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Bears gear up for battle with Aggies

Oct. 13, 2000

By RISHI SRIRAM

Reporter

Rishi_Sriram@Baylor.edu

The Battle of the Brazos rivalry reaches its 97th anniversary as Texas A&M University comes to Floyd Casey Stadium to challenge Baylor at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

Since 1985, Baylor has not been able to beat the Aggies, and this year will not be any easier.

Baylor will try to end A&M's recent dominance over the Bears with true freshman Kerry Dixon at quarterback.

'I was very much surprised, with me being a true freshman,' Dixon said. 'It wasn't expected.'

Though he lacks experience, Dixon compensates for it with confidence, great mobility and perhaps the strongest arm on the team.

'I think I just have to go out there and play hard like every Saturday,' Dixon said. 'We plan to stick with our own offense. We'll make no changes, and we'll plan to execute. We have to keep a balance, and we have to keep them on their toes.'

Balance and execution are musts for a young Baylor team that lists 24 freshman and sophomores, the most of any Big 12 team, among the top 44 players on its depth chart.

'The thing we have to do offensively, because of the youth that we have on offense, is not be so vanilla,' head Coach Kevin Steele said. 'We've got to give our guys some diversity, which gives them a chance to make a big play and also keep A&M off-balance. We've got to have a little bit more excitement and not be afraid to take some chances, to open up the offense, even with the young guys. We've got a lot of inexperience, but this team is a fun group of guys to coach.'

The Aggies, on the other hand, return 16 starters from last year's 8-4 team.

Quarterback Mark Farris has developed the Aggie passing attack with 1,082 yards and four touchdowns through the air. His impressive 63.6 completion percentage and only two interceptions will definitely challenge the Baylor defensive backs.

The Aggie passing targets are Robert Ferguson and Bethel Johnson, who have combined for 47 receptions this season. Ferguson already has 440 yards and four touchdowns, and he is averaging 17.6 yards per catch.

'They've thrown it around a lot more this year,' Steele said, 'but I'm not so sure they won't come in here and try to hammer us.'

The mallets for A&M are running backs Richard Whitaker, Joe Weber and Ja'Mar Toombs. Whitaker averages 5.4 yards per carry for 286 yards and four touchdowns, while Weber has added 233 yards and a pair of touchdowns to the rushing attack. Though Toombs does not gain much yardage per carry, the 275-pound fullback has bulldozed through goal line defenses for seven touchdowns.

The offensive line has been a big part of the Aggies' success, both in the air and on the ground. Averaging 291 pounds across the front, the offensive line is anchored by returning starters center Seth McKinney and left guard Chris Valletta.

'I have a huge concern about the size of our defensive players [average of 268 pounds] compared to the mammoth size of Texas A&M's offensive linemen and the big back,' Steele said. 'We're going to have to give our guys a chance through some different looks to make it happen.'

Defensively, A&M's strength comes from linemen Ron Edwards and Rocky Bernard, as well as linebackers Jason Glenn and Brian Gamble, who leads the team with 52 tackles. The Aggie defense has held opponents to a rushing average of less than 100 yards per game and only 17 points. Through the air, Aggie opponents are barely averaging 200 yards passing per game, and five Aggies have intercepted passes.

'We've got to win the turnover battle,' Steele said, who is undefeated when Baylor has been positive in turnover margin. 'Penalties and field position, which will be ultimately in the kicking game, are very key. We also need to mix up the play selection.'

Though Steele has been around some pretty intense rivalries (Tennessee/Alabama, Nebraska/Colorado), he sees the potential of a true rivalry forming in the Battle of the Brazos.

'My first year here, I have to honestly tell you, I didn't sense a whole lot of rivalry,' Steele said. 'I think that rivalry has to come from the fans and the players in the locker room. I sense much more of a rivalry this year. In fact, I had the players stand up and tell what the Texas A&M rivalry meant to them in front of the whole team so that the younger guys could get a sense of what this rivalry is all about.'