Thursday night’s game against Texas A&M will come down to turnovers.
If the Texas defense forces them, they’ll have a good chance to win. If not, they won’t.
“It’s as simple as that,” said junior safety Blake Gideon, who intercepted Florida Atlantic quarterback Jeff Van Camp last Saturday in the first quarter to set up a Texas scoring drive.
“We’re always talking about forcing turnovers. That was really the big fall off from last year to this year. Last year we flipped the field for our offense when they were struggling and we were able to put them in less-stressed situations.”
Last season, the Longhorns led the league with 37 forced turnovers. Their turnover margin was +9 and would have been higher if the offense hadn’t lost the ball 28 times.
This year, however, Texas is ranked 116th out of 120 teams with a -10 turnover margin — they’ve only caused 16 and have given up 26. On the bright side, Texas A&M isn’t much better, as they rank No. 83 with a -4 margin.
Regardless, defensive turnovers will be key in putting Texas in good field position to score touchdowns this week and the defense doesn’t mind carrying that kind of weight around.
“Whatever it takes, whatever we can do to get the team to play better, that’s fine with me,” said junior linebacker Keenan Robinson, who forced a fumble on the FAU 40-yard line to set up the Longhorns’ fifth touchdown. “If they need us to be the spark, we’re happy to do it.”
<strong>Aggies on the rise</strong>
Texas A&M is arguably having one of its best seasons in a decade.
The Aggies currently sit with a healthy 8-3 (5-2 Big 12) record and are heavily favored to win this Thursday.
Their only losses this year have come against then-No. 24 (now No. 9) Oklahoma State in Stillwater, 38-35; a then-No. 11 Arkansas at a neutral site, 24-17; and a then-No. 21 Missouri, 30-9, which was the last game quarterback Jerrod Johnson played before head coach Mike Sherman swapped him for Ryan Tannehill, who’s now 4-0 as a starter.
But Texas doesn’t care about being an underdog.
“I don’t play up that kind of stuff,” said Texas head coach Mack Brown. “I play up that it’s Texas-Texas A&M. It’s a rival game. It’s unique because it’s the only college game on Thanksgiving and it’s a national game and it’s one you should really enjoy playing in.”
The game is also important in terms of recruiting.
“It’s really special because it focuses on high school football in the state of Texas and the traditions of two great universities,” Brown said.
Texas is 75-36-5 all-time versus A&M, but right now things are looking grim for the Longhorns since they’ve only won two conference games this season. But the players believe they can pull out a win and become bowl eligible against all odds.
“We can beat them by two touchdowns or so,” Robinson said. “We just have to go out and play hard and have fun. It could be the last game of the season.”
There was a bit of pre-game jarring last Saturday between Texas and Florida Atlantic. When the Longhorns ran through their tunnel and sprinted toward the north end zone before kickoff, Owls’ players got in the way to stir up commotion.
“I was kind of excited actually,” said senior receiver John Chiles. “A lot of times there’s not much excitement to play against a smaller school, but there was a lot of talking, a lot of disrespect, and that got me amped up so I was ready for the game.”
The team responded well to the trash talking (by winning), and joked after the game that maybe they should hire a permanent “trash talker” on staff.