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November 24, 2006
Franchione finds some answers for critics
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Austin, Texas – Perspiration beaded on Dennis Franchione's forehead as he stood in a sweat box that passed as an interview room on Friday afternoon.
Franchione faced question after question. It was a familiar position for the Texas A&M football coach. Franchione's decisions have been relentlessly questioned, scrutinized and criticized this year.
But no decision Franchione made this season – none involving strategy or play selection or field-goal attempts – was questioned more than one made in the offseason when he hired Gary Darnell. The new A&M defensive coordinator was largely unsuccessful in that role at Notre Dame and Texas, and he was put in charge of rebuilding the once-proud 'Wrecking Crew' from a unit that ranked last in Division I-A against the pass a year ago.
The Aggies' 12-7 upset of Texas proved that Franchione had the right answer.
Texas A&M and No. 1 Ohio State are the only teams to hold Texas to fewer than 22 points this season. The Aggies' defensive effort was arguably more impressive because they faced Texas' Colt McCoy as a proven quarterback, not a wide-eyed freshman in his second collegiate game.
The reversal of fortune for A&M, which entered Friday's game ranked 48th nationally in pass defense, has been so stunning that Franchione admitted Darnell's defense exceeded expectations.
"I think you'd have to say that," Franchione said. "When I hired Gary I knew we would get better, but I don't think you could calculate how much better after 12 games. If you look at the numbers, it's really amazing."
A year ago Texas A&M allowed 304.6 passing yards per game and 21 touchdowns. The Aggies held Texas to just 160 yards passing and grabbed four interceptions, almost matching the Longhorns' previous total for the entire season (five).
The Longhorns were also limited to just 230 total yards – their lowest offensive production of the season.
Unlike Franchione, Darnell said he was not surprised by the Aggies' improvement.
"I just think defense is such a resolve and attitude thing," Darnell said. "We have good players. They might not be high-profile guys, but they're good enough if you get them in the right place they can get it done."
The Aggies, whose defensive scheme changed to a 4-2-5, were inevitably in the right place against the Longhorns.
"Anytime you don't make a fourth-and-one on the first drive of the game and you are moving the ball well …'' Texas coach Mack Brown said. "As close as that game was, you win the game (if you score)."
The Longhorns missed another chance to score late in the first half. Limas Sweed was called for offensive pass interference to nullify a Texas touchdown. On the next play, Melvin Bullitt intercepted McCoy on the 1-yard line.
"We made a statement earlier in the week that we were going to be more physical than Texas and beat them off the line," Bullitt said. "That's what we did."
Still, Texas led 7-6 after recovering a third quarter fumble and driving 37 yards for a Jamaal Charles touchdown run.
The Aggies defense – getting some significant help from their offense – never allowed the Longhorns to cross midfield again.
Texas reached the 50 early in the fourth quarter, but was forced to punt and A&M took possession at its 12-yard line with 11 minutes and 28 seconds remaining.
Mixing runs and high-percentage passes, the Aggies consumed nearly nine minutes on a 16-play drive that culminated in quarterback Stephen McGee's go-ahead 8-yard touchdown run.
Dodge intercepted McCoy to thwart Texas' next possession and safety Japhus Brown picked off Jevan Snead – who replaced McCoy after an injury – on the Longhorns' final series.
That sealed a victory that ended Texas' six-year dominance in the rivalry, and might have signaled change is coming.
"This is going to change a lot of things for Texas A&M football," Bullitt said.
A lot has already changed for Texas A&M football.
Texas had averaged 36.7 points in its last six victories over A&M.
Although they're not yet all the way back to Wrecking Crew status, the Aggies are playing defense again.