September 28, 2010

Aggies confident, ready for Thursday

The confidence is evident. The eagerness is palpable. The swagger is present.

With the first quarter of the 2010 season closed and in the books, the A&M football team embarks on conference play in Stillwater against an undefeated and ranked Oklahoma State team -- on national television, to boot. And as a result, giddiness was written all over the players and coaches' faces.

"You play your first three games, and you don't want to overlook them, but you play teams you don't know much about," Jerrod Johnson said. "They probably know more about you than you do about them, and they come out and give it their best shot. But with Oklahoma State, you know about their coaching staff. You know about their players. You have friends on their team. Conference play is a little more exciting because you expect to play teams like Oklahoma State when you come to A&M to play in the Big 12. You look forward to it."

Trent Hunter chimed in as well.

"You always have that feeling in the locker room that it's conference play now," Hunter said. "There's no way we can lose any momentum going into this week."

As did All-American Von Miller.

"I'm looking forward to playing on a stage like that," Miller said. "It's going to be a great game and a great atmosphere. We're playing OSU, which is a very good team. It can't get any better. This is what we've been waiting for and we finally have a chance to go out there and play a really good team."

Just a week after a 27-20 come-from-behind victory against Florida International, the Aggies talked about their newfound ability to handle adversity -- a trait that will be to their benefit in such a hostile environment.

"That's the reason why the game against FIU was kind of good for us," Garrick Williams said. "It was a game that keeps us humble. We faced adversity, and maybe last year we wouldn't have gotten out of that. This year, I think we are able to fight through that and we are ready for things like that. Coach Sherman stresses maturity all the time. All those freshmen who got to play last year are sophomores now, but they take the field and think like juniors and seniors. So that's big."

Coming into one of the bigger games of the Mike Sherman era, most of the talk centered around this improved Aggie defenses' ability to stop the No. 1 offense in the country -- equipped with the No. 3 passer and rusher to go along with the No. 1 receiver in the country.

"We've got to play well to have a chance," Tim DeRuyter said. "If you don't, they'll embarrass you and hang half a hundred on you in a hurry."

The Cowboys' offense for much of the season has been predicated on getting the big play. Hunter said the defense is cognizant of that and understands they must limit game-changing plays if they want to have a chance.

"The previous teams they've played haven't done a good job of defending the big play," Hunter said. "You really can't do that if you want to be a successful defense. If we can defend the deep ball first I think we'll be ready for anything."

With Kendall Hunter in the backfield, the Pokes possess one of the better backs in the country. And with a bigger, more effective offensive line, this highly-ranked Aggie run defense knows it is going to have its first test of the season.

"I'm very excited," Williams said. "I think Coach [Terrell] Williams told me the other day that they were rushing for 200 yards a game. It's a good offense against a good run-stopping defense. It's just another chance for the defense to step up and show people what we're about this year."

Excitement or not, recent A&M teams have tended to struggle in games of this magnitude -- especially on the road. However, their quarterback senses that his team is mature enough to combat the challenge.

"I don't think it's a sense of doing that much more, it's just a sense of knowing what you're getting into," Johnson said. "Knowing you can't communicate as well as you are used to. Preparing for adversity basically. It's going to be a great environment, and it will be very loud. There are so many things you can try and explain (to the young guys), but once you experience it you have a completely different mindset. You learn through experience, and I think we'll be able to handle that adversity much better this year."

Confidence, eagerness and a swagger filled the room.

"We're ready for it," Hunter said. "We've had a few good weeks but we are ready to prove ourselves against a team that's putting up big numbers. If we have a big week against them it will put our name out there. We're ready for the challenge."

And as such, DeRuyter was asked simply if he would temper his defense prior to Thursday.

His rebuttal was to the point.

"I want our guys excited. Atmosphere and a setting like this are why you play and coach in college football. You play defense with attitude and emotion, and anything that raises that level is good. I think our guys are going to be fired up for this. I know I am, and I know our staff is."

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