Horns And Aggies: Can This One Get 'Offensive'?

The Texas A&M offense will never be confused with Miami's, but the anemic unit has improved enough since wide receivers coach <B>Kevin Sumlin </b>began calling the plays in September to have eclipsed -- statistically, at least -- what was expected to be one of Texas' most high-powered offenses to date.

Although the Farmers are 6-5, their passing offense is No. 19 in this week's NCAA's rankings (202-of-400 for 3,021 yards; 23 touchdowns, 16 interceptions) while QB Chris Simms, along what has been billed as the best receiving corps in school history, check in this week at No. 40 (209-of-352 for 2,704 yards; 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions). For Texas, that currently ranks as the seventh-best passing mark for a single season, while anything more than 227 yards through the air Friday would establish the fifth-best mark, overall.

"They're throwing the ball better than at any time in the four years since we've been here," Brown said, "but both defenses will be challenged."

The biggest question mark offensively for the Aggies is whether speedy freshman QB Reggie McNeal (considered the starter after engineering the upset over Oklahoma, but who suffered an ankle injury a week later in a home loss to Missouri) will see significant snaps (if any) behind center. Senior QB Mark Farris yielded his signal-calling duties to sophomore Dustin Long and McNeal just before conference play began.

"We're planning on Dustin starting," head coach R. C. Slocum said. "We really don't know for sure what Reggie's status will be for the game."

Although McNeal has been listed as doubtful for the past week, head coach Mack Brown said his defense is preparing for him anyway.

"We're planning on Reggie playing, and we're planning on Dustin playing." Brown said. "We have a plan for their offense regardless of who's in game."

The Longhorn passing game has improved markedly in the three games since SE Roy Williams returned (nearly) fully throttle from the hamstring injury suffered Sept. 21 against Houston. Wideout Sloan Thomas appears to finally have overcome a nagging hamstring injury. The junior practiced all last week after seeing limited mid-week snaps for more than a month.

"The injuries to Roy and Sloan limited us," Brown said, "and that set us back for about five weeks. But our offense is back on track. We didn't run the ball as well at Tech as we'd like. We'd like to be more balanced against Texas A&M but they don't let you run it very well."

RB Cedric Benson is the only ball carrier in school history to have posted consecutive 1,000 yards seasons as both a freshman and sophomore. But it's been tough sledding for Benson behind a revamped offensive line in which three starters have been sidelined due to injuries. Still, the big boys up front have been criticized even when they are healthy. Texas' 3.5 yard-per-carry average is the lowest since 1988 (a 4-7 team that barely beat Rice and North Texas), which, of course, is affected by quarterback sacks. If the offensive line gives up one sack against Texas A&M (and the Aggies lead the league in sacks), it will mark the most sacks given up by a unit during Brown's tenure.

Texas has rushed for 1,547 yards on 439 attempts (No. 67 NCAA) while the Aggies ground game has generated a sluggish 1,276 yards on 384 carries (No. 95 NCAA).

It all boils down to a pair of teams that are statistically even offensively. The Aggies are averaging 390 yards per game while Texas has been good for 386 per outing.

"When you look at our team, we've been a big play offense," Slocum said. "We've had more plays on offense than we've had in a long time. We have some exciting players. I think our offense is getting better."

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