MIAMI (AP) — Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione started hearing his players talk about facing Miami several months ago during spring practice. The Aggies meant no disrespect to any other opponent, but this was the nonconference game that stood out from the rest.
Now with Montana State, Fresno State and Louisiana-Monroe out of the unbeaten Aggies’ way, that prime-time matchup with the Hurricanes is finally here.
“Coach said it best,” Aggies defensive back Devin Gregg said. “It can be exposure, or we can be exposed.”
The 20th-ranked Aggies haven’t started 4-0 in consecutive seasons since the early 1940s. They’ll get a chance to change that Thursday night, when they visit unranked Miami (2-1).
It’s the first meeting between the teams since 1944, and the Aggies’ first trip to Florida since 1968.
“This is a big game for us, but you’ve got to play every game like it’s a big game,” Miami defensive end Calais Campbell said. “It’ll be on national TV and all the people who do the little rankings and stuff will be watching, so we’ve got to go out and make a statement.”
While Miami has won its last 10 games on Thursday nights, the Hurricanes are 1-7 in their last eight matchups against ranked opponents and 9-8 in their last 17 games overall.
Coach Randy Shannon said neither the bright lights of Thursday night nor Texas A&M’s ranking should provide his team with extra motivation.
“There’s no such thing as a statement game. Every game is,” Shannon said. “Every game’s got to be a statement game. You’ve got to be prepared and ready to play at all times. If you don’t, somebody’s going to sneak up on you and beat you.”
The way the Aggies run the ball, they don’t sneak up on anyone.
Bruising 268-pound tailback Jorvorskie Lane already has seven rushing touchdowns, one shy of Rutgers’ Ray Rice and West Virginia’s Steve Slaton for the major college lead. His backfield mate, Mike Goodson, has rushed for 247 yards through three games, and quarterback Stephen McGee is the multifaceted type that often gives Miami fits. He’s run for a team-best 263 yards, plus thrown for 428 more.
“Their schemes are what they’re going to be,” Shannon said. “It’s nothing sophisticated. They’re going to come in and try to run the football and get you on a play-action pass — same thing we do, try to get a cheap one on you in some way, form or fashion. It should be a good game.”
In many years, this would be a strength-against-strength matchup, since Miami has perennially been difficult to run against.
But the Hurricanes yielded 159 yards rushing against Florida International in a 23-9 win last week, so they clearly had some things to correct in a short week to prepare for the Aggies’ three-pronged attack.
“Up to this point, they’re definitely going to be the most athletic defense we’ve seen,” McGee said. “You set their record aside and their one game against Oklahoma (a 51-13 loss two weeks ago) aside, and talent-wise they’re going to be as good as probably most teams we’re going to play this year.”
He meant on the defensive side of the ball. Offensively, the Hurricanes are still a work in progress.
Quarterback Kyle Wright will make his second start of the season for Miami, which is averaging nearly 23 points per game so far — not entirely bad, but not even half of what Texas A&M is scoring this year.
If recent history is any guide, teams have to be able to put up some big numbers to have a good chance of beating the Aggies. Over its last 20 games, Texas A&M has allowed 28 or more points nine times. The Aggies are 2-7 in those games, 10-1 in all others.
But the stat Franchione talked about this week was A&M’s 5-0 record in regular-season road games last season _ and how he hopes some of that success carries over into the Aggies’ first road trip of 2007.
“When you go play a tradition-rich program like Miami in the Orange Bowl, if you are able to play well and get a victory, it does reinforce an attitude that you can go anywhere and beat people and play well on the road,” Franchione said. “I think this team carries that feeling with them.”
AP TOP 25 FOOTBALL, No. 20 Texas A&M (3-0) at Miami (2-1), 6:30 p.m. Thursday (ESPN) — Orange Bowl, 2006 Result: Did not meet