Having been largely dissapointed in the inability of many upperclassmen to pick up the offensive system, Mike Sherman has not been hesitant to give the starting spots to anyone willing to step up, including true freshman. Sophomore quarterback Jerrod Johnson, who himself has replaced senior QB Stephen McGee, has found his favorite targets to be freshmen Jeff Fuller and Ryan Tannehill. Neither has dissapointed, as Fuller leads the team with 4 receiving touchdowns, while Tannehill led A&M Saturday with 7 receptions, including 2 TD catches. Freshmen Cyrus Gray and Bradley Stephens have also found many ways to contribute. Both tailbacks return kickoffs, while Gray has also played a little quarterback in the newly popular "wildcat" formation. Unfortunately with youth comes inexperience, and in the end this is what did in A&M's offense. A&M's offense gave up a beleaguering five turnovers in the first half, including two interceptions returned for touchdowns, as well as a fumble that left the A&M defense with little field to defend. At times, A&M's offense showed glimpses of the promise these young guys have, only to end with disastrous results. A great example was in the second quarter, with A&M down 21-7. The A&M defense, coming off the momentum of Mike Goodson's electric 80 yard touchdown run, stopped the OSU offense and forced them to punt. A&M partially blocked the punt, which left the offense only 45 yards away from making this a one touchdown game. The first play from scrimmage on the ensuing drive for A&M resulted in a nice nine yard rush by Gray in which he left a couple OSU defenders eating grass. The very next play, Gray was able to cut outside for another 5 yards. Unfortunately, he failed to hold onto the ball, and the Cowboys recovered, sucking back all the momentum the Aggies had built. Plays like this will kill a team, and the sooner the young guys are able to understand this, the sooner A&M can be competitive. The top end of the talent is definitely there, and I could see this offense scaring a few teams so long as they can limit the mistakes youthfulness often brings.
Texas A&M went into a hostile environment against one of the hottest teams in the country and came out as many expected, in a 28 point loss. However, don't let the statistics fool you. A&M actually outgained the vaunted Okie State offense by a yard. In the end, A&M simply turned the ball over way too many times. Call it what you will, but Oklahoma State is not known for an opportunistic defense, which leads one to believe the mistakes lie more on A&M's poor decisions than the Cowboy's ball-hawking defense. If A&M wants to have a chance in any of their remaining Big 12 games, they will have to learn to mitigate the ways of youthful recklessness in an effort to move the ball. That said, I feel this team has shown improvement in every game this year, and despite the score, I feel they showed it again this week. Each week we are seeing flashes of what this team could be, and there could come a week before the end of the year where everything comes together long enough for A&M to put a scare into one of the bigger teams they face. That said, big mistakes like the turnovers of the first half this week could lead to a blowout to the likes of someone like Baylor. It will be interesting to see as the team continues to grow more confident in the new offensive and defensive systems, if these mistakes will start to fade away.
This week, the Kansas State Wildcats make their way to Kyle Field in a one of the few games remaining that A&M is believed to have a legitimate shot to win. K-State is coming off their own 58-28 thrashing at home to the likes of Texas Tech. Kansas State's defense may be among the worst in the nation, as the week before they surrendered 37 points to lowly Louisiana Lafayette. This one could get ugly going either way this week. Nonetheless, I will be there supporting our school through thick and thin. My good friend Art Waterman and family will be there, and I look forward to enjoying a beer on a beautiful fall Saturday with a brother of mine, and hopefully a good game as well. Let's face it Ags, this year can not be just about wins and losses, or you will be sorely dissappointed. Despite a couple pretty lopsided scores this year, this team has yet to show an ounce of quit in them, something that couldn't be said about the Fran-led teams of the past few years. They are fighting no matter what, and I will stand behind them, because that's what we as Aggies do. Why? There's a fight song sung when A&M falls short and there's a line that I feel encapsulates our current situation.
When we’re down, the goin’s rough and tough,
We just grin and yell: “We’ve got the stuff
To fight together for the Aggie dream.”
We’re the 12th Man on that FIGHTIN’ AGGIE TEAM!
Aggies never quit. Gig em and God Bless!