The Texas Aggie football team scored two first half touchdowns to take a 14-0 lead and looked to usher in the Mike Sherman era on a high note, but Penn State's rushing game coupled with Aggie mistakes was too much as the Nittany Lions left San Antonio with a 24-17 win.
Aggie fans can point to Mike Goodson's fumble deep in A&M territory that resulted in PSU's tying score, or they can look at several critical pass coverage breakdowns on third down and long situations. They can point to the controversial option call on 4th and inches from the 2-yard line that would've tied the game late. They can look to the staff deciding to punt with two minutes and only two timeouts in hand.
All of those things in some form or fashion contributed to the loss. However, the overriding reason that Penn State prevailed is simple. It's the reason why most football games are won and lost in the history of the game. The Nittany Lions won the line of scrimmage. Ultimately, that's why Dennis Franchione and this staff are looking for new jobs. When they arrived five years ago, the first point of emphasis was getting the players stronger with the goal of winning the line of scrimmage and playing smash mouth football.
That philosophy started to take hold on the field two years ago when the Aggies rolled up almost 600 yards rushing against Oklahoma and Texas in the season's final two games. That carried over to 2006 when the team again utilized the power running game to control the clock and control the pace of the game.
2007 looked to be more of the same with the entire offensive line returning along with the backfield trio of McGee, Goodson, and Lane. But it didn't happen in 2007, especially against the quality opponents. Those 250-300 yard rushing games in 2005 and 2006 were replaced by 160-180 yard totals, numbers that are respectable by most football standards, but not a program built almost exclusively on the power option game.
And that's exactly what happened Saturday. The Aggies had some success running the ball, as evidenced by the 164 rushing yards and the scintillating 15-yard touchdown run by Goodson to give A&M the early 14-0 lead. However, there were too many times when Goodson was running for his life 3-4 yards in the backfield. Too many times when Stephen McGee was dodging oncoming defensive linemen before having time to set-up in the pocket.
On the flip side, Penn State racked up 270 yards rushing against A&M's front line. After the Aggies tied up the game at 17-17, the Nittany Lions immediately answered with two runs through the middle of the A&M defense for over 30 yards, which led to the go-ahead touchdown.
McGee had a pretty average night by his standards, making some big plays with his feet scrambling out of the pocket, but also missing several opportunities on pass plays. His quick timing pass to Martellus Bennett led to the Aggies' first score and was one of the best executed plays of the season. However, he threw an underthrown floater of a pass that was intercepted, and several times when he escaped the pocket and had open receivers downfield, he usually threw the ball out of bounds. He also missed an open Pierre Brown on a potential long pass play on the opening drive but skipped in the pass.
Michael Goodson looked as quick as ever making several very impressive runs, and has two touchdown runs to show for it. However, Goodson's fumble inside A&M's 20 yard-line allowed Penn State to tie the game on the next play. Especially troubling was the way Goodson carried the ball away from his body which is a recipe for a loose ball and that's exactly what happened.
Also, this was the second straight year that Jorvorskie Lane showed up from the holiday break significantly overweight, even by his standards. And while Lane should've gotten the ball on the infamous fourth and inches late in the game, his behavior on the sidelines cursing at players and crying certainly didn't help the team.
Yet another game where the receiver corps really didn't play a factor in the game combining for less than 50 yards. That must change with the next regime. It was nice to see E.J. Shankle make a nice catch on the sideline late in the game and Earvin Taylor converted on a big third down conversion on a nice slant play. Otherwise, this unit was again a non-factor.
Typically, the Legion of Doom earns high marks for blocking, but the tight end missed his block on the fourth and inches from the one yard-line that contributed to the demise of the play. On a positive note, Martellus Bennett had several nice catches and worked hard to get extra yards and a first down on one completion a couple of yards in front of the first down marker. Joey Thomas also had a quality catch.
The offensive line has underachieved all season, and on Saturday minus Yemi Babalola the line did little to change that theme. McGee was trying to escape the rush all night, and Goodson was dodging defenders in the backfield on a regular basis.
OVERALL OFFENSIVE GRADE: C-
The PSU offensive line controlled the action. Morelli was not rushed at all in the game, and the Nittany Lions rattled off plenty of big gainers on the ground to the tune of 270 yards. Chris Harrington had some nice plays and finished with nine tackles, but for the most part the front four was very quiet.
Mark Dodge not only made some nice plays on defense, he also made a great stop on special teams. Dodge maximized his performances while at Texas A&M, and given his background and experiences in the military it's no surprise. However, if Texas A&M wants to get back to national prominence, they need to get better athletes with playmaking ability on the field. Hopefully, Derrick Stephens is that answer.
So where has Stephen Hodge been for the past five years? Getting only his second start in his college career, Hodge not only looked pretty good in coverage and collecting an interception, but he seemed to be around the ball all night and led the team in tackles with 10. Hopefully, the new staff will teach the defensive backs to pick up the ball on passes because for three years A&M DB's have been in relatively good shape only to allow the receivers to make adjustments on the ball while they stare at the sky helplessly – aka PSU's jump ball touchdown. While Penn State didn't rack up a lot of passing yards, the A&M secondary gave up several big third down conversions that hurt.
OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE: C-
Hop's Alamo Bowl Grades
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