The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
Fresh off a statement victory, the 17th-ranked Texas A&M Aggies will attempt to carry the momentum into Thursday's Big 12 Conference clash with the Texas Longhorns.
In front of a raucous home crowd last weekend, the Aggies put forth a stellar defensive effort and knocked off mighty Nebraska by a 9-6 final. That win was the fifth in a row for A&M, which has obviously bounced back strong from a three-game losing streak. The club is 8-3 and will undoubtedly play in a strong non-BCS bowl, but a victory over Texas this weekend would obviously do wonders for the A&M program.
"The consequences of winning are the expectations get higher," said Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman after upsetting Nebraska. "We jumped over another hurdle and have taken another step. We still have another step to take."
It is hard to believe that Texas, which played in the national title game last season, has more losses than wins heading into this regular-season finale. At 5-6, the Longhorns need a victory just to become bowl eligible. Last weekend, the club was happy to step outside of Big 12 play to battle an inferior Florida Atlantic squad, as a 51-17 victory halted a four-game skid.
"Coaches, players, everybody - they've been so beaten down," says Texas coach Mack Brown of all the negative attention directed toward his players and coaches because of the disappointing season.
Texas owns a 75-36-5 series advantage over Texas A&M, which includes a 49-39 victory over the Aggies last season.
Texas A&M failed to score a single touchdown against Nebraska last weekend, and the offense managed to make good on just 2-of-13 third-down conversion attempts. Still, Cyrus Gray deserves a great deal of credit for the victory, as he ran the ball 26 times for 137 yards and caught nine passes for 65 yards.
"I would say extraordinary," said Sherman when asked to describe Gray's performance "With his catches and his runs and picking the holes. If he didn't play the game he did we wouldn't have been able to kick the field goals. Nothing he ever does surprises me. I'm not shocked looking at his stats."
Gray is the first Aggie running back in 20 years to have five straight 100- yard rushing games, and he has 396 rushing yards in the three games since fellow tailback Christine Michael broke his leg. A&M didn't commit a single turnover against Nebraska, key to the win.
Give plenty of credit to the swarming Texas A&M defense for holding a potent Nebraska offense to 306 total yards. The Cornhuskers are one of the best running teams in the nation, but they managed a mere 3.8 yards per carry against the Aggies. A&M came through with two big interceptions in that tilt.
Through 11 outings, the Aggies are generating 32.5 ppg and 455.0 total ypg. Ryan Tannehill, who has replaced the turnover-prone Jerrod Johnson as the club's quarterback, has completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 1,306 yards and 10 scores with only three interceptions. Gray has run for 810 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, while Jeff Fuller has 11 receiving scores. Fuller needs just 41 yards to reach the 1,000-yard plateau.
Defensively, A&M is limiting opponents to 20.6 ppg and 357.4 total ypg, numbers that have certainly improved significantly during the five game winning streak. The Aggies are tough against both means of attack, limiting foes to 3.3 rushing ypc and 9.6 yards per pass completion. With 20 takeaways and 25 sacks, A&M has certainly registered some impact plays. Michael Hodges leads the Aggies with 98 total tackles, while Von Fuller has 7.5 sacks to his credit.
Under coach Brown, Texas has seemingly always featured a high-powered offensive attack, but that clearly isn't the case this season. Sure, the 24.4 ppg and 384.6 total ypg are respectable, but strong performances against weak opposition have been offset by sluggish efforts against quality teams. Brown has stuck with Garrett Gilbert, and the quarterback has struggled mightily. Gilbert has thrown only nine touchdown passes with 15 interceptions and he has completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes, a far cry from what Colt McCoy was able to do last season. James Kirkendoll leads the Texas receivers with 45 catches for 655 yards and two scores, while Cody Johnson paces the backfield with 485 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
Opponents are scoring 23.6 ppg against Texas, which is allowing only 294.2 total ypg. Clearly, the defense has remained strong, yielding a mere 3.2 yards per carry on the ground and limiting passing yardage as well. Texas has committed 26 turnovers this season, and those giveaways have often put the defense in vulnerable positions. While the Longhorns have only posted 16 of their own takeaways, they have notched 29 sacks and continue to battle. Keep an eye on Sam Acho, as he has registered nine sacks.
Gilbert certainly needed a good performance against Florida Atlantic to boost his confidence, and the first-year starter threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions while also running for 60 yards and a score. Kirkendoll finished with four catches for 123 yards and a touchdown, while Johnson ran for 124 yards and a score.
"I thought it would give him great confidence going into Thursday," said Brown of Johnson's heavy workload. "We've needed a back around here to carry the load."
Meanwhile, the Texas defense limited FAU to 298 total yards and came up with three takeaways.
Texas is a prideful group and will find a way to win this finale at home. Expect this contest to be decided in the final minute.