Texas A&M - FIU Game Preview

The Texas A&M football team concludes its home non-conference schedule when the Florida International Golden Panthers come to Kyle Field on Saturday for a 6:00 PM kickoff. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop previews the game and looks at the four keys for an A&M victory

The Texas A&M football team concludes its non-conference home schedule on Saturday against Florida International (FIU) for a 6:00 PM kick at Kyle Field. The Golden Panthers opened the season last week hosting Rutgers. Despite outgaining the Scarlet Knights by nearly 200 yards, FIU couldn't overcome four turnovers and two blocked punts in route to a 19-14 loss.

Just as first year coach Tim DeRuyter changed the fortunes of the Aggies' defense, new FIU defensive coordinator Geoff Collins apparently has done the same with the Golden Panther defensive side of the ball giving up only 172 yards of offense. That total places FIU's defense second in the nation. What's even more impressive, and possibly most concerning to the Aggies, is the performance against the run. FIU gave up 76 yards and a stingy 2.0 yards per carry. With Texas A&M's struggles establishing the running game, the Golden Panthers could cause problems for the Aggies on offense. However, there are still questions about just how good FIU's defense was on Saturday versus the struggles on the part of Rutgers' offense that has played as many as 11 freshmen through the first two weeks.

On offense, FIU is athletic with several dangerous weapons. Running back Jeremiah Harden gained 88 yards against a solid Rutgers defense, and the Golden Panthers boast a preseason all-Sun Belt conference receiver in T.Y. Hilton. FIU has been playing musical chairs at quarterback, but head coach Mario Cristobal earlier in the week announced that Mississippi State transfer Wesley Carroll will start in Saturday's game. Against the Scarlet Knights, Carroll was inconsistent completing 12-of-22 passes for 166 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Texas A&M continues to roll of offense, scoring 48 points in each of the first two contests and averaging over 550 yards of total offense a game. But while the Aggie offense has generated over 400 yards on the ground, the efficiency has not been to head coach Mike Sherman's liking. Through two games, Texas A&M has rushed the ball 96 times with only one attempt going for more than 20 yards. The A&M running game is successfully gaining yards, but at a smaller clip than expected against the overmatched, early season opponents. Still, the Aggie offense simply has too many weapons even for an upstart Golden Panther defense, starting with quarterback Jerrod Johnson who leads the Big 12 in passing with almost 700 yards and six touchdowns. FIU will have troubles covering 6-foot-4 Jeff Fuller who as a junior is emerging as a true playmaker with three touchdowns and over 200 yards receiving. Ryan Swope has been piercing defenses as well with 18 catches.

Here are the keys to success for the Aggies on Saturday against the Golden Panthers:

1) Eliminate special teams turnovers

The Aggies have struggled with special teams since the 2009 season. The problems continued last week when special teams lost three fumbles, despite the extra efforts the Texas A&M coaching staff took in the offseason to overcome these costly mistakes. The fumbles allowed Louisiana Tech to stay close through the first half, but better teams on the schedule that lay in wait will not be as forgiving. Thus, the Aggies need to right the ship this Saturday versus FIU before entering into Big 12 play against Oklahoma State in two weeks.


2) Establish a productive rushing attack

At Monday's media luncheon, Mike Sherman was not satisfied with his team's efficiency in the rushing game. While A&M finished with close to 200 yards on the ground, 67 yards came on one run and on many occasions had a hard time pushing the Louisiana Tech defensive line off the ball. With FIU bottling up Rutgers on the ground last week, this will be a key match-up of the game.


3) Land the first punch

As with any early season game as the prohibitive favorite (Texas A&M -28 points), the Aggies need to come out faster on offense and land the first blow. That appeared to happen last week when Michael Hodges intercepted a Bulldog pass on the game's second play from scrimmage, but the offense sputtered and Randy Bullock missed a short field goal. The Aggies can't leave points on the table, and allowing teams to stay close in ball games into the second half will catch up any team eventually.


4) Pressure the quarterback

For a second straight week, the Texas A&M defense will be facing an offense with inconsistent play at the quarterback position. Wesley Carroll gets the starting nod on Saturday despite throwing two interceptions to go along with his two touchdown passes. If the Aggie defense can apply pressure in the pocket, Carroll might be susceptible to making several significant mistakes. Texas A&M has had newfound success in collapsing the opposition's pocket thanks to the work of Lucas Patterson and Jonathan Mathis in the middle to go along with the duo of dynamic pass rushers in veteran Von Miller and freshman sensation Demontre Moore.


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