OSU Game Preview - A&M's Keys to Success

The time is here for the Big 12 season opener, and it's a big one for the Aggies. If Texas A&M hopes to compete with the top two dogs in the conference, they must first show that they can beat Oklahoma Sate and Texas Tech. They get their first shot on Thursday against OSU. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop looks at the five keys for an Aggie win.

Oklahoma State Game Preview

Aggie fans couldn't wait for the start of the new 2010 season with the optimism of many pieces returning from a top five offense and a new defensive coordinator with an impressive resume' from Air Force. Who doesn't look forward to that season opener when you can pull out all the 12th Man gear and tailgate equipment, and party all day long on the Texas A&M campus prior to watching the Aggies play football on Kyle Field. But let's face it, after three weeks of playing directional schools and FCS opponents, early September was really just a small appetizer in the context of a more important Big 12 season that opens Thursday night on national primetime television. The Aggies hit the road for the first time to face off against Big 12 South opponent and the No. 25 ranked college team in the country, the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

And while head coach Mike Sherman and the team discount the importance of this one game in terms of this being a referendum on the program's progress, many Aggie fans and former students are taking a different view. This game means a lot. A win on national television against a ranked team springboards this team into the top of the Big 12 standings in a year when perennial contenders Texas and Oklahoma have shown cracks in the armor with unimpressive non-conference performances. The win could also vault the Aggies into the Top 25 for the first time in years and will set up another high profile game the following week against a ranked Arkansas squad. A loss sends A&M to the bottom of the Big South standings. Plus, for the Aggies to make that climb to compete and eventually surpass OU and Texas, they must first move past Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. So there's a lot on the line, but the big question is can A&M win this critical road game. Let's take a look. Here are the keys to success for the Aggies.

1) Establish a consistent rushing attack

While the Aggies average approximately 200 yards a game, the rushing game thus far has not been consistent. Many of the yards generated have come on big gainers from Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray, but a majority of runs gain very little yardage or even lose ground which puts the offense behind the eight ball in terms of down and distance. The offensive line has struggled to establish a consistent push up the middle which is a primary reason for the lack of consistency. For the offense to be successful on Thursday, the running game must generate rushing attempts that gain 3-6 yards on a regular basis which takes the pressure off Jerrod Johnson and the passing game. Also, nothing quiets a hostile crowd more than a good rushing attack from the opponent.

2) Put Pressure on Weeden

Oklahoma State's new offense and new quarterback haven't been challenged in the first three weeks against opponents with weak defenses. You won't know if Weeden can handle the pass rush until a defense puts pressure on him and shortens his decision making time. Nobody knows how the junior squads man will perform on the national stage under the television lights, or how he will respond to plenty of hits off a pass rush until he steps on the field and gets hit under the chin. So, it's critical for the A&M pass rush, and specifically Von Miller, to become a factor in this game and force Weeden to show us if he can handle it all.

3) Clean Up Special Teams Play

Well, we've been talking about clean special teams play as a key to success for over a year now and the issues haven't been resolved. Poor special teams play is the biggest exposure that A&M has going into this big road game. Turnovers on special teams will be a dagger to the chances of an A&M victory on Thursday night. We all know that. However, it's more than that. OSU holds almost a 10 yard net advantage both in the punting game and on kick offs. I'm not saying the Aggies need to win the punting and kicking battles (because they won't), but the goal is to play clean special teams and keep the losses in net yardage to 5 yards or less.

4) Big Plays on Offense

The Aggies have big-time playmakers on offense like Jeff Fuller, Christine Michael, and Jerrod Johnson. In any big game against closely matched opponents like Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, the winners minimize mistakes and then make 2-3 big plays that turn the tide of the game. The Aggies will need their share of big plays on Thursday. Jeff Fuller has to be a big factor for the Aggies to win.

5) Show Maturity

It's no secret that the Aggies wilted at the sign of adversity last season. Texas A&M opened up a 10-0 lead against Arkansas and a dropped touchdown pass would made it 17-0. Instead, Arkansas marched down and scored quickly, and the flood gates opened up as the Aggies folded. The Aggies were holding their own last season in Norman at the end of the first quarter, but a muffed punt led to a quick OU score and the Sooners laid it on a stunned A&M team the rest of the way. Then, there's the Kansas State debacle where the team looked like a deer in the headlights from the opening kick in a shocking 62-14 whitewashing. Granted, the team was extremely young and inexperienced with 18 true freshmen playing.

But we've been told this is a different team with strong senior leadership and the rest of the team a year older and year wiser. It must be a different team if they hope to beat a ranked team in a hostile environment. There will be times in the game where things don't go A&M's way. It's how they respond to adversity that will have a big impact on the final results on Thursday.

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