Match-up: Texas A&M (SEC) vs. Louisville (ACC)
Location: Nissan Stadium. Nashville, TN
When: Wednesday, December 30th, 7:00 PM
Where to Watch: ESPN
Texas A&M Overview
An 8-4 season for many programs is considered a pretty solid season, but not in College Station. With expectations high prior to the start of the season, the Aggies for the most part underwhelmed. The preseason hire of former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis was supposed to the be one of the marquee hires of the entire offseason. The A&M defense didn’t improve, as they allowed over 360 yards of total offense per game despite having a handful of talent. However, it was the offense that was even more disappointing, as it finished just 48th overall in the country in total offense while finishing in a tie for 87th in turnovers lost. The Aggies turned the ball over 22 times this season, which is totally uncharacteristic for a Kevin Sumlin spread offense. The rotation between Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray at quarterback didn’t help, either.
Players to Watch
Kyler Murray (QB): The #1 duel-threat quarterback in the class of 2015, Kyler Murray didn’t see as much time as anticipated this season with starter Kyle Allen playing for the first half of the season. After Allen’s struggles with interceptions, Sumlin turned to Murray to spark the offense, but Murray never really found his comfort in the offense, either. It remains to be seen if Murray will even play in this game, with reports coming forward that Murray intends to transfer from College Station, as is Kyle Allen. What a mess of a situation this is for Kevin Sumlin. If Murray does play, he will be an x-factor in this one.
Myles Garrett (DE) Perhaps one of the best defensive players in all of college football, Garrett, unlike some of his high profiled teammates coming out of high school, has certainly lived up to the hype. The 6-foot-5, 260 pound freak of nature had 10.5 sacks this season and has been a disruptive force ever since he stepped on campus. Teams did run away from his side this year, attempting to limit his impact as much as possible. Nonetheless, 10.5 sacks is still a pretty good number. He will be a nightmare of a matchup for Louisville’s offensive line.
How Texas A&M Can Win
They need to somehow get their swagger back on offense. Even if Murray doesn’t play, sophomore Jake Hubenak is capable of running this offense at a high level. But they will need to establish their ground game, and that starts with Tre Carson. Get Carson going, and feeding freshman Christian Kirk in every way possible (bubble/flanker screens, crossing patterns, etc.) will pay dividends for the Aggies in this game.
The Cardinals were tasked with a rigorous three game stretch to start the season, which included ranked opponents in Auburn, Houston, and Clemson (two of which finished in the AP Top 15). All three of those losses were by 7 points or less, so it was a tough start for Bobby Petrino’s team. The Cardinals did rebound nicely, winning 7 of their remaining 9 games to finish 7-5. The loss to Pittsburgh at the end of the season was a tough one to swallow, but this Cardinals team is talented and is capable of beating quality teams when playing at their best.
Players to Watch
Lamar Jackson (QB): The freshman quarterback has meant everything to Louisville’s offense this year. A true duel-threat quarterback with game-changing speed in the open field, Jackson threw for over 1,600 yards and rushed for over 700 yards this season. Due to the learning curve, Petrino did not ask Jackson to drop back and throw the ball a bunch of times like he has with his signal callers in the past, so the offense was based around the run the game and Jackson’s ability to make plays with his feet. He will challenge this Aggies defense in this Music City Bowl.
Jamari Staples (WR): The transfer from UAB had a solid season for the Cardinals, catching 36 balls for more than 600 yards and 3 scores. Not staggering numbers because this offense was limited in the passing game, but Staples is a talented wideout that is fast and physical and has the ability to catch anything thrown in his direction. I expect him to challenge this soft Aggies secondary.
How Louisville Can Win
Force turnovers on defense. The Cardinals pose one of the stiffest challenges from a defensive standpoint that the Aggies have faced all season, and the Cardinals physical front seven will be tough to deal with. If they can win their battles up front and force either Murray or Hubenak to make quick decisions with the ball, it will bode well for Louisville and they can single-handily win this game on defense.
Final Score Prediction: Louisville wins 20-17.
Photo Credits: http://www.foxsports.com/college-football/story/texas-am-aggies-myles-garrett-alabama-crimson-tide-derrick-henry-heisman-top-5-feldman-090515
Christian Reilly- @CReillyTV