I've never walked a mile in an Aggie's shoes (in fact, I'm not even sure if Aggies wear shoes), but Texas' 45-42 upset at Kansas State was far more damaging than A&M's combined single-point home losses to Oklahoma and Nebraska. Obviously, the meltdown in Manhattan knocked the Burnt Orange out of national championship contention after Texas toiled eight weeks to get right back in the mix. Meanwhile, it was just another November loss for fourth-year Aggie coach Dennis Franchione, who has just two post-October Ws during his tenure.
The Aggies have been a tale of two-halves while Texas has been a tale of two defenses. The Ags have either been tied, or trailed, at halftime during six ballgames this season but have allowed an average of just 6.8 points-per-game after intermission this season. A&M saw second half leads against Texas Tech and Nebraska evaporate during their opponent's final series. Meanwhile, Texas' run defense is tops in the nation (42 ypg) while the pass defense is just eight spots removed from dead last (NCAA No. 111, 249 ypg).
Texas' injuries have been well-documented (six defensive starters have missed at least one game in 2006), but the Horns received a shot in the arm this week when it was announced that QB Colt McCoy and Lombardi Award finalist RG Justin Blalock would return to the starting lineup Friday. Brown says "this is the healthiest we've been in eight weeks." Assuming Brown's diagnosis includes his team's emotional state, and assuming McCoy is nearly 100 percent, Texas still out-talents the Ags across the board. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to name five current Aggies that Texas even offered.
You can count on at least two trick plays from the Aggies (in Franchione's scheme, a trick play apparently constitutes a dive play from RB Jorvorskie Lane on 3rd-and-goal from the two). You can also count on Texas' DBs entering this blood feud with a Bevo-sized chip on their shoulder pads. Collectively, the Horns know they have yet to produce a complete game all season. Friday is a darn good time for it. Texas 34, Texas A&M 20.
Ross Lucksinger, InsideTexas.com Editor -- They say when it comes to a rivalry game, we need to "throw the records out." But given that Texas A&M has an 8-3 record against a cavalcade of powder-puff opponents, it's more accurate to say we should "throw the schedules out."
The Aggies have the 200-200 balance in offensive production that Greg Davis likes to talk about. On the season, Texas A&M is averaging 207.5 rushing yards and 203 passing yards per game. Of course, the Ags are known for their ability to run the ball, as is indicated in the play-calling imbalance (451 run to 288 pass this year). This seems like it should play right into the Longhorns' hands. Texas sports statistically the nation's top run D, but one of the worst pass defenses.
The Aggies have chosen the run as their identity, but their passing offense is much more dangerous than most realize. It's very efficient and they also do a good job of protecting the ball. Stephen McGee has only two interceptions on the year compared to his 11 TDs. He's underrated as a passer and the Aggies will move the ball and score points, but not nearly enough as their defense won't be able to stop Colt McCoy and the Horns. Also, while Texas A&M has done a good job of protecting the ball on offense, the defense hasn't been particularly effective at generating turnovers from their opponents. In 2006, Texas A&M has picked off six passes and recovered 11 fumbles, compared to 12 interceptions and 17 fumbles recovered by the Longhorns' defense.
Texas A&M plays hard, but comes up short in the 113th meeting between the Longhorns and the Aggies. Texas 45, Texas A&M 20.
Michael Pearle, Co-Publisher -- The farther away I've gotten from the Kansas State shocker, the more disbelieving I am that Texas actually lost that game, to that team, with that much on the line. As you all saw, after beating Texas, K-State promptly went out last weekend and got blown out by the other powerhouse in the state of Kansas, the Jayhawks, 39-20. Texas, and most particularly the Texas defense, clearly blew it in spectacular fashion against the Wildcats, with the D continuing their trend of baffling performances this season. And that performance has me baffled about how the defense will respond against A&M Friday morning.
The Aggies can move the ball on the ground with Michael Goodson and Jorvorskie Lane, and can throw it adequately with Stephen McGee. They are 16th nationally in total offense, two spots ahead of Texas. The Aggies can't sneak up on Texas this year as they did last season introducing the option, but with the way Texas is playing defensively, they shouldn't have to. Sure, Texas is first in the nation in run defense, but you wonder if that is simply because teams can throw it so effectively against the Horns that the run has become an afterthought. A&M can score on Texas, so the question for me is whether the Longhorn offense can outscore the Aggies.
I expect Texas to move the football against an average A&M defense giving up 317 yards a game. If Colt McCoy is 90-100 percent healthy and can shake off the rust quickly without an early turnover leading to a score, Texas should be able to rack up plenty of yards and points and stay out in front of the Ags. If McCoy struggles or takes a hit and aggravates his injury, I worry that the Texas offense will sputter and fail to find the rhythm it displayed en route to eight consecutive wins this season.
My other concern for Texas offensively is the continuing fumble-itis of Jamaal Charles and Selvin Young. These guys have become unreliable with the football, and a turnover, which you can expect, either deep in A&M territory killing a scoring drive, or in Texas' end, giving A&M a short field in which to pound Lane, could spell the difference in a tight game.
In short, I don't feel very good about this one. The question for me comes down to this: which Texas D will show up? The one that played great, almost heroic football against Oklahoma and Okie State, or the group that looked like a bunch of confused junior high schoolers against Tech, Baylor and Kansas State? I'm not sure at all, so I think it will be another tight, scary game. But in the end, the Horns will give A&M another heartbreaking loss to go along with their last-second defeats at the hands of Nebraska, OU and Tech. Call it Texas 31, Texas A&M 24.
Clendon Ross, Co-Publisher -- For the last couple of years, I've generally had a good feel week-in and week-out what to expect from Texas. Something has happened in the last month, though, that has basically turned that on its head. I figured Tech for a relatively easy Longhorn win, Oklahoma State a close one, and K-State a Texas walk. That's three straight pretty wildly off the mark. I'm not exactly sure what it is about this team that is making it so difficult for me to read them down the stretch. Perhaps it's the fact that, as the season has progressed, many things that we once counted as truths have proven to not be so, at least not consistently: that Texas has an explosive running game behind a dominant offensive line; that the defensive front seven is one of the best in Texas history; that Gene Chizik is infallible, among others.
So, honestly, I'm struggling with this pick. My gut instinct tells me that Texas A&M makes this a game, yet that somewhat runs counter to my critical evaluation. The Aggies are an OK football team, but probably a little worse than their record suggests. (Forget the bleating from Ags about being six points from undefeated. They're also a mere 14 points away from four more losses, against weak competition.) They are squarely a middle of the pack Big 12 team, along the lines of Oklahoma State, Kansas and Tech.
It didn't help that I looked at A&M's two deep. I remembered many of the names from the last several years of recruiting. But it's not that I saw top prospects populating the depth chart. Those top players but for a few admittedly notable exceptions (Stephen McGee, Michael Goodson, Martellus Bennett) ended up in Austin or elsewhere rather than in College Station. No, the Aggies are relying on guys at multiple spots that the Texas coaches didn't even sniff.
Now, neither of the previous two rationales (A&M's strength as a team, and its talent individually) are perfect indicators -- see Manhattan, Kan. on Nov. 11, 2006 -- but those things, coupled with all the factors in UT's favor (talent, coaching, playing at home, motivation) point to a Texas win, along the lines of 2004 and 2005.
So why I am having a hard time picking it that way? Maybe it's superstition. Given my recent track record, if I pick the Horns to win big, like I did in Lubbock and Manhattan, they'll keep us on the edge of our seat till the clock ticks to zero. If I pick it close, like I did when the Cowboys visited Austin three weeks ago, it'll be the Horns big. I'll be quite happy on T+1, and not surprised, to be proven overly conservative with this pick. Whatever gets UT back to the Big 12 title game. Texas 34, Texas A&M 27.
Pat Culpepper, Special to Inside Texas -- Texas 24, Texas A&M 21.
Average of IT Members Picks: Texas 36, Texas A&M 21.
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