Now this may come as a shock to you so do not say I did not warn you. Ready? Dennis Franchione does…
Texas A&M at Virginia Tech
Texas A&M at Virginia Tech
I don't know about the rest of you, but something this past weekend has changed the way I look at this Thursday's game against the eighth-ranked Hokies. It isn't any change in the lineup, or the return of a key player. Actually, to be honest, things aren't looking too good for the Aggies this week since we lost senior linebacker Jared Morris for the season. I do look to an unusual event from this past weekend as hope that the Aggies can do something good on the road. I'm talking about the Arkansas upset of texas in Austin this past Saturday. While the game has no immediate impact on our game this Thursday, there is something that we all can all look too, and that's hope. Arkansas was clearly the underdog coming into that game. By roster comparison, the horns have one of the best collections of talent in the country. They are deep in almost every skill position, and have a Heisman candidate in senior wide receiver Roy Williams, who can do now wrong. Yet, the combination of sheer will and determination to win led the Razorbacks to an upset that was felt clear across the country. Orange-blooded fans are reeling, and the Hog-faithful could not be any prouder.
That will to win, and the belief from the Arkansas locker room that they were the better team led them to the victory (you will hear a lot of this upcoming phrase this year). If this had been last year, I would be dreading this coming Thursday. I would have absolutely nothing to look forward to. But here I am, counting the hours to Thursday night. I am so excited that I can't decide where to watch the game: at home, with friends, or with the local A&M club. I just can't contain the excitement of what could be. In our last game against Utah, the Aggies did not give up, and almost let one slip by--but they didn't. The team will admit that one of the things they do like about this season is that they promise to play four quarters. While at times these cardiac kids may make us squirm and pull our hair out, they have lived up to the promise so far. Now, with the New Era in Aggie Football upon us, we look upon our newly anointed leader, Coach Dennis Franchione, and hope that his wisdom and creativity are putting together something unbelievable for this week's game.
In my humble opinion, Coach Fran is holding back. He is guiding this team by following a directed and prescribed game plan to get the team to the level that he wants to achieve week-by-week. The twist is that only those privileged few know what that game plan really looks like. If you look at the last two games, there have only been a few new plays and tricks that really push the opposing teams to their heels. The first half of the Utah game was only a peek to what Fran has in mind. Other than that, he has a very simplistic, and at times monotonous, plan. Part of me says that the opposing coaches are going to go nuts because they look at our game tapes and don't see too much. They see that we have a pair of decent running backs, and a stable of wide receivers, but what do they really see? I'll tell you what they see. If you look hard enough, you see a poker face on Coach Fran across the sideline, with all his cards close to his chest. I have no idea what he'll pull out this week, but I can also bet neither does the Virginia Tech coaching staff.
The main issue that appears to keep Coach Fran up late at night is the depth issue. He can solve this issue in the next few recruiting classes, but unfortunately, he has to deal with it now. His plan is to put the best players on the field, and to get the ball into their hands whenever he can. Coming into the game against Virginia Tech, he may have to make some decisions that he doesn't want to make this soon. Issues such as pulling redshirts, and starting backups that might not be quite ready are the toughest ones. We all just hope the decisions are both right for the team and the individual players.
The Aggie offense is suffering from turnover-itis. The fact that we have had so many in the first few games is unacceptable, especially at the quarterback snap. The team is working to fix it, but it seems to fester up at the worst times. Aside from that, the first thing we need to do this game is to get the ball into Terrence Murphy's hands. This guy can do it all. We need to start the passing game from the very beginning, to pull the eight men off the line of scrimmage. That in turn will allow the running game to start to take shape. And when in doubt, throw the ball to the W back, or the tight end, just to keep them guessing. At the beginning of the season, we were hoping to get sustained drives and keep the defense rested. Now, I am more concerned about us scoring. We need to score first, and score often. The Hokies are good! They're a top-10 team for a reason. The only mitigating factor is the weather, but we have no control over that.
The running game needs to jump to the next level. While Courtney Lewis had our first 100-yard game since last season, we need to continue on course to making this a habit in all of our games. This week's game will make it a little more interesting, considering that there might be some unusual rain and heavy wind with Hurricane Isabel having not made up her mind on where she wants to go. This storm may force both teams to move the game to the ground. If the weather turns sour, look for a predominant running game plan, and a lackluster score. I would also expect to see both Derek Farmer and Courtney Lewis get their fare share of rushes. If the rains do not come to Blacksburg, look for a steady mix to keep the defense honest.
If you think Utah's offensive line was big, sneak a peek at Virginia Tech's front five. These guys are massive! Look at these numbers: 6'-7" 343 lbs., 6'-4" 306 lbs., 6'-3" 300 lbs., 6'-6" 304 lbs., 6'-5" 283 lbs. These are the sizes of the starting offensive line for the Hokies. This huge wall will be a huge challenge for the Aggies. This may be the game where the coaching staff begins to introduce gimmicks and stunts to try to throw off the offensive line. This cannot become a pure match up of size for the Aggies, or else we will be in for a long night. Also, the offense needs to step up to allow the defense to have time to rest between defensive stands. This will have to be a game of brains vs. brawn, smart Aggie play versus Virginia Tech's sheer strength.
The huge line gives the Hokies the advantage of time for the quarterback to make his decision. The running game is not an issue for the Hokies as they return Kevin Jones from last year. This future draft pick is going to just pound the ball at will. Expect him to follow his blocks and then take his turn at pounding the line and the weakened defense, forcing the secondary to make the tackles. The Aggies counter-measure is to rush into the Hokies' backfield, and frustrate the running back behind the line of scrimmage. If the Aggie defense can do this, we may be able to force Jones to make a bad decision before he reaches the line of scrimmage. The difference between this game and last year's game at Kyle Field is that the Hokies also come prepared at quarterback and wide receiver. Hokie quarterback Bryan Randall is doing his best to lead this team to another run at the National Championship, and is one of the sharpest field generals since Michael Vick played in Blacksburg. What is worse is that Michael's younger brother Marcus Vick is getting closer to taking the starting position, but Vick's off-field antics seem to keep him level. That looming presence will put more focus into Randall's game; he is trying to keep his job. The star of the receivers is senior Earnest Williford. This is the guy who broke our back last year by catching the only touchdown against the Aggies in last year's loss. He led all receivers last year, and promises to continue that trend in 2003. The new star of the offense is two-way player DeAngelo Hall. This guy can has a pair of hands that can snatch up any pass around him, intended or not. While primarily a defensive cornerback, he just adds to the weapons on the offensive side of the ball. One hope for the Aggies is that the storm does decide to blow through, or at least part of it, and move the game to the ground. Otherwise, this will be the biggest test for our secondary, one that will be fun to watch regardless.
This is where the Aggies hold the advantage. If we can shorten the field on every possession, we can make this an even game. Terrence Murphy has already demonstrated that he has the speed and talent to be a playmaker. The Hokie special teams will be targeting him, but so have all the other opponent's special teams with no success. I am hoping that less attention will be given to Jason Carter or Jamaar Taylor, and the blockers can give him some room to do something. Once again, this is a major area for improvement for the Aggies.
There is no denying that we are coming into Blacksburg as a serious underdog: 14.5 points last time I checked. This will not only be the first true test for this young Aggie football team, but also a gut check for these guys to see what they are made of. A close game will be a victory for this team, as no one is giving us a chance...except me. I believe the storm will just graze the area, forcing the game to the ground, where we can keep the score close. Look for something special (a miracle play) to pull us ahead, and some key mistakes by the Hokies to give A&M the 2-point victory, 19-17.
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