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Texas A&M Aggies hoping to beat the odds again

Texas A&M has had the upper hand against Texas in their last two meetings, but few are expecting a competitive game when the rivalry returns to a prime-time slot on Thanksgiving night.

The No. 4-ranked Longhorns are a whopping five-touchdown favorite as they attempt to state their case that they belong in the BCS national championship game.

Texas leads the series 73-36-5, but the Aggies hold a 14-11 edge over the last 25 years after winning back-to-back games in the series for the first time since their four-game winning streak from 1991-94.

Game 11 rewind: Baylor 45, Texas A&M 21

The good news: Like the previous week against Oklahoma, there wasn't much. Linebackers Matt Featherston and Alton Dixon seemed to be all over the field, combining for 24 tackles, yet the Bears still piled up 510 yards. Kenny Brown blocked a punt to set up a touchdown, but the game was already out of reach by that point. Jorvorskie Lane scored a pair of 1-yard touchdowns to pad his school-record total.

The bad news: The Aggies got off to a horrible start and never recovered. They had two punts, a fumble and an interception on their first four possessions of the first half as they fell behind 20-7 at the break. Their first four possessions of the second half were nearly identical — two punts and two interceptions — which allowed Baylor to stretch its advantage to 41-7. Texas A&M was just 2-for-9 on third- down conversions while the Bears were 9-for-16. Baylor also held a commanding advantage in time of possession, holding the ball for more than 37 minutes.

What they said: "He's upset when he makes a mistake, but at the same time he files it away and wants the ball in his hands to rectify that mistake almost immediately. I would say that's the most impressive thing about him. The maturity level that he has far exceeds his level of experience and his years."

— Coach Mike Sherman on quarterback Jerrod Johnson

"We kill ourselves with too many mistakes. Mainly that's what we've done to ourselves this season."

— Aggies cornerback Jordan Pugh

This week's matchup

Texas A&M (4-7, 2-5 Big 12) at Texas (10-1, 6-1)

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium

TV/Radio: ESPN/KFXR 1190 AM

The line: The Aggies are a 35-point underdog

Last meeting: Texas A&M 38, No. 14 Texas 30 last season in College Station

Three things to watch

1. How they start. In their wins over Texas the past two seasons, the Aggies set the tone early. Last season, they raced to a 17-0 lead late in the second quarter. Two years ago in Austin, they held Texas off the scoreboard until the 4:20 mark of the third quarter. Texas A&M needs a strong start to build some confidence and let its young players know they — like the two teams before them — are capable of beating the Longhorns.

2. The quarterbacks. In two games against the Aggies, Colt McCoy has thrown only one touchdown pass and three interceptions, been sacked six times and been taken to the hospital once. But McCoy hasn't had many bad days this season, and Texas A&M's defense has been unable to consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks or stop those who are able to run, so McCoy could be in for a big night. On the other side, Stephen McGee has been at the center of the Aggies' success against the Longhorns. The senior quarterback threw for 362 yards and accounted for four touchdowns last season, and he rushed for a combined 203 yards and three touchdowns in the two games before that.

But McGee's role is up in the air after early-season shoulder injuries sent him to the sideline. Sophomore Jerrod Johnson is likely to start, despite two rather shaky outings against Oklahoma and Baylor, but it will be interesting to see if Mike Sherman tries to stir up a little McGee magic at some point. Whoever plays will face a Texas pass defense that ranks ninth in the Big 12 and 110th in the nation, allowing an average of 266 yards per game.

3. The bottom line: the front lines. Texas A&M's offensive line, which was already thin before a string of midseason injuries made things even worse, faces perhaps its biggest challenge yet against the Longhorns. Texas is tied with Oklahoma for the national lead with 3.45 sacks per game, while the Aggies rank 111th in sacks allowed, giving up three per game. Looks like Jerrod Johnson could be running for his life again, just as he was against the Sooners.

Quarterback battle

Texas quarterbacks have struggled in the past three meetings with Texas A&M. A comparison of the quarterback numbers in those games:

2005: Texas 40, Texas A&M 29 in College Station

Stephen McGee: 9-for-23, 83 yards, 1 int., 4 sacks; 24 rushes for 108 yards, 2 TDs Vince Young: 13-for-24, 162 yards, 1 TD, 1 int., 3 sacks; 11 rushes for 19 yards

2006: Texas A&M 12, Texas 7 in Austin

Stephen McGee: 7-for-13, 58 yards, 1 sack; 18 rushes for 95 yards, TD Colt McCoy: 17-for-28, 160 yards, 3 int., 2 sacks; 2 rushes for minus-14 yards

2007: Texas A&M 38, Texas 30 in College Station

Stephen McGee: 25-for-36, 362 yards, 3TDs, 2 int., 3 sacks; 15 rushes for 30 yards, TD Colt McCoy: 17-for-32, 229 yards, 1 TD, 1 int., 4 sacks; 9 rushes for 24 yards

Did you know?

  • This is the first time Texas A&M has faced three top-five teams in the same regular season: No. 5 Texas Tech on Oct. 18, No. 4 Oklahoma on Nov. 8 and No. 4 Texas.
  • With a win Thursday, Texas will move past Notre Dame into sole possession of second place on the NCAA all-time victory list with 831.
  • It would be the first time since 1932 that Michigan (872 wins) and Notre Dame didn't hold the top two spots on the list. The Longhorns have already passed Alabama and Nebraska during the Mack Brown era by going 113-26.

  • Jerrod Johnson has a good shot at climbing several spots on Texas A&M's single-season passing chart on Thanksgiving Day. Johnson is currently sixth with 2,373 yards, and a 179-yard passing performance against Texas would move him all the way into second place. He needs a huge day — 419 yards — to pass all-time leader Reggie McNeal. That would equal the single-game school record Johnson set earlier this season against Kansas State.
  • By the numbers

    4 Wins against the Longhorns in seven tries for Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman when he was an assistant with the Aggies.

    14 Years since Texas and Texas A&M played on Thanksgiving Day. The teams have played 60 times on the holiday, with the Longhorns holding a 40-18-2 edge in those games.

    .966 Winning percentage for Texas in home games against other teams from the state under coach Mack Brown. The Longhorns are 28-1 since 1998, with the lone blemish being a 12-7 setback against Texas A&M two years ago.

    What they're saying

    "It's huge. You play for pride, and that's pretty much all we can play for now. A lot of people doubt us, and our record is the reason for that. This is the last chance this year to show people that we are a good team."

    — Aggies quarterback Jerrod Johnson on the rivalry

    "When they play us, their emotion, their drive, their enthusiasm, it comes out. And that's something that we have to match and try to carry it throughout the game. These guys started fast [last year], and that's all she wrote. You can't start slow and then try to play catch-up against a team like that, no matter what their record is."

    — Longhorns defensive end Brian Orakpo on Texas A&M

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