Amidst another big come-from-behind win by someone other than the Texas Aggies, I was reminded of 2011’s pre-season speaking tour starring A&M head coach, Mike Sherman. To each of the hosting A&M Clubs in cities including San Antonio, Houston, Austin, Fort Worth, etc., Coach Sherman spoke reverently regarding the LSU Tigers and the Cotton Bowl, the post-season classic to which his streaking Aggies had been invited to participate in at the conclusion of the previous season. Sherman spoke about how he and his staff realized this was a high profile game against a quality SEC opponent. He then interjected that he had nothing to do with A&M’s (unpopular) decision to turn down the SEC’s offer of membership the previous spring, and would only concentrate his energies and attention on the teams that showed up each week on the current A&M schedule.
Coach Sherman contended the Aggies’ mere participation in this “prestigious matchup”
in the Cotton Bowl could easily be the huge stepping stone the program needed to continue its climb for national prominence and continued growth on the recruiting trail. He elaborated further that a victory over this recent national champion and former natural rival would do wonders for A&M’s rising
Sherman summed up the Cotton Bowl game by telling the engaging crowds that the Aggies, after claiming a quick 10-point lead over the Tigers, thought they were once again headed for another big win. After all, they’d handily won their six previous games with some great defense and their lone adjustment made on offense, the insertion of Ryan Tannehill at starting quarterback.
What gave me so much confidence, personally, was the fact that these Aggies had recreated the exact replica of our 1976 team’s formula. This team culminated its season by destroying the University of Florida in the Sun Bowl. We completed that season with a dominating seven-game winning streak and an overall 10-2 record, earning us a Number 3 ranking in the Sporting News Final Poll.
In a FOX Sports interview prior to the Cotton Bowl, I alluded to the ’74 LSU game that set the course for the future of Aggie football — the game which you’ll recall I referred to in my last article. I also spoke of the huge turnaround in ’76 that was so reminiscent of this particular 2010 season and the irony of playing an SEC school in our bowl game just as we had.
LSU always seems to be in the mix when pivotal occurrences take place in Aggie World. Here’s another instance.
Sherman’s next quip in his speech will forever burn in my memory, and this is the heart of the story. It’s as though his words magically created an all-new Aggie tradition to be bestowed upon the humble subjects of Aggieland, exactly at the point and time when they would least expect it. His words and a hauntingly new tradition now follow the 12th Man crowd like a black cloud wherever they may gather to watch their team play. I call it “Double-Digit Fever.” Sherman’s words would easily become college football’s most prime example of the all-too-familiar “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“And after we jumped out to our 10-point lead on LSU,” he smiled, “it just pissed them off.”
Loud laughter erupted from the crowd at each venue. Things were loose with no worries. Even the loss to LSU couldn’t undermine the great finish and all the quality performers who would be returning for the Aggies’2011 season. One blemish in Jerry’s House, with still so much to look forward to, would in no way deter the boisterousness of these spirited, well-heeled Aggies who were so anxious to hear how wonderful the upcoming season would be.
Who wouldn’t be excited? That LSU team had lost but two games in 2010, one by a touchdown to the National Champion Auburn Tigers and the other by 8 to Arkansas in its last regular season game when hope for another National Crown had already been extinguished.
“It just pissed them off.”
Burn, baby, burn.
Yes, this 2011 Cotton Bowl set the stage for the immediate future, and LSU initiated the script we would soon follow. With its 10-0 lead whirling face-down into a 14-10 deficit, the Aggies made one last desperate stab at the scowling Bayou Bengals, taking their final lead of the night, 17-14. Before the fans’ “kissing while scoring” tradition had even climaxed, the gavel slammed downward and the Aggies were sentenced with a tentative length still today proving rather probationary.
In the final five minutes of the first half, the LSU Tigers permanently laid out the star-gazing Farmers, 28-17. The second half was but a formality with the final score posted forever as 41-24. LSU, only a one point favorite before kickoff, never flinched. Texas A&M most certainly did. Tannehill, the flawless one during the six-game winning streak, uncharacteristically was snuffed out by three interceptions erratically tossed into the hands and chests of the Golden Bandits.
“It just pissed them off.”
Once the talking was done at the A&M Clubs and the games began in 2011, it seemed as though every team the Aggies played was falling behind and getting “pissed off.” Of the thirteen games the Aggies played, they were favored in twelve, with the lone exception coming on a trip to Oklahoma. The Aggies in Oklahoma proved the handicappers absolutely correct, yet a 12-1 record (as predicted by these same handicappers) would have certainly been considered an outstanding season in anyone’s book. Perhaps it would have been sufficient to even get the Aggies into the BCS championship game.
As you recall, it turned out to be once-beaten Alabama that got the call to instant replay LSU when Oklahoma State fell unexpectedly to Iowa State. If all went as predicted, please insert Texas A&M here.
Unfortunately, the Aggies weren’t up to the task in five of the twelve games they were favored in. Astonishingly, all five losses came in the same manner as the aforementioned Cotton Bowl/LSU game. The Aggies lost leads of 17 (Oklahoma State at the Home of the 12th Man), 18 (Arkansas, inside Cowboys Stadium), 14 (Missouri at the
Home of the 12th Man), 14 (at Kansas State) and 13 (Texas at the Home of the 12th Man), respectively. These five incredibly disappointing games accounted for A&M’s 2011 losses, combined with the very predictable 41-25 loss at Oklahoma.
These results have corresponding odds attached of astronomical proportions. They’re not something one is accustomed to seeing in the course of 13 games. Including the Cotton Bowl vs. LSU, A&M lost six times in 14 games after holding double-digit leads. In the previous three years combined, Sherman’s Aggies had blown double-digit leads a total of six times, so to drop five in this manner in a single season was remarkably disturbing.
Rather haunting, aren’t they, these “self-fulfilling prophecies?”
“It just pissed them off.”
If you’re interested in a little more coaching foreshadowing, one of the double-digit-leads-gone-sour losses was in Mike Sherman’s opener as the head football coach. Yes, in ’08 the Aggies fell to Arkansas State, an 18-point underdog, by an 18-14 score after leading 14-3 in the second quarter. I know, it’s hard to fathom any A&M team getting shut out for a whole second half at home in front of the 12th Man, but these Aggies didn’t score for the final 40 minutes or so. This was called at the time “somewhat inexplicable.”
Texas A&M Aggies fans yell against the LSU Tigers during the third quarter at Kyle Field. (Thomas Campbell)
Then in the very next game, A&M blew a 21-7 second quarter lead and actually trailed 22-21 before finally winning, 28-22. This is the only time since 2008 A&M has lost a double-digit lead and still managed to come back for the win. This game wasn’t even played in 12th Man Stadium, but in New Mexico. Double-digit leads were lost for good in two other games in 2008, two more in 2009 and twice again in 2010, including the bowl game.
Texas A&M lost 10 games in which they held any kind of lead during the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons, with half of those losses occurring inside the once-formidable confines of the Home of the 12th Man. On the other hand, the Aggies have overcome their own double-digit deficits on only four occasions since the 2008 season began, with the most recent taking place several weeks ago in Oxford, Mississippi.
Unfortunately, the Double-Digit Fever continues. This is the elephant in the room. The Aggies have lost 8 times in their last 21 contests when they led by at least 10 points. Five of the eight were at home. Texas A&M has squandered double-digit leads in both of its losses this season and both were at home (LSU and Florida).
And now, the last opponent to turn the double-digit trick after getting “pissed off” also happens to be the first; LSU. LSU has proven once again to be this school’s trend-setter, for better or worse. Yes, of the eight games we initially were very confident we would win at the outset, but eventually somehow lost, the Tigers are the bookends.
Somehow this bugaboo needs to get hullaballoo’d right out of existence, or things here in the Brazos Valley will never change.
The highlights? First downs were won by the Aggies 26-18. Third down efficiency was 6/16 for the Aggies compared to LSU’s 2/16. Total yards were 410 for the Aggies and 316 for LSU. Penalties were 6/65 for the Aggies and 13/102 for the Tigers. That’s just for hullabaloo sake.
The Bugaboo starts here. Aggies: 4.7 yards per pass attempt. Aggies: 3.5 yards per running attempt. Aggies: 3 interceptions (sound familiar?). Aggies: 2 lost fumbles. Tigers: 2/2 on fourth down conversions.
The rest of the story? The Tigers used two turnovers late in the second quarter to turn the momentum after falling behind 12-0. Redshirt Freshman phenom Johnny Manziel’s first interception set up Michael Ford’s 20-yard touchdown run to make it 12-7 and, after a Ben Malena fumble, Zach Mettenberger hit Kadron Boone versus Man coverage for a 29-yard touchdown play to give LSU a 14-12 lead with only 11 seconds left in the half.
Déjà vu had busted the Aggies right square in the chops out of nowhere. Aggies traditionally don’t do so well after surrendering double-digit leads. In fact, once one is attained, that’s when things get worrisome for the Maroon and White. For many in the crowd of 87,429, it would only be a matter of watching the clock tick down to nothing and then heading out. We’ve all been here before.
“It just pissed them off.”
It’s tradition apparently, even at home. And very unfortunate.
With the victory the Tigers improved to 2-7-1 all-time in College Station, posting their first win at Kyle Field since 1987. LSU also improved to 31-2 under coach Les Miles when it has a 100-yard rusher (freshman Jeremy Hill: 18 carries for 127 yards and one score.) A missed extra-point and two missed field goals could have been the difference, but there’s no guarantee the Aggies would have scored their final touchdown since LSU went to a soft prevent defense in a two-score game. Otherwise, they may not have done so.
Now we do what we must do; clear our heads, regroup and get ready for three road games in a row. I mentioned in one of my earlier posts that A&M hasn’t played three in a row on the road since 1979. That season the Ags opened in Houston to play BYU and
then traveled the next four weekends. In 1977, my final season with the Aggies, we had five straight games on the road, winning four. Two of the teams we played back-to-back were ranked; Texas Tech and Michigan, respectively.
The only team to win three consecutive games on the road in the modern era was the 1975 team, which beat three unranked opponents.
Although the only national ranking you’ll find Auburn in is the Bottom 2 or 3 offensively, this weekend’s SEC matchup between Mississippi State and Alabama will leave two ranked teams for us to play in the second and third games of this trifecta. Each is 7-0 overall and the loser most assuredly will remain in the Top 25 when this one is over.
First things first, though, thankfully. Auburn is off to its worst start in 60 years and ranks 121st nationally in scoring (15.7) and 122nd in total offense (276.7). Auburn is surrendering 411 yards defensively (77th) and 25.1 points (56th). They will probably start at least a dozen freshmen and sophomores. The buyout for coach Gene Chizik is $7.5 million and there are a lot of fans who are okay with paying it. As my high school coach used to say, “It ain’t far from the penthouse to the outhouse.” Of course, he wasn’t making $7.5 million.
Meanwhile, A&M defensive end Damontre Moore is averaging 1.36 sacks, which are more than 24 teams are averaging. He leads the nation with 2.43 tackles for loss per game and leads all defensive linemen with 8.9 tackles per game. There’s your Heisman Trophy winner!
And finally, this Auburn game, A&M’s first visit to Jordan-Hare Stadium, should mark Coach Sumlin’s 10th straight win on the road including his last season with Houston. With a streak going like this, maybe we CAN be the first team in 35 years to win three straight on the road.
Now THAT would piss them off.