COLLEGE STATION (AP) — Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione says he’s unaware of the latest round of criticism aimed at him after the Aggies’ embarrassing loss to Miami.
A&M fell behind 31-0 and lost 34-17 on Thursday night, rekindling an outcry for Franchione’s ouster from the school’s impatient fan base on Internet message boards, radio call-in shows, even on campus. After the Miami game, a fraternity hung a bedsheet sign from a window that read, “Fire Fran.”
Franchione insists he hasn’t noticed any of it.
“I stay busy working, taking care of this program and doing everything I can with the players and coaches,” he said at his weekly news conference on Tuesday. “That’s what I wrap my time up with. That’s where my focus and attention needs to be.”
The Aggies (3-1) open Big 12 play against Baylor (3-1) on Saturday and anything short of a blowout victory will intensify the scrutiny even more.
“I don’t get myself too concerned when things are going really well and I don’t get myself concerned about the other,” Franchione said. “I try to stay focused on the things I have control over and do the best job I can for our team.”
A&M is an ordinary 28-24 since Franchione replaced R.C. Slocum before the 2003 season. His contract, which pays him about $2 million a year, runs through 2011.
Quarterback Stephen McGee said the Aggies have done their best to tune out the negativity and haven’t lost faith in Franchione or the staff.
“Coach Fran knows what we’ve got to do to win, and our teammates know what we’ve got to do to win,” he said. “We’re going to listen to each other, believe in each other and that’s going to be the key to our success and failure.”
Franchione silenced many critics last November when he guided the Aggies to a 12-7 upset of Texas.
The Miami game could’ve been a nationally televised coming-out party for the program. Instead, the Hurricanes dominated, looking faster and more skilled on both sides of the ball.
“I knew it would be a tough game,” Franchione said. “I didn’t gauge any more of that being a barometer any more than the victory on the day after Thanksgiving last year.”
The game plan in the Orange Bowl seemed doomed from the start. The Aggies went three-and-out on their first possession, then gave up an 18-play touchdown drive that lasted nearly nine minutes.
The Hurricanes converted four third downs and a fourth down to keep their opening drive alive. Last year, the Aggies led the Big 12 in third-down conversions allowed (28 percent); this year, they’re second-to-last in the league (44 percent).
The disparity is one of the team’s problems that’s left Franchione puzzled.
“That one’s a difficult one to get your hand on,” Franchione said. “I don’t know that there’s a pattern for why. We keep looking at that, analyzing it, but I don’t think we’ve got anything where we’d say, ‘Well, if we can just fix this, we can fix that.’”
Franchione was peppered with more questions on Tuesday about A&M’s offensive strategy.
A&M mustered only 38 total yards in the first half and trailed 24-0 at the break. Jorvorskie Lane, who rushed for 121 yards against Fresno State on Sept. 8, had no carries in the first half and only two in the entire game.
Lane gets many of his carries on “zone reads,” in which McGee sees where the defense is aligned then decides if he should hand the ball to Lane or run it himself.
Franchione said A&M couldn’t use the 268-pound Lane because Miami defensive end Calais Campbell was always well-positioned to stop him. At 6-foot-8, 280 pounds, Campbell is one of the few players in the nation big enough to stop Lane by himself. A&M was also wary of defensive end Eric Moncur on the other side.
“Both of them are NFL-caliber players,” Franchione said. “The same play that Jorvorskie carried 23 times in the Fresno game, they weren’t going to let him carry the ball as much on that play.”
And when A&M turned to speedster Mike Goodson, the Hurricanes were fast enough to tackle him on the outside. Goodson finished with 28 yards.
With the running game stifled, the Aggies’ pass offense sputtered again. McGee went 11-for-20 for 109 yards and was sacked three times. A&M’s passing offense ranks 110th heading into this week’s game.
Late in the fourth quarter, strong-armed backup quarterback Jerrod Johnson guided A&M for its final touchdown. Franchione said Johnson isn’t close to replacing McGee at the position.
“He’s not ready for that yet, if we want to try to win the game,” Franchione said.
A&M took two days off after the loss and returned to practice on Sunday. Franchione told his team to look at Saturday’s game as the start of a whole new season.
“I don’t think there are any games more important than Big 12 games,” Franchione said. “You don’t have a chance to win the Big 12 in non-conference play. We play non-conference and they’re all meaningful. But I still think that conference play still carries a little bit of an edge to it.”