Aggies hope big stage beckons spotlight
Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman knows one thing about Cowboys Stadium before he ever sets foot in the NFL's newest Taj Mahal: The video screens are huge.
Sherman, who will coach the Aggies in that stadium against Arkansas on Saturday (6:30 p.m. CT, ESPN2), was asked if he'd like to have one for his game room.
"That might fit in your house, but it won't fit in my house," Sherman joked.
But playing in a bigger-than-life venue that includes the largest video screen in the world -- seven stories high and 60 yards wide -- is important to Sherman and Texas A&M mainly because it's located in the middle of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Sherman said as soon as he arrived in College Station that recruiting in this talent-rich region will be a major priority.
"This obviously enhances that opportunity, to give us more exposure," Sherman said, acknowledging that it does the same for Arkansas. "With us being an in-state school, and Dallas being home to a lot of people, a lot of Aggies and a lot of future football players, it gives us a little bit of a leg up in relationship to the fact that these recruits' parents and grandparents can come watch us play in that venue, which is a state-of-the-art stadium, unlike any other. It can be a neat deal for us."
Aggies senior defensive back Jordan Pugh can't wait to play in the same stadium that houses the Dallas Cowboys. Pugh, from Plano West High, competed twice at Texas Stadium in the high school playoffs and has heard all about the shiny new stadium in Arlington. And he's had to answer numerous phone calls from family members and friends begging for tickets.
"I'm still looking for tickets now," Pugh said. "All my aunts and uncles and parents are coming. I told some of my family that the game will be on TV if they can't get tickets."
Pugh was quick to echo Sherman's thoughts that Saturday's game presents a very big challenge for the Aggies. They haven't faced any ranked opponents to this point, beating New Mexico, Utah State and UAB -- and those three schools have a combined 2-9 record. But A&M has sure put up some impressive statistics. They lead the country in sacks and in total offense and are also top-seven in passing, rushing and scoring.
Quarterback Jerrod Johnson makes the offense go. He's 11th in the nation in passing efficiency and, for the most part, has avoided mistakes. He is also just as likely to run the ball into the end zone as throw it, something that UAB can attest to after he had an A&M-record six TDs (three passing, three rushing) in last week's win. The junior from Humble, Texas, has earned the confidence of his teammates.
"Jerrod is just a leader," Pugh said. "That's the only way you can put it. I've been asked a lot of questions about him, and I feel like he's one of the best QBs in the Big 12. He's showing that now with the way he's progressed, the way he studies defenses. He's vocal at times, but always uplifting."
The Aggies' defense will also face a stern test with Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino's creative offense, led by quarterback Ryan Mallett. Texas A&M defensive coordinator Joe Kines said Mallett has a "bazooka for an arm" and is difficult to bring down because of his size (6-foot-7, 238 pounds). Kines also praised the Razorbacks' wide receiving corps and the offensive line.
"We can't short-step anything -- if we do, we're going to get caught short on Saturday," Kines said. "We have to play fast, and adjust quickly, and we have to run to the ball with a vengeance this week."
Sherman knows his team hasn't played anyone as talented as Arkansas yet this season.
"The speed of the game ... is going to be greatly enhanced when we line up against Arkansas. I think I have a pretty clear perspective of where we are and where we're trying to get. This certainly will be a big challenge for us. Some of the mistakes we've made in ballgames, whether it be penalties, or we had a couple of muffed kicks this past week ... those happen in this ballgame, you're not going to recover from them."
Sherman and Texas A&M will have a better sense of where they are in terms of growing as a program after Saturday. A win would provide a nice momentum boost heading into a home game with Oklahoma State on Oct. 10. And it sure would impress some Dallas-Fort Worth area recruits who are sure to be on hand, staring at the Aggies on that huge video board at Cowboys Stadium.
Richard Durrett covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com