Cotton Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma preview


The Matchup: #9 Texas A&M (10-2) vs. #11 Oklahoma (10-2)

When: Friday, January 4th

Where: Arlington, TX

Game Time: 8:00 PM ET


Oklahoma ranked wins: #23 Texas

What you need to know about Oklahoma: The Sooners were largely thought to compete for a national championship this season, as they were penciled in on several preseason ballots. But the national title shot went out the window with losses to Kansas State and Notre Dame – both home games.

The Sooners are 12th in the country in scoring offense, averaging over 40 points per game. They feature a very explosive offense, led by senior quarterback Landry Jones. Jones looks really good at times, but he looks so lost in others, and I’m sure it gives NFL scouts headaches. He’s thrown for 3,989 yards and 29 touchdowns, completing over 65 percent of his passes. His primary target is Kenny Stills, who has registered 75 catches for 892 yards and 11 touchdowns. Other receivers Sterling Shepard, Jalen Saunders and Justin Brown each have caught over 40 passes, too, and combined for 10 touchdowns.

While the passing offense is potent because of Jones and his gifted receivers, the running game has yet to get to the level everyone thought they could be. The Sooners have registered 6,071 yards and only 1,975 have been on the ground (33 percent). That’s not exactly balanced. Damien Williams leads all ball carriers with 905 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns, and backup Brennan Clay will tote the rock, too. However, backup quarterback Blake ‘BellDozer’ Bell has 58 carries and 11 touchdowns. He’s the short-yardage extraordinaire in goal line situations.

The Sooners finished fourth in scoring defense in the Big 12 and fourth in total defense, but the defense hasn’t exactly forced many turnovers this season. To beat Texas A&M, the Sooners will have to play contain with their front four defensive linemen, something LSU and Florida proved they could do. But can the Sooners?

What you need to know about Texas A&M: The Aggies are coming off of a thrilling inaugural season in the SEC and are creating a ton of momentum heading into bowl season and prime recruiting season, thanks to a 10-win season and a Heisman Trophy.

While Johnny Manziel has been absolutely fantastic, Kevin Sumlin should get most of the praise. The first-year coach has delivered a fantastic season, winning all six of his road games.

The offense led by Manziel is explosive, but it’s also balanced. They lead the SEC in rushing (235 ypg) and total offense (552 ypg). Manziel set a record with 4,600 total yards of total offense and 43 touchdowns. We know what Manziel can do in all facets of his game, but it made him even better when Ben Malena and Christine Michael started to really get cranking in the running game. Malena rushed for 752 yards and seven touchdowns, while Michael rushed for 417 yards and 12 touchdowns. Both were instrumental in making the offense more explosive and more balanced.

Manziel’s two primary receivers are freshman Mike Evans and senior Ryan Swope. Evans caught 75 passes for 1,022 yards and five touchdowns, while the steady senior Swope caught 64 passes for 809 yards and seven touchdowns.

The biggest strength on offense that gets overlooked is the offensive line. Led by tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, these guys are road graders and have made Manziel much more potent, especially run blocking. The Aggies have only yielded 23 total sacks on the season.

The Aggies’ defense is middle-of-the-pack in the SEC, but they do feature a better player than anyone on Oklahoma’s defensive line. UGA’s Jarvis Jones and USC’s Jadeveon Clowney often overshadow Damontre Moore’s production and explosiveness, but he’s just as big of a force on defense as either player. Moore registered 12.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss. By comparison, Oklahoma doesn’t have any player in double figures in tackles for loss or sacks. But this group hasn’t seen a passing attack like Oklahoma will feature, and the Sooners will have success against the TAMU secondary.

By the numbers:

Category Texas A&M Oklahoma
Scoring Offense 44.8 ppg 40.3 ppg
Total Offense 552.3 ypg 506.8 ypg
Rush Offense 235.08 ypg 165 ypg
Pass Offense 317.3 ypg 341.8 ypg
Scoring Defense 22.5 ppg 24.2 ppg
Total Defense 389.3 ypg 380 ypg
Rush Defense 140.82 ypg 181.92 ypg
Pass Defense 248.4 ypg 198.1 ypg
Turnover Margin -5 -4
INTs 11 12
Sacks By 30 24
Sacks Against 23 14

Who has the edge? These are two classic-style Big 12 teams, and it could turn into a shootout and a track meet, as the team that has the ball last could have the best chance to win.

Both offenses have advantages over the defenses. Oklahoma certainly doesn’t have the defense of either LSU or Florida, and containing Johnny Manziel will be their biggest item on the agenda. LSU and Florida showed the rest of the country the blue print to beat Manziel – contain him in the pocket and hope that he makes mistakes in the passing game. He’s going to make his plays and eat up yards, but the explosive plays are what Oklahoma must limit.

And on the flip side, Oklahoma’s passing game really matches up well with the Aggies’ defense. The Sooners average over 341 yards per game through the air, and the Aggies’ pass defense is the weakest of the three levels.

Photo Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports



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  • Great preview and spot-on. I think the Ags have a slight advantage. Both teams have top-5 offenses, but OU has a statistically worse D and that’s the difference. BTW I love it when people type or post “LSU and Florida showed the rest of the country the blue print to beat Manziel”. Yeah the blueprint is: HAVE A TOP 5 DEFENSE. And even then it only works 2/3 of the time :D

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