September 29, 2010

Aggie Road: A&M looks for win at OSU

Thursday is a chance for Oklahoma State to make some waves nationally and in the Big 12.

The same goes for Texas A&M.

The Aggies, sitting at 3-0 and coming off a bye week, come to Stillwater this week in search of a quality road win and a chance to get an early leg up in the Big 12 South race.

But Aggie head coach Mike Sherman knows it won't be easy to leave Orange Country with a win.

"They are right on top of you," he said of the claustrophobia-causing crowd at Boone Pickens Stadium. "We've already talked about that element of it, the maturity factor our team has to have. The fans are sitting right behind you, and cheering for their team and against you. We talked about where you can't lose focus and just allow them to do what they're doing. We're not going to change that, but how we handle that is in our control."

And what is in their control is an offense that, statistically-speaking, is just as potent as the one they'll be going up against. Oklahoma State is tops in the nation in total offense, averaging 596 yards per game. A&M, meanwhile, is ninth nationally at 501.33 ypg.

While the Aggies seem stronger in the air, it sounds like their strategy might be to establish the run and aim to time-control and tame a road environment.

"It's important every week, but more so on the road, with the noise and the crowd and moving the chains and being able to hear the snap count," Sherman said. "Against FIU, we had way too many 2nd-and-long and 3rd-and-long situations due to penalties and sacks. We like to have balance. In order to run it you've got to throw it, and in order to throw it you've got to run it. We have to stay out of long-yardage situations, particularly on the road."

Over on defense, the Aggies have changed things up a bit, adding Tim DeRuyter as defensive coordinator. He spent the previous three seasons in the same position at Air Force. And it might not mean anything in this game, but DeRuyter's D got the better of Dana Holgorsen's offense at Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl. The Falcons held the Cougars to only 222 yards passing and 331 yards overall in a 47-20 win for the Zoomies.

Does he think he has Holgorsen figured out to the point he has the upper hand in Thursday's contest?

"Oh, no," he says with a laugh. "Coach Holgorsen does a great job. Everywhere he has been he's been tremendous. We got lucky last year (at Air Force). We had a really good club, had some tremendous coaches and the kids played really well that day. This year is a different year with different players and he's done a great job up there. Our guys played well that day last year. I really liked our club last year. I was fortunate to be on a great coaching staff, and it's the same way here.

"I think our kids are starting to buy in to what we're doing. But it's a totally different year. We've got to play well to have a chance. If you don't, they'll embarrass you and hang half a hundred on you in a hurry. So no, I don't have anybody's number."

This being a conference game obviously raises the stakes all-around. Gone are the tune-ups against Directional State A&M Technical College. Here are the Big 12 contests - games that decide just where your season ends up. That's why these games are much more exciting to the players in Aggieland, so says senior quarterback Jerrod Johnson.

"You play your first three games, and you don't want to overlook them, but you play teams you don't know much about," he said. "They probably know more about you than you do about them, and they come out and give it their best shot. But with Oklahoma State, you know about their coaching staff. You know about their players. You have friends on their team. Conference play is a little more exciting because you expect to play teams like Oklahoma State when you come to A&M to play in the Big 12. You look forward to it."

But to get a good start in conference, the Aggies will have to win in Stillwater. The last time A&M won in Stillwater was in 2006, when the Aggies escaped town with a 34-33 overtime victory. While this is A&M's first trip away from College Station in 2010, Johnson believes his squad will be a good road team after going 1-3 on the road last season.

"I don't think it's a sense of doing that much more, it's just a sense of knowing what you're getting into," Johnson said of road environments. "Knowing you can't communicate as well as you are used to. Preparing for adversity basically. It's going to be a great environment, and it will be very loud. There are so many things you can try and explain (to the young guys), but once you experience it you have a completely different mindset. You learn through experience, and I think we'll be able to handle that adversity much better this year."

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