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Cotton Bowl 2013: 5 Key Stats for Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma Showdown

Tom GuthrieContributor IIIDecember 20, 2012

Cotton Bowl 2013: 5 Key Stats for Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma Showdown

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    The anticipated Cotton Bowl matchup between Texas A&M and Oklahoma is drawing near.

    The bout should feature plenty of entertainment and drama, as Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel will face gunslinger Landry Jones. But at the end of the day, it's just another college football game that will be decided by whichever team executes better.

    As these two accomplished squads prepare to face off and compete for bragging rights for their respective conferences, it's not too early to begin looking at how the teams stack up.

    Here are five stats key for team success that will be important in determining the outcome of the tussle between the Aggies and the Sooners in Jerry World. 

Rush Yards

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    A fundamental ingredient for success in football is running the ball effectively. Texas A&M boasts the 13th-ranked rushing offense, averaging roughly 235 yards per game. Oklahoma, meanwhile, is 61st with just about 165 yards per contest. 

    To be sure, limiting the oppositions' ability to run the ball will be key for each team heading into the Cotton Bowl. For Oklahoma, topping the Aggies will require limiting Johnny Manziel, and limiting Johnny Manziel requires denying him rushing opportunities. However, OU cannot overlook the very capable trio of tailbacks Ben Malena, Christine Michael and Trey Williams. 

    For the Aggies, containing OU running back Brennan Clay as best as possible will help make the Sooner attack one-dimensional. The Sooners, however, have passed on approximately 57 percent of their plays this season, so stopping the run is probably not as important for A&M as it is for OU. 

    Last but not least, Texas A&M's ability to stop Sooner backup quarterback Blake Bell could be key. Virtually nobody (besides Notre Dame with the help of a phantom penalty) has completely bottled up Bell near the goal line this season, and his effectiveness has played a huge role in OU's success. It will be interesting to see if the Aggies have an answer for the 6'6," 254-pound behemoth.  

Turnovers

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    In a matchup between fairly even teams, turnovers are almost always a deciding factor. Don't be surprised to see an offensive shootout, with an interception here or a fumble there potentially making the difference in a close game. 

    Considering their success this season, both Oklahoma and Texas A&M surprisingly rank near the bottom of FBS programs in terms of turnover margin, with marks  of -4 and -5 respectively. 

    The teams have also combined for 39 giveaways (OU has 19 and A&M has 20). The chances are good we'll see at least one turnover in the upcoming contest. Depending on the context, it could play a major role in not only possession and scoring opportunities but also momentum.

    And momentum, that mystical intangible of college football, will be huge in this game. 

Red Zone Conversions

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    Fans will be privileged to watch quarterbacks Johnny Manziel and Blake Bell work their magic near the goal line. Both signal-callers have been very effective in leading their teams to touchdowns in the red zone. During the Cotton Bowl, their abilities to do so will be crucial.

    Bell, the Sooners' go-to weapon in the red zone thanks to the "Belldozer" package, will probably get several opportunities inside the 20-yard line against the Aggies. He will need to be at his best once again, as the Sooners cannot afford to squander opportunities against a potent offense. 

    Meanwhile, the OU defense will have its hands full against a versatile Aggie offense featuring 11 different players who have scored touchdowns. A key for the Sooners, as well as for the Aggies, is forcing the opposition to settle for a field goal on as many occasions as possible. This would be a small victory and important for boosting confidence and potentially increasing a team's lead. 

    The red zone conversion stats could be similar for both teams, but if there is a discrepancy, expect the better conversion rate to belong to the winner. 

3rd-Down Conversions

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    Both teams shine in this category. A&M leads the FBS with a third down conversion rate just better than 55 percent. The Sooners rank fifth with a success rate of just shy of 52 percent. This effectiveness is a testament to both teams' offensive talent and ability to deliver in clutch situations.

    In a game that is likely to feature an abundance of offense, this statistic should be a very telling one. Success on third down is key for sustaining drives, generating momentum and confidence, tiring out the defense and keeping the opposing offense off the field. Like time of possession, the ability to convert on third down can be a barometer for measuring a team's success. 

    A&M could have the edge in this category. In addition to its offensive success, the Aggies' defense ranks ninth nationally in third down conversions allowed, while the Sooners sit well below that mark at 71. 

    An obvious way to neutralize playmakers like Johnny Manziel and Landry Jones is keeping them off the field. In order to do that, each respective team must deliver on 3rd down. 

Quarterback Hurries

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    Last but certainly not least, getting to the quarterback will be essential for both squads. The Sooners have an edge in sacks allowed, while the Aggies have tallied more sacks on defense. 

    Texas A&M All-American defensive end Damontre Moore has logged 12.5 sacks this season and neutralizing him will be a priority for the Sooner offensive line.

    Oklahoma does have a capable offensive line led by all-Big 12 center Gabe Ikard, and their performance against the Aggies is as important as any other group. Jones has had a successful senior campaign and benefited from solid protection, but he is a whole different animal when pressured. If the Aggies can get to him and force him out of the pocket, they will feast on his vulnerability and force turnovers.

    On the other hand, the Sooner D-line, which features plenty of experience but has struggled at times this season, faces a steep challenge. The Aggies boast two all-conference linemen in Luke Joeckel (also an All-American) and Jake Matthews, who both are on the plus-side of 300 pounds. 

    Overall, the Aggies seem better-equipped to pressure the opposing quarterback. Additionally, Manziel has considerable ability to elude pressure and extend plays. These advantages could make the difference for A&M. 

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