The block lettering in Kyle Field's end zones spelled out Texas Aggies, but in the end that wasn't entirely appropriate. When game one of the Coach Fran era ended, just one Aggie, Courtney Lewis, had found his way into those end zones. Lewis scored on runs of four and 42 yards to give A&M a tougher than expected 26 - 11 season opening win over a very inspired Arkansas State team.
If Coach Fran and his staff entered this game with a laundry list of questions about their team, that list wasn't shortened much based on the results.
After kicking to the Indians the Aggie defense turned back the clock with glimpses of Wrecking Crews past. The Ags stuffed ASU for a three and out to begin the game and dominated the line of scrimmage in doing so.
Before the game, speculation abounded about who would start the game at quarterback. Fran was tight lipped during the week and didn't reveal his decision to the fans until Reggie McNeal trotted out to take the first snap. That play was a pass that never materialized as McNeal was swarmed by the ASU defensive front and tackled for no gain. Though it wasn't recorded as a sack it did foretell one of the Aggies biggest problems for the evening, the inability to give either quarterback ample time to use their deep stable of receivers.
The teams punched and counterpunched at one another for the remainder of the first period, whiched ended with the game still 0 - 0. Todd Pegram converted a 42 yard field goal into a breeze on the first play of the second quarter to give the Aggies a 3 - 0 lead. It was a lead that would never be relinquished although the final outcome remained in doubt well into the fourth quarter.
Aggies everywhere have extolled the Coach Fran era as the return of Aggie football to national prominence. Based on the announced attendance and the obvious numbers of empty seats for this season opener, more Aggies than expected are taking a wait and see attitude before committing or recommitting their allegiance.
The final score of 26 - 11 was less resounding than many had hoped and in fact the margin was only eight points when Steven Tookes returned a Terrence Thomas fumble 35 yards for ASU's only touchdown. The two point conversion cut the A&M lead to 19 - 11 with 5:53 remaining.
Franchione's quarbacking pattern had been McNeal in the first and third quarters, with Long playing the second and all of the fourth, until the Indian's touchdown return.
When the Aggies took possession again at their own 33, Coach Fran went with the gut feeling and McNeal got the call to protect, and hopefully, increase the lead. With the outcome still in doubt, McNeal twice rushed for first downs to move the ball into Arkansas State's end of the field. On second and six from the enemy 42 Courtney Lewis flashed Ag's back to another number 25 named Lewis (Darren) with take it to the house speed and power. The redshirt freshman took the handoff from McNeal and raced the distance to provide the final margin. For several seasons A&M has lacked the home run threat out of the backfield so Lewis' run was both the the clencher and hopefully just the first of many such breakaway runs.
This game itself wasn't pretty and the margin not nearly as great as many among the faithful had hoped, but in the end it goes down as a win and no one was injured. That's where the fairly abbreviated list of positives starts.
Defensive linemen Brian Patrick and Johnny Jolly looked solid in the middle. The linebacker play was solid as well, though the much heralded duo of Nuhrada Manning and Archie McDaniel were replaced in the starting lineup in something of a surprise. Starting in their places were true freshman Justin Warren and veteran Everett Smith. Warren lived up to the press clippings that accompanied him from high school in Tyler and when they did see the field both the Bay City linebackers showed they too can play.
While the defense surrendered just three points, they did allow too much time of possession (32:38) to the Indians offense and 8 of 17 converted third downs won't cut when the competition stiffens. On the summer speaking circuit Franchione's often repeated rubber chicken comment was that defensive coordinator wouldn't blitz until he got off the bus. Well, someone find that bus because the Aggies left the fans wondering if the blitz was part of this game's package.
On offense both Long and McNeal showed flashes, but neither put the quarterback postion away. Each threw one interception and missed a number of open receivers. When the issue remained in doubt near the end, Coach Fran turned to McNeal to take control and perhaps that was the most telling sign of how this competition has gone in closed to the public practice sessions.
The receiving corps is obviously deep, talented and fast, but inconsistency out of the quarterback spot kept them largely under wraps.
One interesting storyline as the game played out was the relative inactivity of Jason Carter. Throughout the preseason speculation, fueled in part by coaches comments, has predicted Carter to be a main cog in a hopefully improved and more dangerous Aggie offense. Perhaps the failure to utilize this weapon lends credence to the thought that A&M played a basic offense throughout, keeping future opponents guessing as to just what the total package brings.
Todd Pegram and backup punter Jacob Young were solid and worries about the kicking game will ease even further when senior Cody Scates returns to handle both the punt and kick off duties.
The 2003 Aggie football season is underway and with one win in the books, it's a week of back to the drawing board for Coach Fran and his team. If it's true that a team's greatest improvement comes between games one and two this team left the door wide open for that improvement.
Aggies pass first test
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