Every Friday morning throughout the football season, I'll provide you my five keys to the week's upcoming game that will be critical for the Aggies to be successful on Saturday. In this week's inaugural edition, we'll look at the major factors in Saturday's season opener and how the Aggies will be dealing with the Montana Bobcats and their new schemes and lack of game film to prepare.
1) Come out focused and business-like
This is the first game of a season filled with expectations. The team has been beating up on each other since the spring, and the players are ready to have some fun after nearly eight months of hard work in the offseason. Thus, there will be a lot of excitement and nervous energy as the team comes out to start the game. Fans certainly like to see that, but inexperienced teams can suffer a letdown after the first series and the teams settle into the game routine.
Frankly, Texas A&M's opponent on Saturday is themselves. Montana State is a good Division I-AA program. They battled Oklahoma State in the season opener two years ago losing just 15-10 and then beat Colorado in Boulder 19-10. However, both of those teams were breaking in a new coaching staff and a new system, while MSU came in under the radar and surprised both Big 12 schools.
The Aggies are stronger, faster, more experienced, and more skilled than their opponent Saturday.
This game will be about taking care of business and remaining mentally focused. It's also about proper execution and not making mental mistakes. If A&M does come out with a business-like attitude and remains focused for 60 minutes, Aggie fans will like the results. With some many veterans on this team, it's hard to envision this team not ready to play.
2) Hit'em hard and fast
Ironically, Montana State took advantage of new regimes and new schemes the past two season openers as the Bobcats stunned Colorado last year, and nearly defeated Oklahoma State in 2005. The shoe is on the other foot this weekend after longtime coach Mike Kramer was fired just three months ago after numerous off-field incidents involving drug trafficking and other criminal activity.
Coach Rob Ash took over just 13 weeks ago, and has been implementing his system during August two-a-days. Remember, he didn't even have the luxury of spring practice to initiate the transition period. So clearly, the Bobcats will be behind schedule when they come to Kyle Field. They may say they will be up to speed, but they clearly won't, and the Aggies need to come out swinging and put this game to bed before Montana State knows what hit them.
A huge offseason drug scandal, a fired head coach, a new system in August, and traveling on the road to the largest venue this program has ever played. Add to that their opponent is more talented and greatly more experienced, and that's not a good mix. As long as the Aggies come out of the gates making plays, this game could be over quickly. If A&M comes out flat and allows the Bobcats to hang around and their confidence rises, then the Aggies could have some struggles trying to figure out schemes and tendencies since this MSU team under new coach Ash comes to Kyle Field with so many unknowns. There will surely be some strategic surprises from the new staff.
3) Put Pressure on the Quarterback
The Bobcats have two successful returning quarterbacks from last season in Cory Carpenter and Jack Rolovich. Carpenter led MSU to the shocking 19-10 victory over Colorado before ending his season with an ankle injury. Jack Rolovich took the reins and engineered a run to the Division I-AA quarterfinals. Rolovich won the starting job over Carpenter in August.
Pass defense has been A&M's Achilles Heel in recent years, and a lack of a consistent pass rush has been a contributing factor. In this age of passing offenses, a good passing game that finds a rhythm against a struggling secondary can neutralize the inherent advantages of a big BCS conference school over most smaller programs.
While A&M's secondary has taken steps in the direction of respectability after a disastrous 2005 season, it's best that the front four take away any possibility of the MSU quarterback finding his touch and rhythm early and boosting his confidence heading into the second half.
If defensive ends Chris Harrington and Michael Bennett can harass Rolovich early, rush his throws, and rattle his confidence, the secondary should have opportunities for some big plays. If that happens, the defense will have a dominant outing and the game should be in-hand in short order.
If the Aggies fail to provide a strong rush, Montana State could score a few points and hang around much longer than most A&M faithful want to see.
4) Limit turnovers
Frankly, we could include this key to success in every week's analysis because as much as experts, pundits, and fans discuss strengths, weaknesses, and match-ups of each game, a majority of the time the outcome of a game hedges on who wins the turnover battle.
Without winning the turnover ratio, MSU won't win this game. So many issues are working against the Bobcats in this contest, most notably the talent, speed, and experience. For MSU to compete, they will need gifts from the Texas A&M offense and special teams. It's that simple.
And from A&M's standpoint, you want to get off to a good start and show that you can and will protect the ball. Sometimes these turnovers can snowball on a team and it becomes a mental roadblock, and that can have devastating consequences down the road.
The Aggies have done a pretty good job in this area recently, especially in the interception category where Steve McGee was picked off only twice last season. There's no reason to start bad habits now, especially in the first game of the year.
5) Success Throwing Down the Field
First of all, if the Aggies have early success throwing downfield against MSU, then that will loosen up the Bobcat defense that will likely overload the box to stop the run and challenge the offense to throw. If that happens early, then Micheal Goodson and Jorvorskie Lane will run wild.
If the MSU defense plays A&M's offense straight up, there's no way they can handle the physical offensive line, the pounding of Lane in the middle, and the speed of Goodson to the outside.
If McGee efficiently utilizes his weapons downfield early and often, the Aggie offense should have no problems moving the ball and putting points on the board and calling it an early night.
If the Aggies struggle and MSU has success sending the kitchen sink at the running game, it will certainly makes the yards on the ground tougher to come by and could allow the Bobcats to stick around longer than expected.
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