A&M faces challenges after tough win over Utah

Maybe you've heard this one before. The Aggies race out to a big lead at Kyle Field and by the time the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band steps off from the north end everything looks like it's in the bag. Yep, I thought you'd heard that one.

Maybe you've heard this one before. The Aggies race out to a big lead at Kyle Field and by the time the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band steps off from the north end everything looks like it's in the bag. Yep, I thought you'd heard that one.

As the 2002 season played out, nightmare finishes became all too common to the Aggie faithful. Texas Tech and then Nebraska made comes from behind that never should have been. A mistake here, an unlucky bounce there and both the Red Raiders and Cornhuskers turned Kyle Field from festive to frightful.

With Utah seemingly subdued Saturday night every Aggie's nightmares almost returned. When Brett Elliott heaved the football 45 yards to John Madsen, pulling the Utes within 2 points with eight seconds to play, the Ags went into déjà vu denial. How did Madsen slip past the defense? Was Elliott beyond the line of scrimmage? Those questions were open to debate, but the only one that mattered at the game's most critical moment? How would the Aggies stop Brandon Warfield on the two-point conversion?

Inexplicably, Utah Coach Urban Meyer didn't call on Warfield on the deciding play. Having shredded the A&M defense for 181 yards during the first 59:52 Warfield seemed a lock to get the carry. Instead Elliott rolled right and Jonte Buhl made the play of his A&M career. Buhl's highlight reel hit denied the Utes a comback of staggering proportions.

The Aggies lead 21–0 at halftime thanks to big plays on offense, opportunistic defense and overall mistake free football. During the week Aggies' coach Dennis Franchione had spoken of the great improvement teams make from week one to week two. For 30 minutes he looked like a prophet.

A&M's offense looked crisp and in synch with Terrance Murphy taking a hand off 80 yards for the Ags' first score. Following a Bryant Singleton fumble recovery Murphy struck again, this time hauling in Reggie McNeal's 50 yard pass to help set up Keith Joseph's one yard touchdown run.

After the first quarter the Aggies led 14–0 and increased that to 21–0 when McNeal found Quinlan Germany running across the back of the endzone for a four yard touchdown. Germany's first career touchdown was set up by David Ross' recovery of a Steve Savoy fumble at the Utah four yard line.

As much as the points Germany's touchdown produced, Aggie fans were excited to see a tight end, any tight end, involved in the offense. For several seasons now, that position has seemed snake bit from an A&M point of view.

If the first half belonged to Texas A&M, the second half, and nearly the football game, were Utah's without question. During the half Utah ran 55 offensive plays, one short of the Aggies' full game total. Brandon Warfield was virtually unstoppable and his perfomance raised the question – how did this guy get out of Texas?

Warfield ran tough and he ran often, carrying the ball 36 times for 181 yards in a performance that wouldn't take a backseat to many turned in recently by Kyle Field opponents. Between them, Warfield and quarterback Elliott carried the ball 52 times and nearly carried the nine point underdog Utes home with an upset win.

A&M contributed mightily to Utah's second half comeback with three third quarter turnovers. Those mistakes, plus the Ute's 11 third and fourth down conversions kept the Aggie defense on the field for much too much of the second half. Without injured middle linebacker Jared Morris the middle of that defense grew soft and Brandon Warfield punished it.

Even when Buhl blew up Utah's two point conversion attempt the Aggies weren't completely safe. Terrence Murphy recovered the Utes' on side kick attempt to seal the win and cap a marvelous individual performance. Murphy accounted for 251 all purpose yards.

When it was over the Aggies' 28–26 win was disappointing in its margin. Nearly every question about this team that was answered from week one to week two was replaced by another new question.

With Morris gone from the middle linebacker spot who takes his place? Scott Stickane spelled Morris against Arkansas State and played much of the second half after Morris went down against Utah. This injury may open the door for one of the true freshman like Ta Ta Thompson. Perhaps Andy Matakis moves back to the middle and makes his name.

Is Reggie McNeal now firmly in control of the quarterback job? He took every snap and the Aggies did win, but will Dustin Long still have a chance to reclaim the job?

At tailback has Courtney Lewis' two game performance overtaken Derek Farmer? In each game so far Lewis has showed his home run potential and put the clenching touchdown on the board.

As the competition grows stronger how will the receiving corps evolve? Freshman Ervin Taylor got his first catch against Utah and appears to be knocking on the door from more playing time. Will Ty Riley force his way into the rotation?

The Aggies biggest question on defense probably was, and now certainly is, the linebackers. Morris, a senior, anchored the middle and was off to a solid, perhaps even exceptional start. The young outside linebackers look solid and full of potential, but will the middle cave in on A&M?

Coach Fran knew there was work to be done at Texas A&M or there would have been no job opening to consider. He's got two weeks of film to watch and now more than a week to prepare his new team for an increasingly difficult schedule.

Beginning next week with Virginia Tech the Aggies play bowl caliber competition three consecutive weeks. Pittsburgh follows the Hokies and then the Aggies travel to Lubbock for Texas Tech to close out the most arduous stretch on the first half schedule.

From here it doesn't get any easier and to win the Ags will have to put together complete games of solid football. One half of lights out and one half of lackluster football will get their heads handed to them. Coach Fran and his Texas Aggies get the national spotlight next week in Blacksburg and here's hoping they aren't blinded by the glare.

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