Meineke Car Care Bowl Game Preview: Texas A&M vs. Northwestern

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After finishing 2010 9-4, this has been a disappointing year for Texas A&M, but its first bowl win since 2001 would be a nice way to head into the SEC with a new head coach. With Mike Sherman finishing .500 in his four seasons at the helm, the Aggies decided it was time to move on and hired Kevin Sumlin on December 10th.

Sumlin, a Texas A & M assistant from 2001-02 led Houston to a school-record 12 wins and one shy of a BCS bid this year. Neither Sherman, nor Sumlin will coach the Aggies in the Meineke Car Care Bowl as Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter will take over coaching duties before moving on to his own new gig, as the head coach of Fresno State. Texas A & M closed out the regular season losing four of their final five games, capping off a season filled with adversity.

Senior Ryan Tannehill finished his first full season as quarterback completing 61.2% of his passes for 3415 yards, 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions while carrying the ball 55 times for 246 yards and four scores.  Tannehill spent his first two-and-a-half years in an Aggies uniform as a wide receiver setting the freshman school record for 844 yards in 2008. Despite the 6-6 record, A & M had little trouble scoring points; currently ranked 11th in the nation in scoring (39.6 ppg) thanks an average of 208.1 ypg on the ground (19th) and through the air with 287.9 ypg (17th). Tannehill has three receivers who have caught at least 45 passes; Ryan Swope (81 receptions, 1102 yards, 11 TDs) Jeff Fuller (63 receptions, 709 yards, 5 TDs) and Uzoma Nwachukwu (45 receptions, 572 yards, 2 TDs).

However, the Aggies rushing attack will not be at full strength against Northwestern as Christine Michael, was sidelined in early November with a season-ending knee injury and Cyrus Gray, who has five 100-yard games on the campaign, is questionable with a shoulder injury. Defensively, the team has done a solid job stopping the run allowing an FBS 13th-best 106 yards on the ground. The Aggies have had struggled allowing opponents to pass for 280.5 ypg (112th) and score 28.7 points per game (76th).

Northwestern heads to Reliant Stadium having gone 4-1 following a five-game skid, sending the Wildcats to their fourth straight bowl appearance. QB Dan Persa, tied for a nation’s leading 74.3% completion percentage, became the starter last year but missed the 2011 TicketCity Bowl due to an Achilles’ injury that also sidelined him the first three games of the 2011 season. Persa threw for 2,163 yards in nine games with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions, ranking 10th in the FBS in passer rating at 160.3. Persa’s main target all year has been WR Jeremy Ebert who was the Big Ten’s fourth-leading receiver with 71 catches for 1,025 yards and ranked third in the conference with 11 TDs. Ebert needs 110 yards to move into second all-time at Northwestern with 2,475 and three catches to take over third place with 172 receptions.

Drake Dunsmore has been the secondary target for Persa, finishing this season with 43 catches for 509 yards. Dunsmore is the school’s all-time leading receiver among tight ends and won the conference’s inaugural Kwalick-Clark tight end of the year award. Demetrius Fields has caught one TD pass in three straight games and could also cause problems for the Aggies’ pass defense. Northwestern has given up an average of 27.3 points this season, and have allowed 30 points or more in six of their nine games against BCS opponents. They have allowed 185.42 yards per game on the ground (90th in the FBS) and 224.2 yards per game in the air (62nd) and may have trouble containing an A&M offense that has the potential to be explosive.

Dory LeBlanc, covers Gator sports for Gators First and Not just a college sports enthusiast, Dory is also a fan of NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB. Born outside Philly, she moved to Tampa, and now resides in Illinois, giving her a broad perspective on the sporting world. You can follow Dory on twitter @DoryLeBlanc