Tonight, for all intents and purposes, is the first game of interest in the Aggies 2007 Season. It is a season that still has a tremendous opportunity to be wonderful or horrible. The Aggies could still make a run at the Big 12 South, or it could be looking for a new coach by Christmas.
This game will not necessarily determine that fate, but it will give us an early indicator. The near-debacle against Fresno State was disconcerting, but now you will be playing a Miami team that may not be that good, but at least has a reputation and an environment that should push A&M to its limits.
I have seen enough of the Aggies this fall to have 2 major concerns.
1) Can they complete a pass? I don’t care how good you can run the football, at some point, you are either going to be behind in the game or face a 3rd and long or both. At that point, you will need to get yardage in chunks, and only a pass downfield (not the patented “dump off” that pads the passing yardage) will get it done. I have not seen them demonstrate they can do that. And the Tight End Bennett that was going to make us forget Ozzie Newsome has not quite lived up to the hype.
2) Can they run with the big boys? On defense especially, there is a real concern about the team speed. The Linebackers have looked real, real slow, and when the opponent gets in the open field, it generally goes for huge yards. Do the Aggies, now with all of Fran’s recruits, have the ability to match the speed of a team like Miami, or more to the point, like a team that ran Miami off the field 2 weeks ago, Oklahoma? I have my doubts.
Anyway, I am locked in tonight, and although I do not expect a win (Utah ’04 and Clemson ’05 still stick in my head), I am willing to be convinced that ’07 is different.
Brian Davis looks at the Challenge at the OB …
Miami might be rebuilding under first-year coach Randy Shannon, but it's still "The U." The 20th-ranked Aggies (3-0) can show the nation they are ready for prime time by knocking off the Hurricanes (2-1) Thursday night in the Orange Bowl.
"Being able to play on Thursday night, there aren't many games, and you get to be in the spotlight and be on ESPN," quarterback Stephen McGee said. "Those are definitely plus-factors. You get to find out where you are by playing a good team."
This is easily the biggest nonconference game in coach Dennis Franchione's tenure at A&M. The Aggies botched season openers to Utah (2004) and Clemson (2005) en route to mediocre seasons.
Franchione's three opponents this season have a combined 2-6 record, and one of Montana State's wins came against a Division II school. Many A&M fans consider this the unofficial season opener and a true measuring stick of the Aggies' talent.
A&M has a brutal road schedule once Big 12 play starts. The Aggies are headed to Lubbock, Lincoln, Norman and Columbia over the next two months. A win at Miami shows that A&M is ready for the challenge.
"I feel good about these guys," Franchione said. "So I'm not really concerned about personal statements or anything like that."
A&M offensive lineman Kirk Elder said he expects the 'Canes to be ready to defend their turf.
"They have extreme pride about who they are and their identity," Elder said. "They're 'The U.' They take pride in that. So they're going to be looking to come out and knock us off."
Surprisingly, the game at the Orange Bowl, which holds 72,319, is not sold out. A&M officials, however, sold their allotment of 5,000 tickets.
Randy Shannon prepares for Aggies …
First-year Miami coach Randy Shannon has seen enough video of Texas A&M to offer an educated guess at the Aggies' game plan tonight — a scheme that so far, overall, hasn't included much passing.
"If we get them in third-down situations," Shannon said, "we have an opportunity to get them to do things that they don't like to do."
The 20th-ranked Aggies (3-0) and the Hurricanes (2-1) are set to play in the Orange Bowl for the first time since 1944, a 70-14 A&M victory. Tonight's game figures to be much tighter, thanks in part to the Aggies' power running game and the Hurricanes' stifling defense.
"Up to this point, they're definitely going to be the most athletic defense that we've seen," A&M quarterback Stephen McGee said. "Talent-wise, they're probably going to be as good as most teams we're going to play this year."
McGee, Jorvorskie Lane and Mike Goodson key the nation's fifth-ranked rushing attack with an average of 296 yards per game.
McGee, in directing A&M's option attack, leads the Aggies with 88 rushing yards per game. The 275-pound Lane and the 206-pound Goodson are averaging 147 yards per game combined — leaving little doubt of A&M's game plan, at least early in the season.
The Aggies are one of three schools with three runners in the nation's top 100 in rushing yards. Lane owns seven rushing touchdowns this season and 35 in his career, tying him with another hefty back, George Woodard (1975-79), for third on A&M's all-time list.
"(Lane) is a big guy and an inside, downhill type of runner," Shannon said. "We have to get him to go sideways, and keep him going sideways. The other kid (Goodson) does a great job of hitting the corners. We actually recruited him to play for the University of Miami.
"They have a combination of one inside and one outside."
The Hurricanes have allowed opponents more than 100 rushing yards in only three of their past 16 games, but two of those have come in their past two contests (159 by Florida International and 116 by Oklahoma).
Miami's defense is ranked 26th nationally, and the Hurricanes own two of the nation's most touted defenders in end Calais Campbell and safety Kenny Phillips.
"He's the real deal," Aggies coach Dennis Franchione said of Campbell.
Campbell, who's 6-foot-8 and 280 pounds, tallied 10.5 sacks last season on the nation's seventh-ranked defense. Through three games this season, however, he's collected 1.5 sacks.
Speaking of Miami, and now turning to the Cowboys, it is time to prepare for the Bears. That means preparing for Devin Hester. I had big fun with him on youtube last night, and as opposed to showing you Bears run backs that you have already seen, I thought I would tap in to his college highlight film below:
Hester at the “U”
I know he is playing Duke here, but if this isn’t the sweetest punt return ever, I don’t know what is.
Madden Commercial from August
McBriar and Folk must get hang time Sunday …
McBriar leads the NFC in gross punting average at 47.0. He's kicked a 64-yarder this season, and last year's 48.2-yard gross average tied for fifth best in NFL history.
Yet, McBriar might not kick to Hester on Sunday night – coach Wade Phillips said as much Wednesday afternoon.
And that bothers Hester.
"It's frustrating when guys kick it out of bounds and don't give me a chance," Hester said. "This is the NFL. It's the highest level of football. Kick it to me and play football. Don't be scared. When we face a great returner, we take it as an opportunity to see how good we are."
When teams kick to Hester, he goes off.
Last week, Hester scored on a 73-yard punt return against Kansas City. He returned a kickoff 95 yards for another score, but it was nullified by a holding penalty.
Cowboys special teams coach Bruce Read has been thinking about Hester for a while. He's studying film trying to come up with ways to stop Hester. Where do you position your players? Do you change personnel? Do you want faster guys out there? Do you need experienced guys?
Read wants McBriar to do one of two things: kick it high enough so Hester has to fair catch the ball, or kick it out of bounds.
One problem: Hester doesn't like to fair catch.
"The guy is amazing," Read said. "He's big and he's strong and he's fast. He's got great vision and a great group around him, and they block like crazy for him. It makes him tough."
Rex Grossman is pressing already? …
Rex Grossman admitted pushing things a little too much. That was part of the explanation the Bears quarterback gave Wednesday for the team's offensive woes through two games.
"I always try as hard as I can," Grossman started. "In the second half [against Kansas City], things just weren't coming open easy. And I was pressing to try to still make sure you're conservative and still making plays. That combination may have misguided some of my reads in just trying not to make a mistake. Then you make a mistake.
"Just play and be smart. That's where I'm going to go from here on out. That should take me in the right direction."
The offense indeed has taken a step backward. Grossman has one touchdown pass, and that's the team's only offensive score thus far.
His longest pass play is 24 yards to tight end Desmond Clark rather than to speedy Bernard Berrian or usually sure-handed Muhsin Muhammad. Grossman has three interceptions, two of them on poorly thrown balls. He has been sacked six times, a result of the team's inability to pick up the blitz.
"The first thing is, everybody has to be on the same page of who has who and the responsibilities of everyone," Grossman said about blitzes. "Then being able to react to it quickly and make the appropriate decision off of that. I think we're on the same page now. We've seen about every look you can see."
The team also must get Muhammad involved more.
"I think it's big," Grossman said. "He can contribute a lot because he's a playmaker, runs great routes, catches the ball well. And we need that. … We need to emphasize getting "Moose" the ball in his hands to make things happen."
In McNabb news, Poor misunderstood, sensitive Donovan ….
This relationship may be beyond saving. That news conference/counseling session at the Eagles' complex yesterday certainly didn't help.
On one side of the bright lights: roughly 60 reporters and media types, assembled to question Donovan McNabb about comments he made in an interview shown Tuesday night on HBO.
On the other side: McNabb, looking out at five dozen white faces (I counted a total of four nonwhite reporters) and trying to make himself understood.
The result? As in a lot of dysfunctional relationships, the two sides were talking right past each other. Everyone spoke the same language, but neither side had a chance to make its position understood.
It would have been a good place for a sociologist studying the state of race relations in Philadelphia, circa now. It would have been a fascinating place for a psychologist looking for insight into the ways people can talk endlessly without communicating.
It was not so good for sportswriters - or fans - trying to get a handle on what's wrong with the 0-2 Eagles and their franchise quarterback.
The questions directed at McNabb were understandable: Aren't other quarterbacks criticized, too? What specific criticisms do you think are directed at you because you're African American? Do you regret saying what you did on HBO?
The problem with the questions was that they largely missed the point.
Unfortunately, so did most of McNabb's answers. He wasn't able to clarify or defend his claims any better than he did in the original interview with HBO's James Brown.
First, it was clear from conversations among the assembled media that most of them didn't see the actual HBO segment. That's a shame, because context is important here. The piece focused on McNabb's background, on racism his family encountered upon moving into a mostly white Chicago suburb called Dolton, and on McNabb's dubious status as the most peculiarly criticized professional athlete in the country.
That's most peculiarly criticized, not most criticized. Many athletes take heat for their performances, for the things they say and do, for their off-the-field actions. Some of them bring heavy criticism on themselves with bad behavior or ignorant public comments.
McNabb has been a very good player and a model citizen throughout his Eagles career. And yet he has been at the center of strange episodes involving Rush Limbaugh, who said he was coddled by the media because he was black; Terrell Owens, who insinuated that McNabb was not black enough; and the head of the local NAACP, who wrote a screed essentially calling McNabb a traitor to his race.
If your knee-jerk reaction was that McNabb is completely off base, think again. All of those bizarre incidents were racially tinged. And no, Rex Grossman and Peyton Manning and Tom Brady never have to deal with that kind of nonsense.
If you really want to gain some understanding, go one step further. The abuse heaped on McNabb and other players in this talk-radio, 24-hour TV sports, message- board tough-guy era is more hostile, more vindictive, more personal and more constant than ever before. Those who use Ron Jaworski as proof that a white Eagles quarterback took as much heat as McNabb are completely ignoring the difference between 1984 and 2007. Jaws got booed, true, but he got a break from the abuse when he went home.
Athletes today do not have that luxury.
All Cowboys fans who are also sports dorks will want to read this great analysis of the Boys defense in Miami ….
Rangers begin flirtation with Torii Hunter …
Rangers manager Ron Washington has a wish list of what he wants in the off-season.
There's no doubt about what's at the top of the list.
"I want a center fielder first," Washington said.
It just so happens the Rangers are getting a first-hand look at one of the best in the game who also happens to be a free agent at the end of the season: Minnesota's Torii Hunter.
Hunter lives with his wife and three children in Prosper (about 50 miles north of Arlington), which seems to make him a natural fit for a Texas center-field spot that has been manned by players from Kenny Lofton to Kevin Mahar this season.
Hunter, 32, has thought about the possibility of making the short commute to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
"I haven't thought about it a little bit," Hunter said of playing for the Rangers. "I've thought about it a lot a bit. I'm going to be a free agent and I'm just watching. I'm watching to see what all the teams out there are going to do."
Hunter's No. 1 priority is to play for a winning team. He's become used to that in Minnesota, as he's played for four playoff teams since his first full season in 1999.
While that doesn't seem to mesh with a Texas franchise that hasn't reached the postseason since 1999, Hunter said there are circumstances that make Texas one of his preferred destinations.
"My family's there and that's the main thing," Hunter said. "My family wants me there. My kids want me there. But at the same, we're just seeing what the situation looks like because I do have to be in a winning situation. Any player wants that."
It's far from certain the two-time All-Star will wind up with the Rangers, who are prohibited by the league from talking about any potential free agent during the season.
The Rangers could be reluctant to sign Hunter to a long-term deal that would pay him into his late 30s. But Hunter's numbers don't reflect a player who's slowing down. He surpassed his career high in RBI this week with 104.
He's hitting .291, and his 28 homers are three shy of his career mark set last year.
The six-time Gold Glove winner, who's well on his way to a seventh, would also provide an instant defensive presence.
And what will go down as the biggest story on the blog today to some readers, Jose Mourinho is out at Chelsea!!! ….Wow. I knew Roman and Jose hated each-other, but I had no idea they would break up this soon…As much as I loathed him, I will miss him…
Chelsea have confirmed that manager Jose Mourinho has left the Stamford Bridge club by 'mutual consent' after three trophy-laden years at the helm.
A club statement claims that the decision was reached after the launch of a new Chelsea documentary - Blue Revolution - at the Vue cinema in Fulham on Wednesday night, where an emotional Mourinho refused to talk to the press.
However, the rumours of his departure began earlier in the day and claimed that billionaire owner Roman Abramovich called crisis talks following Tuesday night's disappointing 1-1 draw with Norwegian minnows Rosenborg in the Champions League, at which the fractious duo had a furious falling out.
Mourinho is believed to have informed senior players of his departure following training on Wednesday and one of those players insists that the manager has not resigned but has been sacked by the Blues.
Mourinho's rocky relationship with Abramovich was public knowledge and despite an apparent thaw in relations last season the duo were again at odds over the role of £30million striker Andrei Shevchenko and the Blues' dour style of football even before Tuesday's result brought events to a head.
The Portuguese manager, who has won the Champions League with Porto and two Premier League titles as Chelsea manager, was the subject of continual scrutiny last season and hinted at an exit last summer when he admitted he 'was a bit fed up with certain things' at the club.
After three-years at the London club the self-styled 'Special One' is expected to attend training for the final time on Thursday, when he will say good bye to his players.
Chelsea lost their title to Manchester United last season and have started this campaign with some lacklustre displays.
Their last two Premier League games ended in a defeat at Aston Villa and a 0-0 draw at home to Blackburn Rovers, leaving them fifth in the table.
Tuesday's draw with Rosenborg Trondheim in the Champions League was watched by just 25,000 fans.
Chelsea's next match is against Premier League champions Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Tonight, Survivor: China is here! Survivor Behind The Scenes
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