Texas A&M v. Louisville
Nissan Stadium — Nashville, TN
December 30, 2015 — 7:00 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
It is hard to believe that Nashville has been hosting a bowl game for nearly two decades, yet this year marks the 18th edition of the Music City Bowl. Nissan Stadium will welcome two teams that had dark-horse dreams of contending for their conference crowns to open the year. One fell flat out of the gate, losing three straight to force an immediate reevaluation of the team’s goals for 2015. The other started the year 5-0 before sliding down the division standings in the back half of the schedule. Diverging from recent narratives, two teams normally defined by their offense were buoyed by defense this year. It could make for a low-scoring battle in Nashville as both teams engage in a defensive chess match on the NFL gridiron.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
Texas A&M Aggies
Oh, what a difference a few seasons make… or even just a few months. In each of the past two years since Johnny Manziel left College Station, the Aggies have started hot and Kevin Sumlin has looked like a genius at finding quarterbacks to fit his system. Now it looks like Texas A&M could be a program in utter dysfunction, with Kenny Hill, Kyle Allen, and Kyler Murray all transferring (or planning to transfer) out of the school. It leaves Sumlin’s offense in disarray at the most important position, jeopardizing a unit that boasts 1000-yard rusher Tra Carson and a strong stable of receivers led by freshman sensation Christian Kirk. At least the defense is solid, with a cast of talented players molded into a top-30 scoring defense by new coordinator John Chavis. Poached from LSU last offseason, Chavis boosted A&M’s weaker unit — just as the offense regressed back to the mean.
Through the course of the season, Bobby Petrino has been forced to turn to several quarterbacks to guide the Louisville offense. Starter Lamar Jackson provides the best dual threat, leading the team in both passing and rushing in 2015, though an ankle injury limited his effectiveness as the season wore on. Backup Reggie Bonnafon was supposed to be the next man up, but he sustained a head injury in his opportunity to drive the offense. Thus it turned to sophomore Kyle Bolin to step into the role behind center, though Jackson is back and should start the bowl game. Louisville’s defense, though, was the heart of its success in 2015. Strong against both the run and the pass, the Cardinals held opponents to 24 points per game. Louisville fell short in turnover margin, posting a negative figure in that statistical category, and will need to be more disciplined after seeing over seven flags per game thrown against them.
What is Likely to Happen
With enough time to get Jake Hubenak ready at quarterback, Kevin Sumlin should be able to make Vegas swallow the 5.5-point underdog status they bestowed on the Aggies. That still might not translate to a victory for Texas A&M, but it should be a close contest. Both offenses will find it tough to gain purchase against stout offenses, though Jackson has a better chance of keeping the Aggies defense honest with his arm and his legs than Hubenak is likely to be able to muster against Louisville. Look for the both teams to cough up a few turnovers apiece, with the more experienced quarterback doing a better job of rebounding from the mistakes. Texas A&M will have reasons to celebrate big plays throughout the contest, but they are unlikely to extend their bowl victory streak to five games.
Louisville 24, Texas A&M 22
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