Texas A&M Aggies: Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
1. QB Johnny Manziel
The redshirt freshman bounced back from his three-turnover performance against Mississippi in a huge way, setting another total yardage record in the 59-57 win over Louisiana Tech. Manziel compiled 576 total offensive yards (395 passing, 181 rushing) and accounting for six touchdowns. The yardage total broke the Texas A&M and SEC record he already set against Arkansas and he earned Walter Camp Football Foundation National Offensive Player of the Week honors for his performance. He's the nation's top freshman in points responsible for, total offense, passing efficiency, passing yards and rushing and if he performs well against LSU, you could start hearing Heisman Trophy hype begin to gain steam with his name attached.
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The Aggies (5-1), who are coming off a thrilling 59-57 win over Louisiana Tech, were ranked in the top 20 of both human polls, sitting at no. 20 in the Associated Press poll and at no. 19 in the USA Today Coaches Poll (which is part of the BCS formula).
In the initial BCS standings, the Aggies sit in a good position, but most of their tough work is ahead of them. Still remaining on their schedule are dates with three squads ranked above them in the BCS standings: No. 6 LSU (on Saturday), at No. 12 Mississippi State (on Nov. 3) and at No. 1 Alabama (on Nov. 10). Those all will be tough tests for a rising A&M squad, and this week's upcoming battle against LSU should give us a good barometer on how far along the Aggies truly are heading into SEC-heavy portion of their schedule.
As of the moment, ESPN's Mark Schlabach has the Aggies projected to play Northwestern in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl, while Brad Edwards has them positioned to play Georgia Tech in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City. You can see the full ESPN bowl projections here.
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After a wild game with dramatic twists and turns, including a furious comeback attempt, Texas A&M outlasted Louisiana Tech 59-57 and escaped Independence Stadium in Shreveport, La., with a win to improve to 5-1 overall and give the Bulldogs (5-1) their first loss.
It was over when: Texas A&M running back Ben Malena recovered a Louisiana Tech onside kick attempt with 37 seconds remaining. The Bulldogs already had recovered one onside kick to set up their final touchdown, but Malena stepped in front of the ball and secured it for the Aggies to take a knee and leave with a win.
Game ball goes to: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The redshirt freshman continues to shine and broke the Texas A&M and Southeastern Conference records that he set against Arkansas earlier this season, compiling 576 total offensive yards. Manziel was 24-of-40 passing for 395 yards and three touchdown passes while rushing 19 times for 181 yards and three scores, including a 72-yarder that gave the Aggies their final points.
Game ball, Part 2: Louisiana Tech receiver Quinton Patton deserves a game ball for his tremendous effort for the Bulldogs. The Biletnikoff Award watch list member showed why he's considered one of the best receivers in the country, catching a whopping 21 passes for 232 yards and four touchdowns. The Aggies rarely had an answer for him, and Patton played a huge role in the Bulldogs' late rally to narrow the Aggies' lead.
Rising star: Louisiana Tech true freshman running back Kenneth Dixon. He had 18 carries for 111 yards (an average of 6.2 per carry) and had two touchdowns. He broke plenty of tackles on his second scoring run of the night. Texas A&M redshirt freshman receiver Mike Evans also was impressive and continues to produce for the Aggies as perhaps Manziel's favorite receiver, catching four passes for 137 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown catch.
What it means: For the Aggies, it sets up a huge showdown with 6-1 LSU next week at Kyle Field. Texas A&M saw some issues that existed in its season-opening loss to Florida (penalties and missed tackles among them) and after a strong first four games on defense, allowing 57 points certainly won't be comforting for coach Kevin Sumlin and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder.
For Louisiana Tech, it means its BCS-busting hopes are all but dashed. The Bulldogs likely will drop out of the rankings, but Sonny Dykes and Co. have nothing to be ashamed of. They showed tremendous fight and gave an SEC team a run for its money. The Bulldogs are still the favorites to win the WAC, and should they run the table the rest of the way, they'll jump back in and move up the rankings.
And depending how he fares next week against LSU, Manziel might start hearing the word "Heisman" mentioned in connection with his name pretty soon.
Louisiana Tech is a good team, but if the Bulldogs can't get stops, it's going to be a long night. The Bulldogs rank 119th in the country in total defense in passing defense and 106th in scoring defense. With Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel's playmaking ability, the emergence of Ben Malena and the running game and the plethora of receiving weapons the Aggies have to choose from led by Mike Evans and Ryan Swope (not to mention an elite offensive line), expect the Aggies to pile up the points. And the Bulldogs haven't played a team as talented as the Aggies are on both sides of the ball. Louisiana Tech quarterback Colby Cameron hasn't thrown an interception this year and if he takes care of the ball like that again, it could be a closer game. But the Aggies likely have too much firepower for the Bulldogs here.
Player to watch: Donnie Baggs, Texas A&M
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Louisiana Tech comes into the game with a national ranking, an undefeated record and hopes of being the latest BCS buster. The Aggies are the only ranked team left on the Bulldogs' schedule (their final six games are WAC opponents). Head coach Sonny Dykes said on Monday, "I do not even know how to spell BCS. That is like miles and miles away from our thoughts." But there's no denying the possibility of running the table if Louisiana Tech were to pull off the win. You can bet the players are well aware of that and if they needed any more motivation than a non-automatic qualifying conference team needs playing an AQ conference foe, it can be provided by that.
2. Bounce back day for Manziel?
Last week's 30-27 comeback win over Mississippi was Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel's first truly rough day as the Aggies starter. He turned the ball over three times and the team turned it over six. Still, they were able to pull out the win, but it's worth watching to see how Manziel bounces back from last week's performance.
3. Familiar foes
The last time these two teams met was 2010, but Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, running backs coach Clarence McKinney and offensive line coach B.J. Anderson faced the Bulldogs last season when the quartet was coaching at Houston. The group is well aware of the quality of Louisiana Tech after the Bulldogs had the Cougars down 34-7 late in the third quarter before Houston rallied to win 35-34 in the final minutes. Likewise, Dykes and his staff are plenty familiar with the offensive concepts the Aggies run after facing Houston a year ago. It should make for an interesting chess match.
4. Missing players on defense
The Aggies will be without the services of starting weakside linebacker Steven Jenkins and reserve safety Howard Matthews. Both were suspended this summer by Kevin Sumlin for a "violation of team rules," a suspension that was originally slated for the season opener. When the game's date was moved after Hurricane Isaac, so was the pair's suspensions. Also, sophomore defensive back Deshazor Everett left the Ole Miss game early with an injury. Sumlin didn't discuss his status for the game this week, so it's unknown whether he'll be available. Donnie Baggs will start in Jenkins' place.
5. Plenty of confidence for Aggies
The Aggies should come into this game with plenty of confidence after their win over Ole Miss. They didn't play well overall, considering the turnovers they committed and their third-down defense, yet still came away with an SEC road win. So after facing that adversity and still winning, they should be riding high coming into the showdown with Louisiana Tech.
For eight other players on the Aggies' roster it will be a return to their home state. All nine Aggies that hail from Louisiana have seen the field this season, and four of them -- Stewart, cornerback Deshazor Everett, center Patrick Lewis and defensive end Julien Obioha -- are starters.
There's definitely a Louisiana presence on the team. Lewis dubs the group "Louisianimals."
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Sam Khan Jr: With Louisiana Tech being undefeated and the Aggies being the only ranked team standing in their way, what's the buzz around the program like leading up to this matchup?
Jimmy Watson: La. Tech fans are excited about being ranked for the first time since the 1999 season and can’t wait for Saturday’s showdown. While the team doesn’t even want to talk about it, the fans are hoping to be BCS busters if they can get past the Aggies.
JW: The lack of interceptions by quarterback Colby Cameron, the speed that the offense runs play and the performance of freshman running back Kenneth Dixon, who is better than expected.
SK: What are some areas that the Bulldogs still need work in that you think the Aggies might look to exploit?
JW: Tech’s defense has given up a number of big plays in the passing game and are susceptible to crossing patterns deep.
SK: In your opinion, did the change of the date of the game help or hinder the Bulldogs' chances at a win?
JW: I think it seriously hurt their chances. The Aggies certainly have their feet under them and have adjusted to a very good young quarterback.
SK: Louisiana Tech is no. 3 in the country in scoring offense and no. 11 in total offense. What has been the biggest key to that success?
JW: The balance in running and passing. A lot of people think all they do is sling it around all over the place. But against UNLV on Saturday, Tech had about 300 yards passing and about 300 rushing. Similar to Kevin Sumlin’s teams at Houston, Tech expects to run a lot of plays to wear down the defense. They ran 97 against UNLV.
SK: Before the season you mentioned freshman running back Kenneth Dixon as a name to watch that might be unknown and clearly he has played well. Who's another player that may be under the radar for the Bulldogs that could make an impact on Saturday night?
JW: Ray Holley. He’s a senior and was slated to play in the slot before the other super freshman running back, Tevin King, went down with an ACL injury. Holley moved over to running back and has provided a speed alternative to Dixon, who is a power back.
SK: How do you think the Bulldogs will approach defending a quarterback as mobile as Johnny Manziel?
JW: You only hope to contain him. Manziel will get his yards against Tech’s defense, which is giving up 30-something points per game. Saw where there were a lot of Aggie turnovers against Ole Miss. If they have anything close to that number against Tech, winning will be difficult.
The number that stood out the most and made coach Kevin Sumlin unhappy was, obviously, the one in the turnover column.
“You can’t live with six turnovers," Sumlin said. "That’s not us. We haven’t been like that and hopefully we never see that again. You talk about how that happens and why that happens and the ability to do that."
Another area of concern for Sumlin was the Aggies' third down defense. The Aggies came in allowing third down conversions just 26 percent of the time but yielded 47 percent to Ole Miss (9-of-19). The Rebels converted six of their first 11 before the Aggies shored up late, allowing just three of the Rebels' last 8 attempts.
"I thought we were pretty good on first and second down but on third down, we weren't where we've been all year," Sumlin said. "We got kind of spoiled by that because we've been off the chart on third down defense this year."
Of course, Sumlin was happy with the win but made sure the players knew it could have come without the type of fight they had to put up to come back from a 10-point deficit and eek out the 30-27 victory.
"Our message yesterday was 'Here's what we're capable of, we still won the football game because of great effort and because you played until the end, but you made it harder on yourselves,'" Sumlin said. "On the road, as things go on, a ball can bounce either way and we lose that game. We clean that up, and who knows, we probably can win going away....Our guys understand that. It’s a learning process."
Record vs. Texas A&M: 0-9* (Louisiana Tech has lost all 10 meetings it has had with the Aggies but Texas A&M vacated a win in 1998 because of use of an ineligible player).
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GigEmNation writer Sam Khan Jr. chatted with readers on Friday about Texas A&M football and recruiting. Here's the full transcript.
Here are a few highlights from the chat:
Tyler Wilson (Fayetteville): How stoked are you to having the hog vs ags game back in Jerry World?
Sam Khan Jr.: You know, honestly, I'm not that thrilled. I like college football at college football venues. I've been to JerryWorld and it's a beautiful facility with first-class everything, but it's just not a college football facility and it doesn't feel like it. That being said, I don't think there's anything wrong with playing there. And there's nothing wrong with doing it once in a while. 11 straight years, whew. But it's good for recruiting, because Arkansas and Texas A&M can tell recruits that they can play in one of the nicest facilities in the world if they come there.
Chad (Beaumont, Texas): Did A&M gain a bigger advantage or disadvantage from the cancellation of La. Tech?
Sam Khan Jr.: I think it's two-fold. If I had to lean, I'd say a little disadvantage. With all the newness, you'd like to have gotten a game under your belt and work out the kinks from playing with the new offensive and defensive schemes and learn about which players you can truly rely on. Now you're having to do that in a game that means something more, because it's an SEC game. On the flip side, A&M gets to see Florida and Florida doesn't get to see A&M.
Evan (College Station): Hey Sam, enjoy your stuff. What was the problem with moving the La Tech game to tonight or tomorrow morning? I know they said they looked at all options but that seems like it would have been a pretty simple fix.
Sam Khan Jr.: Evan, the issue with moving it to Friday or Saturday were other games. There are high school games at Independence Stadium tonight and Grambling is scheduled to play Saturday night. Also, hotel rooms were already gobbled up, so it was hard for A&M to find a place to stay on Saturday, even if they had worked out a doubleheader situation with Grambling. AD Eric Hyman said the closest place they could find enough rooms to stay was Monroe, which is more than 90 minutes away.
Matt (Htown): How many QB changes will A&M make throughout the season?
Sam Khan Jr.: If we're not counting because of injuries (and also not counting mop-up time in the late stages of a blowout), I'm going to guess zero. Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury are one-QB kind of guys. You won't see any kind of rotation and I'm guessing that now that the job is Manziel's, he'd have to play poorly to lose it. From everything I've heard about him, he's a heck of a player, so I'm going to guess that he holds on to it.
With the Aggies' new season opener scheduled for Sept. 8 at Kyle Field after the original opener against Louisiana Tech, scheduled for Thursday, was postponed to Oct. 13 because of Hurricane Isaac, they closed the book on the Bulldogs and began preparing on Wednesday for the Gators.
"Today we moved on, we moved on to Florida," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said Wednesday during the SEC coaches' weekly teleconference. "And I think that obviously, our preparation has changed with the postponement of the game and the move of the game back to Oct. 13. So for our guys, it was kind of a bittersweet kind of situation. Guys were ready to play somebody else, they were down a little bit (Tuesday), but as we talked to them about where we are right now, finishing up our preparation for Louisiana Tech yesterday and really moving on to Florida. That's where our focus is right now."
According to new Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman, who met with reporters at Reed Arena on Wednesday, moving the game to Oct. 13 -- which was each team's open date -- was not what either team wanted to do.
"There's a lot of things that we looked at, the possibilities," Hyman said. "Our least desirable [option] from the get-go, from their perspective and our perspective was playing the game on Oct. 13.
"We based the decision on the facts that we knew at that time. [Tuesday] morning, it looked good. And then it changed. What it is today? I don't know. We tried to do what was the right thing to do based on the facts we had at that point in time. We looked at a lot of different possibilities, a lot of different options and none of them came [to fruition]."
Sumlin said he could sense a little bit of a letdown with his team when they got the news on Tuesday.
"I could sense a little bit of letdown (Tuesday) at practice," Sumlin said. "As I told the coaches, just looking at the coaching staff yesterday, because of all the effort and time you put into something, you kind of build emotionally to play a game. And when you get within 24 hours of leaving to go to play a game, it's a little bit of a letdown.
"It's kind of like anything else, you say, 'Hey, that's over with. We'll put our files away and you guys go home tonight and get some sleep and come back tomorrow and get ready to get up for Florida, and we as coaches will move on.' So (Tuesday) was kind of a downer but we understand the situation. I think as we got in here to work today and started in on our preparation for Florida, I think the excitement will build up and our guys will be ready to go."
Hyman acknowledged that the schedule change, which gives both teams 12 games in 12 weeks, becomes more of a challenge for the football team. But he also tried to keep the bigger picture in mind.
"We're very sensitive to the lives of people and putting them in harm's way," Hyman said. "We've got to factor that into it. The decision was made based on, from what I was told, the (Louisiana Tech) president and the athletic director and they talked to the weather experts, the security people, the safety people, it was a consensus from everybody that this was the thing to do, to cancel the game. So I've got to be respectful of them. These are honorable people and I've got to respect what they say."
Hyman said the option of moving the game to College Station was considered but ultimately the decision remained with the home team, Louisiana Tech.
"I don't know that we would give up a home game," Hyman said. "If we had a hurricane here would we do that? Would we go and play in Shreveport? Probably not.
"I would have done the same thing here. I would have gotten the weather people, security people, every expert in the area and they're the experts. I couldn't live with myself if I end up doing something and it turned out to be a catastrophe. I can't do that. So I've got to look at what's in the best interests of our fans, our students and those kind of things. It is a football game, but I don't want to put people in harm's way. I wouldn't do it from a dollar standpoint, I'd do it from a safety standpoint. What's the right thing to do?"
That being said, it changes the dynamics for Texas A&M a bit as its new season opener -- a Sept. 8 showdown with Florida at Kyle Field -- approaches.
Among the effects:
- Texas A&M now has a schedule with 12 games in 12 consecutive weeks. This week will essentially serve as the Aggies' open date now.
- The middle of the schedule becomes even more of a challenging stretch, as the Aggies will play five games out of six away from College Station. That stretch begins on Oct. 6 at Mississippi, now followed by the Louisiana Tech game in Shreveport, a home date for LSU on Oct. 20, then the back-to-back-to-back stretch of at Auburn, at Mississippi State and at Alabama. That's a doozy.
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Sam Khan Jr.: Louisiana Tech is coming off a pretty nice season, going 8-5 with a WAC championship and a bowl game appearance. What are expectations like for the Bulldogs this year?
Jimmy Watson: Tech is supposed to be better than they were a year ago. Unlike 2011, the quarterback situation is settled entering the season with a senior leader in Colby Cameron. Tech is deep at running back and has one of the best receivers in the nation in Quinton Patton. The offensive and defensive lines are solid with depth at every position. They’re picked to win what will be the final season of WAC football.
SK: In your opinion, what was the biggest reason for Louisiana Tech's success last season and why might that continue this year?
JW: There were some senior leaders who held things together after they started 1-4, including a devastating 35-34 loss to Kevin Sumlin’s Houston team when Tech led 34-7 in the second half.
SK: How does Quinton Patton stack up to other top-flight receivers you have seen in recent years?
JW: He is the best I’ve seen at Tech since Troy Edwards, who played several seasons in the NFL. He has all the tangibles and the intangibles that coaches like, including working his tail off this summer to become even better than he was last year. There are several other receivers who can take the pressure off him if anyone tries to key on him.
SK: Give me a name on the Bulldogs' roster that Texas A&M fans might not know today, but will know by the end of the game, and why.
JW: Kenneth Dixon – true freshman running back. He’s a bruiser with deceptive speed and is expected to make a mark this fall. Coach Sonny Dykes said “he is mature beyond his years.”
SK: Because there's a familiarity with Texas A&M's offensive scheme based on Sonny Dykes' history with the offense and the fact that Louisiana Tech led Houston by four touchdowns when Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury were there last year, is there a sense of comfort or confidence for the Bulldogs -- particularly defensively -- as they head into this game?
JW: Not much comfort because of the upgraded personnel in College Station and the knowledge that Sumlin will build his offense around the strengths of his playmakers rather than vice versa. The defense is confident, however, that it can hold its own.
SK: What are you expecting out of senior quarterback Colby Cameron when the lights come on Thursday night?
JW: He should be solid in all aspects of his play. He has a full grasp of the Tony Franklin offense and can make the throws he needs to make. He has a plethora of weapons at his disposal that Tech hasn’t had in the 12 years or so I’ve been covering them. If the veteran offensive line can adequately protect him from the talented Aggie defense, he should have a good game.
SK: What's your prediction for the game against Texas A&M and for Louisiana Tech's record/postseason fate this season?
JW: I believe A&M should win the game, but it’ll probably be by 10 points or less. If Tech wins or breaks even in the turnover battle, they’ll have a chance to win the game in the second half. In 2012, Tech should go 8-4, maybe 9-3, and get a decent bowl slot.
NOTE: If this game gets moved to Oct. 13 due to Hurricane Issac, all bets are off.
When the temperature is high and he's yelling at Texas A&M's senior center, Patrick Lewis, to push the tempo of the Aggies' new Air Raid-style offense at practice, it's not unusual for Lewis to give Sumlin a familiar glance.
"I think he's tired of me yelling at him, 'Hurry up!'" Sumlin said. "At this time of year, it's hot out there and it's hotter for a 312-pound guy than it is for me just standing back there yelling at him all the time. A couple times he's given me a look like, 'Shut up.'"
But Lewis understands the reason for the hollering. One of the signatures of Sumlin's and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury's offense, which ranked No. 1 nationally at Houston last year, generating an average of 599 yards per game, is a breakneck pace that keeps opposing defenses off balance.
While the quarterback is a huge focal point of the offense, it can't function at the tempo Sumlin and Kingsbury want unless the center allows it.
"We can't do anything until the center gets to the ball," Sumlin said. "[If] we're all running to the ball and we have no center there, it makes no sense. From that standpoint, I know it sounds very simple, but I explained that to Patrick early 'We're waiting on you,' and that bugged him a little bit."
Patrick Lewis, a captain for Texas A&M this season, had to adjust to the Aggies' new offensive system.
As the Aggies have progressed through fall training camp and prepare for their season opener on Thursday against Louisiana Tech, Lewis has improved in that area. The coaches want to see him beat the referee to the spot of the ball after a play and the 6-foot-2 Lewis is getting better at it.
"I'm getting real close," Lewis said with a laugh. "[Sumlin] still pushes me every day to make it go a little faster, and we go pretty fast, even with him trying to push me to go faster. But I'm getting to it, I'm beating the ref to the ball, getting set and making my points before the ref even blows the whistle, so I think I'm making a lot of progress as far as pushing this offense and getting it to the tempo to that coach Kingsbury and coach Sumlin want it to be."
Kingsbury said he has been pleased with what he has seen from Lewis during the transition to the new offense.
"He's done a good job," Kingsbury said. "As he goes, we go. He's getting the ball snapped and taken a leadership role in the offense. It's a completely different change than he's used to but he's adjusted."
And it's not just Lewis' speed that is important. When he gets to the spot of the ball, he is responsible for pointing the other offensive linemen and the running backs and making some protection calls.
Now that he has gone through an entire spring and fall training camp, Lewis said there is improvement in that area also.
"Over the course of camp we made a major progression as an offense, as an offensive line and myself, I became real familiar with the offense," Lewis said. "I'm able to make points just off of certain calls. Certain calls the running back makes and certain calls the quarterback makes. It's getting real easy right now.
"I'm still working at it every day, watching film, making sure I'm putting the running backs in the right place to block the outside defenders coming off the edge and making the offensive line knows who we're blocking as well, so it's been a real smooth transition for us."
Lewis has apparently handled it well enough that his teammates felt it appropriate to vote him one of the team's captains, a sign that Lewis is a true leader for the Aggies this fall.
"He's had to up his game one level, not performance-wise but conditioning-wise because he's got to get there so fast," senior receiver Ryan Swope said. "He's done a great job this summer of working hard and working on his speed. The tempo we move at is critical and he's done a great job of adjusting to that."
Lewis is honored to be one of the team's four captains.
"I really didn't think I was going to get that much high praise from the team," Lewis said. "But I'm glad I did and I'm honored that they chose me to be one of the captains. I plan on not letting them down and stepping into that leadership role and fulfilling it, like they want me to."