Can Horns Make a 'Statement' at A&M?

Longhorn coach Mack Brown did not lobby members of the sports media for BCS consideration following Texas' last home game of the regular season. This time, Brown issued an indirect challenge to his own players.

If the Horns can make a "statement" at Texas A&M on November 23, Brown said, then his team should be considered for an at-large BCS bid. Not that the Horns need additional motivation. Texas looks to atone for last year's ugly loss that knocked the Horns out of the Big 12 championship game. In fact, Texas has not played well against its in-state rival for two years running. But at least one Texas defensive player (publicly, at least) looks to the bigger picture when the Longhorns and Aggies collide for Lone Star state bragging rights.

"The most important thing you can say about this game is that it's a rivalry game," DT Frank Okam said. "You just think about the history that these teams have. Next week, we have to make sure we do a better job when we go over there."

Texas could parlay an impressive season finale win into a Sugar Bowl berth, or probably no worse than a New Years Day venue (Gator Bowl, Cotton Bowl). Of course, there was more at stake last season when A&M notched its first win in Austin since 1994. It was a deeply wounded Texas team, both physically and emotionally, that dropped a 12-7 decision on Senior Day last November 24. Texas was a Top 5 BCS team with a legitimate shot of repeating in the national title game before QB Colt McCoy's stinger, combined with a defensive collapse at Kansas State, sent the season spiraling into second-tier status. McCoy was clearly less than 100 percent when facing the Aggies and a stiff southerly breeze 12 days later. Then, with 20 seconds to play, McCoy lay motionless on the field after sustaining a nasty hit from DE Michael Bennett -- a play that Big 12 officials would later use as a prime example of a flagrant foul when instructing to league referees. It was also a day where a Texas TD was erased after SE Limas Sweed was whistled for a questionable pass interference penalty.

"What I remember most (from the 2006 A&M game) is that they are a big option team," DE Brian Orakpo said. "They only threw the ball seven times. So, we're going from Texas Tech's passing to A&M's running."

On the surface, it appears that A&M's strength plays to Texas' strength. The Aggies' ground game ranks No. 14 nationally (219.6 ypg) while Texas' run defense checks in at No. 10 nationally (92.8 ypg).

Yet, Texas entered last year's game boasting the nation's No. 1 rush defense and failed to protect a fourth-quarter lead. A&M ran the ball 15 times on its 16-play game-winning drive, covering 88 yards and milking 8:56 off the clock. The Aggies converted five third-down situations on the game-winning march, including QB Stephen McGee's eight-yard scoring run on 3rd-and-three.

"They ran the ball very well," Okam said. "They had a good scheme and did a good job of blocking. They did a great job on third-down, so we have to do a better job on that this year. "

A&M's 244 rushing yards was the most Texas had yielded all year. It more than offset McGee's 7-of-13 passing for 58 years, representing a season-low for the Aggie signal-caller. But that was then, this is now. Texas was cratering at the end of the 2006 season while the Horns appear to be peaking now.

"As the season progressed, we started doing a lot of things better," Okam said. "One of those things was our attitude and not quitting. We have come through in the clutch and made plays to win."

The Horns returned to practice Monday before their Bye weekend in the schedule. As for Texas' annual date with the Aggies?

"We're going to be fine," Okam assured.

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