By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Aggies shot out of the gate last season, winning their first three games by a combined score of 135-55. Unfortunately, a 47-19
loss to Arkansas started coach Mike Sherman's team on a downward turn that saw
A&M drop six of its final nine regular-season games. The Aggies managed to win
two of three against fellow Big 12 schools from the state of Texas (Texas Tech
and Baylor), and with the required six wins in tow, was invited to play in the
Independence Bowl against Georgia. That bout resulted in a 44-20 loss, the
team's fourth in its final five games, giving Sherman, his staff and players
plenty to think about as they looked to the future.
It wasn't the fault of the offense that the Aggies had their struggles last
season, as the defense bent, broke and was generally a mess throughout the
campaign. The unit finished last or next-to-last in the Big 12 in the four
major defensive statistical categories, and Sherman is hopeful that brighter
days are ahead.
"I have high expectations for our defense, but at the same time, we're going
to be a work in progress as we learn."
OFFENSE: The Aggies ranked fifth in the nation in total yards per game (465.8)
last season, and with the return of senior QB Jerrod Johnson and plenty of
talent in his supporting cast, that kind of production should continue.
Johnson, who threw for more than 3,500 yards and had 30 TD passes and only
eight INTs in 2009, is not only a gifted athlete, but also a tremendous
Coach Sherman speaks highly of his signal-caller, "To really understand
Jerrod, you have to understand the leadership that he gives you both on and
off the field." Sherman went on, "I think the biggest challenge a quarterback
has coming back, not only a quarterback but his coach, is that we don't
clutter his mind and he doesn't clutter his mind with too much stuff and not
allowing him to be the quarterback that he's able to be. Because he's so dang
smart, there's a tendency to put a lot on him, and eventually it becomes
stagnant, and he becomes unable to do the things that he's been gifted to do."
Additional offensive firepower will come from the RB tandem of Christine
Michael and Cyrus Gray, the two combining for more than 1,600 rushing yards
By season's end, A&M may have one of the top receiving corps in the Big 12 as
guys like Jeff Fuller, Uzoma Nwachukwu, Ryan Swope, Terrence McCoy and Brandal
Jackson have the drive and talent to help Johnson rewrite several school
The offensive line features just two returning starters, but overall the unit
should be more athletic and it will need to be to keep Johnson upright and the
running game firing on all cylinders.
DEFENSE: As mentioned, the defense was the A&M's weakness in '09, with foes
scoring nearly 34 ppg on more than 171 ypg rushing and 281 ypg through the
air. Getting stronger, quicker and more aggressive at the point of attack will
help turn things around, and that is the job new defensive coordinator Tim
DeRuyter faces. A total of 10 players with starting experience are back,
including all three linebackers. The best of that bunch being senior Von
Miller, who led the nation in sacks last year with 17.
The defensive line appears to lack star power, or even significant playmakers
at this point, but in DeRuyter's 3-4 system the linebackers will do the bulk
of the work. The secondary will be served well by the return of junior safety
Trent Hunter, who logged 95 tackles last season, and he will need to lead by
example if the Aggies are to show dramatic improvement across the board.
Sherman knows it is imperative for the defense to hold its own if the team as
a whole is to enjoy any sustained success this year. "I want us to be
aggressive on defense. I think we have an offense that should be able to move
the ball if everybody does their job, and I want to be able to force
He also stressed the importance of playing fundamentally sound football, "I
thought last year we were fast enough at times, but we didn't physically make
the tackle, and we gave up yards after contact. I think this year we'll be
physically more mature than we were a year ago with another year in the weight
room, and I think we'll tackle better than we did a year ago."
SPECIAL TEAMS: Junior kicker Randy Bullock is back for another go after
establishing himself as a consistent performer last year, and the hope is some
of that consistency rubs off on sophomore punter Ryan Epperson. The return
game will benefit greatly from having any a number of talented guys handling
the ball, the most dangerous of the group being Swope and Gray.
OUTLOOK: The Aggies will have some time to tinker a bit as the season opens
with three very winnable games against Stephen F. Austin, Louisiana Tech and
Florida International. The Big 12 lidlifter at Oklahoma State in week four
will certainly be tougher, as will the final non-conference game against
Arkansas. The rest of the league slate is littered with tough games, the most
notable being Oklahoma and Nebraska at home, and at Texas in the regular-
From an offensive standpoint, this could be a banner year in College Station
as Johnson makes his claim for All-Big 12 consideration. Still, winning enough
games to challenge for the conference crown or gain admission into a
respectable bowl game will hinge on the play of the defense.