Texas and Texas A&M will hook up for the 116th time in their storied series Thursday night at Kyle Field.
The No. 3 Longhorns are hopeful of taking another step to the BCS National Championship Game. And their most bitter traditional rivals would like nothing more than to stop their trip.
Here are three keys for each team heading into Thursday’s game.
Get the running game started: The Longhorns have sputtered all season trying to move the ball on the ground. They’ve shown some flashes in recent weeks as Tre’ Newton has gotten healthy and assumed the featured back role. And offensive coordinator Greg Davis also has Cody Johnson and several others ready to contribute depending on game situations. If Texas can run the ball well, it will get them into favorable down-and-distance situations where Colt McCoy can pick apart a leaky A&M defense that ranks 82nd in pass efficiency defense and 110th in pass defense.
Tackle better in space: Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was angry after the Longhorns’ victory over Kansas because nine missed tackles led to 97 yards of extra yardage. Texas A&M will hit the Longhorns with an even more talented group of athletes including Jeff Fuller, Uzoma Nwachukwu, Jamie McCoy, Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael. All are capable of burning Texas for big plays if given the chance. The Longhorns’ strong defense needs to take care of something as basic as tackling if they want to fulfill their championship aims. Thursday’s game will be a good test.
It’s a rivalry game. Deal with it: Texas will be facing its biggest challenge in a true road game this season when it travels to Kyle Field. Texas has lost eight of the last 12 games at Kyle Field in the series, including a 2007 game where they inexplicably couldn’t cover A&M’s seldom-used passing attack. The crowd will be howling from the start of the game. It will be important for Texas to play like a championship team, taking control early and silencing the Aggie fans with a strong start.
Attack on defense: The Aggies will come into the game decided underdogs with one of the conference’s youngest defenses trying to contain Colt McCoy and Texas. Even with that decided disadvantage, the Aggies can’t be passive. They need to take the fight to the Longhorns from the beginning of the game, particularly on defense. Getting Von Miller around mammoth Texas tackle Adam Ulatoski will be important. McCoy has been susceptible to turnovers in the past, particularly against the Aggies. The Aggies would love to rattle him early -- again.
Don’t blink because of the television cameras: The Aggies are 6-0 in games that have not been televised this season and 0-5 in games that have been telecast. But with this being a rivalry game with the nation watching, expect the young but developing Aggies not to be nearly as shy. A sellout crowd at Kyle Field will help them fight through any timidity.
Make the special teams special: Texas has struggled covering kickoffs all season and were blistered for a 98-yard return for a touchdown last week by Kansas’ Dezmon Briscoe. Cyrus Gray is a threat every time he touches the ball with a 25.5 yard average ranking third in the conference. A big play would provide the Aggies with a surge of confidence they desperately need.