Slowing Sooners' offense big key for Aggies

Texas A&M will rely on defense to get past its old Big 12 conference rival Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

ARLINGTON, Texas – The matchup for Friday's Cotton Bowl on FOX (7:30 p.m. ET) may have a déjà vu' sort of feel when old Big 12 rivals Texas A&M and Oklahoma square off at Cowboys Stadium.

The Aggies, winners of six games SEC games in their first season in the conference,  struggled defensively against the wide-open passing attacks of the Big 12 last season, allowing more than 275 yards a game through the air. That included 255 yards in a 41-25 loss in Norman. But the SEC has been good to the Aggies (10-2) and their defense, as they've allowed 25 fewer yards through the air and less than 400 yards a game overall.

The Sooners (10-2) figure to put that revamped defense to the test.

"They're a little bit of everyone we've faced," Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. "They're a good football team. Their offensive line is one of the best we've faced. Their quarterback (Landry Jones) reminds me of AJ McCarron. He runs that system very well. As a group, they are the best wideouts we've faced. I think they have SEC tailbacks as well."

A&M has faced a variety of offenses this season but only a few that are as wide open as the Sooners, who like the Aggies run an up-tempo offense. A&M faced Louisiana Tech earlier this season and the Aggies think that offense is the most similar to the one they'll see Friday night.

That might not be a good thing easier as Louisiana Tech scored 57 points and the Aggies allowed a season high 450 passing yards.

But the game was Oct. 13 and A&M feels like its defense is much improved.

"That was early in the year and we had a bunch of young guys and we were still getting used to the speed of the game," defensive back Dustin Harris said. "As the season went on, we started getting the team concept together and starting playing like a real unit. It's never easy going against a fast-paced offense like that, a hurry up. We kind of got away from it in the SEC."

The good news for A&M is while it didn't play offenses like OU every week this season, the Aggies did get to practice against one in their own team.

And while most of the quarterback attention for the game has centered on A&M Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, Oklahoma boasts a four-year starter in Landry Jones. Jones has thrown for at least 4,000 yards every season and has beaten the Aggies twice in his career.

The Jones-led Sooners average 341 yards a game through the air, ranking them fourth in the nation.

"Landry Jones is a very good quarterback," A&M linebacker Jonathan Stewart said. "He has started 50 games in a row so he has probably seen everything in the book. It will be up to us on defense to disguise and try to confuse them so our defensive line can have a lot of success. If our defensive line is able to dominate their offensive line, then we should be able to have a lot of success. We especially need to make Landry uncomfortable in the pocket."

OU's offensive line knows it has to give Jones time to pick apart the Aggies.

"They (the Aggies defensive line) are very talented with their hands and they throw all kinds of looks at you," OU offensive lineman Gabe Ikard said. "Being able to slant and angle in, bring blitzes, they really mix it up well. They can definitely keep you guessing on the offensive side of the ball. We need to be able to diagnose every look they are going to give us."