Horns vs. Aggies: A Family Feud For 100 Years

Here is Mack Brown's definition of a rival game: "It's when a fan picks on the other team before the game and, if you lose, (opposing fans) pick on him and then he gets mad at the coach." This Friday, a three-touchdown favorite Texas team has a chance to pick on Texas A&M by handing the Aggies the most lopsided series loss since, well, last year.

Texas, of course, hung 50 on the Farmers in Austin, sending the Horns to the Cotton Bowl and former A&M coach R. C. Slocum to the TV studios. Now, the venue shifts to Kyle Field, where weird things happen (and that's even before kickoff). The Twelfth Man is the best thing the Aggies have going for them this week, since the other 22 on the field have only defended their home turf against the likes of Baylor and Kansas since the first weekend in September.

That's why the talk all week from UT players and coaches is how other sub par A&M teams were able to put the pieces together just long enough to torpedo Longhorn seasons (not to mention OU's No. 1 ranking in 2002). Already assured of their first losing campaign in 21 years, the Farmers know that the only thing that would mitigate the sting of a brutal season would be to spoil the BCS hopes of the school they obsess over every waking moment of the day.

But if projections hold true to form, No. 6 Texas will have handed their in-state rival their third home loss of the season (7th of the past 14 games at Kyle Field) and the pooor Aggies will have staggered to a 4-8 mark under first-year head coach Dennis Franchione.

For those of us who endured 1984-1994, it's almost enough to make you feel sorry for the Aggies. Almost.

Bottom line: Oklahoma may be the team you most want to beat, but A&M is probably the team you most hate to lose to. Sooners invade Dallas just one weekend a year, but there's no avoiding the Aggies if you live in the Lone Star State.

"It's one of those games where, in the state of Texas, no matter who you cheer for, everybody in the state takes a side one way or the other," QB Chance Mock said, adding that the choice of schools impacts even lifelong friendships. "They have that Fish Camp and, after that, all my friends didn't want to talk to me any more. I don't know if I can talk to them either."

Come Friday afternoon, the only talking that matters will be done on the football field.

DOES BROWN HAVE A&M'S NUMBER?

For a guy who keeps coming up empty against Oklahoma, Brown has owned Texas' other rival during his six-year tenure. A win Friday would raise Brown's series record to 5-1 and Longhorn seniors would post a new school record for most wins (41) by a four-year class.

"We've had their number since I've been here," WLB Derrick Johnson said. "We just get ready to play and get focused for playing them, knowing it's a big game every time we play them."

More than focus, it has to do with A&M's recent inability to sign players like Johnson, named First-Team All-American this week by the Football Writers Association of America. This year, at least, the youthful Aggies are dead last in the Big 12 in the all-important Turnover Margin (NCAA No. 106). And the Ags have had a rash of injuries (a-gain) this season, notably WR Jamaar Taylor (just 10 catches and 36 yards shy of breaking the career school records in both categories) and MLB Jared Morris (the Aggies leading active tackler, suffered a season-ending knee injury against Utah).

Other than too many turnovers, too many injuries, too little depth, might not the other ingredient in dominance be coaching?

"What happens in sports is that you have streaks and you don't know why," Brown said. "Streaks are made to be broken, so you can't plan on them. Why has Miami beaten Florida State four in a row? Why has Florida beaten Georgia 13 out of 14? It doesn't make any sense. Why has OU beaten us four in a row? Sometimes your team feels confident in a ballgame."

How confident are the Aggies this week? Consider this: end zone tickets were still available just three days before kickoff. Still, the world's largest cult will still gather en mass at 2:30 p.m. (CST, ABC) to chant things like "Hullabaloo Caneck Caneck" and "Riff Riff Riffity Raff" even when they are sober.

"It's a game where you have to throw the records out," Mock said. "Kyle (Field) is a loud place. It's tough to play there. We won't be able to carry many checks this week just because audibling at the line is going to be really hard. They limit you. You can't look past them at all. They're a lot better than their record shows."

And as far as owning the Aggies?

"I think Chris (Simms) is the one who owns them," Mock said. "He's played pretty good the past couple of years. I think we've had big plays the past couple of years that have put us over. I think that's the key."

For now, what Texas owns is a 70-34-5 mark against A&M. The Horns look to break an overall 21-21-1 deadlock at Kyle Field. But that's in the history books, according to defensive coordinator Carl Reese, who apparently pays little heed to trends.

"I wish they could give us some points going into the game because we beat them the last few times we played them," Reese said. "If they would give us 10 points for that, I'd say lets talk about it. But they don't, so every year is a new year to us. You can't live off the past. The past doesn't help you in this football game."

FORMER TEAMMATES YOUNG AND LEWIS VIE FOR FRESHMAN HONORS

Both Texas QB Vince Young and Aggie RB Courtney Lewis competed for the same Houston Madison team in high school and will compete against each other for the first time Friday. What's more, both are considered the leading contenders for Big 12 Freshman of the Year.

The two remain in contact, and Lewis was even at DKR for the Arkansas game to watch his former teammate in, ironically, the only game Young did not play.

"He told me he was going to rush for 1,000 yards and I told him I was going to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 1,000 yards," Young said. "One of the things we were competing for was who was going to be the first on ESPN, making somebody miss, and getting the big yards. He won that bet already (Utah game)."

Lewis is the league-leading freshman rusher, running for 940 yards on 169 carries (85.5 ypg) and 11 TDs this season. He ranks No. 2 on A&M's all-time freshman rushing list, trailing Greg Hill's mark (1,216) set in 1991. While Hill's record should remain intact for another year, Lewis could become A&M's first 1,000-yard rusher since Dante Hall ran for 1,024 yards in 1998.

"(Lewis has) really helped their offense," Reese said. "He's the kind of guy who takes the game over, particularly out of the shotgun. He's the kind of guy who can use his size (5-11, 191) to his advantage because he can hide behind blocks."

Lewis' running style is comparable to former Oklahoma RB Quentin Griffin, Reese surmised.

"He's one of the few jump-runners that we've played this year (in that) he will hold, kind of stutter and then jump outside and outrun you," Reese said. "Most of the backs we've faced this year are north-south guys, and he'll run north-and-south if it's there. But if it's not, he'll jump outside."

Young's 7.8 ypc leads the nation.

"It's phenomenal that he gets eight yards a carry," Brown said.

In 10 games (five starts), Young has rushed for 858 yards (No. 4 on the UT freshman chart) and 10 TDs (No. 2 on the UT freshman list). His 85.8 ypg ranks No. 44 nationally and third best among QBs.

He has 1,043 passing yards (73-of-121) including five TDs but has thrown seven INTs.

Since both Young and Lewis redshirted, neither has seen action in the Longhorn-Aggie brawl. But Young said the raucous fans at Oklahoma State will prepare him for the 12th Man.

"They were saying things like, ‘Vince, you suck. Vince, you're not an All-American. Vince, you need to sit down and let Chance get in,'" he said.

But toward the end of Texas' 55-16 win at Stillwater, Young recalled: "One dude said. ‘Vince, go to the League (NFL). Get outta here.'"

AGGIE OFFENSE

Almost lost in Courtney Lewis' shadow is TB Derek Farmer. The junior, with 332 yards on 78 carries, was A&M's leading rusher the past two seasons.

Like Texas, the Aggies boast two talented quarterbacks who needed a U-Haul to tote their press clippings when they signed with their respective schools. Inevitable comparisons are already being drawn between Young and Aggie sophomore Reggie McNeal.

"I think they're the same guy," Reese said. "They can make plays with their feet and athletically beat you. They both can throw the football well enough to beat you. He (McNeal) is dangerous either way so we've got to do a good job of pressuring him and hopefully get to him."

McNeal is A&M's second-leading rusher, with 370 yards on the season (33.6 ypg). Despite his reputation as the ‘running quarterback', McNeal has passed for 1,617 yards (103-of-201), including eight TD tosses and six INTs, for an average of 147 ypg.

"He can get on a streak and get hot," Reese said. "He can get in a rhythm and complete a lot of passes. Everything kind of clicks. If he's not in rhythm then sometimes he gets back there and bam!, he's gone (running). But I've seen him when he gets hot (in the passing game). When he gets hot, he's as good as any passing quarterback that you can play."

As such, look for Johnson to spy on McNeal when the sophomore is behind center. The All-American was assigned to similar duty when Kansas State and Nebraska brought running quarterbacks to Austin.

The biggest difference between Texas' and A&M's scheme is that the Aggies don't alter their offense when QB Dustin Long enters the game. The junior played the entire second half in A&M's recent loss at Missouri. Long has gone airborne 87 times, completing 56 for 662 yards (60.2 ypg) but has thrown six INTs against four TDs.

"They don't change the offense when (Long) goes in there," Reese said. "It's the same offense. Just like McNeal, he's a good athlete with his feet. He's got good speed. They run quarterback draws and quarterback options when Long is in there so nothing changes for them."

The Aggies typically operate out of the I-formation for roughly half their snaps before switching to the shotgun to try and spread the field by mixing in the option, draws and counter plays. On top of that, the Aggies are opting for more trick plays this season, Reese observed. (Parenthetically, Texas' scout team practiced several toss-back plays to the quarterback in preparation for Franchione's bag of tricks.)

Following Taylor's injury, junior Terrence Murphy has emerged as A&M's leading receiver (612 yards on 37 grabs). The three-year starter is having a bigger impact in the return game. Murphy needs just 10 kickoff return yards to break Leland McElroy's 10-year old school record (590 yards on 15 returns).

"(Murphy) is the track guy," Reese said. "He's the reverse guy. He's the guy they bring back in motion and he's the guy that they try to specialize in some things in getting him the ball."

A&M's offensive front (C Geoff Hangartner, guards John Kirk and Aldo De La Garza, tackles Alan Reuber, Alex Kotzur) have started 10 straight games together. Friends, the Aggies haven't had that kind of continuity on its OL since 1998.

Overall, the Aggies are a middle-of-the-pack offensive team, ranked No. 42 nationally (No. 8 Big 12) in total offense averaging 395 yards per game. The Farmers are getting 212.6 yards through the air (NCAA No. 67, Big 12 No. 6) while averaging 182.4 yards on the ground (NCAA No. 34, Big 12 No. 6).

Texas will counter with college football's No. 26 defense (326.8 ypg). The Horns' run defense has been spotty for three seasons, surrendering 155 ypg rushing (NCAA No. 61, Big 12 No. 6) through 11 games while giving up 171.8 ypg through the air (NCAA No. 11, Big 12 No. 4).

AGGIE DEFENSE

Somewhere, way back in the early 20th Century before such records were kept, there probably were some A&M defenses more porous than the 2003 Wrecked Crew. Statistically, however, this is just about the worst Aggie defense on record. When your free safety (sophomore Jaxson Appel) leads the team in tackles (124) and your strong safety (sophomore Ronald Jones) is your second-leading tackler, your defense is usually in trouble.

The Aggie run defense checks in at No. 106 nationally (dead-last in the Big 12) surrendering 209.8 ypg. They are also the league's bottom dweller in pass efficiency defense (NCAA No. 13) and are the Big 12's worst scoring defense (38.2 avg., NCAA No. 113). Granted, road games at Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Virginia Tech can skew your numbers. But Texas should be able to run and throw on this Aggie defense, despite the bouquets that several Longhorns tossed their way this week.

"We're not going to be able to move the ball at will against them," Mock said. "They'll be a tough team to play. There's something about Kyle Field that's a tough place to play. It limits what you can do offensively and limit's the kind of stuff you can carry."

After showing a 3-4 front during the Slocum era, the Wrecking Crew is now a 4-3 defensive unit.

"They'll still play some odd alignments," offensive coordinator Greg Davis said, "but they'll play more stacked (fronts) and more 4-3 than they have in the last several years."

The Aggies are playing more man coverage than in recent years and are blitzing about one-third of the time, Davis added.

Sophomore DT Johnny Jolly is the top tackler among the front seven (No. 3 on the team) with 81 stops. He sets the Aggie standard this season in TFL (11 for minus-36 yards).

Junior RCB Byron Jones leads the team in PBU with 12 and has one INT. Appel has logged four of his team's six interceptions this season.


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