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A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

A&M-Oklahoma State Battle For Second

Behind this smiling face lies a cold, hard, offensive killer.

Very, very quietly, two Big 12 teams meet Thursday night with unblemished records on the line: Oklahoma State, 4-0, hosts 3-0 Texas A&M. There’s more than just perfection on the line, however. There’s respect — A&M lost, 56-28, in its last trip to Stillwater — as well as the idea that the winner of this game becomes the de facto second-place team in the Big 12 South; that assumes that Oklahoma takes care of Texas on Saturday, as most expect. It might be too early to make such a claim — let’s see come Saturday — but few have been impressed with the Longhorns thus far. Both the Aggies and Cowboys should see an opportunity: not just an opportunity to maintain a perfect start, but also a chance to stake claim as the team most able to challenge Oklahoma in the Big 12 South.

Two quick side notes in advance of Thursday night’s game. The first: A&M’s head-scratching recent lack of success on television. Yes, the Aggies have dropped nine straight televised games, dating back to a win over Iowa State on Oct. 25, 2008. As detailed by Brent Zwerneman of the San Antonio Express-News, A&M’s televised defeats include a 40-point loss to Texas to end 2008, Mike Sherman’s debut season, and seven losses a season ago. One of those losses, of course, was a 36-31 home setback to Oklahoma State.

In addition, take note of this very interesting sideline matchup: Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen against Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter — the pair share a history, dating back to their tenures at Houston and Air Force, respectively. Without question, DeRuyter has gotten the best of Holgorsen in the past; most notably, his Falcons forced Case Keenum into five interceptions in last season’s Armed Forces Bowl victory.

The underlying stories take a back seat to what we’ll see on the field tomorrow night: two potent offenses, one — Oklahoma State — already rolling in its first season running the spread passing attack formerly seen at Texas Tech. The Cowboys have been superb, ranking in the top two nationally in scoring (57.0 points per game), passing offense (391.7 yards per game) and total offense (596.0 yards per game).

The A&M offense, led by senior quarterback Jerrod Johnson, also ranks in the top 10 in total offense, averaging 501.3 yards per game. Johnson’s play, however, has raised eyebrows: he tossed four interceptions in A&M’s narrow win over Florida International on Sept. 18, with the Aggies only pulling out a late victory after allowing their talented running game — one led by Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray — to dictate the tempo to the opportunistic F.I.U. defense.

Make no mistake: A&M will need to trade blows with Oklahoma State, scoring at least 30 points to remain in a game sure to go beyond its alloted three-hour schedule. In that case, it’s hard to imagine an A&M victory coming about without a rejuvenated performance from its senior quarterback — two picks, let alone four, could spell disaster.

In a perfect world, the Aggies will preach the ground game — for two reasons. One, it’s clear that the two-headed backfield can carry this offense; we saw this down the stretch against Florida International. Two, a dedicated running game will allow A&M to control the clock, keeping the talented Oklahoma State offense along the sidelines.

Having said that, the onus will be on the Cowboys to shut down the A&M backfield — it seems strange to say, but if A&M’s last performance is any indication, O.S.U. might be wise to put the game in Johnson’s hands. Well, that’s a stretch; Johnson is — was — a Heisman contender, one of the nation’s best quarterbacks. Still, the Cowboys allowed 199 yards rushing in a 65-28 win over Tulsa last week, with the Golden Hurricanes, led by offensive coordinator Chad Morris, doing on offense must of the same things A&M wants to achieve with its attack.

Tomorrow’s game will be defined by each team’s offense, but take note of what we’ve seen from the A&M defense: through three games, the Aggies rank 10th nationally in total defense, allowing 255.7 yards per game — and lead the nation in allowing only 3.6 yards per play. Yes, A&M has yet to face a top-notch offense — a top-notch team, even — but through three games, DeRuyter’s impact has been immediate.

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Comments

  1. Paul, you are correct that DeRuyter did get the better of Holgerson in the latest game between Air Force and Houston.

    However, Holgerson arguably got the better of DeRuyter in the two previous games, the 2008 bowl game that Houston won and rolled up over 400 yards of total offense and the earlier game that year between the two teams (a 31-28 Air Force win) that was inexplicably played in Dallas while Hurricane Ike was devastating the Houston area. Holgerson’s offense ran up over 500 yards in total offense in that game.

    So, I’d say that Holgerson and DeRuyter have fought to a draw so far. It definitely will be interesting to see what both pull out of their hats in this next round.

  2. Dave says:

    I’d DeRuyter would be happy with a draw, given the difference in athletes at Air Force and Houston.
    Another interesting parallel: Chad Morris, who gave OSU some trouble, is an A&M grad who, as a high school coach, helped Sherman implement this up-tempo offense there before last season.

    Paul: Dropping some knowledge. Nice job, Dave. A&M definitely wants to do on offense just what Tulsa did last week, which was mix in both the run and pass. Really excited for tonight.

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