A Closer Look at the Aggies

Brent Zwerneman covers Texas Aggie football and has done so since 1995 for newspapers in Texas. Here’s what he had to say briefly about the game tonight.

* The “new” Kyle Field appears to be all it was projected to be prior to and during construction: “It‘s amazing. When I started covering the Aggies in 1995, people would say it was this concrete monstrosity. Fans were on top of the action. Three decks, nine stories high. Now they have renovated the heck out of it and added all the bells and whistles you can imagine. They had already added the north end zone in 1998. Now the south end zone, which was open, is closed. You used to look out at 90,000 people and see the south end zone out into the prairie. No more. Now it’s enclosed. They already had a reputation of being one of the loudest stadiums in the nation. This (Ole Miss) game will be one of the first times (for it to be full and loud) with one of the top programs in the nation this year. So far it’s been Lamar and Rice in here. Finally A&M fans will have a reason to really party in their new place. It’s everything you would expect from the SEC’s far west outpost and what I think has been a good fit in the SEC. I think we all knew going in the Aggies would be a good fit, and this (stadium) certainly pays homage to that.”

* Texas A&M’s defense does not appear to be tackling well and also the offense has had some drops by the receivers: “Year in and year out it seems like they’re struggling on defense. This year is no exception as we’ve seen. Mike Sherman (the head coach before Kevin Sumlin) recruited very well on offense. But he struggled defensively recruiting. Kevin Sumlin was a little behind on that front when he arrived. And some of the guys he brought in are not here for whatever reason. They’re really thin on defense, especially at linebacker where they’re hurting. And the lack of tackling has become an issue. And then the receivers with the drops now was not an issue early, especially at South Carolina in the season opener. They really can’t put their fingers on why that’s happening now.”

* The expectations for this team, especially after that big early win at South Carolina, must have been off the charts. What about now?: “That’s really one of the deals that’s thrown this season into a bit of awry for Aggie fans. At the time South Carolina was No. 9 in the nation, and Kenny Hill and the offense lit them up. Once they did that, there were all these expectations. Then you run into a better Arkansas team and they were very fortunate to escape with a victory. They were down 28-14 in the fourth quarter and won in overtime. The bottom line is all those things caught up with them at Mississippi State. That’s where they are now. I picked this program to be 7-5 this season. Now it’s looking like 7-5, 8-4 might be pretty realistic.”

* Is this A&M team better than what it showed at MSU? “You would certainly think so. But then again, so many of the things I noticed late in the season last year when they fell off the national radar. They lost 34-10 at LSU and then lost at Missouri. It took a miracle comeback by (Johnny) Manziel and company to beat Duke in the Chik-Fil-A Bowl and pull out a miracle victory there. There were a lot of questions about this program going into the offseason. Everything was skewed with the win at South Carolina and you’re now seeing South Carolina is not that good and was obviously way overrated. Now it seems like those questions are rearing their head. In keeping up with Kenny Hill, this guy’s only started six games in his college career. He threw over 500 yards against South Carolina, and I think there were headlines that said ‘Johnny Who?’ Since then he has shown there is a learning curve, especially as the competition has increased. So those questions are still there for a very young team.”

There will be several keys to the game for Ole Miss. Here are a few points on that as far as the Spirit’s take of the situation at hand.

* Bo Wallace had one of his best games ever against Alabama. It was apparent he came into the contest with the mindset of getting the job done and not providing any opportunities for the Rebels to lose. Against Memphis the week before, a 24-3 Ole Miss victory, Wallace threw two interceptions and lost one fumble. In the 23-17 win against Alabama, Wallace had no turnovers. That will be an important stat to check after and even during the game tonight.

* The Rebels’ running game, while not putting up great numbers, has gotten better. The coaches have acknowledged that. The players have as well. The Texas A&M offense could run, as some have mentioned, up to 80 plays. Ole Miss needs to offset some of that, if possible, by keeping possession of the football and extending drives for several reasons: keep the football away from the Aggies, run some clock themselves, and obviously score points.

* In its last two conference games, Texas A&M has given up 28 points in a 35-28 overtime win against Arkansas and 48 points in a 17-point loss at Mississippi State. The Rebels have to keep that opponent's scoring trend going in a much more hostile environment than they’ve been in all season. Ole Miss played a neutral site game to open the season in Atlanta against Boise State, then played another neutral field game against Vanderbilt in Nashville. Since then there’ve been three straight home games. The crowd tonight will be perhaps the largest in Texas A&M football history and one of the largest in Southeastern Conference history. Ole Miss must be able to handle all that as well.

* Defensively, the Rebels are still ranked among the nation’s best. They’ve shown time and time again they are up to the challenge. They’ll be challenged again against A&M, and they must be able to get off the field and give the Rebels’ offense a chance to work. When Ole Miss needed a stop against Alabama they got it, and the last one in the form of a Senquez Golson interception sealed the upset win. That play also came not long after Ole Miss had missed two extra point kicks by two different kickers. Another real key to the game could be placekicking. If it comes down to it, who does Ole Miss turn to? Coach Hugh Freeze said he will go with Gary Wunderlich to begin the game. It’s in the Rebels’ best interest, since that’s the case, that Wunderlich win the battle from that point on. Otherwise, a missed kick could prove more costly than it did against Alabama. It could cost Ole Miss this or a future game.

* Lastly, with a veteran team of experienced leaders, Ole Miss likely had come down to earth earlier in the week after beating Alabama. Although pats on the back were many and media from coast to coast were talking about the game, the Rebels said it was behind them. That’s likely the case and has to be tonight before 100,000 or more Texas A&M fans who eagerly anticipate their team getting back on track in the SEC.

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