A tractor-pull of a different kind

By Keith Fletcher

The physical current-day plot of land where the Texas A&M Aggies play football was once a lush vegetable garden of Edwin Kyle, a horticulture professor who later became the school’s first dean of the School of Agriculture.

In 1904, when the school wouldn’t support the student’s growing interest in athletic activities, Kyle surrendered a large portion of his state-donated farm land, reached into his own pocket to purchase the lumber that fenced off what would become play areas, then chopped down a vegetable patch and a football field was born.

On Saturday, football and agriculture will toil on that slab of earth again as Cornhuskers come to play in the stadium named for Kyle.

“Games like this make it special when you are competing for something and the school gets excited,” said Aggie coach Mike Sherman.

Sherman mentioned walking among the many Aggies camped out in front of the stadium for first pick of student seats.

“The enthusiasm makes you so anxious for the game, to play the game well and win the football game,” Sherman said.

But there is such a thing as wanting it too bad. Just ask Nebraska, whose many fans staged what amounted to a summer-long campaign looking ahead to the Texas game on October 16.

The Big 12/Big 10-thing was played up. So was the 0:01 put back on the clock at last year’s Big 12 Championship Game. Husker fans lusted and salivated over the final scheduled matchup of the two powerhouses in Lincoln. Then on game day you couldn’t have pulled a needle from the Huskers’ butt cheeks with a tractor. Nebraska dropped passes and was fooled by a Texas offense that played just as average as it has during its current four-game losing streak.

“I think we’re getting better in a lot of different ways, but I think there is a lot of room for improvement,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said at his weekly press conference on Tuesday, in front of a local press corps obviously still unimpressed with the Huskers’ 20-3 win over struggling Kansas last Saturday.

The coach was feisty and frequently gave curt, one-sentence answers, which isn’t terribly uncommon. But, he quickly got chatty when the topic of Aggie quarterback Ryan Tannehill came up.

“I think they do a good job of self-scouting themselves. They stress you in a ton of ways. (Tannehill) doesn’t get into a ton of third-and-long situations, and that helps you manage a game a little bit better from the quarterback position. It makes it harder to get after him. They do a good job of protecting him. You have to do a good job of making him uncomfortable and that’s changing up your looks a little bit and mixing up your defenses,” Pelini said.

The stability and energizing spark Tannehill has brought to Texas A&M is almost suspicious. Since taking over for Jerrod Johnson (the Preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, we remind you) full-time before the Texas Tech game three weeks ago, the Aggies defense even seems rejuvenated. Heck, even special teams have bumped it up a notch, as Coryell Judie has kickoff returns for touchdowns in back-to-back games.

“Just because he isn’t playing right now doesn’t mean he isn’t a leader,” Tannehill said of his benched counterpart. “He has been great keeping guys up when things go bad, huge vocal leader of the sidelines talking to the players and coach alike to see what’s going on. He is another coach for us, seeing what is going on in the field and relaying that information to me and the O-line. He is a great asset to our team.”

Ryan Tannehill will make a great politician. All that charisma, and he says the right things.

But where Nebraska was tight against Texas and lackadaisical against very-beatable Kansas, the Huskers even beat South Division-leading Oklahoma State in Stillwater without exactly playing the Cowboys’ pants off. Nebraska gave up 495 yards of OSU offense, while churning out 540 of their own.

The difference, as it usually does, turned out to come from special teams. Alex Henery hit three-of-three fieldgoals, from 32, 45 and 52 yards out. Plus, Niles Paul had a 100-yard kickoff return for touchdown. That touchdown, by the way, was aided by an egregious helmet-first shot thrown by Nebraska’s Eric Martin, for which he was later suspended for a game by the Conference.

There’s something to be said for teams who don’t play great, stay loose, and still find ways to scratch out wins.

Pelini acknowledges his teams’ here-and-there inadequacies. “The ball security bothers me. Some of the unnecessary penalties have bothered me and our consistency at times. It’s a fight week in and week out to keep improving and keep getting better,” he said.

A loss by Nebraska would send shockwaves through the North Division, and possibly put Missouri back in position to win it. That would put a serious kink in the Huskers plans to leave the Big 12 with its final Championship Game trophy.

A loss by the Aggies would be a massive hole in a sail that has helped the Aggies cruise from a near mid-season sinking. The current team has had to hear boos and groans and read about the apathy for a couple of years, and a loss would mean that light at the end of the tunnel just dimmed again.

The team that has any seeds of doubt is certain to get planted