It would be easy to say that Colt McCoy will be the key factor for the Longhorns to get past Texas A&M Thursday night.
After all, the Aggies have one of the worst passing defenses in the country and Colt McCoy is, well, Colt McCoy.
It would be just as easy to say that the Texas defense, which ranks fourth nationally allowing just 239.6 yards per game, will simply be too much for a young Aggies offense to handle.
It would also be easy to cite recent A&M losses, including a 65-10 blowout against Oklahoma two weeks ago, and proclaim that the Aggies simply don’t have a chance against the 11-0 Longhorns.
The Aggies don’t much have a chance, frankly. At least not a good one.
But the one chance the Aggies do have of pulling a monumental upset comes in the form of shutting down the Texas running game and forcing McCoy to singlehandedly earn a Longhorns victory.
Why, you ask? Let’s take a trip back through the past three Texas-Texas A&M rivalry games.
In 2006, the Aggies out-rushed the Longhorns by a startling margin of 244 yards to 70 yards. This lack of a running game forced McCoy to repeatedly air it out, which resulted in three costly interceptions.
The end result in the 2006 contest? A 12-7 Aggies stunner in Austin.
In 2007, the Longhorns made a bit of an improvement, but were still out-gained 171 to 128 on the ground. Once again, McCoy was forced into three turnovers, this time one interception and two fumbles.
Once again, Texas A&M stunned the Longhorns with a 38-30 victory in College Station .
Fast forward, now, to 2008. The one-loss Longhorns rolled into their match-up with A&M playing dominant offensive football.
Texas established its running game early and often, racking up 216 yards on the ground. McCoy was freed up for a huge night, finishing with 311 passing yards, two touchdowns, and zero turnovers.
And, of course, Texas cruised to a 49-9 victory .
This season has seen more offensive fireworks from the Longhorns offense. But hiding a bit under the impressive statistics is the fact that Texas has had a somewhat inconsistent running game.
The Longhorns rank first in the Big 12 in scoring offense, but just fifth in rushing. Their 152.2 rush yards per game don't look bad, but take out rushing explosions against teams like Louisiana-Monroe (199 yards) and UTEP (304 yards), and the number drops dramatically.
In several outings, including vs. Wyoming, Texas Tech, and Colorado, an inability to run the ball consistently for 60 minutes kept the game close for much longer than it needed to be.
In all of those examples, Texas still found its way to a victory. After all, the Longhorns do have one of the nation’s best passing games on their side.
But when they travel to College Station for a Thanksgiving night battle against their in-state rival, the Longhorns must realize they cannot afford a similar roller coaster ride in their running game.
In their six wins, the Aggies defense has allowed 125 rushing yards per game. In their five losses, the Aggies are allowing nearly 200 rushing yards per game.
The Longhorns need to run the ball effectively to allow McCoy to have a nice, comfortable Thanksgiving evening in College Station.
Red-shirt freshman and leading rusher Tre’ Newton is expected to get the start at tailback Thursday night, which should come as good news for Longhorn fans.
Newton has rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns total in Texas’ past two games, showing speed and vision that the Longhorns have lacked in the backfield in recent years.
But whether it’s Newton, Cody Johnson, or any of the other Texas backs, the Longhorns must be able to count on the running game to avoid a monumental loss in College Station.
If the run game stalls, so could a run to the BCS title.