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OSU punt block is rare fare

Ohio State reserve defensive back Derek Ross' first-quarter block of Shane Lechler's attempted punt was the Sugar Bowl's first since Syracuse blocked an LSU punt in 1965.

It was Ohio State's second touchdown off a blocked punt this season. The Buckeyes scored the first Oct. 3 in a 28-9 win over Penn State when linebacker Joe Cooper recovered in the end zone.

DELAYED START: Because the Rose Bowl ran long, the Sugar Bowl kickoff was delayed 15 minutes.

The Ohio State and Texas A&M bands took turns serenading the crowd. The Buckeyes played fight songs. The Aggies offered a medley of military tunes from World Wars I and II and the Vietnam war.

WELL BEHIND FSU: The Buckeyes are one of only three teams to win 10 or more games each of the past four seasons. Tennessee has won 10 or more the past four seasons. But Florida State is the runaway leader with at least 10 victories the past 12 seasons.

The Sugar Bowl was OSU's 10th consecutive bowl appearance since the Buckeyes went 4-6-1 in 1988, coach John Cooper's first season as Earle Bruce's successor.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS?: Ohio State dominated Texas A&M in the first half in rushing and passing, but the Aggies and Buckeyes each controlled the ball exactly 15 minutes.

A MILLION TO ONE: Wayne Morgan, a 55-year-old bank manager from Stone Mountain, Ga., had an interesting choice to make at halftime.

He could try to throw a football through a mock cellular phone from 10 yards away to win $1-million. Or he could, in effect, hand off to Hall of Famer Roger Staubach, letting the Heisman Trophy winner and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback try it for him for $100,000. A miss would be worth $10,000.

He deferred to Staubach, who missed, to boos and groans from the crowd. Staubach was given a second chance.

He made it. Morgan was $100,000 richer.

HEAD FOR THE BORDER: This bowl game was Texas A&M's first outside Texas since the 1990 Holiday Bowl in San Diego, a 65-14 trampling of Brigham Young.

Staying close to home lately hasn't paid off. The Aggies are 0-4 in Cotton Bowls starting with a 10-2 loss to FSU in 1992.

Their lone win in that stretch was 22-20 over Michigan in the Alamo Bowl four years ago. In their only previous game against Ohio State, the the Aggies lost 28-12 in the 1987 Cotton Bowl.

AGENT URGENCY: With a handful of seniors and possibly some underclassmen headed for the NFL draft, Cooper has had to handle another agent blitz at a school that has had a No. 1 draft pick at every position except quarterback.

Cooper sought to deal with the proliferation of agents this season by hosting an "Agents Day" at the team's indoor practice facility. The event was designed to let players chat face to face with agents and encourage agents to register with the school.

"Agents are the No. 1 problem in college football," Cooper said. "We've tried to be a little more pro-active, and from this standpoint, I don't know if that helps us or not."

LOUISIANA BLUES: Louisiana may be noted for its Southern hospitality, but Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum didn't feel much on his last football trip to the Bayou State.

In 1996, Slocum, a native of Oakdale, La., watched his A&M team lose 29-22 to lightly regarded Southwestern Louisiana.

It was such a big victory for Southwestern, which had never defeated a ranked team, that the school erected a permanent marker commemorating it.

OPPOSING STRENGTH: Ohio State's schedule was ranked No. 42 in the nation; A&M's was ninth toughest. Five of the Buckeyes' 12 opponents and seven of the Aggies' 13 earned bowl berths. Ohio State's opponents had a combined record of 60-52; A&M's went 79-51.

CAREER BOWL RECORDS: Texas A&M is 12-12 in bowls; Ohio State is 14-17. Slocum (94-28-2 career) is 2-6 in bowls; Cooper (178-74-6 career) is 3-7.

_ BRUCE LOWITT, TIMES WIRES

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