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Texas A&M Aggies get to pick on someone their own size

After playing two ranked teams in its first three Big 12 Conference games, Texas A&M gets to drop down in class a bit this week against Iowa State.

Since leading Kansas 20-0 at halftime three weeks ago, the Cyclones have fallen apart, and they enter Saturday's game in Ames on a five-game losing skid. The Aggies have lost three straight but showed positive signs in last week's loss to then-No. 7 Texas Tech.

Game 7 rewind

Texas Tech 43, Texas A&M 25

The good news: The Aggies turned in a solid first half, scoring on five of their six possessions, including drives of 67 and 80 yards, and holding the ball for more than 20 minutes while taking a 23-20 lead. Although the Red Raiders punted only once, Texas A&M forced three turnovers and made two critical stops in the third quarter to give the Aggies a chance at an upset. Freshman Randy Bullock solidified his job as the starting kicker with three field goals, including a 46-yarder that was the longest for an A&M kicker since 2004, and the Aggies blocked two extra points. Ryan Tannehill had 104 receiving yards, making him the first A&M freshman to post back-to-back 100-yard receiving games.

The bad news: The offense disappeared in the second half, netting only 32 yards on 18 plays after generating 254 yards in the opening half. Texas A&M, which lost starting tailback Mike Goodson to a knee injury in the third quarter, was particularly ineffective running the ball, finishing with only 20 rushing yards. The defense was solid through three and a half quarters but gave up two touchdowns in the final seven minutes as Texas Tech pulled away for an 18-point victory. The Aggies were 6-of-14 on third-down conversions, while the Red Raiders were 10-of-12.

What they said: "I thought it was our best week of preparation. By no [stretch of the] imagination do I think losing the game is progress. But I thought ... we played the game more aggressively, particularly on defense. We had an aggressive nature. There was a lot of energy on the field, a lot of want to, a lot of support amongst teammates for teammates. So I saw a lot of things that I hadn’t necessarily seen. These have been talked about forever, but they’re starting to click for us a little bit more. That was encouraging. The loss was disappointing. But the way they handled the week and the preparation and the confidence with which they took the field was encouraging.” -- Aggies coach Mike Sherman on his team's performance against the Red Raiders

This week's matchup

Texas A&M (2-5, 0-3 Big 12) at Iowa State (2-5, 0-3)

When: Saturday, 6 p.m.

Where: Kyle Field, College Station

TV/Radio: Fox College Sports/KFXR 1190-AM

The line: The Aggies are a 3-point underdog

Last meeting: Iowa State 42, Texas A&M 14 in College Station in 2005

Three things to watch

1. Running on empty. Both teams have struggled to run the ball this season. Iowa State ranks 10th in the league, averaging 128 rushing yards per game, and Texas A&M is last with a 111-yard average. But they've been just as bad at stopping the run. Again, the Cyclones are 10th, allowing 176.9 yards per game, and the Aggies are last, giving up a whopping 207.3. Something has to give. The tough part for A&M is that its best back, junior Mike Goodson, has a sprained knee and is questionable for the game. True freshman Cyrus Gray is expected to start if he can't play.

2. Turnover trouble. Turnovers helped the Aggies last week against Texas Tech, but they were a determining factor in losses to Miami, Oklahoma State and Arkansas State. Iowa State leads the Big 12 and ranks ninth nationally in turnover margin. The Cyclones have recovered a league-high 12 fumbles and intercepted eight passes. That's not good news for an Aggie team that leads the conference with 15 total turnovers, including nine lost fumbles. Texas A&M has lost the turnover battle in five of its seven games this season, winning only one of those games.

3. Protection first. A lack of pass protection was one of the biggest keys to A&M's second-half collapse against the Red Raiders. If a patchwork offensive line can give Jerrod Johnson time to throw, the Aggies' offense could have another strong day.

Did you know?

■ Texas A&M has won all three meetings with Iowa State in Ames. It leads the series 7-1.

■ In conference play, opposing teams are averaging a whopping 6.7 yards per play and 470.3 yards per game against the Aggies.

■ In the past two games opposing quarterbacks have completed 78 percent of their passes for 616 total yards against the Cyclones.

By the numbers

1 -- Average sacks per game by the Aggies, the lowest in the Big 12 and tied for the seventh-worst in the nation

3 -- Average sacks given up by Texas A&M, the highest total in the conference and tied for the sixth-highest in the nation.

20 -- Turnovers forced by Iowa State this season, which ranks third in the nation.

218 -- Total offense generated by the struggling Cyclones in their 35-7 loss to Nebraska last week.

What they're saying

"It's very troubling that one week we punt nine times and the next week we punt eight times. It's hard for us to get first downs. That's extremely troubling for our football team. We've done some good things on offense, but overall right now we've taken a step backwards." -- Iowa State coach Gene Chizik on the Cyclones' struggles the past two weeks in losses to Baylor and Nebraska

"He’s very mobile. (Graham) Harrell this past week wanted to stay in the pocket. We tried to flush him out a couple of times. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get him when we flushed him out. ... This quarterback functions all over the field. He’s going to get some first downs with his feet and he’s going to throw for first downs. He’s a good quarterback, very mobile. They’ve always had a history of very good quarterbacks -- you go back to Seneca Wallace and Sage Rosenfels. They’ve had good quarterbacks, and this one falls in line with them.” -- Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman on Iowa State quarterback Austen Arnaud

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