Texas A&M Preview

Just five weeks ago, Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman was almost out of a job.

The Aggies, who were supposed to be a darkhorse Big 12 South contender, sat at 3-3, with an 0-2 mark in conference play. So after that Monday's practice, Sherman took a trash can barrel, put it on the football field and filled it with videotapes, playbooks and game plans. He then set the heap on fire.

A more important move was the decision to rotate quarterback/receiver Ryan Tannehill with struggling signal-caller Jerrod Johnson against Kansas. Tannehill had a strong outing, then became the starter the following week. Tannehill's increased accuracy — he's completing 68.6 percent of his throws — and his steady hand eased the offensive waters and allowed the Aggies to take advantage of their offensive weapons. Tannehill's touchdown-to-interception ratio of 10-3 was a far cry from Johnson, who had nine interceptions in seven games, including four in a crucial close loss at Oklahoma State.

Another positive to emerge from the smoke was running back Cyrus Gray. Always considered a talent, Gray has rushed for 100-plus yards in each of the last five games and has emerged as arguably the league's second-best back in the three games since teammate Christine Michael was injured. He's also a receiving threat.

Tannehill has plenty of receiving weapons at his disposal as well. Junior Jeff Fuller is considered the top target, a jump-ball magnet who has 959 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns on the season. He's the Big 12's third-best receiver this year behind Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon and Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles. But Ryan Swope actually has more catches (65-62) on the season. Swope is also a tough matchup in one-on-one coverage and has another 760 yards and four touchdowns to show for it. Uzoma Nwachukwu is another ace receiver who had a bigger year last season.

The offensive line is young, and it has matured as the season has gone on, paving the way for Gray to rush for 137 yards against Nebraska. Tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews might be listed as true freshmen, but they don't play like it anymore. Center Matt Allen is the only senior in the group.

But as much play as the offense gets (and rightfully so), the defense has been just as good. In fact, Texas A&M is one of only two conference teams (Oklahoma is the other) to field a top-third total offense and top-third total defense in the league. Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter has been responsible for that, using a 3-4 to rank at the top of the league in rushing defense, while supplying plenty of heat on opposing passers.

Typically in a 3-4, all of the linemen essentially act like defensive tackles, eating up blocks and allowing the linebackers to flow and make plays. But A&M's trio of defensive ends Lucas Patterson and Tony Jerod-Eddie and tackle Jonathan Mathis are also active. Patterson and Jerod-Eddie have made 88 stops between them, with Mathis making 39 tackles.

But the linebackers are unquestionably the jewel of the defense, led by Joker linebacker Von Miller. One of the conference's top pass rushers, Miller has improved against the run and has 11.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks this year. Middle linebacker Michael Hodges is the defense's emotional leader and top tackler. He has 98 tackles and 4.5 sacks on the season. Garrick Williams has 90 stops from the other middle position, while outside linebacker Sean Porter has 62. The Aggies have also developed a pass rusher of the future in freshman Damontre Moore, who has 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.

The secondary is arguably the weak link of the team, though there are some athletes there. At one cornerback spot, Terrence Frederick is an excellent player against the run, making eight tackles for loss. At the other spot, Coryell Judie and Dustin Harris have combined for six interceptions. Trent Hunter is considered by many coaches to be among the top young safeties in the league.

Judie also doubles as a kickoff returner, where he's been dangerous. Judie has just nine returns on the year, but has run back two for touchdowns and is averaging 35 yards per return. After somewhat of a rough start, kicker Randy Bullock has settled in, missing just one field goal in the last nine games, a 40-yarder. He doesn't have a fantastic leg — a 40-yarder is his longest kick of the year. Ryan Epperson has struggled as a punter this year, averaging just 37.6 yards per punt.

OFFENSE

QB :17 Ryan Tannehill (6-4 219, Jr.)

TB: 32 Cyrus Gray (5-10 198, Jr.)

WR: 8 Jeff Fuller (6-4 215, Jr.)

WR: 11 Terrence McCoy (6-4 213, Sr.)

WR: 25 Ryan Swope (6-0 204, So.)

TE: 87 Nehemiah Hicks (6-4 248, Fr.); OR 80 Hutson Prioleau (6-4 251, Fr.); OR 19 Michael Lamothe (6-3 231, So.)

LT: 76 Luke Joeckel (6-6 304, Fr.)

LG: 71 Brian Thomas (6-3 303, So.)

C: 70 Matt Allen (6-2 295, Sr.)

RG: 61 Patrick Lewis (6-2 303, So.)

RT: 75 Jake Matthews (6-5 295, Fr.)

DEFENSE

DE: 77 Lucas Patterson (6-4 295, Sr.)

DT: 92 Jonathan Mathis (6-2 285, Jr.)

DE: 83 Tony Jerod-Eddie (6-5 300, Jr.)

Joker: 40 Von Miller (6-3 243, Sr.)

ILB: 37 Michael Hodges (6-0 226, Sr.)

ILB: 8 Garrick Williams (6-2 234, Jr.)

OLB: 10 Sean Porter (6-2 220, So.)

CB: 7 Terrence Frederick (5-10 184, Jr.)

CB: 5 Coryell Judie (5-11 188, Jr.); OR 22 Dustin Harris (6-0 175, So.)

SS: 2 Steven Campbell (6-0 202, So.)

FS: 1 Trent Hunter (5-10 190, Jr.)

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: 28 Randy Bullock (5-9 205, Jr.)

P: 48 Ryan Epperson (6-2 191, So.)

KR: 5 Judie

PR: 5 Kenric McNeal (6-1 180, So.)

LS: 95 Ben Bredthauer (6-4 257, So.)

H: 17 Tannehill


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