COLLEGE STATION -- Scratch any concerns about Texas A&M being distracted by off-field chatter surrounding the school's ongoing efforts to join the Southeastern Conference.
The eighth-ranked Aggies buried those Sunday with a 20-point first quarter, A&M's fastest break from the gate in any game since 2005.
Also dismiss any questions about the Aggies' pedigree as a Top 10 team. They belong. With rare exception, they dictated the action throughout a 46-14 victory over SMU at Kyle Field.
But tap the brakes, at least for the time being, about whether this team is ready to play for the 2011 national championship. In time, it might be.
But teams that play for the BCS crystal football typically do not allow two blocked PATs in a season, let alone in one half. Nor do they allow an opposing rusher to surpass the 100-yard mark in the first 19 minutes of action. Or make the other team's backup quarterback look like Peyton Manning when he enters the game for the benched, ineffective starter.
A&M did all of those things in the first half Sunday.
Because the Aggies are significantly more talented than SMU, a Conference USA title contender, those shortcomings won't register with fans focused on celebrating tailback Cyrus Gray's eighth consecutive 100-yard rushing performance. Or reveling in a pair of interceptions on SMU's first two possessions that led to a quick hook for starting quarterback Kyle Padron, a Southlake Carroll graduate.
But coach Mike Sherman noticed. And he knows that the difference between good and great -- between playing for a BCS championship and watching the big game on television -- comes down to making the plays on special teams and stopping backs like SMU's Zach Line (128 rushing yards, including 108 in the first half) on defense.
A&M did neither at an elite level Sunday. Sherman said Line made his tacklers "look stupid" in the first half, an issue he addressed at halftime. He said one blocked conversion involved a low kick, the other a "fundamental error" in blocking
"We've struggled with that in practice, too," Sherman said. "That's something we've got to get fixed."
If they can, the Aggies have reasons to dream big. BCS big. Because the primary components of this team shined early and often against SMU.
The offense clicked, the defense recorded eight sacks (three by DE Tony Jerod-Eddie) and the "SECede" T-shirts ruled the pre-game tailgate parties. After SMU backup quarterback J.J. McDermott directed scoring drives of 60 and 71 yards in his first two possessions, he never again led SMU past the A&M 34-yard line.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill erased any concerns about whether he could step into the role of starting quarterback as comfortably in September as he did last November. Tannehill, a late-season catalyst who finished 5-1 in his 2010 starts, completed 21 of 26 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns. He was not sacked and did not throw an interception.
Christine Michael, the backup tailback who could start for most other Big 12 teams, rushed for 85 yards and two touchdowns in his first game since suffering a broken leg year against Texas Tech in October.
"It felt really good to come out and execute offensively and defensively," Tannehill said. "Having both Cyrus and 'C-Mike' back at the same time is a real luxury for this offense."
A&M figures to lean on both, as well as its pressure-oriented defense -- which posted the school's highest single-game sack total in nine years -- to win the season's defining games in 2011. "To get this win is huge for us," Sherman said. "There's no question about it."
But to beat the Top 10 teams on the Aggies' schedule, A&M will need to tackle better. And minimize self-inflicted wounds on special teams. Fans at the postgame celebration may not realize that. But Mike Sherman surely does.
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Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760