The Chick-fil-A Bowl features a Duke team that exceeded expectations by reaching the ACC Championship Game going up against a Texas A&M squad that is more talented but struggled to elevate its level of play in big games.
Of course, most of the eyes tuning in to the game will be doing so to check out what Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel will do in what could be his final collegiate game. While he wasn't able to capture the Heisman Trophy again, he put together another terrific campaign.
He will be the center of attention not only for the viewers but also for Duke if it has any plans of ending its memorable season on a high note. Let's check out the most important key for both sides as bowl season finally begins to heat up.
Duke: Get Pressure on Johnny Manziel
Manziel is going to make plays. In two seasons, he's racked up over 9,500 total yards of offense and 88 touchdowns. Duke's job on defense isn't to completely shut him down; it's just to make sure he doesn't completely dominate the game to the point where the Blue Devils offense doesn't have a chance.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe spoke about Manziel via Dan Woken of USA Today:
It's pretty incredible when you look at his two-year totals and numbers he's been able to put together. The excitement meter in the way he plays takes it through the roof. To become somewhat legendary in one year puts you right at the top of the ladder in the historical sense of what an individual player has meant to college football.
The biggest key to limiting Manziel's impact is getting consistent pressure on him, even if it means sending a couple extra pass-rushers. At the very least, they have to line up and give off the impression of a blitz before dropping into coverage.
It's crucial because when Manziel gets time to stand in the pocket for more than a few heartbeats, he's going to find a way to make something happen. Whether it's a throw downfield or taking off and using his legs, he's a special playmaker, which is why Scouts Inc. ranks him among the top five at the position assuming he enters the 2014 NFL draft:
But if Duke can get some pressure on him and force quick decisions, that's when it can force mistakes. Manziel threw five interceptions over the final three games of the regular season. If Duke can pick off a couple passes, it should be in business.
It starts with Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx. If they can spend a lot of time in the backfield, it should have a trickle-down effect throughout the defense.
Texas A&M: Establish Running Game Early
Since the final scoreline read 45-7, it's easy to forget Florida State and Duke were tied at zero after the first quarter of the ACC title game. It wasn't until the Seminoles started focusing on the ground game in the second quarter that things started to open up offensively.
The Aggies should learn from that and come out looking to get things going with the rushing attack. Perhaps an expanded workload for Trey Williams, who's averaging over seven yards per carry in limited duty, is in order.
But even if they want to stick with the committee approach they used all season, the plan remains the same. Williams, Ben Malena and Tra Carson should have little trouble finding running room against a middling Duke defense.
Once they establish the run with the backs, then things should really open up for Manziel to start working his magic both through the air, especially if Duke doesn't focus extra attention on Mike Evans while trying to stop the run, and on the ground.
Ultimately, it's a game Texas A&M should win, but it must play better than it did in previous games against ranked opponents. A strong rushing attack should build the foundation for exactly that.