Nov. 25, 2005
Texas A&M 29
Game Not Perfect, But Regular Season Is
By Bill Frisbie
COLLEGE STATION -- They say every Rose has its thorn and, for nearly 58 minutes, over-achieving Texas A&M was a thorn in the side of Texas' post-season plans. It was not until after David Pino's 29-yard FG with 2:22 remaining could the Horns resume their California dreaming following a harder-than-expected 40-29 win at College Station.
Well, at least one member of the Burnt Orange contingent expected it.
"I think I was the only one in the country that anticipated this," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "I said this is exactly what's going to happen. I told the guys in the pregame talk that there was going to be a fantastic atmosphere and you're going to be frustrated because they're going to throw some halfback passes and run reverses. They're going to pull it all out because they've got nothing to lose. I was really, really not proud of myself that I was right."
The one thing that clairvoyant UT coaches did not fully envision was backup QB Stephen McGee logging all 76 snaps and then running the option the way Nebraska still wished it could. With three-year starter Reggie McNeal (ankle) spending Senior Day in his civvies, the RS-freshman engineered a 277-yard ground game representing the most rushing yards Texas has given up this season. True, Texas has depended on its secondary for more run support this season but it's not a good sign when your free safety (Michael Griffin) leads all tacklers with 21 stops.
Earlier this week, Texas defensive players said that most of the film studies centered on McNeal while coaches said a change at quarterbacks would not necessitate a change in A&M's offense. McGee ran for a game-high 108 yards on 24 carries while freshman RB Jorvorskie Lane added 104 yards on 17 totes, marking just the second time in the 112-year history of the rivalry that a pair of Aggies eclipsed the century mark in a single game against the Horns. The Aggies also controlled the clock, holding the ball for 35:17.
Brown said the ugly win was the best thing that could have happened to his team that, despite two-week's worth of rhetoric about respecting the opposition, mailed-in a performance.
"It got our attention and we're going to go back to work now," he said. "We can quit talking about how great we are and understand that we need to stop the run better, we need to run the ball better, we made too many mistakes on defense and we couldn't get the ball back."
Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis' blueprint was typical for this type of rivalry game, keeping it close to the vest in the first half, and then some. Texas put the ball in the air just 13 times in the first half, completing six for 88 yards, against college football's worst secondary. An A&M defense rated No. 109 nationally held Texas to a season-low 336 yards and sacked QB Vince Young three times.
The Aggies brought the linebackers to try to frustrate Young and to clog the inside running lanes. It allowed Ramonce Taylor to bounce outside and finish with a team-high 102 yards on 15 carries. Young uncharacteristically looked for the home run ball on too many occasions and failed to find open receivers running intermediate routes. Even so, VY found an 11th hour receiving threat in FB Ahmard Hall. The senior finished with 39 yards on two catches, including a 14-yard TD reception on a key 3rd-and-seven to help regain the Longhorn lead at 21-15.
Bottom line: Texas notched its first undefeated regular season since 1983 by dispatching of its in-state rivals for the sixth straight year. UT has posted three straight wins in College Station for the first time since 1969-73 and now leads the all-time series, 73-34-5. The Horns now face the last team standing from the Big 12 North in the conference championship at Houston's Reliant Stadium on December 3. (If Iowa State wins against Kansas Saturday, the Cyclones are in. Otherwise, it's Colorado.) Meanwhile, the Aggies are left to look for a silver lining in an inspired ball game but, still, a 5-6 season and left out of the bowl season for the third time in four years.
The only real damage in this one is that Young may have lost enough style points to keep him entrenched as the Heisman runner-up behind USC's Reggie Bush. He committed three turnovers (two fumbles, one INT). But his 162 yards passing (13-of-24 with one TD) and 19 net yards rushing (11 carries) gave Young 3,212 total yards in 2005, enough to break Major Applewhite's school record for most yards in a single-season. He also raised his record to 28-2 as a starter, tying legendary Bobby Layne for most wins by a UT quarterback.
Brown once said that five or six plays determine the outcome of most games, but Friday's Family Feud could be reduced to three. First, there was the successful fake punt attempt that extended a 10-playing scoring drive midway through the third quarter that gave Texas the lead for good. It was followed by a blocked punt for TD and then, arguably, the play of the game: LDT Rod Wright's fourth quarter forced fumble at the Texas 14 when it was still a one-possession contest.
"It was a pass play and I just came off the ball and pressed off the guard," Wright said. "(McGee) was just sitting there with the ball and I don't think he saw me. I just made the play."
Make that THE play. It was Wright's first fumble of the season but it could not have been more timely. The Aggies had third-and-two at the Texas 10, and it's a safe bet that Lane takes the handoff and tries to rumble for the first. Instead, A&M coaches called for the play-action pass that resulted in Wright sacking McGee for four-yard loss while stripping the ball. RS-freshman DE Brian Orakpo came up with the biggest fumble recovery of his young career as the Aggie never threatened again.
Blocked kicks have been huge for Texas in this series as of late. Michael Griffin's block of a Jason Brantly punt on A&M's next series not only set a new school record with his career fifth, it more importantly resulted in Cedric Griffin's 11-yard return for TD that served as the emotional swing in this game. This is where you knew the Horns were not going to let the Aggies steal Christmas.
Texas A&M Turning Point
By Dusty Mangum
By Dusty Mangum
It may be cliche, but there's truth to it: in a rivalry game, all bets are off. It does not matter what the records are, on any given day, there can be huge upsets based largely on emotion. That is how this years Texas-Texas A&M game started out. Texas survived a scare from an aggressive and scrappy Aggie team that played better than it had played all season.
And UT's emotional leader Vince Young did not appear to be his usual self. He was off key against the A&M defense, and those struggled permeated the entire Texas team. It took a couple of special teams play over the span of just a few minutes in the third quarter to keep the Aggies just out of upset reach and secure Texas undefeated regular season.
A&M grabbed the momentum early in the second half by forcing a Vince Young fumble on the opening drive after the break and then quickly scoring to take a 22-21 lead. Texas, needing an offensive answer on its next possession, drove into Aggie territory but faced a fourth and one at the 44. Mack Brown sent the punt team on the field, but instead of giving the ball back to A&M, with the lead bolstered by a frenzied College Station crowd, the head coach called the fake. Rashad Bobino took the snap and rumbled up the middle for six yards, and the Horns got 15 more out of the deal due to a face mask call on the Ags, setting the offense up 23 yards from the go-ahead score. Three plays later, Ramonce Taylor delivered that score, putting the Horns back on top for good.
But another special teams play sealed the deal. On A&M's next possession, a UT defense which struggled to stop the Aggies all day forced a rare three-and-out. With the line of scrimmage at the 21, A&M punter Justin Brantly took the snap at his own 11 yard line, where he was met by a Burnt Orange stampede. Michael Griffin, streaking in from Brantly's right, blocked the punt attempt and the ball popped almost right into Cedric Griffins hands. From there, number 8 took it in for 6.
Although the Texas defense still struggled to stop the Aggie rushing attack, it did force a fourth quarter turnover deep in UT territory as A&M drove for a potential tying score.
The player of the game for Texas was Ramonce Taylor as he ran for 102 yards and two touchdowns, but on a day when both the offense and defense had troubles, the turning point came in the third quarter, when special teamers stepped up and picked up the team's other units.
Culpepper's Commentary: Texas A&M
By Pat Culpepper
Big time, the Texas Longhorns needed this kind of football game! They needed to understand that there never has been and never will be a football team that can't be beaten. If you miss tackles, don't meet blockers squarely and commit turnovers on offense, anybody can go down.
Here was a Texas A&M football team with nothing to lose and everything to gain. Their fans were the most dispirited group of Aggies I have ever seen as I walked past their tailgaters before the game. They knew they were going to get beaten, the question was, "how badly?"
For a week and a half the Aggies worked on a slick assortment of option plays with various motions out of differing formations.
Coach Dennis Franchione and Reggie McNeal played possum in the week prior to the game as to McNeal's ability to play. Before the kickoff, McNeal came out in street clothes with his jersey on. It would be redshirt freshman Stephen McGee all the way and he proved to be up to the role and then some.
McGee is not as fast as McNeal or nearly as good a passer but never question his toughness. Using the brute power of running back Jorvorskie Lane and McGee's ability to handle the zone read keeper, the speed option and the counter option, the Longhorn defense was on its heels for dangerous amounts of time during the ball game.
Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik decided early to force McGee to make the pitch. That usually discourages the option in today's football -- but early on McGee was like an old-fashioned wishbone quarterback. Every pitch was good and he got up after every hit for more. As long as Courtney Lewis was on the receiving end of McGee's option pitches -- the Longhorn defense was in deep trouble. Lewis' injury was huge in this game.
Credit Rodrique Wright, Rashad Bobino and Robert Killebrew with big plays on defense. It was Wright who charged through and dislodged the football from McGee on one of the big defensive plays of the afternoon.
For the first time in 11 games, the Texas offensive line broke down inside on running plays and allowed an opponent to put severe pressure on Vince Young in pass protection.
The Texas quarterback had his worst game of the season. If any Heisman voters were watching, their ballots went to Reggie Bush.
Perhaps everyone from the Aggies to the thousands of Texas fans that were in the corners of Kyle Field and even sprinkled among the Big Money Aggies on the press box side expected a blow out. The Texas players and coach Mack Brown talked a good game before it started about single-minded focus but for the first time all season a team with less talent took it to the Longhorns physically and hammered out 280 yards rushing and dominated the time of possession, 35:17 to 24:43.
Never the less, before Inside Texas turns into a Maroon publication, it should be mentioned that the Aggies best game of the year ended in a 40-29 loss while the Longhorns worst game of the year ended in a 40-29 victory.
I was sitting in the North end zone, section 521, 37 rows high (which is as close to heaven as one can get in Aggieland) and I could see the problems the Longhorns were having with my binoculars. What I particularly didn't like was Jorvorskie Lane running over Longhorns and numerous missed tackles in the secondary.
Let me put it this way, if the Longhorns make it to Pasadena and play defense in this manner, USC will put another 55-19 score on a Big 12 team, and this time the dominate color of the vanquished will be Burnt Orange!
So stop all the talk about "Is this the greatest Texas team ever" because it is exactly what Oklahoma got stuck on before its game against USC. The Longhorn national championship teams were built around great defense, tough running backs and running quarterbacks.
The 2005 Longhorns have two games to play and the jury went back behind closed doors.
1. Jamaal Charles is playing like a normal freshman since his brilliant performances versus Ohio State and Oklahoma. The youngster is hurt or not mentally tough enough as yet to rank with the Longhorns' great backs.
2. Henry Melton deserves a chance to play more. He has gained confidence and on his three carries ran like, well, Jorvorskie Lane.
3. Ramonce Taylor continues to improve as a running back and his 102 yards rushing were the brightest light of the Texas offensive efforts.
All Texas fans should appreciate the Aggies' special teams coach for using the wide gap formation which allowed the Longhorns to rush Frank Okam and Kasey Studdard through the opening and get a six-yard running start at stationary Aggie blockers. The resulting collisions caused two short punts and finally a blocked punt by Michael Griffin which was picked up and run in for a game-changing touchdown by Cedric Griffin.
Texas now gets Colorado, which despite consecutive ugly losses gets in the game because Iowa State lost. The Buffs don't deserve to beat Texas, but the Horns must still earn it on the field.
The last time Texas and Colorado met in the Big 12 Championship Game the Longhorn staff was carrying the Applewhite-Simms quarterback baggage and it was a disaster.
Mack Brown has never won a conference championship. This Texas team owes it to him to play a great football game.
Was the A&M game a "wake-up" call or have weaknesses been uncovered that will not be addressed?
We will find out some answers Saturday at none -- high noon! I think Texas will kick Colorado's _ _ _ 55-3.
Oh, and this is not the Longhorns' greatest team if anybody asks. They have two games to play, then we can talk.