Liberty Bowl breakdown: Texas A&M-West Virginia

BY Zach Dillard • December 18, 2014

In a matchup of two well-recognized Air Raid-type offenses, it's somewhat strange to focus on an area in the backfield not involving the quarterback. All the same, Texas A&M's Achilles heel is stopping the run and West Virginia features some talent at the running back spot.

The Aggies rank 114th nationally against the run, allowing 223.5 rushing yards per game. Even worse: In the SEC West team's five losses, it has allowed nearly 300 yards per game ... before factoring in the passing game. That will likely be a point of emphasis for West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who boasts two 600-yard rushers with Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood. The Mountaineers have failed to establish an effective running game in a few of their losses (Alabama, Kansas State), and when they rush 50 or more times they own a 4-1 record.

With so much attention being paid to West Virginia's passing attack -- regardless of who is behind center -- the Mountaineers's success on the ground will be key to extending drives and keeping the Aggies offense off the field.

Kevin White, West Virginia

The 6-foot-3 senior is one of the nation's most explosive wide receivers, posting eight 100-yards receiving games, but he went quiet down the stretch. After being the FBS leader in multiple major pass-catching categories at the season's halfway mark, White averaged scored just two touchdowns and averaged 59.6 yards per game in the final five games -- three of which were losses.

This is still the same player that put up All-American numbers against top teams like Alabama, Oklahoma and Baylor. He's Option A for Holgorsen's offense, and defenses are hard-pressed to cover him man-to-man without safety help (which, in turn, could open things up in the running game.

After a quiet second half, White will be pushing for a showcase game for NFL scouts. Solidifying his place as the best receiver in a stadium that will be filled with them (Malcolm Kennedy, Speedy Noil, Ricky Seals-Jones, etc.) would not be a terrible place to start.

28: The Mountaineers ranked 123rd out of 128 FBS teams in turnover margin after committing 28 turnovers this season. Quarterbacks Clint Trickett and Skyler Howard combined for just 10 interceptions in 485 attempts, but the team lost 18 fumbles, including eight in the team's final four games.

45.4: Following an excellent start to the season, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin's offense pulled a Jekyll and Hyde of sorts. The Aggies put 45.4 points per game in their wins -- a typical Texas A&M storyline under Sumlin -- but averaged just 19 points in their five losses.

11: Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, one of the highest-rated recruits in the 2014 class, set the SEC record for sacks by a freshman, logging 11 in 11 games. Garrett broke former South Carolina star and No. 1 NFL Draft pick Jadeveon Clowney's mark of eight sacks in 2011.

Entering October, Texas A&M looked bound for its third major bowl game under Sumlin's guidance, shredding then-No. 9 South Carolina on the road before winning its next four games (including an overtime victory over Arkansas). Then, the schedule took a turn for the worse and things fell apart. The signature South Carolina win lost its luster and not even a late-season win over Auburn could turn things around.

West Virginia knows a thing or two about difficult schedules. The Mountaineers played four teams that, at one point or another, were ranked in the top five: Alabama, Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU. It lost three of those games by an average of 7.6 points. These teams have been tested, and though the numbers in certain areas (cough, defense) have been subpar, there's no fear factor between the former Big 12 staple and the Big 12 newcomer.

Overall, in spite of its chronic turnover problem, West Virginia has been the more consistent team. Aside from a lopsided, 17-point loss to Texas, the Mountaineers were in every single game with quality opponents. The Aggies can't say the same. In the end, West Virginia holds a slight defensive edge and comes up with enough stops in a fairly high-scoring affair.


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