Nebraska Game Preview

The Texas A&M football team will be welcomed by the largest crowd in Kyle Field history on Saturday as the Aggies face off against the No. 8 Nebraska Cornhuskers. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop looks at the five keys to success for the men in maroon in this prime time nationally televised match-up

If you are an Aggie fan, the stage is set. On a four-game conference win streak that includes a victory over the Oklahoma Sooners, the football team is generating excitement that hasn't been seen in College Station in over a decade. In fact, the university is expecting the all-time largest crowd in Kyle Field history (88,000+, Texas 2007) on Saturday. The Texas A&M students have pulled an all-time record of 30,000+ tickets for the contest, and a majority of the nation will be watching the Top 25 showdown in prime time in what will be Nebraska's last road game in the Big 12.

In addition, with Texas struggling to become bowl eligible and suffering several humiliating losses to below .500 teams at home, the Aggies are now the flavor of the month and will be hosting a bevy of top high school talent from the Class of 2012. A win at home in this environment will not only propel Texas A&M into a significant bowl game scenario with still an outside shot at the Big 12 title in 2010, but it could pay dividends for years to come with the prospects in this state who for the past 10 years thought of only one college destination – Austin.

To accomplish this mission, the Aggies must overcome the best defense in the Big 12 and a hard-nosed rushing attack that is quite rare in this league with all of the spread offenses tossing the ball up and down the field. Texas A&M's new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter was brought in during the offseason to defend the spread after dismantling the University of Houston offensive juggernaut last year, and he's been quite successful. But this week, he'll be asked to tackle a completely different beast in the two headed rushing monster of Roy Helu, Jr. and Taylor Martinez. The Aggies employ a base 3-4 defense so DeRuyter will need to find a way to get more bodies in the box to account for the power option attack.

On offense, the Aggies hope to continue to ride the wave of Ryan Tannehill and hope he continues to spark the unit with big plays against the stout Nebraska defense. Tannehill must be patient against the top-rated Husker secondary and not force passes into coverage that could result in a costly turnover. Nebraska will do everything it can to neutralize Jeff Fuller so the burden could be on Ryan Swope in the slot and the trio of tight ends in the middle of the field. Cyrus Gray must also run with the type of success he's had the previous four weeks – 100-yard performances in four straight games.

The nation's marquee game is finally back at Kyle Field after an absence of over a decade. Everything is in place for a great contest and an Aggie victory could signal the return of Texas A&M football to the national stage. For Nebraska, it's simple. They want to win the Big 12 in its farewell season and rub it in the noses of the remaining Big 12 schools. That road goes through College Station on Saturday. Welcome back to national significance, Aggies.

Here are the five keys to success for Texas A&M against Nebraska.


1) Don't Get Caught Up in Atmosphere

Any coach wants his team to play with emotion. However, players have to play within themselves and not make mistakes due to playing with too much emotion. Kyle Field will be at a fever pitch Saturday night with a record crowd expected. It's a big game in a great home environment, yet the Aggies must stay poised and not get caught up in the atmosphere. Good football takes a combination of emotion, talent, and executing assignments on the field. Too much emotion can affect execution and result in fatal mistakes. As with Baylor last Saturday, playing with too much energy in the first half can have negative consequences in the fourth quarter with stamina…and games are won and lost in the fourth quarter.


2) Limit Explosive Plays in Run Game

Baylor exposed Texas A&M's weakness up the middle with two long scoring runs by Robert Griffin and Jay Finley. Michael Hodges is a solid inside linebacker pursuing the ball and making plays. He doesn't have the size and length to shed pulling guards and lead fullbacks when the ball comes right at him. The Aggie safeties will have to move up in the box to help out and prevent these long plays. It will force the cornerbacks to play man coverage on the outside, but A&M will prefer those match-ups to Martinez and Helu gashing the middle of the defense with explosive runs.


3) Establish Consistent Running Attack

It's no secret that Nebraska's pass defense is the best in America. But the rush defense is average ranked No. 63 in the nation. The Aggies and Cyrus Gray will need to have success running the ball against the Husker front seven so Ryan Tannehill and the passing game won't be forced into difficult down-and-distance situations that will play into the strength of a good Nebraska defense. It isn't necessary for Gray to break off 50-60 yard runs (although that would be significant), but moving the ball forward and picking up 3-6 yards should be enough to allow the passing game to execute comfortably.


4) Protect Tannehill

For all that Texas A&M's new signal caller has done in just three starts, he does have a tendency to force passes into coverage when pressured. A quarterback may get away with that against average defenses, but it won't work against a Top 10 defense and the No. 2 pass defense in the NCAA. The Aggies and Tannehill can't afford to turn the ball over a couple of times with ill-advised passes thrown under duress. The Aggie bookend freshmen, Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, have blocked well in recent weeks and their ability to perform under pressure will be critical for Texas A&M's offensive success.


5) Avoid Negative Special Teams Plays

Texas A&M's special teams play has improved greatly in most areas. The return game has not committed a turnover during the four game win streak and Coryell Judie has returned two kicks for scores in the past two weeks. Randy Bullock has solidified both kickoffs and field goals. The one area of concern is punting, where Ryan Epperson continues to struggle with low, short punts. His gross average last week was an anemic 29.4 yards per attempt. With that said, the coverage teams have been exceptional but the Aggies will be facing one of the best return teams in the nation. The Cornhuskers rank No. 10 nationally in punt returns and No. 13 in kickoff returns. So avoiding negative special teams plays is significant.


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