After an easy 48-7 season-opening win over Stephen F. Austin, the Aggies take a step up in talent this Saturday when Louisiana Tech visits Kyle Field for a 6:00 PM start. The Bulldogs are led by first-year head coach Sonny Dykes who coached under a pair of innovative passing mentors – Hal Mumme and Mike Leach. As the offensive coordinator under Mike Stoops at Arizona, Dykes immediately turned around a struggling Wildcat offense improving output by 130 yards per game in his first season (2007) and setting Arizona single season records in passing yards, completions, and touchdown passes.
However, the transition from a ground-based offensive scheme under Vince Dooley to a spread passing offense has been a struggle. In the team's final fall camp scrimmage, the Bulldog defense dominated the offense by taking advantage of many mistakes and breakdowns. The offense was intercepted four passes, gave up seven sacks, and 12 tackles for loss while going scoreless in the first nine series.
Those offensive struggles continued in the season opener as the Bulldogs managed a 20-7 win against non-D1 program Grambling State, combining for 336 yards, two touchdowns, and converting only 4-of-13 third down opportunities. Dykes started veteran Ross Jenkins who completed 15-of-19 passes for only 101 yards. Despite the high completion percentage, Colby Cameron replaced Jenkins and completed 8-of-12 attempts for 95 yards. Playing an overmatched non-D1 team, the Bulldog passing game managed only two pass completions over 20 yards with no plays over 30 yards.
While the ground game is not a focal point of this offense, Louisiana Tech does boast a running back weapon in Lennon Creer, a highly-touted recruit that transferred from Tennessee last year. Still, the Bulldog ground game managed just 140 yards and a 3.7 yard per carry average versus Grambling State.
Defensively, Louisiana Tech shut down the Tigers' ground attack, allowing only 102 yards and a 2.8 yards per carry average. Additionally, Grambling State managed 158 yards through the air with the Bulldog defense intercepting two passes. However, Grambling State's offense won't compare to the Texas A&M offense, led by Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Jerrod Johnson and an offense that finished No. 5 in the nation in 2009 and cruised to a 539 yards of total offense last week.
Louisiana Tech returns many starters at linebacker and defensive back, with linebackers Adrien Cole and Solomon Randle along with safety Tank Calais expected to compete for all-WAC honors in 2010. However, the defensive line has seen a large turnover and the position is considered the weak link of an otherwise veteran defensive unit.
As far as Texas A&M's prospects for the game on Saturday, the Aggies unveiled its new defense under Tim DeRuyter in style by forcing four three-and-out possessions and an interception returned for a touchdown in the game's first seven series. The offense continued its productive ways from 2009 rushing for nearly 200 yards and throwing for over 300 yards against the Lumberjacks.
So here are Texas A&M's keys for success against the Bulldogs this Saturday:
1) Disrupt Louisiana Tech's Short Passing Game
The Bulldog offense is still trying to get comfortable with Sonny Dykes' quick timing passing offense. The quickest way to grab the momentum is to immediately disrupt the offense with a big statement play whether that's a big hit or creating an early turnover. A quick swing in momentum and establishing dominance over an offense in transition could crush any confidence and spell a long day for the Louisiana Tech offense.
2) Create Big Plays in Running Game
While the Aggies generated 192 yards on the ground, the talented running backs averaged only 3.5 yards per carry with the longest run a mere 15 yards. With Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray in the backfield, the staff expects much bigger plays. RB coach Randy Jordan indicated that the running backs weren't patient last Saturday and missed a few running lanes. While the passing game is formidable, the offense is predicated on a dynamic running game that defenses are worried about schematically.
3) Stretch the Field Offensively
One of the reasons why the A&M running game couldn't peel off a long gainer was the inability of the passing game to complete passes downfield and stretch the field. In fact, the Aggies attempted only a handful of passes more than 20 yards downfield, and Jerrod Johnson was not accurate on those throws. Johnson has had his struggles with downfield passes throughout fall camp as he returns from minor offseason shoulder surgery. While he has shown slow improvement each week, he'll need to start hitting on a few of these long throws to keep the opposing defenses from crowding the line of scrimmage.
4) Win Special Teams Battle
While this key can be listed on any game preview, it is especially important for this matchup as both teams have been struggling with its punting. The Bulldogs averaged only 33 yards per attempt while the Aggies averaged over 37 yards per punt. If Texas A&M can establish a consistent advantage in field position through the punting game, they will be tough to overcome at Kyle Field. The Aggies are also trying to solve its problems with kickoffs, as Randy Bullock struggled to kick the ball high and deep which allowed SFA to start drives consistently past the 30 yard-line. Special teams has been a thorn in Mike Sherman's side since 2009, and if the Aggies are going to make some noise in 2010, these units must perform better.
Von Miller left last Saturday's game with a sprained ankle but the injury did not appear serious as he was seen jogging on the sidelines. Mike Sherman indicated that he held out Miller for precautionary purposes. The preseason Big 12 defensive MVP returned to practice on Thursday, so he should be available to play. However, I wouldn't expect to see Miller play extensively if the Aggies are safely ahead in the contest. Freshman Demontre Moore had a promising collegiate debut and the staff will not hesitate to bring Moore in the game if the game is well in-hand.
Wide receiver and punt returner Kenric McNeal injured his forearm on Saturday and his status is unknown for the game on Saturday. In his place, expect to see freshman Nate Askew handle the punt return duties.
Starting tight end Hutson Prioleau did not start in the season opener due to a high ankle sprain suffered late in fall camp. He should play on Saturday, although his role may still be limited. Freshman Nehemiah Hicks started in his first college game and caught three passes for 38 yards.
Louisiana Tech Game Preview
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