Five Keys to Success - SMU Game

The long awaited 2011 season opener is here and expectations are high for Aggie fans. The team opens up with a salty SMU team that returns 18 starters from last year's bowl team. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop takes a look at the keys to success for the Aggies if they hope to exit week one with a victory.

1) DB's Must Not Allow SMU to Stretch Field

I see the biggest key for Texas A&M on Sunday is containing a very good SMU spread offense. This is a dangerous unit that finished in the Top 20 last season and has most of its playmakers returning in 2011. SMU has a very capable and experienced signal caller in junior Kyle Padron and they compliment the spread attack with a 1500 yard bruising 230-pound rusher in Zach Line. They call this offense the spread for a reason…to spread the field and get the ball to players in space. To combat this style of offense, the Aggie defensive backs must take away the downfield passing game and keep everything in front of them. If the Mustangs can hit a few intermediate and long range completions early, Coach DeRuyter will be forced to lay back and the defensive backs and linebackers will be playing on their heels looking for the downfield pass. That will loosen the defense for a guy like Zach Line to have a big day and SMU will be tough to defend the rest of the game. If the defensive backs can stick to these downfield receivers like glue early and force Padron to throw underneath, then the safeties and linebackers can play moving downhill toward the line of scrimmage and compact the field. If that happens, SMU will struggle to consistently move the ball and it should be a good day for the Aggies.

2) Physical Play By Defense

It's been several years since A&M analysts could say this, but the Aggies have the superior athletes on defense and will be more physically overpowering than the Mustangs. As such, Texas A&M must use that physical play to rattle SMU early in the game whether that's a couple of big hits on Padron or making some of these slot receivers think about getting hit when the ball arrives. There's not much subtle analysis to this key point. The A&M defense needs to send an early message that any plays made by the offense will come with a price – a big, clean hit. Not only will that start to creep into the psyche of the SMU players, but it will wear them down in the second half.

3) Establish Consistent Running Game

On the flip side, the Texas A&M offense and especially the returning offensive line should have the physical advantage against a veteran but undersized SMU defense. That means the Aggies should be able to control the line of scrimmage, and with that control field position and the game clock. Sure, A&M has plenty of weapons in the passing game and I expect the offense to hit some big plays with guys like Jeff Fuller that will have a big advantage on the outside, but the passing game also provides the underdog with a chance to create turnovers and big plays. A physical, consistent running game slowly chokes the spirit of an undermanned defense and beats it into submission by the middle of the third quarter. If the Mustangs have any chance at an upset, their defense must find a way to stop Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael and force A&M into predictable passing situations where turnovers and big defensive plays are possible. Otherwise, the A&M offense will methodically dismantle and wear down SMU's defense.

4) Minimize Turnovers

For all the talk about sophisticated schemes and elite talent when previewing a football game, it's all thrown out the window if a team is hit with a couple of fumbles and an interception. As a turnover-prone team the first half of 2010, the Aggies were sitting at 3-3 and Mike Sherman's future was in jeopardy. But when they stopped losing the turnover margin and held on to the ball better, the team rattled off six straight regular season wins and is now the toast of the Big 12 as a preseason Top 10 team. It's a cliché', but it's true. Games are won and lost with turnovers. If A&M wins the turnover margin by two or more on Sunday, the team wins comfortably by 24+ points. If the Aggies lose the turnover battle to SMU by two or more and give the Mustangs a couple of easy scoring opportunities, this game could be a nail-biter. SMU went to the C-USA championship game and made some noise in 2010 despite finishing the season ranked No. 111 in turnover margin. That tells you how good SMU can be if they play a clean game. But A&M is better, and the only realistic chance for SMU to march into Kyle Field and upset the Aggies is if they win the turnover margin.

5) Adequate Punting Game

I'm not going to sugar coat the punting situation. When we last saw the unit in late August, the starting punter was still undecided because none of the three candidates had won the job or looked very impressive through the first three weeks of fall camp. Consistency has been the big problem so far. A short 20-yard shank is devastating to field position and can keep an opposing team in the game. Even more troublesome, several punts were blocked in practice and the unit was still working out the kinks. These issues may have been ironed out n the past week of practice. But once again, if SMU has any chance to sneak out of College Station with a win Sunday night, they will need some help from the Aggies and the punting unit seems the most vulnerable. If A&M can have simply an average night from this unit and avoid the big negative play, it will be mission accomplished.

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