Longhorns Hope to Beat ‘Them’ Before Becoming ‘Them’

Aggies attack Austin!

Longhorns Hope to Beat ‘Them’ Before Becoming ‘Them’

“OMG, we have become them!”

The nervous reply on a University of Texas football blog says it all. And the “them,” if you need any nudging in this rivalry week, is the Texas A&M Aggies.

In the topsy-turvy world that is college football circa 2010, the almost-written-off Ags are potent semi-royalty while the Horns are paupers hoping to save the end of their pitiful season—and avoid having a losing record—by upsetting Texas A&M in Austin on Turkey Day. Was it really just last year the Aggies were being called the new cellar-dwelling Baylor? Of course, the really new Baylor doesn’t look all that bad and walloped the Longhorns pretty handily.

Texas has its shaky confidence back with a 51-17 pasting of lowly Florida Atlantic last Saturday. Cody Johnson was the hoss we had once hoped for with 124 yards on 28 carries. Garrett Gilbert didn’t throw an interception. Not one. But he did throw for two touchdowns and 263 yards, one of the tosses a first-half-ending Hail Mary to Malcolm Williams. The other was a 63-yarder to James Kirkendoll.

The defense also kicked butt, with Emmanuel Acho’s interception for a touchdown providing the first defensive points for the Horns in a long time. Acho’s bro Sam had three sacks, forced one fumble and recovered another. Kheeston Randall blocked a field goal. Blake Gideon intercepted a pass early. Jackson Jeffcoat was back on the defensive line.

In short, 5-6 Texas took out a lot of pent-up aggression against Florida Atlantic. But can it translate into the confidence needed to beat the resurgent Aggies? The answer may be in that blog post above. If Texas has truly become the underdog we’ll soon start seeing T-shirts with Reveille hanging by a noose (or with his ears sawed off?) and Longhorns gridiron stars playing well over their capabilities.

My shorthand for the Longhorns vs. Aggies series is this: The team with a lot to play for often loses. That’s the nature of a longstanding rivalry. I once met an Aggie with a photographic memory of the series, which Texas leads overall 75-36-5. That Ag would remind you that, while Texas has won 10 of the 14 Big 12 meetings between the teams, there have been Aggie victories to crow over. Consider 2007, when A&M Coach Dennis Franchione’s job was on the line. His team eked out a 38-20 win over No. 12 Texas in College Station. Right after the game he resigned.

Thus began the Mike Sherman coaching era in Aggieland. The results had been poor until this season, when the savvy decision was made to yank starting quarterback Jerod Johnson and replace him with former wide receiver and son of a coach Ryan Tannehill. Since then, the Aggies are 4-0. Tannehill throws bullets and he stays composed. It helps to have a trio of gazelle-like receivers in Jeff Fuller (first on the school’s all-time TD receptions list and second in career receiving yards), former Westlake star Ryan Swope whose hands have been red hot in recent games and the unpronounceable Uzoma Nwachukwu (just call him EZ). The Texas secondary will have to live up to its early-season hype ton contain the trio.

And that’s just the passing game. The real challenge for Texas will be to prove they can stop a powerful ball carrier. A&M has a stud in Cyrus Gray, who has more than 4,000 all-purpose career yards and has gained 810 yards in five starts this season. Can Texas stop the run? We haven’t seen a lot of evidence of it this season. Can they stop a team with a balanced attack a la Oklahoma State? Just on stats, it doesn’t look good.

Plus, can Texas score on a pretty decent Aggie defense lead by Von Miller, who led the nation in sacks in 2009? The jury is out, but my guess is Texas had better score early and often to stay in this game. Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter has instilled a snarling D that won’t make that easy. Consider last week’s 9-6 A&M win over Nebraska as evidence.

So why are the Aggies only favorites by a few points against the worst Texas team in way more than a decade? The game will be played Austin and this is a rivalry. It’s also the last game (barring a bowl game) in burnt orange for Sam Acho, Eddie Jones, Curtis Brown, Kirkendoll, and John Chiles. They want a win. They’ve got a wobbly confidence again. They have nothing to lose except a couple of sacrificial assistant coaches.

A&M has everything on the line. If Oklahoma can beat Oklahoma State and the Ags win, they’ve got a Big 12 North title tie and a decent shot at a BCS bowl. This isn’t the Aggies of old. This team beat Oklahoma 33-19 with three goal-line stands. Florida Atlantic held Texas at the goal line to open last Saturday’s game.

Last year, the Aggies had seven losses. Now they can pin that number on Texas and present the Longhorns with a rare a losing season. I’m guessing the game will be close, at least early. Texas should want this one and come in ready to fight. If so, expect a classic brawl in swirling winds and dropping temperatures at DKR-Memorial Stadium. If not, Texas will be busy trying to make sure the blood doesn’t keep flowing into 2011 s the line between “us” and “them” blurs and blurs.

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