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November 11, 2006

A&M loss will only feed Franchione critics

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas In the Big 12 standings it will appear merely as a third loss in an overall solid season.

Yet, Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione might have lost much more than a football game on Saturday when Nebraska stunned the Aggies 28-27 with a late comeback that probably shouldn't have happened.

He lost more credibility with disgruntled A&M fans who have called for his firing. He might have even lost some supporters who have stubbornly backed him through four difficult years.

This loss hurt. It might hurt more than that 77-0 debacle at Oklahoma three years ago, and maybe more than that 17-16 loss to the Sooners last week.

It might hurt more than any lopsided loss in Lubbock, or last year's blowout at the hands of Iowa State. Maybe just maybe this loss hurt more than any defeat dealt by rival Texas.

This time, the No. 24 Aggies (8-3, 4-3 in the Big 12) only had to do one of the following in the last two minutes to end a demoralizing streak of ineptitude in November:

1. Kick a field goal
2. Avoid a huge penalty
3. Make a final defensive stand

Or they could have just stayed in bounds.

The Aggies had rallied from an early two-touchdown deficit to take a 27-21 lead. A&M was in position to get a game-clinching field goal or leave Nebraska precious little time when linebacker Mark Dodge's interception put A&M at the Cornhuskers' 29-yard line with just under three minutes remaining.

But on first down freshman running back Mike Goodson ran around right end and went out of bounds, which stopped the clock and saved the Cornhuskers one of their two remaining time outs.

"It was an outside zone play and we told Michael not to go out of bounds, but he really didn't have any choice," Franchione said. "It was just one of those things."

He didn't have a choice? Maybe. Maybe not. But Franchione certainly did. He could have run inside to keep the clock moving and force Nebraska to use its two timeouts.

A&M hadn't been overly successful running between the tackles, but at least they could have left Nebraska with 90 seconds or less for a final series.

Instead, A&M consumed just 53 seconds on the ensuing drive. The possession ended when Nebraska's Barry Turner blocked Layne Neumann's 42-yard field goal attempt. The Cornhuskers took over at their 25-yard line with 1:57 to play.

The Huskers needed 11 plays and a key roughing the passer penalty at the A&M 17 to go 75 yards for Zac Taylor's game-winning 9-yard touchdown pass to Maurice Purify.

"We work on the two-minute drill every Thursday in practice against our defense, and we have a great defense," Taylor said. "A lot of times we execute it to perfection. We are always confident that we can go in there and drive to score to win."

Nebraska might have still gone 75 yards in 90 seconds, but those precious seconds may have been the difference between winning and losing.

"Someone please post COMPELLING reasons why Fran is improving things. I've yet to seen a good reason. All reasons usually involve me being a good Ag, shutting up, trusting in Fran and Byrne, and paying alot of money -- all blindly with no justification."
-- AggieTom2000 on the The Zone message board on Websider.com.

"You know, there are a lot of plays in that game that you can take over," Franchione said. "I mean, we make the field goal, we bat down the pass and don't get a roughing penalty, I call better plays at this point in time or that point in time.

"That was just a matter of a few seconds. Obviously, they were going to use their timeouts then, and they used their timeouts well. So that may have saved them a timeout right there. But I can't say that (caused the loss)."

But that's not the only decision that will be scrutinized.

In last week's loss to OU, Jorvorskie Lane did not get the ball on a third-and-goal at the Sooners' 2-yard line. The Aggies eventually kicked a field goal instead of getting a game-tying touchdown.

They were in a similar position trailing Nebraska 21-10 late in the third quarter. But on third-and-2 at the 3, Lane was sent in motion out of the backfield to a chorus of boos.

Quarterback Stephen McGee's pass was incomplete, and the Aggies settled for a field goal.

The 83,336 roared its approval perhaps in frustration when Lane finally got the call midway through the fourth quarter and plunged into the end zone for the touchdown that gave A&M the lead.

Overall Lane carried just six times for 13 yards.

"There wasn't a decision not to give Jorvorskie the ball," Franchione said. "It was a decision of trying to call plays to move the ball the very best you can. I think at one point in time in the third quarter we had 27 rushing yards. It's pretty hard to run from tackle to tackle on those guys."

It's also hard to please angry Aggies, who have endured a 2-10 record in November since Franchione's arrival.

But that doesn't mean the call for Franchione's firing should be answered.

The Aggies have shown improvement from last year's 5-6 season. They've posted eight victories and their three losses have come by a combined six points.

Franchione still has his supporters, but maybe not as many.

Olin Buchanan is the senior national football writer for Rivals.com.



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