Saturday, October 15, 2011
A&M's big stop stuffs second-half failures
By David Ubben
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III was wrapped up, all but down on fourth down deep in Texas A&M's red zone.
Somehow, he found a way to lob the ball to tight end Jordan Najvar. The ball fluttered over the hands of two Aggies defenders and Najvar, setting off a celebration on the way back to the sidelines and firing up the 87,361 comprising the fourth-largest crowd ever at Kyle Field.
Baylor didn't score again, and Texas A&M rolled to a 55-28 win over the Bears.
"Unstoppable. That’s really what we thought," defensive end Spencer Nealy said.
Nealy led the team with seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
"After the fourth down stop, honestly, you look at every guy running off the field, jumping up and down. We really uplifted our confidence," he said.
Sometimes all it takes is one play to change the course of a game and perhaps a season. The Aggies led by 13, and if the Aggies hadn't made the stop, the odds of a third second-half nightmare in four weeks becoming a reality would have quickly risen.
"We knew it was big," said linebacker Jonathan Stewart, who had one of five sacks for Texas A&M. "We just knew we needed to grit our teeth and just get the stop."
The mistakes were there. Griffin torched this wrecked crew for a school-record 430 yards, the third quarterback in four weeks to write his name in the school record book at the Aggies' expense.
A few costly offside penalties in the first half extended Baylor drives.
"I’m sure we’ll probably get yelled at for that during Monday morning film, but we had to get pressure on him," Nealy said.
Twice the defense got beat over the top for touchdown passes of 77 yards and 43 yards, and Griffin set up another touchdown with a 50-yard bomb to Tevin Reese, who drew pass interference on the play, too.
After the game, Sherman stopped Griffin.
"If you're III, I don't want to meet I and II," he told him.
Texas A&M's defense contained Robert Griffin III and the Baylor offense when it counted in the fourth quarter.
But for Texas A&M, it can focus on the day's biggest number: Baylor's gaping zero on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter.
"We're not going to shut this team out," Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said of the Bears, who entered Saturday's game third nationally in total offense with the most efficient passing game in college football. "They will move the ball against anyone and everyone."
Except, apparently, Texas A&M in the fourth quarter.
"In the end, it came down to that fourth-down stop," Nealy said.
The stop allayed at least a few fears that this experienced team loaded with as much talent as any in the Big 12 can't perform in the second half.
This was a game complete with the end of a 22-quarter drought without a turnover. The Aggies did it with pressure on a previously unflappable quarterback in Griffin. He'd thrown just one interception with 19 touchdowns in 143 attempts entering Saturday's game, but the Aggies pressured him and he threw it up for grabs. Dustin Harris took advantage.
"We're taught to get takeaways. That's the first thing on our list," Harris said. "It was on our backs to get that pick or a turnover on defense and it happened on that play. Our offense went down and converted."
The last part was nothing new for the Aggies, who didn't punt in the second half. With the kind of firepower Texas A&M fields on offense, the defense's margin of error is only slightly wider than the separation Ryan Swope got on opposing defenders throughout Saturday's game.
Swope finished with a career-high 206 yards on 11 receptions and four of Ryan Tannehill's six touchdown passes.
"Our offensive line really set the tone of the game," Swope said. "People were just making plays. Coach strives on winning 1-on-1 matchups, and I feel like we did that."
Said Tannehill: "It was fun watching him play today."
The first-team offense scored on every possession in the second half, scoring 52 points in the game's final 39 minutes. The second-half failures that had become the team's defining trait through the first half of the season had, for at least an afternoon, disappeared.