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2007 Texas A&M Football: Dennis Franchione’s Bizarre Unraveling

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Think about how far the Aggies have come in ten years.

Texas v Texas A&M Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Ten years is a lifetime in college football. In 2007, there were college football games on Versus, Kansas won a BCS bowl, and Baker Mayfield was just starting his freshman season at Texas Tech.

Kidding! But it was certainly the most chaotic season in recent history. Almost everywhere you looked, unexpected and bizarre storylines and subplots were unraveling. Traditional powerhouses like Florida State and Alabama puttered to 7-6 finishes. Nebraska and Miami had losing seasons a handful of years after playing for the title. There was a 2-loss national champion.

In College Station, Dennis Franchione made the most of his final season, by which we mean he packed it full of enough bullshit, desperation, and bland platitudes to infuriate the most patient of Aggie Football fans. Yet he also seasoned it with some inexplicable successes. The end result, 7-5, was nothing out of the ordinary in itself. But the way we got there was peppered with enough inconsistencies and eccentricities to make it a consistent microcosm of the entire college football season of 2007. Here are the best and the worst things from ten years ago.

THE GOOD

The Aggies pounded Nebraska in Lincoln.

It wasn’t just that this was a blowout, it was the way the game was won. Stephen McGee and Jorvorskie Lane combined for nearly 300 yards on the ground, with McGee serving as a de facto battering ram, carrying the ball a surreal 35 times. You have to imagine he was just worn down to a nub by the end of that game. And the reason you have to imagine it, is because THIS GAME WAS NOT ON TV. Not televised at all, not even PPV. Think about that for a second, and imagine how insane that sounds just ten years later. Anyway, Nebraska’s defense hadn’t quite hit their low point that season (giving up 60+ and 70+ points in two of their last three games), but they had allowed 40+ in several. Still, there was a sophomore Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line (he blocked an Aggie extra point because of course we had that happen) and a sellout Lincoln crowd. Please also note that McGee completed 13 passes for a dead even 100 yards through the air. Lane had four rushing TDs, 25% of his season total. This was the pinnacle of the Franfense, and you can rest assured we won the time of possession.

The offensive attack...whatever it was called

After five years at a school, a coach should have a system in place. And whatever 2007’s offense was, it was the culmination of Dennis Franchione’s dream system. A clunky, misfiring jalopy that every once in a while was capable of flat-out smooth destruction of the road, if only it could stay running for long enough. The rest of the time it was a jumble of bad parts, mistimed lurches, and myriad flat tires, bad alignments, overheated elements, and poor driving. When it clicked for those few brief periods, you almost forgot that you wanted to abandon it by the side of the road and light it on fire 90% of the time. Check it out: the 2007 Aggie offense had three players with 700+ rushing yards. All three of those players (McGee, Goodson, Lane) spent time in the NFL. The offensive line was loaded with talent as well, and there was a hidden gem in Chris Alexander, the last great Aggie fullback. TE Martellus Bennett led the team in receiving, and...there were technically some wide receivers on the team as well. It was very different from today. It was a machine built on sheer cussed stubbornness, and it worked well if you were stubborn enough to floor the pedal for long enough.

THE BAD

Getting trounced in The Orange Bowl

This was the final season of football played at the iconic Miami home stadium. The Aggies were undefeated and ranked heading into this game and faced a Miami team whose only loss had been on the road at Oklahoma. The game was played on a Thursday night, and the entire country was watching to see how the Aggies’ ground attack would fare against the speedy ‘Canes defense. The answer: pretty damned awful. Miami took control early and did not look back, jumping out to a 31-0 lead after three quarters before A&M would score some mercy points in garbage time. The “smoke draw” play was ineffective. Jorvorskie Lane lost his shit on a trainer offering him a water bottle. Some dickhead left an angry note on QB Stephen McGee’s truck for when he arrived back in College Station. In short, Aggie Football Dysfunction was heating up. Miami would not win a home game that season after the month of September.

That afternoon in Lubbock...what was that?

OK, so it’s mid-October and the team is 5-1. Not bad, eh? Undefeated in conference play with wins over Baylor and Oklahoma State. But it’s time to go to Lubbock. At least it’s a daytime game. No room for weird nocturnal October Jones Stadium supernatural shit, right? Hello?

This game started out brilliantly. The first drive of this game was everything Fran ever drew up in his head: a sustained, 10-play, 70+ yard possession that took five minutes off the clock and ended with a Jorvorskie Lane TD dive. The offense clicked almost the entire first half: there were two more extended drives of 10 and 15 pays that resulted in missed field goals. Only one punt in the first half. But by then, Graham Harrell had found his rhythm and led three touchdown drives. So each team got into scoring position three times, but Tech capitalized on all three of theirs and the hapless Aggie offense just disintegrated like North Korean-made cardboard in a tropical monsoon when it came time to finish. The second half was slow annihilation. There was one desperate drive late in the fourth where Stephen McGee almost single-handedly willed the team to the Tech 8 yard line only to turn it over on downs. This game illustrated the sheer futility of the clock control philosophy when you don’t have the guns to finish drives. Mike Leach was just toying with the Aggie defense, and could have easily blown this one wide open. Graham Harrell was 30-37 passing. That’s an 81% completion rate. A slow, 35-7 constriction of a team that offensively, at least, made very few mistakes in the first half and carried out their game plan just as it was drawn up. It just...wasn’t a good game plan. Welcome to conference play, Aggies; this is October. Only the years will change.

THE UGLY

Heat Exhaustion

The Fresno State game was played on September 8th. It went three overtimes, 4.5 hours, 90+ points, and roughly a thousand damned degrees on the surface, the heat rebating up into the metal bleachers until it melted shoe soles. If you survived this game as a spectator, much less a participant, you have proven your mettle. By overtime, the upper deck had cleared out so much that students were running to either side of the stadium as the teams switched sides of the field:

Great Migration

Super Secret VIP Newsletter

You know what is always, 100%, every single time, a bad idea? Making some extra cash at the office without your boss knowing about it. Because he or she will eventually find out. So you’ve got a coach who has performed pretty lamely in his first four seasons. The fifth ain’t going too well so far. Then this bombshell drops mid-season, and suddenly you’ve got folks actually hoping for NCAA violations so that the university isn’t forced to pay Fran’s buyout. (By the way, Fran was pulling in $2 million per year in 2007...is that insane or what?) Detailed injury reports, a separate website called “CoachFran.com,” top-tier information costing...this was a few supplements and tailored golf shirts away from an Advocare scheme gone awry.

Last of the Non-Prolific Wide Receiver Units

This was touched upon earlier, but it’s worth noting just how far wide receiver play has come in the last decade. In 2007 we were on the doorstep of the Sherman Offensive Renaissance, and guys like Jeff Fuller and Ryan Tannehill were about to step in and rewrite the record books. But we weren’t there yet. Boy, were we not there. 2007 is a grainy, blurred snapshot of an uglier era where wide receivers were virtually nonexistent. Here are some facts:

  • If you combined the yardage of every single wide receiver on the team, it is still less than Ryan Swope’s 2011 total and Mike Evans’ 2013 total.
  • The team’s third-leading receiver was Mike Goodson, and he was also the preferred deep threat.
  • The entire wide receiver unit collectively totaled five receiving touchdowns on the season.
  • The team’s second tight end (Joey Thomas) had more receiving yards than all but three wide receivers.
  • The team’s fullback (Chris Alexander) had more receiving yards than all but three wide receivers.
  • The wide receivers collectively accounted for just 46% of the team’s receiving yards. (Running backs: 25%, tight ends: 29%.)
  • The leading wide receiver had fewer than 500 yards on the season.

But man, could they hold a block on the edge on a slow-developing option play. Sort of.

CODA

That Texas Game.

Listen to Chuck talk about the emotional roller-coaster that pretty much all Aggies rode immediately following the 2007 Texas game at Kyle Field. Cue it up to the 33-minute mark:

The Texas win was a jolt of various raw emotions: surprise at the way the team played free and loose and jumped out to a big lead, the ecstasy of beating the Longhorns for the second year in a row, and capped off with the formal announcement from Franchione that he was stepping down. Things were good that night. An in-state bowl game was waiting, then the excitement of a new coaching hire and an infinite optimism for the future that awaited. There was no hint of a thought of a loss to Arkansas State and a 4-8 record the next year on that November evening. It was pure joy in ugly football, with no thought at all for the future. That was 2007 in a nutshell.