In my game write-up for Fresno State, I used the "Tale of Two Cities" theme to describe the differences in the first and second half when the Aggies blew a 17-point halftime lead and had to hold on for a triple overtime nailbiter. However, only Dickens' opening line of "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" could describe just how awful and inept the Aggies were in the first half against Oklahoma State, and how great they played in the second half to gut out a huge win. A win that has the Aggies all alone at 2-0 leading the Big 12 South.
So how bad was the first half? Well, the Aggie offense punted on its first five drives and managed just 69 yards on offense until a meaningless Hail Mary pass on the last play of the half tacked on another 48 yards. As far as the defense is concerned, they opened up with a promising performance forcing a three-and-out on OSU's opening possession, which resulted in the first of three consecutive punts in the first quarter. But Adarius Bowman established his presence in the second quarter, scoring on passes of 29 yards and 47 yards, and his 32-yarder on final drive of the quarter set-up OSU's third consecutive score en route to a 17-0 lead at the break.
So how good was the second half? Other than the final drive to kill the clock, the Aggies scored on every drive after the break. The offense received the second half kickoff and promptly opened up the offense with consecutive throws of 16 yards to Pierre Brown and 19 yards to Martellus Bennett. That loosened up the middle, where Jorvorskie Lane ripped off runs of 5, 6, and 13 yards. The drive stalled inside the 10 yard-line, and A&M settled for a field goal, but that opening drive certainly shifted the momentum. That momentum completely swung the Aggies' way two plays later when OSU running back Dantrell Savage was stood up and stripped of the ball. A&M recovered at the Cowboy 17 yard-line in what turned out to be the most pivotal play of the game, and the only turnover of the contest.
The Aggies punched it in thanks to a critical third down completion to Lane, and the Aggies were suddenly within a score at 17-10. Bottom line, games are won and lost on critical mistakes and turnovers. It's a cliché' used all the time, but when the college football season hits October and conference play begins with so many equally-matched teams, it's a very true statement. While A&M stormed back and won, they were outgained in virtually every offensive category. On paper, OSU gained almost 100 more yards, had more first downs, ran more plays, and controlled the clock. However, all of that was negated by one critical fumble deep in OSU territory that completely changed the complexion of this ball game.
Even after this run to make it 17-10, the A&M defense had troubles stopping the Cowboy offense giving up drives of 75 and 81 yards along the way. But field position and an improbable goal line stand held OSU to six points on two short range field goals. One little known stat that you won't hear discussed that played a big role Saturday was OSU's starting position throughout the game. The Cowboy offense was always forced to work with a long field. The average starting position for the game was their own 19 yard line. Amazingly, only two OSU drives started beyond the 20 yard-line (own 33, 28 yard-line), and OSU scored touchdowns both times. That's an incredible statistic, and credit must go to Matt Szymanski and the kickoff coverage team, as well as the punt coverage team.
Some will say that the Cowboys lost this game with the fumble, the botched third down play at the A&M goal line, and the roughing the kicker penalty at the end. However, the Aggies picked themselves up off the floor and put themselves in position to take advantage of these mistakes. As we've said many times, when you get into conference play and so many teams are equal in talent and ability, the name of the game becomes playing error-free football and forcing the opponent to play an mistake-free game. The Aggies did just that, not turning the ball over, playing excellent special teams, and taking advantage of OSU's mistakes.
Take away the meaningless 48-yard Hail Mary at the end of the first half, and subtract Jorvorskie Lane's 49-yard completion to Kerry Franks on the halfback option pass, and that leaves Stephen McGee with 121 yards through the air. He also had a season-low 43 yards on the ground. So why is he receiving an above average mark of B-? He raised his play and won the game. He opened the second half with consecutive 16 and 19 yard completions which set the tone for the comeback. He also completed a critical 10-yard pass on third down and long in the red zone to Lane that kept that drive alive. He also hit Lane again for the eventual game winner inside the red zone with eight minutes left in the game. He may not have thrown for many yards, but every completion (excluding the Hail Mary) was a critical throw at the time. The A&M team of two years ago would not win this game being down 17-0. McGee picked this team up and kept them fighting in the second half.
What can you say about Jorvorkie Lane? He's easily the best football player on this team, and an argument can be made he's the most versatile offensive player to wear the A&M jersey. Bucky did the run, catch, and throw hat trick against BYU, but that A&M team was simply having fun with a grossly overmatched BYU team. On Saturday, the Aggies needed Lane to do all three to squeeze out the one-point victory. He has everything a football player needs to be successful. He's the best runner (maybe not the fastest, but the best), the best pass catcher, and based on his pinpoint accuracy on the run with a defender in his face, quite possibly one of the best passers on the team. What he does at 290 pounds is truly incredible, and you can only imagine what he could do at the collegiate level playing at a muscular 260 pounds.
Had Kerry Franks not made the great catch from Lane on the halfback pass, we'd still be talking about the 30+ yard picture perfect pass from McGee that Franks dropped in the end zone. However, lucky for Aggie fans he put that play behind him and caught several crucial balls. He finished with four receptions for 120 yards, easily the most productive day by an A&M receiver this season. Despite his inconsistency catching the ball, Franks has slowly become McGee's prime downfield target. Pierre Brown also caught two big catches, including the first pass of the second half that really sparked the offense.
Other than these six completions to Franks and Brown, the A&M receiving corps remained quiet on Saturday, something that must change as the offense will need to show more diversity to loosen up defenses and quiet tough road crowds on the docket for the remainder of October.
Martellus Bennett had two catches for 23 yards, and was on the receiving end of the big 19-yard reception that followed Brown's 16-yarder on that first drive of the second half. Still, I know this is a broken record, but you have to wonder why the offense won't utilize such a dynamic weapon who is still being touted as an early round draft pick despite the lack of production. The Legion of Doom did their usual good job in blocking.
The offensive line did a solid job pushing the point of attack forward on inside runs by Lane. They've also improved their pass protection in recent weeks giving McGee time to look downfield. They are having some difficulty engaging with their man on outside runs, which has caused Goodson to struggle and string out plays to the outside with little success. Overall, a decent performance by the big men up-front.
OVERALL OFFENSIVE GRADE: B
Red Bryant had arguably his best game of the year making a couple of nice solo tackles early. He finished the game with eight stops and two tackles for loss. He also caused the big OSU fumble that got A&M back in the game. Chris Harrington made the big 5-yard tackle for loss on the botched third down play at the A&M goal line, and Cyril Obiozor made a couple of nice plays behind the line. However, the line gave up too much ground to Savage and Hunter, and missed numerous tackles. The OSU running game tallied 200 yards.
Msi Tupe and Mark Dodge combined for 22 tackles. Both made a couple of big plays. Dodge sacked Bobby Reid for a 14-yard loss on a crucial third down plays with the Cowboys driving. However, the linebackers overall had troubles stopping Savage and Hunter at the first point of contact, many times allowing the OSU runners to gain significant yardage after initial contact. The defense, and linebackers specifically, must wrap up and do a better job tackling.
I thought the safeties had their weakest performance of the season. They were consistently set-up 15 yards back in centerfield coverage, which hurt their ability to come up in run support and to cover the intermediate routes. On a couple of long passes, I thought the safety took a bad angle to the ball, especially on the 47-yard touchdown pass to Adarius Bowman where I thought Jordan Pugh possibly had a play on the ball. The staff tried several combinations at safety in the second half, but nothing seemed to work. The cornerbacks had a better night, playing slightly more aggressive and tighter in coverage than in previous weeks.
OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE: C
Anytime your special teams force the opponent to start a drive deep in their own territory, they are doing a good job. Doing that consistently the entire game is a huge factor. OSU's average starting position for the game was their own 19. That is an incredible statistic. In fact, OSU started a drive only twice past its own 20 yard-line (28 and 33 yard line), and they scored a touchdown on both of those possessions. Justin Brantly and the punt coverage team gave up one return yard and downed the ball twice inside the 20. Matt Szymanski and the kick coverage team had three touchbacks and a long return of just 14 yards. Special teams created long fields for the OSU offense all night, and it made a big difference, especially in the second half when OSU engineered drives of 75 and 81 yards on 29 plays combined and came away with just six points.
OVERALL SPECIAL TEAMS GRADE: A
Hop's OSU Game Report Card
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