Cal Bears Prepare for A&M Aggies

SAN DIEGO - Movies are always a popular pastime around Christmas. Action flicks and horror movies aren't usually at the top of the popularity list. Watching game films of the Texas A&M Aggies, however, pretty much qualifies as both.

First, the facts: Texas A&M brings a 9-3 record into the Holiday Bowl, and they are "this close" to being unbeaten. Their three losses were by a total of six points.

"They play a very physical brand of football," is the way Cal coach Jeff Tedford described the Aggies. By which he meant, among other things, that A&M hands the football to Jovorskie Lane rather often. Lane only plays one style of football, and that's physical. At 6-0 and 274 pounds (that's not a misprint, no matter how hard Bear backers may wish it was), he's more like trying to tackle a tsunami. No need for a lot of moves here, not from a young man who has, on his 29 third-or-fourth down carries this year, produced 26 first downs or touchdowns.

Defensive back and Lott Award winner Daymeion Hughes has watched a lot of video of the A&M offense (and it's diverse), and, well, "I'm not sure I've got them figured out... I don't want to say their offense is unorthodox," the senior cornerback demurred, "but it's a little different."

You could say that. Coach Dennis Franchione has the team running the option offense, but there's going to be a lot of plays on Thursday evening where the "option" won't including pitching out, because A&M will be working from an empty backfield.

Quarterback Stephen McGee is one of just three QB's in the country who totaled 2,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards this year. What is it about central Texas that produces multi-talented signal callers?

Want to hear more "doom and gloom?"

Cal linebacker Desmond Bishop suggests that those two skill position players, plus freshman tailback Mike Goodson (who carried for 765 yards with a 6.9 yd per carry average) constitute "the best three-man backfield that we've faced all year."

Sounds like the 90th-ranked defense in Division I-A will have its hands full. And we haven't yet even talked about the receivers that got McGee to that 2,000 yard passing plateau.

Chad Schroeder and tight end Matrellus Bennett have combined for 74 catches, over 1,000 yards and 6 TDs this year. And trick plays will have to be on Golden Bear defenders minds at all times, since the Aggies will have four former quarterbacks on the field when they use the empty backfield, 4-receiver set.

There's not as much "scary" on the Aggies' defensive side, but it's still going to be tough sledding for Nate Longshore and the Bears. Defensive end Chris Harrington has 7.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss this year; linebacker Justin Warren logged 90 tackles, and safety Melvin Bullitt 76 more (including seven for a loss, indicating A&M will blitz). Those aren't spectacularly high numbers, but then again, since the Aggies offense controlled the ball 56% of the time for the season, they are better than they first look.

Add to this the fact that Cal's got a couple of problems - one being that senior fullback Byron Storer will not be able to play in the game after breaking an arm in practice a little over a week ago (shades of Geoff MacArthur just before the Insight Bowl?), and the fact that the last time Cal faced a team hailing from the Lone Star State, it was on this same Qualcomm field, in the Holiday Bowl, in another year when being "awarded" that bowl was a disappointment.

Two years ago, Cal was ranked high enough to earn a BCS bowl berth, but was finagled out of it by the whining supplications of Mack Brown, head coach at,... wait for it... the University of Texas. They "settled" for the Holiday Bowl and never had their hearts (or their heads or most any other body parts) into a game that another Texas school, Texas Tech, ran away with - again, with a potent offense of a type Cal had not played against that season.

This year, the Rose Bowl was within the Bears' grasp, two different ways - had they defeated USC straight up, they would have gone no matter what. As things turned out, had they defeated a fairly ordinary University of Arizona team, they would have been working out in Pasadena for a game next Monday instead.

It's hard for young men to move past that, mentally, and get "up" for a game that, no matter how pleasant and prestigious, isn't "The Big One."

It has been so long since Cal went to a Rose Bowl (if you need help remembering, it was at the end of the first Republican administration since the stock market crash of 1929, or, about nine months before the first regular series broadcast in color on television, Bonanza, came into being) that anything falling short of that is somehow viewed as disappointing, at least by the rabidly faithful (and rapidly aging) alumni.

There's a real danger in this game, that the Golden Bears, despite the coaching staff's best efforts to focus them this time ("in retrospect, we were distracted the last time we were at the Holiday Bowl and we feel we learned a good deal from that," was coach Tedford's memory), will just not be as intense as Texas A&M.

That's unfortunate, because this Bears team was ranked in the top 10 pre-season, and worked very hard to get back to that ranking before the Arizona and USC disappointments late in the year.

Nothing leaves a good taste in a team's mouth quite like exceeding expectations in a victory to end the season. As much as this writer hopes to see just that, it's hard to see Cal as a 4-1/2 point favorite in this game. If you're the wagering sort, take the points. And hope that Cal can come up with the win in this game. Candidly, this observer is expecting a Texas A&M victory, something in the neighborhood of 31-17.

But I'd love to be wrong (and to be frequently reminded of it) from today until opening day of next season.


©Copyright 2006, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.


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First, the facts: Texas A&M brings a 9-3 record into the Holiday Bowl, and they are \"this close\" to being unbeaten. Their three losses were by a total of six points.

\"They play a very physical brand of football,\" is the way Cal coach Jeff Tedford described the Aggies. By which he meant, among other things, that A&M hands the football to Jovorskie Lane rather often. Lane only plays one style of football, and that's physical. At 6-0 and 274 pounds (that's not a misprint, no matter how hard Bear backers may wish it was), he's more like trying to tackle a tsunami. No need for a lot of moves here, not from a young man who has, on his 29 third-or-fourth down carries this year, produced 26 first downs or touchdowns.

Defensive back and Lott Award winner Daymeion Hughes has watched a lot of video of the A&M offense (and it's diverse), and, well, \"I'm not sure I've got them figured out... I don't want to say their offense is unorthodox,\" the senior cornerback demurred, \"but it's a little different.\"

You could say that. Coach Dennis Franchione has the team running the option offense, but there's going to be a lot of plays on Thursday evening where the \"option\" won't including pitching out, because A&M will be working from an empty backfield.

Quarterback Stephen McGee is one of just three QB's in the country who totaled 2,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards this year. What is it about central Texas that produces multi-talented signal callers?

Want to hear more \"doom and gloom?\"

Cal linebacker Desmond Bishop suggests that those two skill position players, plus freshman tailback Mike Goodson (who carried for 765 yards with a 6.9 yd per carry average) constitute \"the best three-man backfield that we've faced all year.\"

Sounds like the 90th-ranked defense in Division I-A will have its hands full. And we haven't yet even talked about the receivers that got McGee to that 2,000 yard passing plateau.

Chad Schroeder and tight end Matrellus Bennett have combined for 74 catches, over 1,000 yards and 6 TDs this year. And trick plays will have to be on Golden Bear defenders minds at all times, since the Aggies will have four former quarterbacks on the field when they use the empty backfield, 4-receiver set.

There's not as much \"scary\" on the Aggies' defensive side, but it's still going to be tough sledding for Nate Longshore and the Bears. Defensive end Chris Harrington has 7.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss this year; linebacker Justin Warren logged 90 tackles, and safety Melvin Bullitt 76 more (including seven for a loss, indicating A&M will blitz). Those aren't spectacularly high numbers, but then again, since the Aggies offense controlled the ball 56% of the time for the season, they are better than they first look.

Add to this the fact that Cal's got a couple of problems - one being that senior fullback Byron Storer will not be able to play in the game after breaking an arm in practice a little over a week ago (shades of Geoff MacArthur just before the Insight Bowl?), and the fact that the last time Cal faced a team hailing from the Lone Star State, it was on this same Qualcomm field, in the Holiday Bowl, in another year when being \"awarded\" that bowl was a disappointment.

Two years ago, Cal was ranked high enough to earn a BCS bowl berth, but was finagled out of it by the whining supplications of Mack Brown, head coach at,... wait for it... the University of Texas. They \"settled\" for the Holiday Bowl and never had their hearts (or their heads or most any other body parts) into a game that another Texas school, Texas Tech, ran away with - again, with a potent offense of a type Cal had not played against that season.

This year, the Rose Bowl was within the Bears' grasp, two different ways - had they defeated USC straight up, they would have gone no matter what. As things turned out, had they defeated a fairly ordinary University of Arizona team, they would have been working out in Pasadena for a game next Monday instead.

It's hard for young men to move past that, mentally, and get \"up\" for a game that, no matter how pleasant and prestigious, isn't \"The Big One.\"

It has been so long since Cal went to a Rose Bowl (if you need help remembering, it was at the end of the first Republican administration since the stock market crash of 1929, or, about nine months before the first regular series broadcast in color on television, Bonanza, came into being) that anything falling short of that is somehow viewed as disappointing, at least by the rabidly faithful (and rapidly aging) alumni.

There's a real danger in this game, that the Golden Bears, despite the coaching staff's best efforts to focus them this time (\"in retrospect, we were distracted the last time we were at the Holiday Bowl and we feel we learned a good deal from that,\" was coach Tedford's memory), will just not be as intense as Texas A&M.

That's unfortunate, because this Bears team was ranked in the top 10 pre-season, and worked very hard to get back to that ranking before the Arizona and USC disappointments late in the year.

Nothing leaves a good taste in a team's mouth quite like exceeding expectations in a victory to end the season. As much as this writer hopes to see just that, it's hard to see Cal as a 4-1/2 point favorite in this game. If you're the wagering sort, take the points. And hope that Cal can come up with the win in this game. Candidly, this observer is expecting a Texas A&M victory, something in the neighborhood of 31-17.

But I'd love to be wrong (and to be frequently reminded of it) from today until opening day of next season.


©Copyright 2006, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.

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