October 15, 2006

A&M's Franchione buys time with big win

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The calls for Dennis Franchione's ouster as Texas A&M's football coach will continue.

Despite six victories in seven games, despite upsetting an undefeated and nationally ranked opponent and despite a schedule which seems to be revealing more and more prospective wins in the future, voices of dissension still will be heard up and down North Gate, within the walls of the Dixie Chicken, along Texas Avenue and down George Bush Boulevard.

But they won't be as loud as they were, say, a week ago.

Franchione at least temporarily has climbed off the hot seat.

A 25-19 victory over Missouri probably settled the issue and ensured that Franchione once revered, but in some circles reviled will remain the Aggies coach for at least a fifth season.

The Aggies are bowl eligible with a 6-1 record and primed to enter the national rankings, and their impressive record no longer can be explained away as merely a byproduct of an easy schedule.

Defeating Missouri, which had not even trailed in a game this season, came into Kyle Field with an undefeated record, a No. 19 national ranking, the nation's No. 9 rushing defense, and the status of the nation's most surprising team, blasts holes all through that argument.

The Aggies did the same to the Tigers in the second half, limiting them to only 111 yards and two points and pounding them into submission with punishing 278-pound running back Jorvorskie Lane.

Lane plowed for 127 yards to help the Aggies post a victory that in the future might be seen as the turning point in the Franchione era.

"This is certainly a good win for where we're going and what we want to try to accomplish," Franchione said. "It's a sweet win for me because I'm so happy for our players. They've gone through a lot and played so spirited and continued to believe in each other so much in spite of things that have been said about them."

Few players have been immune to harsh criticism. Quarterback Stephen McGee has been ripped for his passing arm. The offensive line has been blasted. The defense has been blasted. Freshman cornerback Jordan Peterson, who was beaten on a long touchdown pass in the final minute of a 31-27 loss to Texas Tech, has been blasted.

"People can say whatever they want, but the people in our locker room and that are on this team and get on that bus with us we know that we're going to play together and we're going to fight to the very end," said McGee, who completed 19 of 23 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown. "People can say whatever they want about us and doubt us."

Even when the Aggies won they had their doubters because of an early schedule that included victories over The Citadel, Louisiana-Lafayette, Army and Louisiana Tech before the loss to Texas Tech.

Franchione had so many doubters and critics that Athletic Director Bill Byrne, in his weekly online column, felt compelled to remind A&M fans that the Aggies had just 12 scholarship seniors on the roster. Three of those entered the program as walk-ons.

The heat was turned up a week ago when the Aggies trailed at halftime against Kansas, which is no shame as long as a basketball is involved.

But McGee rallied the Aggies to two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and the Aggies pulled out a 21-18 victory.

Missouri offered a measure of validation, and it measured about 1 yard long.

That's how close Missouri was to scoring on a 65-yard touchdown pass on the game's third play. But as Will Franklin approached the end zone Peterson, redeeming himself for any failures against Texas Tech, punched the ball from Franklin's grasp before he crossed the goal line and it rolled out of the end zone for a safety.

"In our world that will probably go down as one of the most significant plays of the year, maybe one of the most significant plays of our coaching here," said defensive coordinator Gary Darnell, whom Franchione hired to fix a pass defense which ranked dead last in Division I a year ago. "It exemplified everything we're coaching to our team, that if you play hard enough long enough, something good will happen. That's going to be on our highlight films forever."

That play loomed large as A&M and Missouri went into halftime tied 17-17. The Aggies gave up a safety in the opening minutes of the third quarter, which seemed to hint the Tigers would turn back A&M's upset bid.

But the Aggies stopped Missouri cold on its ensuing possession. Then, McGee completed eight consecutive passes in a 13-play, 80-yard drive that Michael Goodson capped with a 2-yard touchdown run. McGee ran in a two-point conversion for a 25-19 lead.

Missouri did not go quietly. The Tigers reached the A&M 4-yard line early in the fourth quarter, but were forced to settle for an apparent field goal attempt. A run off a fake came up woefully short.

Their final possession approached midfield but on fourth-and-two at the Missouri 46, A&M safety Devin Gregg stopped Tony Temple for a 1-yard gain with 3 minutes remaining.

The Aggies, using Lane on six consecutive runs, drained the clock to pull off A&M's biggest victory since topping Texas Tech in 2004.

There could be a few more victories remaining. The Aggies still face Baylor and Oklahoma State both winnable even though those games are on the road and the home game against Oklahoma on Nov. 4 appears much more winnable with Sooners running back Adrian Peterson apparently out for the season with a broken collarbone.

The Aggies surely won't concede season-closing victories to Nebraska and Texas, either. They're a young team that has appears to have come of age in the last two weeks, and they seem to have more confidence than ever.

They even claim to have expected to deal Missouri its first loss.

"I'm not trying to sound cocky, but I knew we were going to win this game," senior safety Melvin Bullitt said. "Coach Fran talked about it that we will win.

"I don't want to say this is a turnaround, but we're making a statement."

The statement is that Franchione figures to be around awhile longer, and it came in louder and clearer than any voices of dissension.

For more coverage of Texas A&M, visit WebSider.com; for more on Missouri, visit PowerMizzou.com.




 

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