Northwestern versus Texas A&M in Houston: The Matchup

So now that we know that Northwestern jumped into the Meineke Car Care Bowl, its time to start thinking about Texas A&M. What should we expect from the currently-but-not-for-long-Big 12 Aggies? Hint: I don't expect much punting.

Record: 6-6 (4-5)

A&M comes in with the same record as NU, but you shouldn't be deceived by it. The Aggies lost to the following teams: Missouri, Texas, Arkansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State. Those aren't all great teams, but there isn't a bad team in the bunch. Their only really impressive win was at home over Baylor, but then Northwestern's only impressive win was on the road against Nebraska. Furthermore, Texas A&M played only FBS opponents. Not all of them were good, but they deserve recognition for playing a difficult OOC opponent (Arkansas) and avoiding an FCS game. As Rodger said earlier, Texas A&M is probably the best 6-6 team in the country.

Stats of both advanced and non-advanced types

Note that some of the advanced stats may change due to opponent adjustments even though Texas A&M was idle this weekend.

Any way you look at it, the Aggies have an impressive offense. They average 497 yards and 39.6 points per game with an even run-pass split. They sit at 16th in FEI and 19th (15th rushing, 35th passing) in S&P+. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has a nice 7.0 YPA working for him, and running backs Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael (UPDATE: Michael is injured and won't play) both average over 5 YPC. There isn't much else to say.

It is on the defensive side of the ball that the difference between advanced and traditional statistics becomes obvious. Allowing 386 yards and 28.7 points per game doesn't look very good until you look back at the teams A&M faced. A defense that is 76th in the country in points allowed is a respectable 35th in FEI and 20th (15th rushing and 22nd passing) in S&P+. Northwestern still should be able to move the ball well, but don't be surprised when the A&M defense looks like more than a nuisance.

Overall, the Aggies are a good example of why the Big 12's offense-only reputation is exaggerated. They also are a testament to how deep the Big 12 is this year: in addition to all the above stats, Chase Stuart's SRS has them as the third team in the Big 12-at 12th in the country! While the offense is clearly the strength of the team, the defense suffers noticeably in traditional measures from their brutal schedule. Expect NU to need to work a bit to move the ball, and hope that the NU defense can somehow manage a few stops.

Style

Texas A&M is one of the small group of college teams that base out of a 3-4 front. This will present something of a challenge to the NU offense, but hopefully the extra time gives them time to prepare for the more complex blitzes and stunts expected out of this style of defense. The A&M defense is more vulnerable to the big play than to sustained drives (55th in FEI's "explosive drives" measure but 12th in "methodical drives") I would expect them to spend most of the game in a nickel package; as far as I can tell, they use both a 2-4-5 and a 3-3-5 for this purpose.

Offensively, the Aggies look kind of like you expect a former NFL coach's team to look: they are balanced, use a variety of formations, and don't run the quarterback a ton (55 carries for Tannehill) though he is a fairly effective runner when they do (5.4 YPC). They have a 1000 yard receiver (Ryan Swope on 81 catches) and a 1000 yard rusher (Cyrus Gray on 198 carries), but they also have another running back with over 100 carries (Christine Michael with 149 for 899 yards (UPDATE: as above, Michael is injured and will not play) and a couple other receivers with decent numbers (Jeff Fuller is their second receiver with 63 receptions for 709 yards; the excellently named Uzoma Nwachukwu is third with 45 for 572). The NU defense needs to be ready for I-formation running, spread passing, and anything in between. This does not inspire confidence.

Intangibles

The biggest question mark heading into this game has to do with Texas A&M's coaching situation. They just fired head coach Mike Sherman, best known for wasting several of Brett Favre's prime years and all of Ahman Green's in Green Bay, handing the interim reins to defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter. With an interim head coach in place and a search for a permanent coach underway, I don't think anybody knows how the Aggies will respond to the long layoff. We will have to wait a month to find out.

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