SFA Game Preview - Keys to Watch

The season opener is here! Stephen F. Austin and its well-executed spread offense rolls into Kyle Field for a Saturday night kickoff. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop looks at the match-up and emphasizes that it may be more than the offense that Aggie fans should be watching from the Lumberjacks on game day.

The Texas A&M football team will finally get to hit somebody else as the Aggies open up the 2010 season Saturday night against FCS division in-state foe Stephen F. Austin (SFA). While the Lumberjacks are not a D-1 program, they are ranked No. 8 in the FCS polls to start the season and expected to repeat as Southland Conference champions. SFA runs a productive spread offense that averaged over 460 yards per contest in 2009 and the unit returns senior quarterback Jeremy Moses who is the last of a long line of heralded signal callers mentored under Dick Olin while at Baytown Lee and is on the early watch list for the Walter Payton FCS Offensive Player of the Year Award.

While SFA's spread offense will be a good dress rehearsal for defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter's new 3-4 defense that was implemented to slow down the spread offenses in the Big 12, the Lumberjacks did lose a lot of offensive weapons and blockers from last year's conference championship squad. Gone are all three starting wide receivers and the team's two best offensive linemen from last season, so the aggressive Aggie defense could have some opportunities to flex their muscle against a less experienced group on offense.

While SFA is known in recent years for their dynamic offense, it's actually the defense that has the most returning veterans and preseason all-Americans. Strongside defensive end Kenneth Charles is a three year starter listed as a preseason all-American. The senior could give Texas A&M true freshman offensive tackle Luke Joeckel a big challenge in his first collegiate football game. Senior all-American linebacker Jabara Williams could be one of the best defenders in the FCS division. Williams is on the Buck Buchanon FCS Defensive Player of the Year Award watch list and he's also a three year starter who will provide some challenges for the Aggie offense. In fact, reports from fall camp scrimmages indicate that the defense has contained the well-publicized Lumberjack spread offense. So observers expecting a high scoring affair given these two heralded offenses may be in for a surprise on Saturday as both defenses have looked significantly improved in August practices.

Here are the keys to success for the Aggies in the game Saturday at Kyle Field:

Create Turnovers

Over the past couple of years, Texas A&M defenses have been poor at generating takeaways. New defensive coordinator and the defensive staff have heavily emphasized the importance of stripping the ball and also making the interception when the opportunity arises. That opportunity may very well arise on Saturday. SFA quarterback Jeremy Moses put up impressive statistics last season, throwing for well over 4000 yards and 40 TD's. But what isn't discussed are his 21 interceptions in 2009. For the season opener to be considered a success, the defense will want to create multiple turnovers.

A Crisp Jerrod Johnson

Coming back from minor offseason shoulder surgery and a change in his throwing motion to quicken his release, Jerrod Johnson looked rusty at times in fall camp floating some wobbling passes downfield that have been short and off the mark. Johnson performs best under the stadium lights in game situations, so a strong, efficient performance will go a long way to erase any lingering doubts from fall camp and could start the season hype for postseason honors that emerged after the brilliant performance against Texas on national TV.

Special Teams on Track

It's no secret that special teams cost the Aggies a couple of wins in 2009 with blocked punts, returns for touchdowns, below average punting, and an erratic field goal kicker. Head coach Mike Sherman took the blame for the deficiencies in 2009 and completely revamped the coaching and focus placed on special teams units this fall. Most importantly, he replaced younger role players on special teams with more athletic, experienced personnel to help bolster both return and coverage units. The coaching staff has pointed to this first game to validate the new approach and show 80,000 at Kyle Field that Coach Sherman will not make the same mistake twice.

Performance of the True Freshmen

For most experienced teams, any contribution from true freshmen this early in the season is a bonus. However, for the Aggies in 2010 that won't be the case at a couple of key positions. In fact, the Texas A&M staff is putting the backside protection of its franchise quarterback in the hands (and feet) of true freshman Luke Joeckel. The highly-recruited Arlington product graduated early and participated in spring practices, and actually won the critical left tackle position in two weeks over a handful of veterans. Thus, a lot is riding on Joeckel to overcome his freshman label and establish himself as a viable option at the position.

On the other side of the ball, true freshman Demontre Moore has surprised everybody and has established himself as the designated pass rusher opposite all-American Von Miller in passing situations. A week into fall camp, the defensive staff realized they had something special on their hands with Moore, so DeRuyter devised a pass rush scheme where he takes out a down lineman and inserts Moore as the second joker opposite from Miller. This package could pay big dividends throughout the season.

Other freshmen that could see action on Saturday include defensive back Toney Hurd, linebacker Domonique Patterson, offensive lineman Jake Matthews, tight end Jeremiah Hicks, and wide receiver Nate Askew.

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