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Texas A&M Aggies face uphill battle in Big 12 opener

Game 4 rewind

Texas A&M 21, Army 17

The good news: The bottom line was the Aggies finally got their first win at Kyle Field, even if it wasn't pretty, and they did so without two injured starters. Their most experienced offensive lineman, senior tackle Travis Schneider (ankle), was replaced by Robbie Frost, and junior free safety Jordan Peterson (shoulder, elbow) was replaced by true freshman Trent Hunter. In his first start, Hunter had an A&M freshman record 17 tackles, including 11 solos, and earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors. Other positives included the play of the receivers, highlighted by true freshman Jeff Fuller's fourth touchdown catch of the season, and tight end Jamie McCoy's five catches for 60 yards. Jorvorskie Lane finally got the ball and sealed the victory with six consecutive carries, including a 10-yard gain on fourth down when he carried several defenders down the field. The Aggies' defense also made a critical fourth-down stop late in the fourth quarter, and defensive end Paul Freeney returned a fumble 58 yards for a touchdown, marking the second time in three games that A&M has scored a defensive touchdown.

The bad news: The Aggies lost quarterback Stephen McGee, again, when he re-injured his sprained throwing shoulder in the second quarter. Even worse, they lost their top defensive playmaker, senior end Michael Bennett, to a knee injury in the fourth quarter. A&M's run defense struggled again, giving up 280 rushing yards to Army's triple-option attack, and Black Knights quarterback Chip Bowden became the fifth player to rush for more than 100 yards against the Aggies in four games. He finished with 128 yards on 34 carries. Texas A&M's ground game never really got going, other than a 60-yard run by freshman Cyrus Gray. Take that away and the Aggies had just 73 yards on 28 attempts, a 2.6-yard average. Mike Goodson was a non-factor, rushing for 20 yards on 11 carries and catching five passes for 26 yards. Penalties were also a problem as A&M was whistled for three personal foul calls on Army's second-quarter touchdown drive.

What they said: "There was a time in the game when Jerrod [Johnson] got hit -- it was on the pass to [Ryan] Tannehill, when he went up and made a phenomenal catch -- but he got hit on that play and then was kind of nursing that shoulder. We took him out the second play and put Cyrus [Gray] in for a play and we lost yardage, and actually lost field position to kick a field goal. So his shoulder bothered him at that point in the game, and we felt like he wasn't able to come back at that point and make the throw we needed to make. As the game got going, it seemed like it loosened up a little bit. I would say in the game he was a little bit limited. He didn't practice very much at quarterback. His shoulder was sore pretty much the entire week. Going forward, I don't think he's 100 percent, but he's going to be good enough." -- A&M coach Mike Sherman on quarterback Jerrod Johnson

This week's matchup

Texas A&M (2-2) at No. 21 Oklahoma State (4-0)

When: Saturday, 6:05 p.m.

Where: Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, Okla. (60,000 capacity)

TV/Radio: None/KFXR 1190-AM

The line: The Aggies are a 25-point underdog

Last meeting: Texas A&M 24, Oklahoma State 23 in College Station

Three things to watch

1. Rush hour: The Aggies' rush defense will face its biggest test of the season, which is a scary thought considering they've given up rushing totals of 255, 216, 159 and 280 yards this season. OSU leads the nation with 340 rushing yards per game and has three players ranked among the top 11 rushers in the Big 12. Sophomore Kendall Hunter is the league leader and is ranked third in the nation with a 155-yard average, and backup Keith Toston is second in the league with a 92-yard average. Beau Johnson is 11th, averaging 63 yards.

2. Unhappy returns: Just as there has been a huge disparity between the two offenses, the OSU and Texas A&M return games are also on opposite ends of the spectrum. The Cowboys are among the nation's most dangerous returners, ranking first in punt returns and fourth in kickoff returns. The Aggies are 91st in punt returns and 102nd in kickoff returns, and they have muffed two punts in the first four games.

3. Turnover time: The Texas A&M defense has scored in both of the Aggies' victories this season, with Jordan Peterson returning an interception 48 yards for a touchdown against New Mexico and Paul Freeney scooping up a fumbling and racing 52 yards for a score against Army. The Aggies will need more big plays from their defense just to keep this one close. They have won nine consecutive games when they win the turnover battle, dating to 2006.

Did you know?

■ OSU is only 9-11 in games played when the Cowboys are ranked in the AP Top 25 during the Big 12 era. Two of those losses have come against Texas A&M, but the Aggies were also ranked in both of those games (No. 23 Texas A&M 36, No. 16 OSU 20 in 2004 and No. 20 Texas A&M 28, No. 19 OSU 25).

■ A&M defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt held the same position at OSU in 1996. Wyatt and also coached at Alabama in 2006, and Aggies defensive coordinator Joe Kines was the interim head coach, when the Cowboys beat the Crimson Tide in the Independence Bowl.

■ OSU is ranked among the top 10 teams in the nation in 12 statistical categories: rushing offense (first), punt returns (first), fourth-down conversions (first), scoring offense (third), first downs (third), total offense (fourth), net punting (fourth), passing efficiency (fourth), sacks allowed (eighth), third-down conversions (eighth), red-zone offense (ninth) and time of possession (10th).

By the numbers

7 -- Touchdowns scored against the Cowboys by Jorvorskie Lane in the past three games in the series, all A&M victories.

7.8 --- Average yards per carry gained by OSU running backs Kendall Hunter, Keith Toston and Beau Johnson this season

70 -- Career receptions by Mike Goodson, which ranks third all-time among A&M running backs. He needs one catch to tie Larry Stegent on the career list. With 222 rushing yards, Goodson will become the first Aggie to rush for 2,000 yards and have 70 catches.

What they're saying

"I think our football team is better now than we have been in the last few years at this time. I like where our football program is in general. I still say you're going to find out how good you are as the season goes on. It's very important you stay healthy, guys stay fresh. The mental aspect of the team and their chemistry and how they care about each other is more important than most people realize. I've coached on teams that weren't very good and probably played a lot better and won more games than they should have. And then I've coached teams that should have won more games but they really didn't care as much about each other. I like where we're at right now as a team." -- OSU coach Mike Gundy

"I'm very impressed with him. As much as you look at them and say, 'Wow, they do a great job throwing the ball,' their running game is just as dangerous as their throwing game. There's no question about that." -- Aggies coach Mike Sherman on Cowboys running back Kendall Hunter