OU football: Five keys for how Texas A&M will win the Cotton Bowl
IRVING, Texas — After the team’s inaugural SEC season, which resulted in a 10-2 record, Texas A&M now has the responsibility of taking down a former Big 12 foe in this year’s 77th AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic. Here are a couple of keys for a Texas A&M win.
1. Disrupt OU senior quarterback Landry Jones
Simply put, OU’s senior starting quarterback's veteran experience always gives the Sooners a chance to win the game. The Aggies need to flush Jones out of the pocket and force him to make bad decisions in order to give the defense turnover opportunities.
Jones has 51 career interceptions, including 10 this season, but taking down OU’s all-time leading passer won’t be a walk in the park for the Aggies.
“There’s nothing (Jones) hasn’t seen,” Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Synder said. “He’s seen it all, and that concerns us. We have to try and pressure him because he’s good even under pressure.”
2. Contain OU’s wide receiving corps
What was once a thin part of the Sooner offense, the OU wide receiving group quickly turned into a serious threat to opposing defenses this season. The additions of senior Penn State transfer Justin Brown and junior Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders — who have combined for 1,588 yards and seven touchdowns this season — added depth following the graduation of former OU All-American receiver Ryan Broyles.
Add in the experience of junior receiver Kenny Stills and several freshmen who already have proven their skill sets, and Jones has more than enough weapons. Texas A&M will need to limit the long ball and keep the receiving corps contained to short yardage in order to keep points off the board.
“This is the best group we’ve faced,” Texas A&M safety Steven Terrell said. “All four positions have playmakers. When you play a team like this, you just have to be fundamentally sound and not give up the big plays.”
3. Limit sophomore quarterback Blake Bell.
The Sooners are best when they attack in the air and on the ground — just ask Texas. And no one keeps the OU offense out on the field in short yardage situations better than back-up quarterback Blake Bell.
During Texas A&M's 41-25 loss to OU last season, Bell had 37 yards and two touchdowns, including the Sooners' first touchdown of the game. Not many teams have been able to stop the Belldozer package this year, but Texas A&M knows what to expect this time when Bell enters the game.
“They got us on (the Belldozer package) last year,” Texas A&M defensive tackle Spencer Nealy said. “We’ve been working on stopping that.”
4. Win the turnover battle
It’s easier said than done, but the Aggies know a couple of takeaways could solidify a win against the high-scoring Oklahoma offense. The Texas A&M defense has 11 interceptions and 10 forced fumbles this season, and the Aggies need to find ways to take the ball out of Landry Jones’ grasp and hand it over to their own offense Friday night.
Both Kansas State and Notre Dame were able to take away points from the Sooner offense, and Texas A&M could find itself on the right side of the scoreboard if it can replicate what those two did on the Sooners’ home field.
“We have to force turnovers this game,” Terrell said. “That will be big for us, and I think the defense that plays the best will (allow its team) to have the success in this game.”
5. Rely on the sure arm of the Heisman winner.
The Aggies spent this season grooming a freshman quarterback for the hellacious talents of the SEC defenses. The result: college football’s first freshman Heisman winner. Texas A&M doesn’t need to change anything offensively that’s already worked for the team this season, and relying on quarterback Johnny Manziel’s arm is the sure way the team claims a victory over OU.
Manziel already has proven he has what it takes to stand in the pocket and make the throws needed to drive the Aggie offense into the endzone, regardless of his youth.
“He’s handled the (attention) well,” Moore said. “He has a great supporting staff behind him and we’re all brothers and we’re going to help each other out.”