SQ Music City Bowl Preview
In another matchup that features two teams trending in opposite directions, the 2015 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl will see Texas A&M (SEC, 8-4) take on Louisville (ACC, 7-5). The game will be broadcast on ESPN Wednesday December 30th at 7:00 pm EST. Both teams will be looking to finish underwhelming seasons with a quality win.
Storylines Heading Into the Game
Disappointing seasons for different reasons - Both of these teams entered the 2015 season with high expectations. After a final CFP ranking of 21st last season, Louisville proceeded to lose their first three games, and four of their first six. The Cardinals managed to go 5-1 to finish, but a 7-5 season was still very underwhelming. Texas A&M on the other hand won their first five, achieving a season-high ranking of 9th in the AP Poll. From there, they went 3-4 to finish the season. Instead of challenging for the SEC West crown, they fell to fifth.
A&M Quarterback woes - It has been a bad couple of weeks for the Aggies. Just a few days after starting QB Kyle Allen announced he would transfer, backup Kyler Murray announced he was leaving for Oklahoma. Both players appeared to be concerned with the direction A&M was trending, and felt that they would have better chances at another university. No matter what it is definitely embarrassing to have your first and second string quarterbacks opt out, and these events certainly don’t help coach Kevin Sumlin’s seat get any colder. This leaves sophomore Jake Hubenak earning his first career start in this bowl.
Devonte Fields turnaround - After earning BIG 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors as a linebacker at TCU, Devonte Fields was dismissed from the school for allegedly hitting his ex-girlfriend in 2014. He spent a year at community college, and then was looked at by Louisville. Coach Bobby Petrino was blasted for allowing Fields to join the team, but Fields has absolutely shown that he belongs. He finished the regular season with 7.5 sacks (all in the last six games), and his 19 tackles for loss put him at second in the country. His coaches have praised him for his work ethic and growth as a person.
323 - total yards per game allowed by the Louisville defense. The Cardinals have the 14th ranked total defense in the country, and it has been their strong point all season. This is great news against a mediocre A&M offense, especially with a new starting quarterback. Look for Louisville's defense to make Hubenak uncomfortable and try to control the pace of the game.
206 - rushing yards per game allowed by A&M. That number puts them at a dismal 104th in the country at what has been a huge weakness all season. They allowed Heisman-winner Derrick Henry to have one of his best games with 236 yards and two scores. Louisville’s offensive plan centers around the run, a fact that should make A&M fans nervous. The Aggie defense is going to have to play better than their average in order to come out of this game with a victory.
27 - season passing attempts by new A&M starter Jake Hubenak. Hubenak is a huge question mark right now for the Aggies as he makes his first career start. He has only attempted 27 passes this season, completing just 12 of them for 92 yards. He has also thrown one touchdown and no interceptions. A&M’s offensive performance is going to depend a lot on whether or not Hubenak can play well in his debut. If he ends up being a bust, it could be a long night for he and his teammates as they would be forced to play the run one-dimensionally. On the other hand, a strong showing from Hubenak could give them a win and tons of confidence heading into next season.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville - Louisville’s offense lives and dies by Jackson. He is both the main passing quarterback and the leading rusher. Most of A&M’s defensive efforts will be focused around containing Jackson and limiting his explosiveness. In the passing game he has been pretty average, completing almost 56% of his passes for 1613 yards and just 10 touchdowns. On the ground he has totaled 734 yards with a per-rush average of 5.2 yards. He has also added nine rushing scores.
He has improved as a passer, but is a much greater threat on the ground with his lightning speed. A&M will need to keep him in the pocket and force him to throw the ball in order to slow him down. They certainly can't afford to let him dictate offensive drives with his legs.
Myles Garrett, DL, Texas A&M - Garrett is A&M’s best chance at being able to contain Jackson. He has totaled 12 sacks this season, good for sixth in the country. He also has one interception and one forced fumble. Garrett has the ability to wreak complete havoc in the backfield, someone that Louisville can’t afford to let happen. If Garrett is allowed to have his way with a pitiful Cardinal offensive line, he could single-handedly contain Jackson and slow the Louisville offense.
Why Louisville Wins
Simply put, the Aggies are known for a poor offense while the Cardinals are known for a great defense. A&M has struggled all season to score points against quality teams, and this game won’t be any different. They are also know for giving up turnovers, which can afford Louisville a few extra chances on offense. Making matters worse for the Aggies, they will be starting a new quarterback in this game. Barring a miracle, the Louisville defense should be able to all but shut down the A&M passing attack.
On offense Louisville favors the run game, and the A&M run defense is a disaster. If Louisville can get the duo of Jackson and Brandon Radcliff going early, there won’t be much that A&M can do to stop them. Louisville will be able to dictate the pace of the game with their rushing attack.
Why Texas A&M Wins
The A&M offense may be poor, but Louisville isn’t exactly stellar with the ball either. They too have struggled to score points, and an offensive line that allowed 43 sacks this season won’t magically get better. Garrett and Daeshon Hall will be able to wreak havoc in the backfield and cause problems for Louisville all night. It will make it very tough for Louisville to comfortably run the plays they want to.
A better offensive line for A&M should also allow them to get looks in the running game. In addition, r
ookie QB Hubenak could benefit greatly from solid protection. If they can give him that for most of the night, he should be able to make the easy throws and play game-manager effectively.
This game will absolutely be about the defenses. And as mediocre as the Louisville offense is, A&M's is in worse shape. They haven’t been good all season, and now they are forced to play with an untested quarterback. Thats a recipe for disaster against a all-star defense like Louisville’s. Ultimately, I think this game will come down to one more explosive play from Louisville.
Final Score: Louisville 27, Texas A&M 23