Sherman's gift before win turns around A&M's season

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Texas Tech-Texas A&M rivalry is as fierce and passionate as any in college football.

There have been taunts on both sides that have made the competition some of the most bitter in the Big 12 over the years.

But the most recent game might go down in history among many in the rivalry -- at least for what it provided for the Aggies after the game.

A&M turned their season around with an improbable victory over Tech which has catapulted them into bowl contention heading into Saturday’s game against Colorado.

And it all might have turned around with a few twisted metal loops.

A&M coach Mike Sherman's Aggies were struggling after a disappointing 62-14 loss to Kansas State the previous week. After that game, few prognosticators gave the Aggies much of a chance playing in Lubbock, where they hadn’t won since 1993.

“Our team was really down after that game,” senior safety Jordan Pugh said. “We needed something to point us back.”

Youth has been blamed for that defeat -- the Aggies’ first true road trip of the season.

“We didn’t play well, that was very evident,” Sherman said. “We were kind of shell shocked by what happened to us early in the game and never really ever recovered. I don’t think we competed.”

Despite the loss, Sherman went back to work with the idea that problems were fixable in a quick manner.

And the fact that the Aggies would be playing Tech only helped their turnaround.

“I know people outside might have been panicking, but I don’t think that’s how you fix things," Sherman said. “You have to fix them by being honest and accountable, and they were.”

It also helped to have a little confidence. And Sherman manifested that by presenting his team with carabiner clips, a talisman usually reserved for his team’s post-game victory celebrations, five days before the Aggies met the Red Raiders in Lubbock on Oct. 24.

Sherman has selected the carabiner, a piece of equipment used by mountain climbers, as a metaphor for the Aggies’ journey back among national football powers. The charms typically are presented after team victories.

“We have these little carabiners we pass out when we win a game,” Sherman said. “I said, ‘I might as well give it to you now. We’re going to go play and we’re going to win this football game.’ And they did.”

The Aggies then lived up to that belief with an impressive 52-30 triumph over Tech, piling up 321 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns as they scored the most points in the 68-game series history with the Red Raiders.

It was only a week removed from an atrocious performance at Kansas State, where the Aggies produced minus-13 yards rushing and allowed six sacks in the thumping at Manhattan.

"I knew we had to get up off the mat or stay down,” A&M defensive end/linebacker Von Miller said. “We fought back and got up after that game.”

That victory has helped turn A&M's season around. The Aggies followed that triumph with an impressive 35-10 mashing of Iowa State last week that left them only one victory from bowl eligibility heading into Saturday’s game at Colorado.

“We’ve always expected we would play well. It just shown up a little lately,” A&M offensive tackle Michael Shumard said. “The hard work has finally paid off.”

It also gave the Aggies a couple of chances to take some not-so-subtle swipes at Tech coach Mike Leach, who has needled the Aggies over the years. Most recently, after the Dallas Cowboys had invested a fourth-round draft pick on A&M quarterback Stephen McGee in the 2009 NFL draft, Leach suggested the pro team showed more faith in him that his college did. That sparked a public exchange of comments between Leach and Sherman.

The Aggies were the instigators at their Monday news conference. Sherman had a not-so-subtle dig at Leach when he was asked about playing at altitude this week at Colorado, suggesting it wasn't that much different from playing earlier this season in Lubbock.

“Lubbock’s got a pretty good altitude up there,” Sherman said. “There’s a lot of hot air up there, too. We had to deal with it.”

Shumard joined the chorus when he talked about the integrity that Sherman showed when he took a knee rather than try to score another touchdown late in the game against ISU last week.

“That shows class,” Shumard said. “I would hate to be a player for a team that would try and score with … 20 seconds left in the game. That would call time out to try and score.”

Aggies everywhere remember when Graham Harrell scored on a 1-yard plunge with 20 seconds left in the Red Raiders’ 43-25 victory over the Aggies in 2008.

They finally got some revenge on Monday, by skewering Leach with stories of how a few twisted pieces of metal helped turn around their season at his expense.