- Mark Schlabach, College Football Reporter
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M's defense might not yet be worthy of "Wrecking Crew" status, the moniker given to each of the Aggies' great defensive units of the past. But Texas A&M is certainly more stingy than it has been recently under coach Dennis Franchione, and with tailback Jorvorskie Lane, a 278-pound wrecking ball, the Aggies might have the recipe to save Franchione's job.
With the defense shutting out No. 19 Missouri in the second half on Saturday, and Lane running 28 times for 127 yards and one touchdown, Texas A&M ended the Tigers' seven-game winning streak with a 25-19 victory in front of a crowd of 71,136 at Kyle Field. It was the Tigers' first loss of the season and prevented them from becoming the first Missouri team since 1960 to start 7-0.
"Every conference win is a big win," Franchione said. "Any time you play a top 20 team and you're able to defeat them, it's big. We're 20 seconds away from being undefeated. And we're about 60 seconds away from having a couple of more losses, too. They're all going to be tight and hard. This is certainly a good win for where we're trying to go and what we want to accomplish."
Coming into the season, it seemed Franchione was about six losses away from being unemployed. Prior to this season, he had a combined record of 16-19 and two of his first three teams had losing records, after the Aggies had gone 19 consecutive seasons without a losing campaign. Franchione took his second Aggies team to the Cotton Bowl, but last season's 5-6 mark sullied that and left him firmly on the hot seat.
Texas A&M came into Saturday's game with a gaudy 5-1 record this year, but really hadn't beaten a team of consequence. Its early nonconference games were nearly laughable: wins over Division I-AA Citadel, Louisiana-Lafayette, Army (in which the Aggies had to stop the Black Knights inside the A&M 10 on the final play of the game) and Louisiana Tech.
And when the Aggies lost to Texas Tech 31-27 at home two weeks ago, dropping Franchione's record to 1-9 against the Red Raiders and Big 12 powers Oklahoma and Texas, the coach's seat seemed to warm up again. Last week, the Aggies had to rally from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win 21-19 at Kansas.
Finally, Texas A&M was able to put it together against Missouri.
"I don't want to say this was a turnaround for us," safety Devin Gregg said. "But this was a statement that we're for real."
The rest of the season will determine that, but the Aggies are at least more competitive in Franchione's fourth season. Missouri scored only two points in the second half -- on a safety when center Cody Wallace snapped the football over quarterback Stephen McGee's head and into the end zone.
The Tigers had just six first downs in the second half and gained only 111 yards after halftime. Missouri gained 6 yards on six plays in the third quarter, when the Aggies had possession for all but 2 minutes, 35 seconds. Texas A&M controlled the football for more than 41 minutes in the game.
"I love our offense," defensive coordinator Gary Darnell said.
Darnell was loving his defense in the second half. Texas A&M went ahead 25-19 on freshman tailback Mike Goodson's 2-yard touchdown run and McGee's two-point conversion run with about 6:38 to play in the third.
On Missouri's first possession of the fourth quarter, Chase Daniel completed seven consecutive passes and ran for two first downs to move to the Aggie 5. But tailback Tony Temple was stopped for only a 1-yard gain on second-and-goal, and Daniel threw incomplete to tight end Chase Coffman in the end zone on third down. Missouri lined up to kick a field goal that might have pulled them within three points.
Even after a delay of game penalty moved the Tigers back to their 9, the Aggie defense still knew what was coming next.
"We called fake on the play and the right wing's eyes got so big because he knew we knew it was a fake," Gregg said. "Everybody knew it was a fake. They knew the whole play was messed up. You could see it in their eyes."
The Tigers still tried to run the fake, with holder Brad Ekwerekwu catching the snap and then trying to run for a first down. But cornerback Marquis Carpenter tripped him up, and end Cyril Obiozor tackled Ekwerekwu at the 6.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel wasn't second guessing his decision to not kick a field goal.
"We were three-and-out twice and we went down and thought we had them," Pinkel said. "We thought we were in good position to go for it and it didn't work. We felt good about it and we worked on it in practice. It's a great decision if it works. We thought we could get it."
But the play didn't work, and the Aggies took over deep in their own territory. Texas A&M had to punt the football back twice to Missouri after that, but the Tigers never crossed midfield. With 3:30 minutes to go, Missouri faced fourth-and-two from its 46. Daniel kept the football and ran right, pitching to Tony Temple at the last possible second. But Gregg dove at Temple's feet and tackled him for a 1-yard gain.
The Aggies got the football back with 3:18 to play, and Lane ran the football six straight times to end the game. The powerful sophomore from Lufkin, Texas ran 15 times for 83 yards in the second half. His size and strength seemed to wear down the Tigers.
"They can be tired," Lane said. "They can be fresh. It really doesn't matter. I'm going to run over whoever is in the hole."
Lane carried only 10 times against Kansas last week and more than 12 times in only one of the first six games. Some questioned whether he could carry that heavy of a load because of his weight. He silenced those critics against Missouri.
"People can say what they want to," Lane said. "This week, Missouri was saying we had offensive linemen as running backs. It's really a big joke to me. I went through all that in high school. It's not really a big thing to me. I know what I can do, and my teammates know what I can do."
Missouri's spread offense, fueled by Daniel's red-hot passing, had its way with Texas A&M's defense in the first half.
The Tigers had 269 yards in the first two quarters, with Daniel completing 11-of-15 passes, but the score was tied at 17. Missouri fumbled four times in the first half, losing three, including one on the third play of the game.
On that play, Missouri receiver Will Franklin ran past Gregg and caught a long pass. Franklin was about to score a 65-yard touchdown, but Peterson caught up with him and punched the football from his arms with his right hand. The football bounced through the back of the end zone. The play was initially ruled a touchdown by officials, but it was reviewed and overturned to a touchback. The Aggies were given possession at their 20.
"I was in man-to-man coverage and just happened to see the ball," Peterson said. "Coach Darnell told us all week that hustle was going to pay off this week and it did. I was hustling to the ball and I knew if I tried to tackle him, he'd get into the end zone anyway because of his momentum. So I was able to slow him down, and I just swung my fist in there happened to get all ball."
Darnell said it was a hustle play he has been trying to get his players to make.
"In our world, that will probably go down as one of the most significant plays of the year," Darnell said. "It exemplified everything we have tried to get across to our football team. If you play hard enough and long enough, something good will happen."
And something good is finally beginning to happen for Franchione in College Station.
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dennis Franchione's been searching for the right recipe at Texas A&M. Look like he found it in wrecking ball RB Jovorskie Lane and an improved defense, writes Mark Schlabach.