Texas A&M Aggies: Justin Brown

Texas A&M keys for the Cotton Bowl

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
11:11
AM ET
Here's a look at three keys for No. 9 Texas A&M's matchup with No. 11 Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl:

1. Don't change the script: Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury might be gone, but all those athletes who made the Aggies' offense so potent in 2012 will still be lining up inside Jerry's World. And that includes Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who made just about every defense he faced look silly. Kingsbury and Manziel had a special in-game relationship, but Kingsbury is now at Texas Tech, so Manziel won't have the luxury of Kingsbury's guidance on the sideline. But the Aggies can't divert from the plan that got them to 10 wins in their first year in the SEC. Trying anything new or restricting parts of the offense probably isn't the way to go at this point in the season. The athletes are there to stay the course, and with Oklahoma's high-powered offense, the Aggies can't afford to get too far behind the Sooners. Keeping the run game going will be key as well, as Oklahoma ranks 79th nationally in rush defense and gave up 200-plus rushing yards six times during the regular season.

2. Force Landry out of the pocket: Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 3,989 yards and 29 touchdowns this season and had two 500-yard passing games during the regular season. The man can throw the pigskin around, and it helps that he has four players to throw to who have more than 40 receptions on the year. That means the Aggies have to make him as uncomfortable as possible tonight. While Jones has done well against the blitz this season, he struggles when he's forced out of the pocket. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Jones has attempted 12.2 percent of his passes from outside the pocket in his career and has thrown 25.5 percent of his career interceptions from outside the pocket. Defensive end Damontre Moore was a terror in opposing backfields this season and if he can consistently get into Landry's face, he should make it tough for Landry to make a lot of plays on the Aggies' defense.

3. Contain Oklahoma's returners: The Sooners rank fourth nationally in kickoff return average, registering 26.5 yards per return. The Sooners have returned 32 kicks for 849 yards and a touchdown. Roy Finch recorded the Sooners' lone touchdown, but Brennan Clay has done the most damage on kickoffs, averaging 26 yards on 18 returns. The Aggies will also have to deal with punt returner Justin Brown, who averages 13.6 yards per return and has a touchdown. Texas A&M allowed just 18.7 yards per kickoff return during the regular season and 5.9 yards per punt return. The Aggies didn't allow any return touchdowns in 2012.

Pregame: AT&T Cotton Bowl

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
9:00
AM ET
No. 9 Texas A&M (10-2, 6-2 SEC) vs. No. 11 Oklahoma (10-2, 8-1 Big 12)

Who to watch: Who else? Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will attempt to put the finishing touches on his freshman season. "Johnny Football” broke Cam Newton’s SEC record for offensive yardage and accounted for 43 touchdowns while becoming the first freshman to capture the Heisman Trophy. Manziel, however, will be facing one of the better defensive backfields he’s seen all season, led by free safety Tony Jefferson and cornerback Aaron Colvin -- both All-Big 12 performers. Manziel will also have to overcome the distractions of a whirlwind month in which he not only won the Heisman but hung out with actress Megan Fox and played golf with the Jonas Brothers.

What to watch: The Aggies boast Manziel, but the Sooners counter with one of the top wide receiving corps in the country. Kenny Stills, Justin Brown, Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard all have more than 500 yards receiving this season. Texas A&M is stout up front, but the Aggies have been vulnerable at times defending the pass, ranking 82nd nationally in pass defense despite competing in the run-oriented SEC. If OU quarterback Landry Jones gets rolling with his talented pass-catchers, this game could tumble into a shootout.

Why to watch: Outside the BCS National Championship, this is as good a matchup as any out there. This Cotton Bowl also features two of the top quarterbacks in the country, with the hotshot freshman in Manziel facing off against the elder statesman in Jones, who will be making his 50th career start on the same field in which his career began four years ago. There should be plenty of energy inside Cowboys Stadium, too, as the Cotton Bowl is expecting a record crowd of 90,000. This will be a BCS-caliber bowl in every way except in name.

Prediction: Texas A&M 34, Oklahoma 31. Coach Bob Stoops has a dominating 11-2 record against Texas A&M, including an average victory margin of three touchdowns. These, however, are not the same Aggies the Sooners faced in the Big 12. Manziel and coach Kevin Sumlin have brought a new attitude to Texas A&M, and the Aggies will be motivated to prove this on the field against their former conference foe.

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