Texas A&M Football: 5 Things We Need to See in the Chick-Fil-a Bowl
The Texas A&M football team will take on the Duke Blue Devils in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on December 31 in Atlanta. Aggie fans hope to see some changes on the team after a month off to practice, in order to give them hope for 2014.
The 2013 Aggie football team has featured an explosive offense and an inept defense for much of the season. The defensive struggles were one of the big reasons the Aggies lost four games in 2013.
The Aggies will enter the bowl with an 8-4 record and ranked No. 21 in the nation. The Blue Devils are 9-3 and are ranked No. 24.
If the Aggies want to win their ninth game of the season then they need to shore up their defense and multiple other areas. This is a look at what Aggie fans would like to see from the team in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
A Healthy Johnny Football
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has had to deal with knee, shoulder and thumb injuries during the 2013 season. The thumb injury was the most damaging as it limited Manziel's ability to throw the ball.
The knee injury limited Manziel's ability to scramble. By the final game of the season, Manziel appeared to be a shell of his former self. He looked like a normal college football player.
Manziel has 31 days to rest up and recuperate between the last game against Missouri and the bowl game. Hopefully he can use that time to get healthy, so Aggie fans and a national television audience can see the player that spawned the nickname "Johnny Football."
It will be easy to tell if Manziel is close to 100 percent. If he is scrambling around and leaving defenders grasping at air, he is back to being the player he was. If Manziel is struggling to get away from defenders and air-mailing deep throws, then the injuries are still affecting him.
The Texas A&M offense has grown stale and predictable over the last two games. Against LSU and Missouri, the Aggies averaged 339 yards and 15.5 points per game.
Offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney has drawn the ire of Aggie fans because of his predictable play-calling and his unwillingness to spread the ball around. This has to change in the bowl game.
The Aggies have a lot of skill position talent. They have four receivers with over 40 receptions and three running backs with at least 300 yards rushing. McKinney has a plethora of options when it comes to spreading the ball around on offense.
The Aggies have a 6'6", 270-pound tight end in Cameron Clear who has only been thrown to three times all season. Clear and senior tight end Nehemiah Hicks have combined for four receptions on the season.
McKinney could use passes to the tight ends over the middle to take advantage of the linebackers and safeties that opposing defenses often use to spy on Manziel.
The Aggies have plenty of talent on offense and should be able to score on Duke. McKinney just needs to call plays to spread the ball around, and let his playmakers do their thing.
Emphasis on the Running Game
When the Aggies played LSU in Baton Rouge, the running backs combined for six carries in the game. Trey Williams and Ben Malena had three carries each in the blowout loss.
Tra Carson did not have a single carry in the game. That is unacceptable in any game, but especially in a game where the elements and injuries to your quarterback are limiting the passing game.
Williams, Carson and Malena all need to get at least 10 touches each against Duke. Williams is the type of explosive player who can score a touchdown every time he touches the ball.
If Manziel declares early for the NFL draft, then the 2014 offense should be focused around getting Williams the ball. It would behoove Clarence McKinney to give Aggie fans a preview of that in the bowl game.
There is no point in recruiting gifted running backs if you are not going to use them. McKinney needs to find ways to better utilize the running backs on the roster, or the Aggies will find an offensive coordinator who can.
Improved Defensive Play
The Aggies had one of the worst defenses in the country in 2013. Injuries forced the coaches to go with youth at many positions, and the results were not always positive.
After 12 games of playing in the SEC, the freshmen on the team cannot use youth as an excuse anymore. The coaches and players had 12 games to prepare for a Duke offense that averaged 31.6 points and 408.1 yards per game.
The Blue Devils feature quarterback Anthony Boone on offense. The 6'0", 230-pound sophomore is a dual-threat athlete who has rushed for 187 yards and four touchdowns on the season.
His size and ability to move around behind the line of scrimmage could give the Aggies trouble. Boone's sophomore teammate Jamison Crowder leads the Blue Devils with 96 receptions for 1197 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Aggies simply need to play their game on defense in order to win this game. Control the line of scrimmage and keep the Duke offense off schedule so they can force punts.
With a month to prepare, the Aggies should be ready for anything Duke throws at them. Aggie fans should expect to see solid tackling and good overall defense in this game. If A&M allows Duke to get 400 yards of offense, then it is a disappointment.
Solid Special Teams
The Aggies need to be solid on special teams against Duke. The Blue Devils feature one of the best kick returners in the nation in freshman cornerback DeVon Edwards.
Edwards averages 31.1 yards per kickoff return and has scored two touchdowns. The freshman also has two interception returns for touchdowns in 2013.
He is one of the best freshmen football players in the country and is someone the Aggies must contain. Edwards' kick returns can give Duke good field position and momentum. The Aggies coverage teams need to stay in their lanes and hold him in check.
Special teams are one of the forgotten areas when looking at how teams match up in bowl games. The Aggies need to be solid, and not allow Duke to break off any big plays in the punting or kicking game.