The date: November 13, 1993
The matchup: No. 20 Louisville (7-2) at No. 11 Texas A&M (7-1)
The stakes: It’s a redemption opportunity for both teams — Texas A&M’s only loss was via blowout at Oklahoma, and Louisville had fallen to No. 7 Tennessee and No. 24 WVU.
The back story: Texas A&M was the class of the sanctions-riddled early-1990s SWC, but the Aggies were struggling to stick the landing, so to speak. In 1991-92, they had gone 22-1 in the regular season but lost Cotton Bowls to Florida State and Notre Dame by a combined 38-5. Still, they were rising — from 28th in 1989, to 15th in 1990, to 12th in 1991, to seventh in 1992 — and despite the OU loss, they had a chance to rise further. They had devastating athletic talent on offense, but their strength was on defense, where their perfect pursuit angles and non-stop energy wore down just about every opponent. The ‘93 unit was particularly devastating, led by Sam Adams at the front and Aaron Glenn in the back.
And thanks to the weakness of the SWC, they had basically been freshening up for the month when Louisville came to town. From 50 Best*:
The Mustangs took the heaviest blow, but they were not alone. In 1986, TCU was slapped with three years of NCAA probation and sanctions, including a scholarship reduction, a one-year postseason ban, and forfeiture of previous television revenue. In March 1987, the month after SMU was handed the death penalty, Texas Tech received one-year probation and a slight scholarship reduction for giving at least one recruit money and a pair of ostrich-skin boots. In June 1987, Texas, the SWC’s flagship school, was hit with scholarship reductions.
In 1988, the NCAA had its way with two more schools. Houston wasn’t given the death penalty, but it might as well have been – after the discovery of more than 250 violations, the Cougars were given five years’ probation, a two-year bowl ban, a one-year television ban, and a massive scholarship reduction. The punishment would have been even worse if Yeoman, the head coach overseeing these violations, hadn’t been forced into early retirement. From 1991-2001, UH would win barely three games per year.
Texas A&M, meanwhile, got hit with a two-year probation, scholarship reduction, and a 1988 postseason ban. These sanctions weren’t as bad as others’, but it still led to Jackie Sherrill’s resignation.
Were SWC schools the only ones giving out illegal benefits or paying recruits? Of course not. But sometimes stereotypes are fulfilled; in the era of the TV show Dallas, Texas schools came off like Dallas’ main character, J.R. Ewing: more brazen, more boisterous, and more committed to these deeds than others. (A few hours north on I-35, both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would also get slapped pretty hard for misdeeds during this period.) This was especially the case at SMU, where booster Sherwood Blount grew so bold as to threaten NCAA investigators.
The effects of these sanctions on overall league quality were predictable; the top-15 finishes became rarer and rarer. Between 1991 and 1994, only one SWC program was able to finish in even the top 20.
A&M had beaten its last six opponents by an average score of 41-9 when Louisville came to College Station. The Cardinals, meanwhile, were fresh off of a blowout loss at No. 7 Tennessee. Would Howard Schnellenberger's squad be able to bounce back?
The game: From the Louisville Courier-Journal:
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Texas A&M's defense showed the University of Louisville football team why it calls itself the "Wrecking Crew," demolishing the Cardinals 42-7 last night at Kyle Field.
The Aggies made life miserable for quarterback Jeff Brohm all evening, intercepting three passes and recovering a fumble. They returned one interception for a touchdown and set up two other TDs with the fumble recovery and an interception.
Brohm completed only 12 of 30 passes for a season-low 117 yards as U of L was held to its lowest point total since a 19-0 loss to Arizona State in the second game of last season. [...]
Texas A&M has fought a public-relations battle in the past two months trying to overcome the effects of a 44-14 drilling by Oklhaoma. Although the Aggies have been posting lopsided victories, skeptics have criticized their schedule and voiced suspicions that they fold when the competition is upgraded from the weak Southwest Conference. No other SWC schoool has a winning record.
A stumble against U of L would have been another black eye for A&M and the SWC, but the Aggies made sure it didn't happen.
No black eye for A&M.
The box score:
Louisville gained just 189 yards but did well to hold A&M to only 355. That kept the score from being much worse than it could have been, especially considering A&M’s plus-3 turnover margin.
The Cardinals would rebound with an easy win at Tulsa and a victory over Michigan State in the Liberty Bowl. After one more year in Louisville, Schnellenberger would leave for an ill-fated stint at Oklahoma.
Meanwhile, A&M’s redemption tour came up just a little bit short. The Aggies destroyed TCU and beat Texas, 18-9, to finish the SWC slate unbeaten, and they fared infinitely better in the Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame than they had a year earlier. But they faltered late, losing 24-21 and finishing ninth in the AP poll.
Regardless, this might have been the peak for Slocum's Wrecking Crew. A&M allowed just 143 points in 12 games -- 68 against OU and Notre Dame and 75 against everybody else. The Aggies would go 10-0-1 the next year but suffered another postseason ban and missed out on a redemption opportunity. Slocum would coach in College Station through 2002, winning the 1998 Big 12 title.