It was ten years ago that a gimpy James Brown engineered a blue collar 16-6 Texas gutcheck win at A&M. It not only was one of the most courageous performances ever by a Longhorn QB, and it not only clinched the final Southwest Conference championship, but it also snapped what was then a nation's best 31-game home winning streak for the Aggies.
Back in the day, towel-waving, Hullabaloo-Caneck-Canecking Aggies set attendance records nearly every time their arch rival came calling. It was humanly impossible to squeeze more khaki into Kyle Field when Texas was in the house. It was also part of a stretch when the Aggies took 10-of-11 from the Horns between 1984-1994 and the Ags soon turned their thoughts to building a bigger stadium.
On Friday, it only means there will be room for thousands of extra Horn fans eager to see what their nearly four-touchdown favorite team can do against an opponent that they actually care about (or, don't care about, in this case). Last week, A&M Athletic Director Bill Byrne issued a public plea asking fans of the home team to purchase remaining tickets either for themselves or for less fortunate Aggies. He specifically cited a personal concern that the Burnt Orange might fill the stands at Kyle Field just as they did earlier in the month at Baylor (in essence, creating a home field advantage for the Horns).
The result: A&M officials placed approximately 4,000 unclaimed tickets on the open market. SS Michael Huff shook his head at the prospect of thousands of extra Texas fans getting their hands on those seats.
"Every year, most of it is Maroon," Huff said. "If we had 25,000 fans this year, it would make a big difference."
Well, it shouldn't make any difference at all in the outcome. What we have here, statistically, is the biggest mismatch in this series in recent memory. The Longhorn offense, for example, is on track to shatter decades-long records established by the devastating wishbone attack of the storied 1969 national championship team. The Vince Young-orchestrated assault, behind the best offensive line of the Mack Brown era, has added a consistent deep ball threat to its lethal weapon zone read offense.
As a unit, the crew leads the nation in scoring offense (50.1 ppg), is second nationally in both rushing offense (284.3 ypg) and total offense (527.9 ypg) and third nationally in pass efficiency.
Basically, Texas has racked up those gaudy numbers in less than three quarters of play. If Kansas had an impossible time defending the play action pass off the zone read, what's going to happen when Division-I's worst pass defense squares off against Mister Young and company?
There will always be one constant at Kyle Field: there will still be plenty of Aggies fueled by their burning desire to beat Tulsa University. (That is what they mean by t.u., isn't it?) The Farmers may also be lit by another source.
"We know their fans hate us and will have some alcohol in them," Huff said.
Even by 11 a.m.?
"Oh, yeah. It's never too early. They'll have alcohol in them."
The Horns would like nothing more than to affect an early exodus of Aggies for the nearest un-Happy Hour by hitting a big-play or two that swings the momentum permanently to the Texas sideline. Blocked punts have been huge for the Burnt Orange in recent history (2004 and 2001 come to mind), but it was TE David Thomas' career-long 60-yard TD grab on Texas' opening series in 2003 that set the tone for the Texas rout.
"Their safeties split out on B.J. and Roy and the middle of the field was wide open," Thomas recalled. "The linebacker was cheating up like he was going to blitz. He tried to bail but it was too late. I don't think I'll ever be that wide open again. Their crowd was into it and, once that happened, that kind of quieted them."
But with all the Longhorn fans expected to be in the stands Friday, that sort of thing might only pump up the volume at Kyle Field. Yet, that is but a means toward a larger end for these Longhorns who harbor a larger goal than extending the winning streak to six straight over your in-state rival.
"A rivalry is just knowing you won that game," Huff said. "It's knowing that you were on top that year. I don't think our team is focusing on that; I think we're focusing on what we have. The main goal for us was to play in the Big 12 Championship and that's already in the bag for us. From the looks of it, we have bigger and better things going on after that. Really, it's just another game that we have to play."
Just another game that Texas has to play. When you're eight quarters from the BCS national title game and your in-state rival is four quarters from home-for-the-holidays, it's been reduced to that. Really.
BROWN: FRAN IS STILL THE MAN
A 16-18 career mark may not be what the Aggies had in mind when Dennis Franchione hired on with the outfit three years ago. It's certainly not what Aggieland envisioned when Fran's salary was bumped up to $2 million just so he could be in the same pantheon as the other national championship-caliber coaches. But Brown believes A&M officials will stick with their long-term investment in Fran.
"Fran is building a great program at A&M and they've been so close in games this year," Brown said. "It scares us to death for this week. They were 7-5 last year. If they win against us on Friday they would be 6-5 and going to a bowl game with a chance to have the same record as last year. I think Fran is doing a great job there, and they're going to be a factor in the Big 12 Conference while he's there in the future."
The remarkable thing is that Brown said all this with a straight face.
The Aggies have been the walking wounded this season -- 15 scholarship players have combined to miss 63 games due to injury -- and now Texas looks to add insult to injury. Hardest hit has been the WR corps. Starter Chad Schroeder suffered a broken leg against Iowa State while starter Earvin Taylor suffered a season-ending broken leg against Texas State. Backup receivers have also combined to miss 20 games.
Last time we saw QB Reggie McNeal, he was on crutches in Norman, Oklahoma and his status for Friday is still uncertain. Backup Stephen McGee (Jordan Shipley's QB during their Burnet Bulldog days) filled in for little more than one quarter, producing an 0-for-6 passing day but rushing for 67 yards on 10 carries.
"I don't think they'll change their offense much if they have to play (McGee), or if they want to play both," Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik said. "We've practiced well the past two weeks and I think we'll be ready for whatever challenge is ours."
As to be expected, McNeal has shouldered the criticism alongside Franchione for the 5-5 season. McNeal will complete his eligibility as the school record holder for passing yards and total offense. And no small part of the reason that his numbers are down (141-of-265 passes for 1,963 yards) compared to last year (200-of-344 for 2,791 yards) is that he practically has to introduce himself to his receivers in the huddle. Senior Jason Carter leads the pack with 767 receiving yards but, otherwise, the attrition is so high that McNeal has yet to get on the same page with his other pass-catchers. And that isn't likely to happen Friday against the Big 12's top pass defense (164.4 ypg).
Still, McNeal is largely responsible for the fact that A&M joins Texas as one of four D-I teams to average more than 215 yards rushing and passing. The Aggies are averaging 230.7 rushing and 216.3 passing yards per game. Meanwhile, Texas trails only USC in total offense by averaging 284.3 yards on the ground and 243.6 yards up top.
"Reggie is still Reggie," said DE Tim Crowder. "He can still run and he can still get the ball to the receivers. We've just got to come in and play assignment football because they will run the option. If you lose containment, Reggie can break it 40 or 50 yards. Reggie doesn't like to run up in between the tackles. He likes to bounce it out."
No, but freshman RB Jorvorskie Lane (5-11, 265) has a penchant for it and has netted 491 yards on 102 carries (49.1 ypg). Several Longhorns have said tackling Lane is like facing the 275-pound Henry Melton in practice.
"Lane's big," Huff said. "He's a freshman that's gotten better as the season has gone along. He's a big back so he's going to run hard."
Senior Courtney Lewis, who hosted former high school teammate Vince Young at his birthday last Saturday, leads the team with 687 yards. McNeal has rushed for 664 yards and is averaging 6.9 ypc.
A&M coaches recruited senior SS Michael Huff but then never offered a scholarship. Now, Huff is a four-year starter and a Thorpe Award finalist honoring the nation's top defensive back. Meanwhile, the Aggie secondary has re-defined woeful in 2005, ranking dead last among 117 Division-I teams (318.9 ypg). When asked if he thought he could find some playing time in College Station, Huff diplomatically replied, "Hopefully." The snub probably had something to do with his later comment: "I'm always glad to beat up on A&M."
It simply points to a situation that's become chronic at College Station.
"Aggie Defense" has become an oxymoron (right up there with "jumbo shrimp"); it has slid steadily from its former Wrecking Crew status all the way to the No. 109 defense (464.6 ypg) in Division-I football. Defensive Coordinator Carl Torbush is the likely sacrificial lamb on Franchione's staff, but Mack Brown's former assistant produced some highly-rated defenses that were the trademark of some of those Top 10 Tar Heel teams.
Some point to an influx of youth for A&M's struggles, as the front four features two sophomores and one true freshman. Two sophomores start at the corner, including Brock Newton who slid over to FS when Jaxson Appel (broken rib) missed his first start in two seasons at Oklahoma on Nov. 12. RS-freshman Danny Gorrer filled in for Newton at the corner. In short, the Aggies have gotten younger during each of Franchione's three seasons at College Station.
MLB Justin Warren is the Big 12's leading tackler (often indicative of the fact that your defense is spending too much time on the field) by averaging 9.6 tackles per game, but the junior has suffered nagging injuries this month, missing his first start of the season at OU.
Others have pointed to the kind off-the-field issues the program has faced during Franchione's tenure. This includes the dismissal of DE Jorrie Adams and CB Erik Mayes who were expected to be a factor in the two-deep chart. (Appel previously said during Big 12 Media Days that two year's worth of dismissals have to do with Franchione's staff installing much-needed discipline and accountability among the players.)
Bottom line is that Franchione has yet to prove a consistent winner in recruiting wars against the likes of Mack Brown and Bob Stoops. Instead, he's tussling for talent (in far too many cases) against the likes of Baylor, Kansas and Iowa State.
Aggie defenders showed considerable fight in the second half against Oklahoma, but this defense will hardly rest against the most explosive offense this side of Southern Cal.