- David Ubben, College Football
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It's obvious to about everyone why Texas A&M only won six games in 2009.
With a defense giving up more than 33 points a game, five more points per game than any team in the Big 12, even Texas A&M's balanced, high-powered offense couldn't push the Aggies further than a 6-7 season.
Washington State was the only BCS conference team with a worse scoring defense, and the Cougars won one game.
Through three games in 2010, the Texas A&M defense might be one of the most improved units in all of college football. It ranks 10th in total defense and has given up just over 14 points a game, good for No. 15 nationally.
They've also kept opponents out of the red zone on all but eight drives this season, the best in the Big 12, allowing them to score just five times, also the Big 12's best and fourth best nationally.
"I’ve always known we were capable of doing great things, I guess it was just more of a maturity factor than anything," said linebacker Von Miller. "Like situations where we’ve had to keep teams from scoring, we’ve handled it pretty well."
Experience helps breed that maturity. And that maturity has bred results. But so has new coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who installed his 3-4 scheme this spring after coordinating one of college football's best defenses at Air Force last season.
"Some of our players have grown up a little bit and they're playing without a whole lot of hesitation," said coach Mike Sherman. "The scheme itself just fits our personnel."
Specifically, linebackers like Garrick Williams, Sean Porter and hybrid linebacker/defensive ends like Miller and freshman Damontre Moore, who's had an opportunity to play with Miller slowed by an ankle injury.
It also helps to play three teams without facing an offense ranked inside the top 96 nationally.
Texas A&M won't have that luxury on Thursday. It'll find Oklahoma State's offense in Stillwater, with the nation's No. 1 offense, averaging just under 600 yards a game under its own new coordinator, Dana Holgorsen.
"The thing they're doing real well is they're running the football. Kendall Hunter has over 470 yards and six touchdowns. He's fit very well into that scheme," Sherman said. "You think of it when Coach Holgorsen was at Houston as more of a passing offense, and they still pass the ball quite a bit, but I think they're running game is what separates them."
Said Miller: "To keep them with no points on the scoreboard is going to be an extremely hard task. We just want to go in and win, whatever it takes."
Thursday is the Aggies' first big test. Last year's 36-31 loss to the Cowboys in College Station has stuck with Miller since, and he'll get his chance to earn a little respect and revenge this time around.
"We’ve been waiting for this game," Miller said. "We’ve been working and sweating and really it’ll come down to Thursday, a play here or a play there. Hopefully we can win and the football gods will be in our favor."
1dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
3dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney