- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M looks to bounce back from a heartbreaking loss while Vanderbilt tries to build on a big win when the two teams meet for the first time in their respective program histories at 12:21 p.m. Eastern time. The No. 16 Aggies (5-2, 2-2) lost 45-41 to Auburn while the Commodores (4-3, 1-3) scored their first SEC win of the season last week, a 31-27 victory over Georgia.
Here are five things to keep an eye on heading into today's cross-divisional SEC clash:
1. Who are the quarterbacks? The question remains whether Johnny Manziel will take the snaps for the Aggies. Earlier this week, head coach Kevin Sumlin called him "hopeful," and offered little else. On Friday night, a source stuck to that line, saying Manziel was "hopeful" and likely a game-time decision. If he can't go, the backups for Texas A&M are junior Matt Joeckel and true freshman Kenny Hill and the most likely scenario would be Joeckel getting the start. He started the season opener against Rice when Manziel had to sit out the first two quarters with a suspension, and has the most experience in the offense. Vanderbilt will be trotting out a new starter: freshman Patton Robinette. Last week, Robinette replaced Austyn Carta-Samuels, who suffered a left leg injury against Georgia. Head coach James Franklin called Robinette the "perfect fit" for the Vanderbilt offense earlier this week.
2. The real show is at receiver: Two of the SEC's and nation's best receivers will be on display. For Texas A&M, it's sophomore receiver Mike Evans, for Vanderbilt, it's senior receiver Jordan Matthews. Matthews has a chance to make some history today. He needs just 14 yards to become the SEC's career leader in receiving yards, so he'll likely break that record. Evans made some history himself last week, breaking Texas A&M's school record for single-game receiving yards (which he owned after his Sept. 14 performance against Alabama) by posting 287 against Auburn and he became the first SEC receiver to post multiple games of 225+ receiving yards. Both are big-time playmakers so it should be fun to watch.
3. Texas A&M's struggling defense: The Aggies have had their ups and downs, but it's mostly been rough sledding for them on defense this season. They allowed a season-high 379 rushing yards to Auburn last week and gave up 45 points. The Aggies have allowed three fourth-quarter touchdowns in each of the last two weeks. That kind of crunch-time production won't get it done in SEC play. They were fortunate to get away with it at Ole Miss but it came back to bite them against Auburn.
4. Improving Vanderbilt defense: Last week, the Commodores put together their best performance of the season defensively. In the 31-27 win over Georgia, they held the Bulldogs to season lows in points (27), total yards (221), rushing yards (107) and first downs (16). Not bad against a team with a quarterback the caliber of Aaron Murray, who's the SEC's career leader in passing yards. The Commodores' performance included holding the Bulldogs to 80 yards and just five first downs in the second half. Texas A&M's offense averages 46.9 points per game and is third nationally in yards per game (588.7) so it'll be compelling to see how that plays out.
5. Touchdowns in the red zone: Sumlin and offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney stressed the importance of getting touchdowns in the red zone instead of field goals and there were a couple times last week where the Aggies had to settle for three points instead of six or seven. Vanderbilt is one of the nation's best at punching it in once the offense gets inside the 20-yard line. The Commodores score a touchdown on 77.4 percent of their red zone trips, which is the best rate in the SEC and third in the country. The Aggies are sixth in the conference and 34th in the country, succeeding at a 68.8 percent touchdown rate in the red zone. In a close game, those extra points come in handy.
1dSam Khan Jr.
4dSam Khan Jr.