Grinding Aggies get another taste of past glory

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- It wasn't Wrigley, but the 9-6 final score was fitting for the "friendly confines" of Kyle Field.

Efficient if not spectacular, Texas A&M ran when it needed to run and threw when it needed to throw to keep its Big 12 South title hopes alive by upsetting No. 9 Nebraska.

In the end, Cyrus Gray and an opportunistic defense were the difference for the 18th-ranked Aggies (8-3, 5-2 Big 12), who won their fifth straight -- all against Big 12 foes.

"My face is going to hurt from all the smiling I've done tonight," Aggies defensive lineman Lucas Patterson said.

After denying the Huskers a chance to wrap up the Big 12 North, A&M can turn its full attention to Texas. The Aggies will face their rivals on Thanksgiving Day in Austin with a chance at finishing as tri-champs of the South.

"When you go to A&M, you're expected to win games like this," A&M coach Mike Sherman said.

A&M came into the day needing Oklahoma State to lose twice to have any hope of winning the South outright. But OSU clinched a tie for the South with a 48-14 pounding of Kansas. The Cowboys can win the division next week and sew up a trip to Arlington, Texas, for the Big 12 championship game with a victory against rival Oklahoma, which routed Baylor 53-24 on Saturday.

A&M would need to beat UT and an OU victory to finish in a three-way tie for the South. The team with the highest BCS ranking -- likely the Sooners in that scenario -- would win the tiebreaker and get the bid to the title game.

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Nebraska (9-2, 5-2) can reach its second successive Big 12 title game with a victory against suddenly resurgent Colorado on Friday. A Nebraska loss and a Missouri victory against Kansas would send the Tigers to the championship game.

Nebraska was the second top-10 opponent to fall at Kyle Field in as many weeks. Last week, A&M dropped Oklahoma, which was ranked ninth in the coaches poll.

The only thing louder than the record Kyle Field crowd of 90,079 was Bo Pelini's postgame lecture of referee Greg Burks. After a quick handshake with Sherman, Pelini ran down Burks to protest the 16 penalties for 145 yards called against his Huskers.

Two critical pass-interference flags aided an A&M drive that put the Aggies ahead 6-3 midway through the fourth quarter and a roughing-the-passer penalty on third-and-11 at the Nebraska 49 kept alive A&M's game-winning drive.

"No comment," Pelini said about the officiating. "I'm not talking about the penalties. You all watched the game."

But the real story was Gray.

With Christine Michael sidelined with a broken tibia, Gray did the heavy lifting for the Aggies offense.

The junior tailback carried 26 times and totaled 104 of his career-best 137 yards in the second half. He also led all pass catchers with nine receptions for 65 yards -- gaining 7.2 yards per touch against a defense that came in leading the Big 12 in total defense.

"Coach Sherman told me at the beginning of the week we'd have to pound it out," Gray said. "So many guys had a collective effort in the win."

Gray's 18-yard run helped set up Randy Bullock's third field goal of the night -- a 19-yard game-winner with 3:02 to play.

Bullock also hit from 29 and 28 yards in the battle of field goals with Alex Henery, who connected on 48- and 29-yard kicks for Nebraska.

With quarterback Taylor Martinez hobbling on an injured ankle, Nebraska relied on its running game and defense -- the identical recipe that fueled the Huskers' run to the 2009 conference title game.

Martinez reinjured his right ankle when he was stepped on by center Mike Caputo late in the opening quarter. He was replaced by Cody Green, but returned shortly before the half and appeared to argue with Pelini on the sidelines.

"I can't talk about that," Pelini said of the disagreement. "It had nothing to do with his injury."

Martinez came back to play the entire second half, finishing 11 of 17 for 107 yards through the air and carrying 11 times for 17 yards. Martinez and Green each suffered an interception that stalled a promising drive.

Nebraska's offense was held without a touchdown for the second time this season. The other game was against Texas -- also a loss.

"If we take care of business next Friday, we'll give ourselves a chance at the league championship," Pelini added. "That's our main focus anyway."

Texas A&M has now won four in a row since Sherman made a quarterback switch from Jerod Johnson to Ryan Tannehill. Rolling out of the pocket most of the night, Tannehill completed 19 of 29 for 172 yards and was sacked three times.

Texas A&M totaled 207 of its 310 yards in the second half.

"It was frustrating at times, but the offensive line figured out what they needed to do up front and started moving guys," Tannehill said. "That's why you come to A&M, to win those big games."

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