at College Station, Texas • Oct. 23 • 11:30 a.m. (MT)
Head Coach: Dennis Franchione (2nd year)
2004 Record: 5-1
Texas A&M spreads the field on offense. However, quarterback Reggie McNeal's main receiving targets are Terrence Murphy (22 receptions) and Jason Carter (17). No other A&M player has more than eight catches.
The Aggies' best weapon, though, is McNeal. The junior is playing as well as any quarterback in the Big 12 this season, and, remarkably, has thrown 149 passes, but no interceptions. As a team, A&M now holds the Big 12 record for consecutive passes without an interception (181) after breaking the mark last week vs. Oklahoma State. Unlike a year ago, McNeal is showing poise in the pocket, but has also beaten opponents by running for a team-leading 454 yards in 2004.
One of the main reasons for McNeal's success is the strong play of the A&M offensive line, which is anchored by a couple of huge tackles – senior Geoff Hangartner (6-5, 303) and junior Jami Hightower (6-4, 355).
Player to watch: McNeal is second in the conference in total offense (296 ypg) behind TTU quarterback Sonny Cumbie, who has 200 more pass attempts than McNeal. While he wasn't mentioned in the same breath with Heisman candidates Oklahoma's Jason White and Missouri's Brad Smith in August and September, if McNeal continues playing the way he has this fall, he could outpace those two when the Heisman votes are tallied in December. What's made McNeal special is that he has combined efficient play with big-play ability this season.
KEYS for COLORADO
Win the Turnover Battle
Texas A&M has been phenomenal in the turnover department, giving up just one (fumble) while forcing 15 this fall. As a further testament to the team's discipline, A&M is the least penalized team in the Big 12 (58).
While the Aggies are obviously good and hanging on to the ball, they're also due to give up some turnovers. Colorado has to force something that could test the focus of the Texas A&M team, and perhaps take the crowd out of the game a bit.
Put Pressure on McNeal
One way to create some turnovers is to solve the Texas A&M protection schemes and get some solid pressure on McNeal. As a sophomore last season, McNeal threw seven picks. If Colorado can put some hits on the quarterback, and keep him from hurting them with the scramble, they could force some bad throws.
CU linebacker Akarika Dawn says, "We're going to have to swarm – get to McNeal and hold on."
DEFENSE This Texas A&M defense is improved over a year ago, especially up front. Senior defensive end Mike Montgomery (6-6, 279) is effective off the edge. Junior Johnny Jolly (6-3, 303), redshirt-freshman Joseph Bryant (6-4, 316) and senior Marcus Jasmin (6-5, 307) will rotate on the inside and have the type of size that's given the CU offensive line trouble this season.
CU will face linebacker Lee Foliaki (6-2, 244) on Saturday. Foliaki is legend to CU fans who cruise the Internet after he flirted with coming to Colorado for what seemed like three straight years – out of high school and Butler CC. In his first year at A&M, Foliaki will be starting his third game for the Aggies.
Safety Jaxson Appel is proven veteran in the secondary, and leads the Aggies with 47 stops.
The Aggies play a basic 4-3 defense, and will swarm to the ball and are among the best tackling defenses in the conference. They also lead the Big 12 in sacks with 20, yet they've given up just four.
Player to watch: Senior Byron Jones leads the Aggies in sacks with 4.5, and he's a cornerback. Look for A&M to send Jones from the corner against CU quarterback Joel Klatt.
KEYS for COLORADO
Rise Above The Home-Field Advantage
Colorado has been able to defeat the Aggies in its only two tries in College Station (1996, 2000), despite one of the best home-field advantages in college football. For most of the CU players, this will be the first time they've played a game at Kyle Field. They need to keep their focus on the details of the game and avoid mental mistakes — something CU hasn't been able to do no matter where they've played this season — in the midst of the swaying stands and constant noise on Saturday.
Find a Playmaker or Two
The Colorado offense needs to grow up this week. Simply put, if the Buffs play with the offensive inconsistency they have through much of the first half of the season, this game could get ugly.
SPECIAL TEAMS Though he's averaging a modest 37 yards per punt, Jacob Young has put 11 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line, and the A&M punt team has helped forced 14 fair catches. PK Todd Pegram is 4-of-4 on field goals. Like Colorado, the Texas A&M returners haven't yet broken loose on kick or punt returns.
TAMU STATISTICAL LEADERS
Passing: Reggie McNeal, 87-149-1,325, 7 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Courtney Lewis, 85-294/4.6 ypc, 5 TD
Receiving: Terrence Murphy, 22-397/18.0 ypc, 2 TD
Kickoff returns: Jason Carter, 5-107/21.4
Punt returns: Erik Mayes, 8-74/9.2
Punting: Jacob Young, 35/36.9
Tackles: Jaxson Appel, 47
Tackles for loss: Mike Montgomery, 7-17
Sacks: Byron Jones, 4.5-43
Interceptions: Japhus Brown, 2-32