Texas A&M-Louisville Preview
Texas A&M is dragging toward the end of another exhausting season, though this one appears to be so much worst than last year.
The reeling Aggies will try to pick up the pieces after the departure of their top two quarterbacks when they meet Louisville in the Music City Bowl in Nashville on Wednesday night.
Texas A&M (8-4) opened 5-0 for the second straight season but again stumbled down the stretch. The Aggies finished in fifth place at 4-4 in the SEC West in an effort reminiscent of their 8-5 performance of 2014.
A&M fell 19-7 in its regular-season finale at LSU on Nov. 28, and things went downhill from there. On Dec. 10, sophomore QB Kyle Allen announced he was transferring immediately and was granted his release, and highly touted freshman Kyler Murray departed a week later, leaving coach Kevin Sumlin's program in chaos.
''He and his family got together and made a decision they thought was best for them,'' Sumlin said of Murray. ''Obviously we didn't agree with it. But this program is not about one person or one coach.''
Two losses at the most important position on the field, however, delivered a devastating blow. Allen won the starting job going into the season but was benched after throwing three pick sixes in a 41-23 loss to Alabama on Oct. 17. He and Murray alternated from that point on.
Texas A&M is now forced to turn to little-used junior college transfer Jake Hubenak - the only scholarship quarterback left on the roster. In his first season since transferring from Blinn College, Hubenak made four appearances and went 12 of 27 for 92 yards with one touchdown.
He led the NJCAA with 4,052 yards passing in 2014, completing 64.9 percent of his passes with 47 touchdowns and nine interceptions in eight games.
The Aggies' offense struggled through a miserable finish even with Allen and Murray. Texas A&M averaged 20.6 points in its final seven games and scored 10 or fewer three times.
Turnovers were the biggest issue. Despite going four games without one, the Aggies totaled 22 - their most since committing 24 in 2011. They had six games with three or more giveaways and coughed the ball up 16 times in the final seven games.
Their bowl matchup is against a team with a similar problem.
Louisville led the ACC and is tied for seventh in the nation with 27 turnovers. While the Aggies floundered late in the season, though, the Cardinals thrived - despite committing the majority of their turnovers during their second-half surge. Louisville (7-5) won five of its final six despite giving the ball away 17 times in that span.
The Cardinals' offense compensated, particularly in the final four games in which they averaged 37.8 points after scoring 19.5 in the previous four.
Louisville rushed for a season-high 314 yards in a 38-24 win at Kentucky on Nov. 28. Freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson had 186 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries to finish with team highs in rushing yards (734) and touchdowns (nine). Jackson also threw for 1,613 yards and 10 touchdowns with eight interceptions.
Louisville's biggest driving force, though, is defense. The Cardinals held opponents to fewer than 20 points five times and ranked 13th in the nation with 323.4 yards allowed per game. They're 14th in rush defense at 118.8.
Texas A&M's leading rusher is Tra Carson, who ran for more than 100 yards six times - four in the final five weeks.
"They like to run the ball probably more than people think," Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said.
The Cardinals have a location advantage, getting to play at Nashville's Nissan Stadium, about 175 miles south of Louisville.
"So our fans will be there I am sure, our team will be very fired up and we really want to go out and represent our program," offensive coordinator Garrick McGee told the team's official website.
Texas A&M has won all three matchups in this series, the latest a 26-10 victory Nov. 12, 1994.