When looking at the 2010 schedule in the offseason, most Aggie fans and pundits circled games with Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas as the most important contests of the season. However, with Texas A&M having dropped two close games to the Cowboys and Razorbacks in consecutive weeks along with the emergence of Missouri as one of the better Big 12 team and ranked No. 19, the Aggies' conference home opener against the Tigers has suddenly become critical. A loss would drop Texas A&M to 3-3 and more importantly 0-2 in the Big 12 with the teeth of the schedule still to come. And more importantly, the team needs to feel good about itself overall and win a game which is something they haven't done since September 18 against Florida International.
Despite racking up all kinds of offensive production to the tune of 476 yards a game (No. 15 nationally) and holding opponents to just 312 yards a game (No. 24 nationally), the Aggies are still searching for an identity and still searching for quality wins. Well, the team has gained an identity in one phase of the game, but for the wrong reasons - turning the ball over and giving easy points to the opponent. It appears to be a simple formula for Texas A&M. Don't turn the ball over an average of 4.5 times a game like they did in the last two losses and there's a good chance the Aggies win on Saturday. I'll even go a step further. Eliminate the miscues and this team has the potential to win every game remaining on its schedule. The production on both sides of the ball is there. The playmakers are in place sprinkled with seasoned veterans at several key positions. Even the persistent problems with special teams have stabilized over the past month.
If you look at the numbers, the Aggies match-up well with the Tigers. What's remarkable about Missouri is that they are unremarkable (yet solid) in almost every offensive and defensive category. The Tigers rank a respectable No. 43 in total offense and a solid No. 30 in total defense. On offense, the Tigers rely on quarterback Blaine Gabbert who ranks No. 7 in the Big 12 in passing efficiency and averages 246 yards passing a game. He has two primary targets that produce almost 63% of the offensive production through the air. Wideout T.J. Moe averages 96 yards per game and is the fourth-leading receiver in the Big 12 (Jeff Fuller is third). Tight end Michael Egnew will be a big match-up problem for an Aggie defense that has had problems with linebackers covering the middle of the field. He has 39 catches for 350 yards and three touchdowns.
On defense, Missouri has been opportunistic with turnovers, which bodes well facing the mistake-prone Aggie offense. The Tigers have caused 14 turnovers to date including nine interceptions, and the turnover margin of 1.00/game is second in the Big 12 and No. 12 in the nation. However, the Tigers are prone to giving up big yardage on the ground, allowing Illinois to rush for 200 yards and San Diego State to run wild with 250 yards on just 33 carries.
Overall, the Aggies and Tigers appear to be evenly matched across the board if history and statistics are any indication, but games are won and lost on the field and Texas A&M is in desperate need for a win. Here are the five keys to victory for the Aggies:
1) Johnson Must Eliminate Turnovers
There's no secret that Jerrod Johnson has turned the ball over far too many times in recent weeks. I don't care how many weapons a team has on offense, if the quarterback throws nine interceptions and fumbles twice in three games, the team isn't going to win. Johnson must find a way to eliminate the turnovers without going conservative and shutting down the offense.
2) Establish the Run Game
The best way to take the pressure off Johnson and eliminate turnovers is to establish a consistent rushing attack. Missouri has been susceptible to the run in a couple of games, surrendering 200 yards to Illinois and 250 yards to San Diego State. A&M will need to do the same on Saturday.
3) Limit the Production of Michael Egnew
Texas A&M's defense has played well in 2010 and they held Arkansas and Oklahoma State's high-powered offenses below their season average. However, if there's one area where the Aggies have struggled, it has been passes over the middle of the field with linebackers in coverage. Well, tight end Michael Egnew will look to take advantage of this weakness and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter will need to find a way to control Egnew.
4) Force Missouri Turnovers
Missouri has turned the ball over nine times in 2010 which is about average for most college teams. As with any contest, this game will likely come down to which team wins the turnover battle. Given that the Aggie offense has been turning the ball over at an average of four times a game, the defense will need to counter with a few turnovers of its own. Last week, Arkansas scored on its first two drives, but the Aggies stayed close due to an interception by Terrence Frederick that set-up a short two-yard touchdown drive.
5) Continue Solid Special Teams Play
With success on both sides of the ball, the Aggies don't necessarily need to create big plays or decisively win the field position battle through special teams. However, Texas A&M special teams must continue to hold its own and not turn the ball over or give up big returns to the opposition. The Aggies have done a good job of eliminating these negatives in recent weeks, and must continue this performance on Saturday to beat the No. 19 team in the nation.
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