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2009 Jul 21

Big 12 Breakdown: No. 11 Texas A&M

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By HuskerLocker

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In preparation for Big 12 Media Days, Husker Locker will be counting down and breaking down each of the teams in the conference. We hope you view this series as more interesting, comprehensive and definitive than what you may find elsewhere. Where we can make strong takes – we will.

We rank the teams 12 to 1 in overall strength. Then we’ll provide for you the North/South breakdown – and the preseason All Big 12 team, as well.

Enjoy!

Today: Texas A&M

Coach:Mike Sherman
2008 Record: 4-8

What’s Changed Since 2008:A&M’s in a big feud with Texas Tech over comments Mike Leach made about former A&M QB Stephen McGee, the heat’s been turned up a little more on Sherman, and the entire team has another spring of experience in this modified NFL system. The Aggies weren’t very good in 2008, and they probably won’t be in 2009, either. Chalk it up to transition and the overall difficulty of the Big 12 South.

2009 Non-Conference Schedule: The first three opponents, New Mexico, UAB and Utah State, are figured to be reprobates in 2009 – UNM is probably staring down the gun barrel of an 0-12 season - but that didn’t stop A&M from dumping a game to Arkansas State last year. The fourth game is a tilt with old SWC foe Arkansas at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium. We expect the Razorbacks to be much improved this year, and win the game in JerryWorld.

2009 Conference Schedule: Trips to Oklahoma and Texas Tech are probably losses. A&M hosts Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor. The mini-slate of Big 12 North squads is pretty favorable, with winnable games at Kansas State and Colorado and a home date with Iowa State. The Baylor game, if A&M’s record is what we think it will be around that time, may determine whether Mike Sherman has a job in 2010.

Offense: Pro-style/West Coast Offense
Coordinator:Nolan Cromwell, a long-time disciple of Mike Holmgren, under whom he coached from 1992-2008. Holmgren’s WCO likes to feature two backs when it can, prefers to operate from under center and use play-action and can, with the right offensive line and running back, be a quite effective rushing offense. Expect toss plays and zone plays. Like most WCOs, there is typically a smaller back and a bigger one. The receivers are usually big. And the tight end has a defined, significant role. A&M incorporated most of that in 2008.

Strength:The receiving corps, which includes tight end Jamie McCoy. They’re all uniformly big targets for QB Jarrod Johnson. The best of the bunch is backup QB Ryan Tannehill, who has an NFL future at the position, and caught 55 passes for 844 yards and five touchdowns as a true freshman. He’s a reliable guy, and can make the big grab downfield. But Tannehill will compete for the QB job, and Sherman doesn’t necessarily want to use the guy at WR. Why? For fear of injury. This, and A&M is bringing in two top-notch QB recruits in 2010. Foolishness.

Weakness:The offensive line returns all five starters. Just one hitch: They weren’t very good last year, giving up 39 sacks and only producing 89 rushing yards per game. The WCO is too controlled a passing offense to win games by itself. At quarterback, Johnson is fair. You see the 2,435 yards and 21 touchdown and presume something, but remember how awful the Big 12 as a whole was on defense in 2008. He had a pretty paltry 6.2 yards per adjusted pass average. That’s pretty low. That’s also the WCO.

Defense: 3-4/multiple front
Coordinator: Joe Kines, who’s been to a lot of schools before A&M, most notably Alabama for four seasons with David Shula. Kines is a riverboat gambler, a chess player, a guy who likes to put offenses in matchups they don’t like. Well, none of it worked last year, as A&M gave up 462 yards per game and 37.4 Was it just the personnel? Nah, not solely that. A&M’s defense often looked bewildered in coverage, and too small and overmatched at the point of attack. Kines committed to using a base 3-4 in spring ball with a “jack” linebacker serving as a potential rusher, run stopper, or cover guy.

Strength: The best player on the defense is either Matt Featherston or Von Miller; they’ll be “jacks” in 2009 And, at the very least, the 3-4 gives you some flexibility. Anything has to be better than last year.

Weakness: The defensive line is just small, it replaces three starters, and a 3-4 defense doesn’t work properly, in this day and age, without a 300-pound hoss at nose tackle. A&M doesn’t have that guy, so you’re asking a lot of those linebackers, especially in playaction. Unless Kines can scheme the opponents’ every move in the running game, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that A&M can stop the run.

Special Teams New punter Ryan Epperson is a walk-on freshman, but that doesn’t mean much; kickers often are. Sophomore Kicker Randy Bullock got off to a nice start in 2008, making 6 of 7 field goals. As a freshman, Cyrus Gray was an excellent kicker returner, averaging 24 yards and scoring a touchdown. Of course, he got about four chances a game at it, too.

Intangibles: For A&M’s overall athletic program, it’s been a pretty good two years. For the football program, it’s been close to a disaster. AD Bill Byrne and Sherman have both gotten bad press, and some Aggies fans are crying foul over the exorbitant prices for the JerryWorld game. This is a team that can’t afford an early slip-up. A&M could, theoretically, roll into a Nov. 21 game vs. Baylor looking to clinch a bowl berth. Baylor probably will be, too. While Kyle Field is a wonderful stadium, it's difficulty on opposing teams is a tad overrated. Think about it: If you made the same noise for three hours, wouldn't you get used to it? It's like eyes adjusting to the dark.

Best-Case Scenario: A&M rides a comfy non-conference and Big 12 North schedule to a 7/8 win season. The “jack” entertains all. The offense develops a running game.

Worst-Case Scenario: Sherman is fired after A&M dumps a game to Baylor on its home field. The Aggies finish with another 4-8 record.

Our Take: We’re not convinced the new defense takes hold completely, but it does stop some of the bleeding. We see the offense remaining a bit stagnant: Efficient one game, and brutal the next. We expect the Baylor game to be for a bowl berth, and considering we have Baylor ranked higher on this list, we expect the Bears to win.

See other Big 12 Breakdowns: No. 12 ISU, No. 11 A&M, No. 10 CU, No. 9 BU, No. 8 KU, No. 7 KSU, No. 6 Texas Tech

Agree? Disagree?Tell us about it.

Tags: big 12 breakdown, big 12, texas a, m, mike sherman, nolan cromwell, joe kines

Comments (5)

Profile image for schuskerfan
schuskerfan

Looks like someone stumbled onto the wrong site?

– Jul 21, 2009 at 11:40 pm

Profile image for MagnumAg
MagnumAg

And I was at that game in 2006. Props to Zac for overcoming the noise, but I guarantee you if you walked up and asked him, he would admit that it was loud and at the very least made that drive a little harder. That's all the 12th man can do.

– Jul 21, 2009 at 4:41 pm

Profile image for MagnumAg
MagnumAg

You maybe right about me underrating the Bears, and they did beat the snot out of us last year, so props to them. But this year is not last year. And if one drive in one game proves to you the effectiveness of an almost 90 year old playing field, you are grossly under-simplifying the reality. We will beat the Bears @ College Station this year. We will probably beat all 3 North teams this year, even if that does include Colorado and Iowa State. All I was saying is we don't deserve to be 11th in the Big 12. If you really believe that is me getting "a Big Head about Sherman and the Ags", all I can say is we will probably go 4-4 or 3-5 in the South Division. I know that adds up to better than 11th in the Big 12.

– Jul 21, 2009 at 4:37 pm

Profile image for huskermaniac28Locker Pass member
huskermaniac28

magnum ag, you cant actually call a team that whooped u last year the "gaylor teddy bears". and with robert griffin only improving ill be surprised if they dont do it again. im not even convinced nebraska will beat them, and i live in texas so im going to watch that game. but give me a break, baylor is so underrated and obviously you are overrating a&m. and you are overdoing the kyle field thing, i remember one 2006 game when zac taylor drove all the way down the field for a game winning touchdown in the waning seconds at kyle field. its obviously not that magical. if i were you i would make sure i see some results before i get a big head about sherman and the ags.

– Jul 21, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Profile image for MagnumAg
MagnumAg

It's not that I think the Ags are going to win the Big 12 this year....but 11th? Please tell me your kidding. Sherman's first year was far less than spectacular, but I (as well as most other Aggies) expect a lot of improvement this year. We will beat the Gaylor Teddy Bears, too. One last thing....as a quarter-back, try changing a play at the line of scrimmage. That's where Kyle Field's noise comes into play. I've witnessed it 1000 times.

– Jul 21, 2009 at 3:57 pm

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