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September 21, 2007

Aggies have a lot to fix with Big 12 play coming

MIAMI Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione tried to put the best possible spin on Thursday night's 34-17 loss to Miami that exposed the Aggies as undeserving of their national ranking.

"We will see what we are made of now," Franchione said. "The exhibition season is over, and we will come back for conference play."

Perhaps that explains the 20th-ranked Aggies' woeful performance. They certainly made the kind of mistakes expected of a team still going through the exhibition season.

Though A&M doesn't begin the Big 12 portion of its schedule until next week, it already is tough to imagine the Aggies winning the conference title.

Texas A&M (3-1) got blown out by a Miami team that was blown out by defending Big 12 champion Oklahoma 51-13 two weeks ago. Although comparing teams by how they fared against common opponents usually is an exercise in futility, those two scores can't give Aggie fans much cause for comfort

One thing's certain: Texas A&M won't have a chance of challenging Oklahoma or Texas if it plays the way it did Thursday. If the Aggies deliver a repeat performance next week, they could have a tough time beating Baylor.

Don't be fooled by the final score. This game wasn't nearly that close.

A&M trailed 24-0 after a first half in which it recorded an equal number of turnovers (three) and first downs. The Aggies didn't score until the fourth quarter.

"We never got a rhythm going until late," A&M quarterback Stephen McGee said. "And then it was too little, too late."

The Aggies sealed their fate by committing three turnovers in the last four minutes of the first half.

The turnover trouble began with Miami linebacker Colin McCarthy's 30-yard interception return. Although the 'Canes failed to capitalize on that opportunity, they happily converted the Aggies' next two mistakes into points.

Miami led 14-0 when safety Willie Cooper knocked the ball loose from A&M tailback Mike Goodson. Calais Campbell recovered the fumble at the Aggies' 12, and Kyle Wright threw a touchdown pass to true freshman tailback Graig Cooper on the next play.

A&M center Cody Wallace then attempted to return a short kickoff and instead coughed the ball up at the Aggies' 39 with 17 seconds left in the half. Three plays later, Francesco Zampogna booted a 45-yard field goal for a 24-0 advantage.

"We can't do that against a good team on the road," Franchione said. "If we could have gone into the locker room (trailing) 14-0, you would have liked to think we're still in it.''

If turnovers had been the sole cause of the Aggies' demise, they could have written off this performance as an aberration. But the 'Canes gave A&M more reason to worry by offering a blueprint on how to shut down the Aggies' offense.

Texas A&M had won its first three games by relying on the nation's fifth-ranked rushing attack. The Aggies entered the game figuring they could run on just about anyone, but Miami proved that's not necessarily the case.

The Hurricanes held A&M to 98 yards on 33 carries including 21 yards on 14 attempts in the first half to mark the first time in 22 games that the Aggies failed to rush for at least 100 yards.

Texas A&M's 34-17 loss to Miami on Thursday night gave the Aggies a 1-6 record in non-conference games against BCS teams during Dennis Franchione's five-year coaching tenure. Here's a look at how the Aggies have fared in those matchups.
Season Opponent Result
2003 at Virginia Tech L, 35-19
2003 Pittsburgh L, 37-26
2004 Clemson W, 27-6
2004 Tennessee * L, 38-7
2005 at Clemson L, 25-24
2006 California # L, 45-10
2007 at Miami L, 34-17
* - Cotton Bowl; # - Holiday Bowl
"We would make one guy miss, and then another guy would hit you," said Goodson, who gained 28 yards on nine carries. "They did a good job defensively. Whatever scheme they put together, it really worked."

The Aggies had converted 55 percent of their third-down situations in their first three games, mainly because of Goodson, McGee and Jorvorskie Lane; that trio had picked up first downs or touchdowns on 19 of their 20 third-down rushes. A&M went 4-of-13 in third-down situations Thursday and was 0-of-5 in the first half.

Miami neutralized the effectiveness of A&M's running game by continually putting the Aggies in third-and-long situations. The Aggies faced an average distance of 8.9 yards on each of their third-down plays in the first three quarters. They didn't have a third-down opportunity from closer than 4 yards away during that time.

And that turned Lane arguably the nation's best short-yardage runner into a total non-factor. The 268-pound bruiser rushed for 2 yards on two carries.

A&M's inability to keep its offense on the field allowed Miami to capitalize on the shortcomings of the Aggies' defense.

Miami took the lead for good with an 18-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on its opening possession. Wright went 5-of-5 for 46 yards on third-down plays during that series.

"The defense gave us exactly what we expected in those types of situations," Wright said. "And we just executed, bottom line."

A&M's inability to deliver shouldn't have caught anyone off guard. The Aggies have gone 1-6 in non-conference games against BCS teams during Franchione's five-year tenure.

The Aggies' lack of success certainly didn't surprise an Orange Bowl crowd that began chanting "Overrated" as soon as the game got out of hand, even though at least one Miami player disagreed with the fans' assessment of Texas A&M.

"Texas A&M is rated right where they should be," Campbell said. "We're just underrated. We're a better team than everybody thinks we are."

The Aggies can only hope Campbell rates teams as effectively as he chases quarterbacks.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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