The bright spots

There were definitely some things that surprised A&M fans on Saturday night, but there were just as many things to be excited about. Aggie Websider's Dallas Shipp points out the bright spots from Saturday night's 31-point win over Montana State, and there's plenty to chose from.

38-7. That's a 31-point win for my fellow liberal arts majors out there. Yet some Aggie football fans are crying that it wasn't good enough.

"The Aggies didn't play like they're capable of." Or, "It looks like the same old team from last year,"—a team that was extremely close to winning the Big 12 South, mind you.

But Saturday night's game was exactly what I expected.

The Aggies went into the game not knowing what to expect from Montana State because of the new head coach. Would he leave the Montana State system in place from spring practice? Would he bring in his scheme from Drake, even though he only had three weeks to install and teach it? Head coach Dennis Franchione offensive coordinator Les Koenning and defensive coordinator Gary Darnell explained that it would be a problem during last week's media luncheon, and Franchione said after the game that the Aggies had prepared for 50 percent of a game plan that they never saw.

That was clear on the opening drive of the game when the Bobcats marched 83 yards for a touchdown to open the 2007 season. But after that drive, the A&M coaching staff made adjustments and shut out the Bobcats for the rest of the night.

In the first quarter, Montana State was 5-of-6 on third down conversions, which was surprising after A&M led the nation in stopping opponents on third down for most of last year. But once Darnell and Co. saw what Montana State was going to do on offense, the A&M defense allowed just two third down conversions in 13 tries in the final 45 minutes of play.

But that's not the only adjustment that was made.

Montana State dominated the time of possession battle in the first quarter, 11:33 to 3:27 in fact. That was another surprise for the record crowd in attendance after the Aggies ran such a ball-control offense in 2006. But again, once adjustments were made to defend the Bobcats' game plan, the Aggies split the time of possession in a much more even fashion for the remaining 45 minutes of play.

One aspect of the game that was not disappointing at all for the Aggies was special teams. Other than a fumbled punt, which seemed to be the result of an A&M blocker getting too close to Jordan Peterson trying to make the catch, the unit couldn't have performed much better.

There was a lot of concern going into the 2007 season about kickoffs and what it would mean for field position this year. Based on the performance of sophomore kicker Matt Szymanski, it looks like it won't be a problem for the Aggies.

In a game that saw a cross wind from east to west (blowing from the student side to the press box side of Kyle Field), Szymanski seemed to put every kickoff inside the endzone or near the goal line. There were even a couple that were more than five yards deep into the endzone for touchbacks.

The NCAA doesn't keep track of average starting field position on kickoffs, but excluding the 66-yard return against the all-12th Man Kickoff Team late in the game, the Bobcats averaged 15 yards per return on four kickoffs and their average starting field position on those four possessions was their own 16 yard-line.

As predicted in several preseason articles, that's not going to be the case for A&M under the new rules., who probably won't receive too many deep kicks from opponents this year with the deadly combination of Kerry Franks and Pierre Brown back to return kicks.

Franks only had two return opportunities, but he made the most of them, averaging 41 yards per return. Franks' return average is good enough for No. 4 in the nation and No. 2 in the Big 12 through week one.

Szymanski, who struggled while kicking field goals as a true freshman in 2006 was also 5-for-5 on PATs and 1-for-1 on field goal attempts, drilling a 34-yard field goal that would have been good from another 20 yards.

Senior punter Justin Brantly—who should be receiving All-American attention—was equally impressive, averaging 45.2 yards per kick, which was good enough for No. 18 in the nation and No. 1 in the Big 12, with only Texas Tech left to play in week one.

The Aggies have several things to work on—on both sides of the ball, but there were plenty of bright spots in the first week of 2007. This time next week, I think there will be even more of them to talk about.

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