Texas A&M squeaks out wins

Comeback habit lands Aggies at 7-1 as they enter tough part of schedule

National notebook

October 27, 2006|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,Sun reporter

Texas A&M has made comebacks a specialty this season, pushing the team into a No. 22 ranking and into contention in the Big 12 Conference race.

Most recently, quarterback Stephen McGee threw a game-tying touchdown pass to tight end Joey Thomas with three seconds remaining in regulation, and the Aggies went on to a 34-33 overtime win over Oklahoma State.

"I'm just hoping that my hair stays in at this point," said gray-haired Aggies coach Dennis Franchione, whose team plays Baylor tomorrow night, followed by games against Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.

Two weeks ago, the Aggies (7-1) overcame then-No. 19 Missouri in the second half and held on. The week before, they rallied from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Kansas on the road. In addition, the team survived a close call against Army, 28-24.

A&M's only loss, against Texas Tech, came when its go-ahead field goal with two minutes left was trumped by a Red Raiders touchdown with 25 seconds left.

Games like the Oklahoma State thriller, decided by Red Bryant's block of an extra-point attempt, can have a jarring effect.

"You're assuming that they'll make the extra point, so you're thinking that `we're going on defense first and when we get the ball, we'll do this or that' and all of a sudden the ball is blocked," Franchione said. "It took a minute to realize, `We won. Game over. All right.' "

As the win total rises, so does the confidence in College Station. The Aggies were 5-6 last season, jeopardizing Franchione's job. But Franchione saw a difference in his team when its leadership council met with him in May, showing signs of greater commitment. Each player had suggestions, and the meeting lasted close to an hour.

"And it wasn't what color of socks were we going to wear, or what pants we were going to wear," the coach said. "It was [substantive] issues related to the approach of the season and the summer and how to handle things."

That level of leadership - along with a dangerous running game led by 275-pound tailback Jorvorskie Lane - is credited for the team's turnaround, though the Aggies' story likely will be decided by what happens against the better teams on their schedule.

"When we really need plays to be made, we've been able to make them," tight end Martellus Bennett told the Associated Press. "Last year ... we didn't have as many people able to come through when things got rough on the field."

Anti-drinking request

University presidents at Georgia and Florida have asked television partners CBS and ESPN to refrain from using a popular nickname given to the yearly matchup between the two teams.

"The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" conjures images of public inebriation that might overshadow tomorrow's game in Jacksonville, Fla.

Presidents Bernie Machen of Florida and Michael Adams of Georgia made the request, along with Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive, in an effort to change the game's image.

"We're just trying to raise the consciousness on this issue," Slive told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "This is just a small part of a much larger problem, which is the excessive use of alcohol on campus, not just at the game."

The game carrier, CBS, and ESPN's GameDay coverage will not include the nickname, though some announcers are skeptical of the effect.

"If I thought not using the phrase `World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party' would diminish the amount of public drunkenness, then I would be more than happy to refrain," CBS' Verne Lundquist said. "But in my experience that is not the case."

Odd QB option

For a coach who learned his offensive concepts from Brigham Young legend LaVell Edwards, New Mexico State coach Hal Mumme made an odd request of his son and quarterbacks coach, Matt.

"I told Matt to find me an option quarterback who wanted to be a drop-back passer," Mumme told The Dallas Morning News.

While the reasoning seems unclear, Chase Holbrook has made the plan work like a charm, going from running in the veer in high school to being a guy known for throwing the ball as many as 65 times in a game for the 2-5 Aggies.

Holbrook's 2,870 passing yards lead Division I-A. Not bad for a player who was a tight end prospect in Hurst, Texas, attracting interest from Texas Christian, Tulsa and Missouri.

"I thought long and hard about being a tight end," Holbrook said. "But at the end, I wanted to play quarterback." christian.ewell@baltsun.com

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