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September 15, 2012Texas A&M takes the field in Dallas today looking for their first win of the season against old Southwest Conference rival SMU. As the Aggies and Mustangs face off this afternoon, here are five storylines to follow:
1. Can the Aggies get the passing game going?
In his first start against Florida, Johnny Manziel was very conservative in his passes. That strategy paid off in that he didn't turn the ball over -- which was drilled into his head as the ultimate no-no -- but A&M's inability to stretch the field or throw passes over the middle allowed the Gators to essentially shut things down in the second half. SMU does not have Florida's athletic secondary; in fact, they're not close. They rank 117th out of 120 teams against the pass and were torched by Baylor in their 59-24 season opening loss. A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury both said earlier this week that the field would start to open up for Manziel as he became more confident, and the Mustangs secondary may be exactly what he needs to gain that confidence.
2. Can Christine Michael shake off a poor week 1?
Like a lot of the Aggie offensive players, C-Mike found it to be tough going against the Gators last week. He carried the ball 13 times for 33 yards, with a long carry of 7. That's a far cry from what Aggie fans were expecting out of him in his senior campaign. A&M's offensive line should have a lot of success against SMU's front seven, so the chances will be there for Michael to pick up some yardage. If he struggles again today, Ben Malena and Trey Williams could get thrust into the spotlight a lot faster than people expected.
3. Can A&M's defense repeat their week 1 success?
The Aggies stand at the top of the NCAA rankings after their 8 sacks against Florida and did a solid job of limiting the Gators offense last Saturday. A&M did a good job pushing around a big, athletic and experienced Florida offensive line, and SMU's front isn't as big, isn't nearly as athletic and is far less experienced. The Mustangs have replaced all five of their starters from 2011 with a group that looks experienced on paper, but in reality has seen limited playing time. They haven't seen anything like Damontre Moore or Sean Porter yet, which tilts things farther in A&M's favor. June Jones' offenses are always potentially deadly, but Mark Snyder's group was impressive last week. A performance similar to last week will make life tough on SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert.
4. Can Gilbert make the right throws?
Garrett Gilbert is 6 feet, 4 inches tall and 220 lbs. He's a Texas high school legend with a rocket for an arm and has played in a national title game. He is, on paper, the perfect quarterback for June Jones' offensive system.
And that's where the good stuff ends for Gilbert. His numbers in Jones' pass-happy system are decidedly pedestrian, averaging less than 240 yards through the first two games (including one against Stephen F. Austin) with 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions and a passer efficiency rating that sits at 99th in the nation. Gilbert hasn't had much help, as he's been plagued by drops from his receiver corps, but he hasn't made the smartest throws either. Passes to open receivers have been skipped in or well overthrown, or he's tried to force passes through coverage. If he tries that today, he'll see the ball going the other way. He has the talent to be very dangerous, but he hasn't utilized that talent very well yet. If he does today, SMU will give A&M more than they're bargaining for.
5. Can SMU keep the turnover-fest going?
SMU was on the receiving end of a ridiculous 10 turnovers from SFA in their 52-0 blowout win last week. Four of those turnovers ended up being returned for scores, making the game a lot more one-sided than it would have been otherwise. Confidence is contagious in football and the Mustangs defense will be looking to continue to force turnovers today against the Aggies -- even though they had no success forcing them against Baylor. They know that A&M has an inexperienced quarterback and several young receivers, so they'll try to take advantage of that. They may have to in order to keep their team in the game. If Manziel is smart with the football, it could be a long day for SMU.
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