Countdown 2007: The rushing game

2007 could be a special year for the Aggie offense. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop takes a look at this year's unit.

While the discussion of the Texas A&M offense seems to center around the continued development of signal caller Stephen McGee, one actually needs to look at the line of scrimmage for the bread-and-butter of this A&M offense and the key to offensive success this fall.

You can't dispute the ground production in 2005and 2006. The Aggies rushed for a whopping 2,583 yards and a 235 yards/game average in 2005. That was good enough for No. 10 in the nation in rushing offense. The 2006 team followed up that performance with a No. 8 national ranking in run production last season.

The successful rushing game can be traced back to the OU and Texas contests in 2005 when Stephen McGee took the reins from an injured Reggie McNeal, and the ground game has been one of the nation's best since.

In the OU game in 2005, the Aggie rushing attack pushed around the No. 4 rushing defense at the time, gaining 292 yards on the day. The stingy Sooner defense allowed only 1,087 rushing in 2005. A&M's 292 yard-effort in November was 200 yards more than the Sooners' season average and accounted for 27% of all rushing yards surrendered by OU that season.

The Aggie offensive line proved that performance was no fluke two weeks later with a 277-yard effort against a very salty Texas Longhorn defense ranked in the Top 15.

With that offensive line returning nearly intact with Yemi Babalola, Kirk Elder, Corey Clark, Cody Wallace, and Chris Yoder all coming back with significant starting experience, expectations ran high for 2006. They didn't disappoint.

The Aggies finished the 2006 season rushing for 2,689 yards and 32 touchdowns. The offense again excelled against Big 12 rivals Oklahoma and Texas. Against the No. 3 ranked Longhorn rushing defense, Michael Goodson and McGee slashed their way through the Texas defense to the tune of 244 yards, 183 more yards than Texas' season average of just 61 yards a contest.

Against the No. 16 Sooner rush defense, the Aggies generated 204 yards on the ground, 106 yards over OU's season average. In fact, A&M played four teams with a rush defense in the Top 40. Combined, those defenses gave up an average of 96 yards per game. A&M gained almost twice that number, collecting 187 yards per game in those four contests.

If that's not impressive enough, try this statistic on for size. Against Oklahoma and Texas, A&M's two biggest competitors in the Big 12 South, the Aggies have gained 1,017 yards in the last two years.

These results under Dennis Franchione shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody. Franchione engineered high octane rushing attacks at both TCU and Alabama. He came to Texas A&M and immediately went to work on strengthening his linemen in the weight room and recruiting more numbers to the position.

Those moves started to show positive results in 2005, and certainly paid dividends in 2006 with a 9-4 mark. And it should only get better in 2007 with most of the offensive line rotation returning. In fact, the projected starting line has a combined 24 years of experience in the program, which is unheard of in college football. Add to the equation a running tandem of power back Jorvorskie Lane with the speed of Michael Goodson and the grittiness of McGee on the option, and it's clear that Texas A&M should see even more success on the ground this season.

With last year's team accumulating 2,689 yards last season, that's a bold statement but a realistic statement. Barring injury, the Aggie offense should again have one of the best rushing attacks in the nation, and their dominance will be felt throughout the team.

If McGee continues to develop and improve his passing game to go along with a healthy, revamped receiving corps, you can see why people close to the A&M program feel this 2007 offense has the potential to be something special.

And with an improved defense returning that ranked No. 46 last season, the ground game will be used as a weapon of luxury instead of a tactic of attrition to slow opposing offenses. That should give head coach Dennis Franchione and offensive coordinator Les Koenning more latitude to plot more unpredictability into the play calling, although the ground game should still help the Aggies control the time of possession.

A dominant ground game will eat up the clock and keep the defense rested on the sideline. It also keeps potent offenses on the opponent's sideline as well. In 2006, the Aggies ran 103 more plays than its opponents and held the ball for 92.5 minutes longer. That certainly played a factor in an improved defense, that played fresh throughout the season.

Ironically, it was a lack of a consistent rushing attack that led to the struggles of the Texas A&M teams in RC Slocum's final years. In his last three years at the helm, Slocum's teams rushed for a paltry 1,610, 1254, and 1,418 yards in 2000, 2001, 2002, respectively. Not only did that reflect the struggles on offense, but A&M's solid defenses started to wear down late in games which led to major breakdowns in the fourth quarter of several games, most notably the Nebraska game in 2002.

On the other hand, Franchione's four teams have rushed for 2,127, 2,007, 2,583, and 2,689 yards in seasons 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006, respectively. That trend should continue in 2007, and the result should be a well-rested defense in the second half of games.

The mainstay of the Franchione era offense is the rushing game, and a good ground game is one of the biggest equalizers in all of football. Not only does it control the clock and the tempo for a team, it can also control a potentially rowdy road crowd. The Aggies will see plenty of those in 2007 with a brutal road schedule in 2007. Many observers feel this A&M team can't survive trips to Miami, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Nebraska.

Those are certainly tough venues, and places where A&M has not had much success in recent years. However, if there's a team that can overcome these odds on the road, it will be a team with a dominating ground game with a power element and a speed component, and a strong, veteran offensive line that can handle the pressure of the road.

Texas A&M has that in 2007.

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