As the gentle readers of Team Speed Kills are well aware, Texas A&M announced it was joining the SEC in September 2011. This proverbial pebble falling into the collegiate tidal pool would eventually result in West Virginia joining the Big 12 to fill in the gap. On Monday afternoon, the old tenant faces the new tenant in the neutral environs of the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis.
The teams have other connections as well. Schematically, both teams are of the Air Raid genus even if they've evolved into different species at this point. Additionally, Aggie offensive coordinator Jake Spavital was Mountaineer head coach Dana Holgorsen's graduate assistant at three (!) different locations before moving on to A&M. Holgorsen and Spavital recently had some Twitter banter and hilarity ensued.
A&M finished the season with a 7-5 record which was placed them at next to last in the SEC West. West Virginia likewise finished 7-5 which was good for the middle of the Big 12 race. Both teams beat the teams they should have this season, and largely lost to the teams that were demonstrably better than them; however, both can hang their hats on beating a team ranked in the Top 5: Auburn for A&M and Baylor for WVU. In other words, neither team is perfect, but both are more than capable of playing quality football.
WVU Offense Versus Texas A&M Defense
|WVU Offense||TAMU Defense|
A&M has been without a defensive coordinator since late November, when Kevin Sumlin fired the defense has been simplified, so perhaps that can help things.. A&M's defense was the SEC's worst by most measures in 2013, and while there was some improvement this season, most SEC offenses were going to score four or five touchdowns against the Aggies. Having Myles Garret rushing off the edge, and a pretty good secondary, weren't enough against SEC opponents. Reportedly,
Looking at the match-up from a season-long perspective, the Aggie defense looks to be outmanned against WVU in most categories, but does have a favorable match-up against WVU's passing offense. That's important because WVU receiver Kevin White, and his 102 receptions for 1,300 yards, is one of the best receivers in the country. Second-leading receiver Mario Alford is no slouch, either.
A&M's defense looks to have the advantage if it can get WVU's offense into obvious passing downs, perhaps especially because the Mountaineers will be without Clint Trickett. Trickett's back-up, Skyler Howard, has done an admirable job for WVU coming off the bench against Kansas State and Iowa State. Nonetheless, A&M will have one of the better secondaries he's faced with several weeks to prepare for him.
Any success against WVU's aerial attack will be negated, though, if the Aggie defense can't stop the WVU running game. Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood have shared carries this season to the tune of 4.67 and 4.61 yards per carry respectively. The advanced stats show that while WVU has a solid S&P Rushing ranking of 62nd in the country, but A&M's S&P ranking could make them look exceptional if they haven't improved since November.
Texas A&M Offense Versus WVU Defense
|TAMU Offense||WVU Defense|
A&M's offense will be tested by the WVU 3-3-5 base defense, according to these stats. A&M has a dangerous offense, even if it's facing a reputable defense that allowed 26 points per game in the high-scoring Big 12. WVU"s defensive success can be attributed to a few factors. First year coordinator, Tony Gibson, re-installed the 3-3-5 defense upon taking the job earlier this year with WVU, and Gibson, as an assistant coach, installed it under Rich Rodriguez ten years ago. Returning a majority of starters also helped matters.
Texas A&M's offense will be ready for the match-up. Kyle Allen may be a freshman, but he's thrown for eight touchdowns in the last three games since earning the starting job. The extra bowl preparation will likely have benefited his development, as it does all freshmen, and he could very well be poised for a good performance.
Allen won't lack weapons. There are few, if any, teams that can match the Aggies' potential at the receiver position. Josh Reynolds, Speedy Noil, Malcome Kennedy, Ricky Seals-Jones, and Boone Niederhofer all averaged roughly at least 30 catches for at least 10 yards per reception this past season. WVU's S&P passing defense is one of the best in the country featuring Terrell Chestnut, KJ Dillon, and Daryl Worley. This match-up will be one worth watching.
The important thing for A&M is not falling behind the sticks against WVU's defense. The Aggie offensive line underwhelmed this season, which resulted in the firing of the offensive line coach. Short yardage situations do not look like an area where A&M will consistently find success. A 41 percent completion rate on third down is decent, but isn't good enough to overcome failures on early downs.
The Aggie offense has an incredibly high ceiling, and perhaps a few weeks of bowl prep will help them smash through it.
As Brandon recently pointed out, predicting bowl games is typically a dubious exercise. On paper, WVU looks like a superior team to A&M, but which team is more motivated will also play an important factor. Another factor will likely be the familiarity both defense's have with the opposing offenses. WVU faced similar offenses against TCU and Texas Tech, and the average points allowed were 33 points. Meanwhile, A&M defensive staff will have great consultants from their offensive staff. At the end of the day, A&M's defense still won't be quite there against the run for four quarters, but A&M's play-makers keep the team within striking distance. In the end, the WVU defense will make critical stops that put the game on ice. West Virginia 35, Texas A&M 31