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Canes, Aggies trying to regain former glory

09/19/2008

By CHRIS DUNCAN  / Associated Press

A decade ago, a game between Miami and Texas A&M would've been a must-see matchup with major bowl implications. Now, it's barely a blip on the national radar.

Texas A&M and Miami both won more than 90 games during the 1990s, but each has an ordinary 22-17 record since 2005. The teams meet Saturday, and a win could be a small step on the road back to prominence.

"It's pretty exciting to play against a team like Miami. They have a lot of tradition," said A&M sophomore quarterback Jerrod Johnson. "At the same time, we have a lot of tradition here at A&M. We've won a lot of games. I'm pretty excited about the challenge."

The Hurricanes routed A&M 34-17 in the Orange Bowl last season, their second meeting and first since 1944. It was one of the few highlights in a 5-7 season, Miami's worst in 30 years.

Coach Randy Shannon started this season with 16 freshmen on the depth chart, and the Hurricanes beat Charleston Southern 52-7 in their opener. Miami lost to fourth-ranked Florida 26-3 two weeks ago in Gainesville, but trailed the Gators only 9-3 through three quarters.

The final score was downright respectable considering that 13 freshmen saw action, including quarterback Robert Marve, who made his start in one of college football's rowdiest stadiums.

"There was a lot of fight in that game," said Marve, who completed 10 of 18 passes for 69 yards in the game. "Obviously, we didn't do enough to win that game, but I think you saw a little bit of how much fight we have and you'll see a lot more of that during the season."

Marve thinks the experience at The Swamp will help him this week.

"Now I know how it feels," Marve said. "You kind of second-guess yourself, 'Am I up to par? Am I ready?' Well, I felt very good in the Gators' game so I feel like I'm ready, yes. I'm excited to play some more games."

The Aggies (1-1) will need more than just a loud home crowd to beat Miami anyway.

Last season, A&M was no match for the speed of Miami, which ran out to a 31-0 lead through three quarters. The Hurricanes (1-1) may be young and rebuilding, but they match their predecessors in athleticism.

"They remind me of the Miami of old," said A&M defensive coordinator Joe Kines. "You can tell it's coming out of that package. Coach Shannon has got the recipe. He's just putting it together."

While Miami is breaking in a new quarterback, A&M remains mum on Saturday's starter.

Senior Stephen McGee has started the last 29 games, but sprained his throwing shoulder early in the Aggies' game at New Mexico on Sept. 6. Sophomore Jerrod Johnson, whom McGee beat out for the job in training camp, completed 10 of 19 passes for 124 yards and three touchdowns in relief to lead the Aggies to a 28-22 victory.

McGee and Johnson both took snaps with the first-team offense this week, but coach Mike Sherman hasn't publicly said who will start against Miami.

A&M's running game is another issue after it looked like a team strength before the season.

The Aggies have averaged 112 rushing yards in their first two games, ranking 96th nationally. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, have given up an average of 69 rushing yards in the first two games, 21st in the nation.

Sherman said Miami simply relies on the size and speed of its defenders.

"Because they have such good athletes, they are not a high-risk defense," Sherman said. "They let the guys play with great technique and they can."

The Aggies' defense has struggled, giving up an average of 392.5 yards in the first two games. Take away the first half of the opener against Arkansas State — a game A&M led 14-3 before losing 18-14 — and the Aggies have allowed 600 yards in the past game and a half.

The defense returned only one starter on the line and none at linebacker, and Kines said the unit is still learning assignments and focusing on the basics.

"We're just now starting to put the bricks and mortar together," Kines said. "We're still tackling, we're still getting off blocks, we're still trying to run to the ball. Once we get that done, we can start worrying about something else."

A&M won't have to worry about Miami running back Javarris James, who sprained his ankle against Florida and is out for 2-4 weeks. Sophomore Graig Cooper relieved James in Gainesville and rushed 15 times for 31 yards.

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