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Post Texas A&M might not be Georgia’s ideal bowl opponent

Monday December 7, 2009

It’s official – the Dawgs are going to meet the 6-6 Texas A&M Aggies in the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl on Monday Dec. 28 at 5:00 ET.  The game will be televised on ESPN2.  Georgia is 1-3 all-time against the Aggies.  Georgia dropped the first three meetings – including a postseason loss in the 1950 Presidential Cup Bowl.  But the Dawgs took the most recent game – a 42-0 win in Athens in 1980.

If you wanted to find the least ideal opponent for a team that was short three defensive coaches, it would be a team that was near the top of a major conference and rated among the top 5 nationally in total offense.  That’s just what Georgia is getting in Texas A&M.  Through all games, the Aggies led the Big 12 in total offense and were third in scoring offense.  Isolating only conference games A&M was second in total offense and still third in scoring offense.  They got there primarily behind a rushing offense that was second-best in the league with 180 YPG, and they also averaged 245.4 YPG passing against Big 12 competition.

The Aggie running game is led by a duo of backs Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray.  The two have similar stats, but Michael leads the team in touchdowns and has been getting the bulk of the carries lately.  The running game is augmented by a mobile quarterback.  Jerrod Johnson is an efficient passer who torched Texas for 342 yards passing and 97 yards on the ground.  For the season Johnson has an impressive 455 net yards and 8 touchdowns rushing along with 28 TD through the air against just 6 INT. (By contrast, the Georgia record for passing touchdowns in a season is 25.) 

The Georgia defense and its hodgepodge of coaches will have a tough job first containing the triple running threat while paying attention to a diversified passing game that has seen nine Aggies (including both featured tailbacks) record at least 15 receptions during the season.  They convert third downs at nearly a 50% clip, thanks no doubt to Johnson’s ability to create.

There’s a silver lining of course and a reason why such a potent offense led to a 6-6 record.  The Aggies were the Big 12’s worst defense in terms of scoring defense and total defense.  They gave up over 460 YPG to conference opponents.  They were dead last in passing defense, and their rushing defense is also among the bottom quarter of the Big 12.  Against bowl-eligible Big 12 teams, the Aggies gave up an average of 42 PPG. 

As you might expect, that volatile combination of potent offense and toxic defense has led to A&M being on both sides of some lopsided scores.  They got blown out by Arkansas and Kansas State but rebounded to put up at least 35 points in wins over bowl-bound Texas Tech and Iowa State.  They followed those wins up by losing to a bad Colorado team and getting destroyed 65-10 by an Oklahoma squad that limped to a 7-5 record. 

Many saw A&M’s most recent outing – a 49-39 loss to Texas on Thanksgiving night.  The Aggies, led by Johnson’s incredible performance, kept pace with the #2 team in the nation but had their back broken by a 95-yard kickoff return.  The Aggies put up a prodigious 532 yards but allowed 597 (plus 186 return yards).

There are common opponents. Two weeks after losing to Georgia in Fayetteville, Arkansas put a 47-19 beating on Texas A&M at a neutral-site game in Dallas. Arkansas trailed after the first quarter but put up 23 points in the second quarter to break the game open.  The Hogs were able to move the ball on the ground as well as through the air, and their dominance of the game let Mallet have a relatively reserved 17-27-271 day with 4 TD passes.

The Aggies fared slightly better against Oklahoma State.  The Cowboys won by a close 36-31 margin in College Station. Georgia lost 24-10 in the season opener at Oklahoma State.

Georgia’s defense will have its work cut out, but the offense will be under pressure to put points on the board and keep the ball away from a potent Aggie attack.  The Dawgs led their conference in scoring (in conference games), but they’ve also done themselves in with turnovers. They’ll need the strong running game we saw at Georgia Tech to control the clock and keep the Aggie firepower on the bench.  There should also be opportunities in the passing game, and the return of A.J. Green could provide a big spark for Georgia.

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