Nebraska Game Review

The Texas Aggie football team never thought they would get into a defensive slugfest against a Top 10 defense and come away the victor. But that's exactly what happened on Saturday in the 9-6 thriller at Kyle Field. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop takes a final look at the contest.

There's no question that Texas A&M caught some good breaks in their 9-6 win on Saturday night. Nebraska was having success moving the ball prior to Martinez re-injuring his ankle. The defense also benefited from numerous Cornhusker penalties, most of them warranted. In addition, the Nebraska receivers dropped several passes that could have gone for nice yardage to extend a couple of drives. But that's part of the game of football. Elite teams make those plays. Teams that play with poise and composure find a way to defeat lower ranked teams on the road. Top 10 programs overcome adversity and questionable officiating to win. So the Texas A&M defense doesn't have to apologize for the Huskers' miscues, both physical and mental (penalties).

It's a shame that such a physical, well-played defensive struggle has been overshadowed by the alleged controversies involving Big 12 referees and the controversy on the Nebraska sideline sparked by an emotional and at times out of control head coach Bo Pelini who took out his frustrations not only on the officials, but also on his star freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez and anybody else that crossed his angry path.

But back to the subject at hand and the 9-6 defensive slugfest. In the Big 12 era of wide open spread offenses and games with over 1000 yards of total offense and upwards of 100 points scored, it was a surprise to see football played the old-fashioned way with two bruising running games and physical defenses that imposed their will on opposing offenses. With the nation's No. 1 defense last season, it didn't come as a surprise to see Nebraska hold Texas A&M 159 yards under its typical offensive output. But the biggest surprise came from an Aggie defense that ranked near the bottom of the nation that held the Cornhuskers 136 yards below its season average. The Aggie defense matched the Blackshirts every step of the way, and eventually won an improbable low scoring chess match dominated by two excellent defenses.

Aside from the inspired play of the defense, Texas A&M won this game with turnover-free performance and winning the turnover margin by two. Ryan Tannehill's night was not great from a statistical standpoint. He finished 19-of-29 for 172 yards with only two completions over 20 yards, but you have to give Nebraska's secondary credit for being good. Well, not good but great. Jeff Fuller had troubles all night gaining separation and was taken out of the game with the exception of one pass play of 34 yards. Even more surprising, Ryan Swope had difficulties getting open. But, Tannehill didn't force many passes and played within himself and that's was critical in such a low scoring contest.

Actually, it was the Texas A&M running game in the second half that made the difference in the ball game. Cyrus Gray rushed for 137 yards and carried a majority of the burden during the game winning drive when the Desoto (TX) native took his game to another level. It started with several hard-nosed runs in traffic when he moved the pile and fell forward for a couple of first downs on the drive. Then, in Husker territory he took a pitch wide and made a great cut to slither through the pursuit and turned what could have been a minimal gain into his longest run of the night (18 yards) and took the ball inside the 10 yard-line which set-up the winning field goal.

Finally, the Aggie defense put the nail in the coffin for the Huskers on their last chance to tie or pull off the win. It comes as no surprise that Von Miller figured prominently in shutting down any hope of a last minute comeback win. He registered a sack and forced an intentional grounding call on Taylor Martinez to end the game without much drama. It's uncanny how Miller turns it up when the game is on the line, but he's been the catalyst in stopping three last minute drives that could have won each game for the opposition on Kyle Field (Florida International, Oklahoma, Nebraska).

That's usually how it works in college football. Veteran playmakers make big plays and win ball games in critical situations. For the Aggies in 2010, it's been the play of junior veterans Jeff Fuller, Cyrus Gray, and Ryan Tannehill on offense, with Von Miller and Michael Hodges on defense that have provided Texas A&M with the ability to win these close ball games. It's also the difference from being just another .500 ball club and one that is still alive for a Big 12 title and primed to play in a nice postseason bowl game.


News and Notes

• Junior Cyrus Gray had a big game both as a receiver and a rusher. His nine catches for 65 yards were both career highs and he rushed for 137 yards on 26 carries, matching his career high yards set last week at Baylor. Gray has five consecutive 100-yard games, the most by an Aggie since 1990 (Darren Lewis).

• The victory over Nebraska was Texas A&M's first win over an Associated Press top 10-ranked team since the Aggies beat top-ranked Oklahoma at Kyle Field on Nov. 9, 2002. It's the first time that Texas A&M has beaten two teams in the top 15 of the AP poll since 1998 when the Aggies beat No. 2 Nebraska, No. 13 Missouri and No. 3 Kansas State.

• Sophomore Ryan Swope tied the school record for catches in a season with four on the night. That gives him 65 on the year to tie Rod Bernstine's 24-year-old mark. Junior wideout Jeff Fuller extended his consecutive games with at least one catch to 31 games, which is a school record. Fuller has caught a ball in every game of his career.

• The schedule makers did the Aggies no favors with Texas A&M playing such a physical defense on Saturday and having to turn around on just five days rest to face in-state rival Texas. This is the first time Texas A&M have been favored against the Longhorns in Austin since 1998 when Ricky Williams basically won the Heisman Trophy with a record breaking performance in beating the Big 12 South champion Aggies.


Game Balls

• K Randy Bullock -- In a game full of field goals, the Texas A&M kicker is deserving of this week's game ball. Not only did he account for all nine Texas A&M points including the game winner with three minutes left in game, but Bullock also stifled the dangerous Cornhusker kick return team with three touchbacks. Earlier in the season, he struggled with consistency on kickoffs.

• RB Cyrus Gray -- Gray took his game to another level on the fourth quarter game-winning drive. It started with several hard-nosed runs in traffic when he moved the pile and fell forward for that first 1st down of the drive. Then, in Husker territory he took a pitch wide and made a great cut to slither through the pursuit and turned what could have been a minimal gain into his longest run of the night and took the ball inside the 10 yard-line. In addition, his blocking was critical on several Husker blitzes. On three occasions he picked up a blitzing safety/linebacker and saved Tannehill from a big hit and a big loss.


Injury Update

• Starting senior center Matt Allen spent several minutes on the Kyle Field while trainers worked on his injured leg. He left the field with the assistance of the staff, but surprisingly returned to the game the following series. With only a five day turnaround before facing in-state rival Texas, his status is questionable.

• Despite missing two days of practice with an aggravated foot injury, safety Steven Campbell returned to the starting lineup and played most of the game registering six tackles and a critical tackle for loss.

• Wide receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu had his ankle rolled up while blocking downfield and left the game unable to put weight on the injury. Nwachukwu has battled a sprained ankle all season and the latest injury did not look good at the time. However, he also returned to the lineup but struggled noticeably with his cuts. His effectiveness will be significantly limited in Thursday's game with Texas.

• Punter Ryan Epperson left the game with a hip flexor injury after his first punt on Saturday. Ken Wood and Ryan Tannehill both filled-in but struggled. Epperson's status for Thursday's Texas game is questionable.

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