Texas A&M Preview

Could Texas A&M be the best six-win team in the country? It would certainly be difficult to find another team with as many near misses, including near-misses to high-level teams like Oklahoma State and Arkansas.

The Aggies entered the season with top-10 expectations, but saw that come crashing down with a series of late-game collapses, including two overtime losses. And so Texas A&M sits at 6-5, with a 4-4 record in the Big 12, and only the Texas game remaining in its final Big 12 season.

The offense hasn't been the problem. Texas A&M is averaging 40.9 points per game, a number the Aggies have achieved with great balance. They average almost 219 rushing yards per game, with the passing attack accounting for 294 yards per game. And the scoring? The Aggies have 27 rushing touchdowns to 26 passing touchdowns.

Ryan Tannehill (6-4 222) is among the Big 12's better pure throwers, ironic since he once caught passes as a wide receiver. In his first full season as a starting quarterback, he has completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 3,191 yards and 26 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. Tannehill can also run, as evidenced by his 275 rushing yards, his 5.9 yards per carry and four touchdowns on the ground.

But typically when the Aggies want to get the job done on the ground, they go to a running back. Which running back remains to be seen. With Christine Michael already knocked out for the season with an injury, the Aggies appeared to get bad news on Cyrus Gray (5-10 200), who has sustained a shoulder injury. But Gray, who has rushed for 1,045 yards and 12 touchdowns, might be ready to go anyway. If he can't, the job falls to sophomore Ben Malena (5-8 195), who has 99 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns. When the Aggies utilize a fullback, it's usually Tommy Dorman (6-2 235).

Jeff Fuller (6-4 220) is one of the most physically gifted receivers in the Big 12, and has used those abilities to haul in 56 passes for 602 yards and four touchdowns. But he might not even be the best receiver on his own team. That honor would go to Austin Westlake alum Ryan Swope (6-0 206), who always seems to run around open. Swope has 78 catches for 1,069 yards and 11 scores. Uzoma Nwachukwu (6-0 194) can be a big-play threat at times. Nehemiah Hicks (6-4 249) runs well for a tight end.

Sherman has earned a reputation as an excellent evaluator of offensive linemen, and this year's group only furthers that reputation. Luke Joeckel (6-6 310) and Jake Matthews (6-5 305) give the Aggies a pair of true sophomore tackles with seemingly unlimited potential. And the other starters are slated to return in a year as well, with junior guard Brian Thomas (6-3 315), junior center Patrick Lewis (6-2 306) and redshirt freshman guard Cedric Ogbuehi (6-5 292) showing the potential to emerge as a dominant interior group. Thanks in large part to these guys, A&M averages 5.4 yards per carry and has given up just seven sacks. All but Ogbuehi were returning starters from 2010.

The Aggies go out intending to stop the run first with their 3-4 under coordinator Tim DeRuyter, and they've done that, holding opponents to 2.7 yards per carry. But they haven't been as successful against the pass, with opponents throwing for 292 yards per game and 17 touchdowns to just six interceptions. Those latter numbers haven't been the fault of the pass rush, as A&M has recorded a whopping 41 sacks so far this season.

The defensive line is excellent. Tony Jerod-Eddie (6-5 301) is as good a 3-4 end as you'll find, while Spencer Nealy (6-5 277) has emerged opposite the senior. Nealy actually has one more tackle for loss than Jerod-Eddie, though the latter player has shown a surprising pass rush in grabbing the team's third-best sack total with four. The duo have combined for 81 stops on the year. Eddie Brown (6-0 310) holds down the nose tackle spot well and is pretty active for the position, making 24 tackles, four for loss and three sacks.

But the biggest plays in the 3-4 typically come from the outside linebacker position, and Texas A&M is no exception. Starters Sean Porter (6-2 230) and Damontre Moore (6-4 245) have excelled at bringing opposing players down behind the line of scrimmage. Porter has 67 stops, 13.5 for loss and 8.5 sacks. Moore has 51 tackles, 14 for loss and 6.5 sacks. And Caleb Russell (6-2 238) also rotates through, making 26 stops, four for loss and three sacks. Middle linebacker Jonathan Stewart (6-4 237) is the team's leading tackler with 80, while fellow middle linebacker Steven Jinkens (6-2 220) has made 46 tackles despite starting just four games.

Terrence Frederick (5-10 187) is one of the Big 12's top big-play defensive backs, making 47 tackles, six for loss, two sacks, returning and interception 57 yards, breaking up 12 passes and recovering two fumbles. A&M hasn't has as much success with Lionel Smith (6-0 193), who has subbed in for the injured Coryell Judie (5-11 190). That injury has been huge in limiting the Aggies' pass defense, as Judie was expected to be one of the league's top cover corners. Trent Hunter (5-10 192) is smart, if limited athletically at free safety, while Steven Terrell (5-10 193) is listed as the starter at strong safety but rotates at both safety spots. Tony Hurd Jr. (5-9 180) has started the last three games at strong safety, but is listed as Terrell's backup this week.

Randy Bullock (5-9 212) has been pretty strong from his kicker spot, making 21-of-25 field goals and going 9-of-12 from 40-plus yards. He has missed two extra points. Punter Ryan Epperson (6-2 191) has averaged nearly 41 yards per punt, though only five of his punts have gone for touchbacks and 14 have been downed inside the 20. The Aggies haven't been especially dangerous in the return game — another side effect of Judie's injury — though Dustin Harris (6-0 175) did take a punt back for a score. He'll be the primary punt and kick returner.

This season has already not lived up to the massive expectations the Aggies had before the year started. But if they were to add in a win over Texas, that ride over into SEC country would be quite a bit sweeter.


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