1. How was A&M able to jump out to the commanding lead?
It was a combination of things. Vernand Morency's fumbles hurt. His first two drops of the season – the first appeared to be caused by the ground – only led to one score. But the second fumble, which was caused by a nice strip by the Aggies Archie McDaniel, led to an easy touchdown drive of just 20 yards.
"That is something I work on everyday in practice," said Morency, who rushed for 111 yards on 28 carries. "I fumbled the ball tonight and I take the blame for the loss."
The penalties, which on offense seemed to come at times that stopped possessions, also played a major role. However, the biggest reason for the big start by the Aggies seemed to be field position. Oklahoma State had been blessed with great field position in the first five games. Thanks to opponents' turnovers the OSU offense has had short fields to work with for early leads in games.
A&M never turned the ball over, and Aggie punter Jacob Young, who came into the game just averaging 35 yards a punt, boomed 50-yarders all night, outdistancing Cole Farden by 10 yards a kick. All those combined to give A&M an average starting field position from its own 48-yard-line. OSU had an average starting field position of its own 20-yard-line.
"You cannot spot a good football team possessions," said Cowboy head coach Les Miles. "You cannot start out your game by making mistakes. The poise of our team is what we have to address."
"We are a team and we are doing the things that a team on a roll does," said A&M head coach Dennis Franchione. "They were that team going into this game, but tonight we were."
2. Why wasn't the Cowboy defense able to come up with more stops?
Here's where you give Reggie McNeal credit. The Texas A&M quarterback is vastly improved and he was an expert at reading the Oklahoma State defense. The Cowboys tried several blitzes, but McNeal simply read the pressure and unloaded quick 5-to-8-yard passes that yielded good gains. The Cowboys secondary gave A&M cushion conservative coverages like cover eight.
The motivation was to keep the plays in front of the defensive backs and allow them a good opportunity to make tackles. With the speed of the A&M receivers across their spread formation the fear was jumping routes or playing press coverage would give up too many big plays. It was a game that cried for injured Cowboy corner Darrent Williams. Most of all the credit goes to McNeal, who played flawlessly.
"We felt like with Reggie and our skill guys that it was something that would be good to us," said Franchione. "It (the spread) has been good for us this year. I think we used it a little bit more tonight. I felt like we would need to mix it up and keep them off balance and we did that."
"He is awfully talented," said Miles of McNeal. "Every throw was right on the money. He out-threw coverage at times. They have a nice scheme on offense that allows him to make plays with his feet."
3. Why all the penalties, on both teams?
OSU came in with the fewest in the Big 12 at penalties, while A&M entered with the third fewest in the conference. The Aggies didn't hurt their standing with 12 penalties for 120 yards, many of those personal foul penalties for late hits. The Aggies almost lure the opposition in playing the penalty game. Their was a lot of talking and the intensity level was high.
The Cowboys played right into it catching a few personal foul penalties of their own. The most damaging of the five Cowboy penalties was a silly kick catch interference penalty on Vernon Grant that set A&M up at the 50-yard-line on what ended up being the drive that gave A&M a 20-0 lead. The Big 12 officiating crew headed by referee Hal Dowden is one of the best in the league, and they were determined to maintain control of the game, so penalties were flagged to keep proper order.
4. What has happened to the Cowboy return game?
Start with Darrent Williams. There's a good reason he is one of the best punt returners in the nation. Jacob Young getting booming, great hang-time kicks all night kept both Prentiss Elliott and Daniel McLemore from having much of a chance. But neither of them is as good at fielding the ball or getting started with the return as Williams. Kickoff returns were better against Texas A&M. However, the negatives were that the Cowboys got too many chances to return kickoffs and there were still several key returns that got no further than the 15-yard-line.
Special teams coordinator Joe DeForest doesn't accept mediocrity, so you could end up seeing some changes to kick start the kick returns soon.
5. What critical corrections need to be made before Missouri?
On defense the Cowboys can likely expect to see some more spread formations out of Missouri. The Tigers like to run the same zone read that Reggie McNeal used for some major gains against the Cowboys. Oklahoma State will need to do a better job of tackling before taking on Brad Smith and company. The Cowboys likely need to pick some spots to take some chances for some interceptions. I don't see any personal changes, but the sooner Darrent Williams, a champion route jumper, gets healthy the better.
On offense it's just cutting out mistakes and getting better at the intermediate passing game to the wide receivers. The offensive line sorely misses redshirt freshman left guard David Koenig. Koenig was getting knockdowns in the running game with his athleticism and ability to block on the run. Neither Corey Curtis or Doug Bond have been as good in that area. Aggie defensive tackle Johnny Jolly was taking up residence at the line of scrimmage.
It's no time to panic and the Cowboys are still the team that opened 5-0, but shoring up some of the weaknesses could be the difference between a special season and one that is considered mediocre after that 5-0 start.
"We play good football teams from here on out," said Miles. "We have to play smart. If we do that we will win a lot of ball games. We cannot spot teams a lead and play from behind."
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