Texas A&M Football: Preview of Aggies' Game vs. the University of Texas

Michael TaglientiFeatured ColumnistNovember 22, 2011

Texas A&M Football: Preview of Aggies' Game vs. the University of Texas

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    The Texas A&M Aggies and Texas Longhorns will square off on the football field for the 118th time on Thanksgiving night. This will likely be the last meeting in the third-longest rivalry of all time since Texas has refused to play A&M next year.

    The Aggies are 6-5 overall and 4-4 in conference after blowing out Kansas on Saturday 61-7. Texas is 6-4 and 3-4 after a 17-13 loss to Kansas State in Austin.

    Both teams are playing for pride and to move up in the bowl pecking order. With a win, the Aggies would likely end up playing in the Insight Bowl in Tempe, AZ. A loss for the Ags would likely mean a trip to Houston for the Texas Bowl.

    Texas has to play Baylor the week after facing A&M, so their bowl destination is still up in the air. They could end up anywhere from the Texas Bowl to the Pinstripe Bowl depending on how they finish.

    This is a look at how the two teams will match up with each other on the field.

Texas A&M RBs vs. Texas LBs

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    The A&M running back position is up in the air right now. The Aggies' starting running back Christine Michael was lost to a torn ACL earlier in the year. Cyrus Gray stepped in and has rushed for over 1,000 yards on the season.

    Gray's status is up in the air because he suffered a stress fracture of his shoulder against Kansas. He is listed as day-to-day right now.

    If Gray cannot go, then Ben Malena will start for A&M and Will Randolph will back him up.

    Emmanuel Acho is a senior OLB for Texas, who leads the Horns with 100 tackles and 17 tackles for loss. Keenan Robinson has been playing out of position in the middle and has struggled some as a senior. He has totaled 76 tackles on the season with five tackles for loss. Robinson will play on Sundays at OLB.

    Jordan Hicks is Texas' other OLB. He has battled injuries and has turned in 51 tackles with one tackle for loss.

    If Gray is healthy enough to play, then this is an advantage for A&M. Gray is one of the top running backs in the country, and he ran all over Texas as a junior.

    Malena has run the ball 19 times this season for 99 yards and two touchdowns. He has shown some nice speed in his limited action this season.

    You have to assume that Gray will play in his final game at Kyle Field.

    Advantage: Texas A&M

Texas RBs vs. A&M ILBs

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    Texas will trot out the freshmen duo of Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron at running back. Despite Brown's hype coming out of high school, I think Bergeron is the better back. Bergeron has an extra gear that Brown appears to be missing.

    Both Brown and Bergeron have struggled with injuries. Both sat out the game against Missouri.

    Brown has rushed for 668 yards on 4.7 yards per carry and has scored five touchdowns. Bergeron has rushed for 454 yards on 6.6 per yards per carry and has scored five touchdowns.

    The Aggies start Jonathan Stewart and Steve Jenkins on the inside of their 3-4 defense. The light has finally gone on for Stewart this year. Stewart leads the Aggies with 80 tackles and has added 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Jenkins has 46 tackles on the season with two tackles for loss.

    Jenkins is coming off his best game as an Aggie with eight tackles and a tackle for loss.

    Both Stewart and Jenkins have struggled to get off blocks this year. Bergeron and Brown combined for only 20 carries against Kansas State and appear to still be injured.

    Advantage: Push

A&M Wide Receivers vs. Texas Secondary

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    The Aggie wide receivers are led by Ryan Swope, who has caught a school-record 78 passes for 1,069 yards and 11 touchdowns.

    Jeff Fuller has had a disappointing senior season but has caught 56 passes for 602 yards and four touchdowns.

    Uzoma Nwchukwu has 43 receptions for 549 yards and two touchdowns.

    The Texas secondary counters with Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs at corner. Blake Gideon and Kenny Vacarro start at safety. Adrian Philips will come in and play safety when Texas goes to the nickel.

    Byndom is Texas' best cover corner. He will probably draw Fuller. Diggs is undersized but is strong and plays with a lot of confidence. Gideon is weak in coverage and against the run. Most Texas fans are counting down the games until his eligibility is up. Vacarro is strong against the run but struggles in coverage.

    The last time Texas faced a group of receivers like the one the Aggies put on the field, they lost by 10 to Oklahoma State.

    Advantage: A&M

Texas WRs vs. A&M DBs

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    Mike Davis leads the Longhorns with 39 receptions for 554 yards and one touchdown.

    Marquis Goodwin has 17 reception for 183 yards and no touchdowns. 

    Jaxson Shipley is Texas' best wide receiver but is not expected to play due to injury.

    The Aggies counter with Terrence Frederick and Lionel Smith at corner. The Aggies will start Trent Hunter and likely Steven Terrell at safety. Coryell Judie may be healthy for this game. If he can play, that is a huge boost for the Aggies, as he is the best cover corner.

    It does not matter who the Ags have faced this year, they have struggled to cover anyone. Davis and Goodwin have struggled to get open and to catch the ball for Texas. I still expect them to have success against the Aggies, although if Judie plays, all bets are off.

    Advantage: Texas

A&M OL vs. Texas DL

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    The Texas A&M OL is one of the top units in the country. The Aggies average 5.4 yards per carry on the ground and have only allowed seven sacks on the year.

    The Texas defense is allowing 3.1 yards per carry and is coming off a dominating performance against Kansas State in which they only allowed 121 total yards. The Texas DL dominated the KSU OL during the loss.

    The Texas defensive line is led by defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor. Jeffcoat has 57 tackles with 16 tackles for loss and five sacks on the year. Okafor has made 44 tackles with 14 tackles for loss and seven sacks through the first 10 games.

    Okafor and Jeffcoat have not faced offensive tackles like Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews yet. The Aggies beat Texas in Austin in 2010 because the A&M OL dominated the game. Expect more of the same in 2011.

    Advantage: A&M

Texas Interior OL vs. A&M DL

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    The Longhorns have struggled with consistently from their OL all year long. They are decent in run blocking but struggle in pass protection.

    Texas' offense averages 4.7 yards per rush and has scored 22 rushing touchdowns. 

    The Aggies' three-man front is composed of Tony Jerod-Eddie, Eddie Brown and Spencer Nealy. Jerod-Eddie leads the DL with 41 tackles and four sacks.

    The Aggies only allow 2.7 yards per carry.

    This is where the game will be won or lost for Texas. If they can get a good push against the Aggie DL, then they can run the ball, control the clock and keep the Aggie offense on the sidelines.

    Advantage: A&M

A&M OLBs vs. Texas OTs

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    Aggie OLB Sean Porter leads the Big 12 with 8.5 sacks on the year. Damontre Moore has 6.5 sacks on the year.

    Texas' OTs have been so poor that they have been forced to start a true freshman at left tackle. Texas has allowed 22 sacks on the season.

    The Aggie defense ranks in the top five in the country with 41 sacks on the year.

    A fun drinking game would be to take a shot every time the refs fail to call a blatant hold on Josh Cochran when he tries to prevent Moore from killing his quarterback.

    Advantage: A&M

A&M QB vs. Texas Defense

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    Ryan Tannehill has completed 63 percent of his passes for over 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns.

    Manny Diaz features a zone-blitzing defense.

    Tannehill is a fifth-year senior playing his last game at home. You have to think that the Aggies' OL will keep the Longhorn blitzers off him and allow him to find openings in the secondary.

    Texas has struggled when facing teams that can run and pass. Even without Cyrus Gray in the lineup, the Aggie OL still should allow the Ags a solid running game.

    Advantage: A&M

Texas QBs vs. A&M Defense

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    Texas' quarterback play has been very poor this year. Texas OC Bryan Harsin has tried to scheme around the weaknesses on his OL and the youth at quarterback. The result has been that Texas has tried to transform itself into a running team that features a lot of end-around and stretch plays. The injuries to Fozzy Whitaker and Jaxson Shipley eliminated a large part of this offense.

    Right now, Texas fans and coaches do not know whether David Ash or Case McCoy is going to start against the Aggies. McCoy has the attitude and arrogance you want from your starting quarterback but none of the physical attributes. Ash has the physical ability but lacks seasoning and confidence.

    Tim Deruyter's defense is hard to decipher for veteran quarterbacks. A couple of underclassmen like McCoy and Ash should struggle mightily, even with the Aggies' poor secondary.

    Advantage: A&M

Special Teams

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    Both A&M and Texas have very solid special teams.

    The loss of Fozzy Whitaker to a knee injury is a huge blow to Texas because he had developed into a top kick returner.

    Texas has an advantage at punter, where Justin Tucker has been more consistent than Ryan Epperson.

    Dustin Harris has two career punt returns for touchdowns for the Aggies. He is averaging a little over 20 yards per return this year.

    Quandre Diggs does not have a punt return for a touchdown yet but has been close. Diggs is averaging 14.3 yards per return.

    Both Justin Tucker and Randy Bullock have been excellent in kicking field goals this year.

    In a rivalry game like this, field position is important, and the punter can make the difference in the game.

    Advantage: Texas

Intangibles

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    This is the last game between these two teams for at least a few years. The game is at Kyle Field at night.

    The Aggies beat Texas last year in Austin and know they can beat them again. The crowd at Kyle should be all fired up to beat the team that represents the school that caused them a lot of angst during conference realignment.

    This should be a loud, sold-out stadium, ready to get excited anytime the Aggies do something good on the field.

    There should be a lot of emotion from the seniors, who will be playing their last game at Kyle.

    Advantage: A&M