Texas vs. Texas A&M: Once More With Feeling

Texas players annually insist that, despite owning the upper-hand against Texas A&M for the better part of the past decade, they do not overlook their in-state rival. This week, however, the Horns actually mean it.

The bitter experience of seeing your championship hopes dashed as your quarterback is carted off the field tends to have that effect. Texas had reeled off six-straight Ws against Aggies prior to last year's 12-7 downer in Austin. The upset, of course, cost the Horns a spot in the Big 12 Championship game. But it appears to have also aroused something deep within the Burnt Orange psyche.

In short, why should Oklahoma get all the hate?

Texas has not played well against A&M the past two years. In fact, the regular season finale had almost become an afterthought for the current herd of Horns. The Aggies were 0-for-the 21st-Century against Texas prior to last year's outcome. As such, the youngsters who signed on both sides of the brawl in 2006 have no memory of A&M beating Texas on a regular basis. These days, November has become a three-game playoff in the BCS-or-nothing world of Texas football. When the Horns were, in essence, eliminated from the playoffs at Kansas State last year, it was as if a seventh-straight W against A&M not only was presumed -- it just didn't seem to matter as much. That's part of the reason why Texas coach Mack Brown invited a number of former lettermen (with long and vivid memories of how it felt to lose to the Aggies) to speak to his squad a few days before last year's contest.

The message was simple: this game still matters. No matter what.

Lettermen will address the team again this week, they always do, but no pep talk is needed, no reason to import motivational speakers nor assign sports psychologists. For the first time in several years, these Longhorns want the Aggies. Apparently, no one wearing the Burnt Orange has his sights set more on A&M than QB Colt McCoy. For one year, the Texas signal-caller has heard Aggies question his toughness and even referencing him as 'Cart McCoy.' He has long since maintained that he harbors no bad blood toward the Farmers. But teammates and coaches have detected that McCoy has been exceptionally spirited the past week.

"Colt obviously remembers last year's ballgame," offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. "He does have a spark in his eye."

And these Horns have a bad taste in their mouths for nearly 365 days. Texas does not need added incentive to bring its 'A' game to College Station, but it suddenly has a carrot dangling in front of its face following OU's upset loss Saturday at Texas Tech. Even before a spot in the Big 12 Championship game emerged as such a distinct possibility for UT, Brown announced that his team should be worthy of BCS consideration if it can make a "statement" at A&M.

A subplot, of course, is this is expected to be Dennis Franchione's last game as Aggie head coach. This was also billed as Franchione's deepest and most talented club during his five-year tenure. Even so, Texas has out-talented A&M for a number of years, but the Horns have not always out-played their country cousins. What would this game look like if Texas matched its edge in talent with raw emotion and sheer want-to?

The college football world should know by sundown Friday.

The old adage is that defenses must initially scheme to stop the run, but that's especially true this Friday when Texas faces college football's No. 14 rushing offense (219.6 ypg). Texas defensive coordinator Duane Akina described A&M's offense as "option, option, option, option", with the power play and play-action pass thrown in. The Aggie option is based out of the shotgun, similar to what Texas faced against TCU in September.

On one hand, Texas A&M fields one of the most one-dimensional offenses in college football, ranking No. 106 (171.3 ypg) through the air. On the other hand, the Aggies did not beat Texas last year by throwing the football. QB Stephen McGee attempted all of 13 passes, completing seven. But Texas surrendered a season-high 244 rushing yards (on 51 attempts) in the loss. A&M's winning 16-play drive milked 8:56 from the fourth-quarter. The Aggies also converted five third downs and attempted only one pass during the march.

Upon further review, why couldn't Texas stop a thoroughly one-dimensional offense on its own grass?

"We needed to make a play here-and-there consistently," Akina understated. "Those third downs were critical. McGee did a nice job of scrambling to keep that drive alive. We just needed to stand up and make a play. We just have to do better. We've challenged them on all that. We're very prideful."

McGee is his team's leading rusher (828 yards) but has thrown for twice as many yards (1,785).

"McGee's an outstanding throwing quarterback," Akina said. "We recruited him. We would love to have had him here."

Speedy TB Mike Goodson has run for 574 yards and two TDs while TB Jorvorskie Lane is the designated scorer with 16 TDs. The last time Lane made any noise on the national scene, he guaranteed a win at Texas Tech (The Aggies lost, 35-7). Following A&M's 10th loss to Tech in 13 seasons, Lane replied: "I can say what I want. I'm a man." (That's when you knew Franchione had lost his team. Any current Longhorn who insists he can "say what I want" would become intimately acquainted with strength coach and team disciplinarian Jeff 'Mad Dog' Madden).

TE Martellus Bennett, with the self-anointed moniker of 'Money', has upset some Aggie fans with what was considered premature comments that he intends to take-the-money-and-run by bolting to the NFL following his junior season. Bennett is the team's leading receiver with 493 yards on 40 grabs.

Just before the season-opener, DE Chris Harrington announced that the Aggie defense had regained its 'Wrecking Crew' status during defensive coordinator (and former Longhorn DC) Gary Darnell's first-year on the job. The tale at the tape shows the Crew has more stagger than swagger, yielding 421.3 ypg (No. 86) in Darnell's 4-2-5 scheme.

The Aggies will try to counter Texas' rejuvenated ground game with a rush defense that has been surrendering 154 ypg (No. 61). A&M's Achilles Heel continues to be its pass defense, ranked No. 102 after getting torched for 267.3 ypg. That makes it only slightly better than, well, Texas' pass defense. The Horns are ranked right behind the Aggies, giving up 267.6 ypg. The Big 12 has suspended starting SS (and A&M's fourth-leading tackler) Alton Dixon for the first half for taking a swing at Missouri TE Chase Coffman on November 10.

Linebacker Mark Dodge is A&M's leading tackler with 94 stops.

Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. (CST) on ABC-Sports.

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