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Defending Franchione harder to do

There's just no answer for Fran's decision-making

08:59 PM CST on Sunday, November 12, 2006


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COLLEGE STATION – Now that the man who hired him has deserted him for the Pentagon, Dennis Franchione has one less person to defend him, and he's not making a good case.

Not against the Big 12 elite. Not in November.

Not in clutch situations.

Not explaining himself.

Maybe he was still in shock Saturday after Texas A&M's 28-27 loss to Nebraska, a defeat that might have set a school record for mood swings.

One minute he's got the ball at the Nebraska 29 with a six-point lead and only 2:50 left.

Two and a half minutes later, he's got his second one-point loss in a row.

"Highest high," defensive lineman Chris Harrington said, "to the lowest low."

Of course, the Aggies probably should be used to it. Losses to Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Nebraska have been by a total of six points, with all three games decided in the last minutes.

You suppose there's a silver lining in there somewhere. They were in a position to win all three.

But that's not how Aggies will remember them. They're not looking for moral victories, nor should they.

Franchione isn't paid $2 million a year to keep it close. He's got to beat the teams on his level, and he hasn't.

He's now 2-10 in November and 0-9 against Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.

Prediction: His record isn't going to get any better at Thanksgiving.

He'll finish with a respectable eight wins, end up in the Holiday Bowl or Alamo Bowl, and it'll look like a decent season on paper.

But the problem with losses like the Aggies have suffered is that it gives fans and critics reason to play "What if?"

Or as Fran framed the final three minutes, "You just need one more play. We needed a field goal, we needed a first down, we needed a stop, and we didn't get it."

He could have added at least a couple more: He needed to call the kind of plays to burn the clock late, and he needed to remember Jorvorskie Lane's number.

For the second week in a row, Franchione faced a crucial third-and-2 call and came up wanting.

Late in the third quarter, after Mike Goodson broke three tackles on a terrific 53-yard run, the Aggies faced third-and-2 at the Nebraska 3.

And what does Fran do? Calls for Stephen McGee to throw into the end zone for Martellus Bennett, who couldn't come down with the ball.

Fourth down, behind by 11, two yards from a first down and three from a touchdown, Franchione doesn't hesitate.

Here comes the kicking team under showers of boos.

Program note: For all who say Aggies don't boo, I have no other explanation, unless it's moose season in College Station.

What else could Franchione have done? He could have given the ball to Lane when he's in close.

Going back to the Army game in September, Lane has converted on third or fourth down on 15 consecutive carries. For the season, he's 24 of 27. As he once put it, as big as he is at 276 pounds, he could fall forward for that much yardage.

But Franchione didn't give him that chance. He didn't do it last week against Oklahoma on a third-and-2, eventually settling for a field goal.

Against Nebraska, his memory lapse was even worse. He forgot about Lane for half the game.

Asked why Lane didn't get the ball for such a long stretch, Franchione looked perplexed.

"Which long stretch are we talking about?" he asked.

The one in the middle of the game.

Lasted two quarters.

Franchione muddled through a foggy explanation that concluded, "Pretty hard to run from tackle to tackle on those guys."

How would he know? Lane never got a chance. A big back needs a lot of carries. In games that Lane has had at least 20, A&M is 4-0.

He got six for 13 yards against Nebraska, though one was good for his 19th touchdown of the season, tying an A&M record.

But records and close losses are small consolation. No matter what happens from here on out, no matter what Franchione does next season, he'll be haunted by these finishes.

He won't be fired for them. Not now, anyway. Bill Byrne still has his back since Robert Gates was called up by the president.

But Franchione's not giving his athletic director much of a defense. Four years later, he's still got all the wrong answers.

E-mail ksherrington@dallasnews.com

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