Northwestern Vs. Texas A&M, Meineke Bowl Of Texas 2011: Aggies Vs. Themselves

COLLEGE STATION, TX - NOVEMBER 24: Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Texas A&M Aggies throws a pass against the Texas Longhorns in the second half of a game at Kyle Field on November 24, 2011 in College Station, Texas. (Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images)

Northwestern might be able to move the ball against A&M; A&M will be able to move the ball against Northwestern. Can the Aggies either stay out of their own way or figure out a way to skip the third quarter entirely and give outgoing interim coach Tim DeRuyter a 1-0 career record in College Station?

NOTE: Confused? See the quick glossary at the bottom.

This past summer, my Northwestern preview focused on the Wildcats' odd ability to consistently win close games from year to year. There was a bit of regression toward the mean this year; Northwestern went just 2-3 in one-possession games but still holds a 23-12 record in such games over Pat Fitzgerald's tenure. Contrast that with Texas A&M, which would have been a national title contender if third quarters, like 13th floors on elevators, just disappeared; the Aggies went 0-5 in one-possession games this season, and instead of heading off to the SEC following a breakthrough season, the Aggies fired Mike Sherman and brought in Kevin Sumlin. The closer this game is, the more everyone in Houston's Reliant Stadium, including potentially both teams, will begin to assume Northwestern is going to win.

Team Record AP Rank 2011 F/+ Rk 2011 Off.
F/+ Rk
2011 Def.
F/+ Rk
2011 S.T.
F/+ Rk
Northwestern 6-6 NR 56 25 94 68
Texas A&M 6-6 NR 18 19 30 56
Team Pace Rk Covariance Rk MACtion Rk Schizophrenia Rk
Northwestern 14 118 75 106
Texas A&M 3 36 64 60

There is plenty of contrast in the tables above, proving that not only are there different kinds of 7-5, there are different kinds of 6-6 as well. Texas A&M spent most of the season looking the part of a Top 20 team, coming quite a bit closer to 11-1 than to 4-8; their offense and defense are both sporadically fantastic, and they have one of the best kickers in America. Like much of the Big 12, they play at a blistering pace, and they are strangely consistent in their efforts. They didn't get tremendously disheartened by their series of blown leads; they continued to play well enough to build, and blow, more leads. Northwestern, meanwhile, had to fight and scrape their way to six wins. They looked either good or great against ranked teams like Nebraska (the only win in this group), Michigan, Penn State and Illinois. Meanwhile, they looked mediocre at best in wins over Boston College, Eastern Michigan and Minnesota. More than almost anybody in the country, they played best against their best opponents, which could mean good things versus A&M as the Wildcats continue to try for their first bowl win since the 1949 Rose Bowl. They are 0-8 in bowls in the last 16 years.

When Northwestern Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Northwestern Offense 25 22 15 17 34 37 22
Texas A&M Defense 30 20 33 13 22 15 22
Team Std. Downs
Run %
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
Run %
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Northwestern Offense 62.7% 20 35.7% 42
Texas A&M Defense 52.1% 22 31.4% 9
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

Say this much for Northwestern: they're creative. Fitzgerald and offensive coordinator Mike McCall pulled out all the stops in crafting a successful offense from bits and pieces in 2011. Among other things, their leading rusher, Kain Colter (589 yards, plus-14.8 Adj. POE), is also their No. 2 quarterback (660 yards, five touchdowns, one interception) and No. 3 receiver (55 targets, 40 catches, 441 yards). That signifies the oddest piece of a generally odd offense that sees the Wildcats throw more than normal on standard downs and run more than normal on passing downs. Coming off a ruptured Achilles, chief quarterback Dan Persa limped through a good portion of 2011, throwing successfully in one series (2,163 yards, 74-percent completion rate, 8.3 yards per pass) and limping off the field the next. Colter aside, Persa has some intriguing weapons in Jeremy Ebert (1,020 yards, 10.5 per target), possession guys Drake Dunsmore and Colter, and backs Jacob Schmidt and Trevyon Green (combined: 196 carries, 814 yards, minus-5.9 Adj. POE).

Northwestern has a chance to do some damage versus the Aggies, but they would be well-served to stay on schedule and out of passing downs. They have struggled to protect Persa at times; they rank 96th in Adj. Sack Rate and must now face an Aggie defense that ranks sixth in that category. Joker end Damontre Moore spent a good portion of the season doing a solid Von Miller impersonation -- 15.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, three forced fumbles -- in defensive coordinator/interim coach Tim DeRuyter's 3-4 defense, and he got significant help from outside linebacker Sean Porter (16.0 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks). If the Aggies are allowed to pin their ears back and attack, bad things usually happen.

In all, A&M's defense was efficient and capable of some huge plays -- they made 92 tackles for loss (43 sacks), broke up 55 passes and forced 14 fumbles, but they were a bit vulnerable to the occasional big play themselves, and they needed a few more of those PBUs to turn into INTs. Corners Terrence Frederick and Coryell Judie (who missed half the season with injury) and free safety Trent Hunter combined to break up 18 passes but intercept only three, and the Aggies had only seven picks all year. Still, they appear to match up well with this Northwestern offense, at least as long as Ebert isn't burning them.

When Texas A&M Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Texas A&M Offense 19 19 17 23 26 15 35
Northwestern Defense 94 92 85 107 105 79 115
Team Std. Downs
Run %
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
Run %
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Texas A&M Offense 58.3% 29 22.9% 6
Northwestern Defense 67.1% 106 39.8% 111
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

This will be the final game for what has been an extremely successful A&M skill position trio: quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Cyrus Gray and receiver Jeff Fuller. Kevin Sumlin will inherit plenty of interesting toys next year -- running back Christine Michael (who is once again injured), receiver Ryan Swope, a host of tight ends, a still-young offensive line, etc. -- but the Aggies' identity, for better or worse, was crafted by these three seniors.

Tannehill posted explosive full-season stats (3,415 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, 330 pre-sack rushing yards), but his mistakes were devastating (14 interceptions), and he had the tendency to lower his arm on a lot of passes; it doesn't matter if you're 6-foot-4 if you throw like you are 6-foot-0. Gray rushed for 1,045 yards (plus-10.7 Adj. POE) and continued to serve as a serious weapon in the passing game (31 receptions, 239 yards), but through little fault of his own, he seemed to disappear from the gameplan for extended periods of time. And then there was Jeff Fuller. Fuller had a serious invisibility problem in 2010, but he was still billed as one of the country's top receivers heading into the season. However, a swath of minor injuries and general ineffectiveness led to him becoming one of the least impressive No. 1 receivers in the country -- he had a catch rate of just 55 percent and averaged just 6.2 yards per target and was removed from the starting lineup versus Kansas.

Seemingly healthy, Fuller could have one last opportunity to impress both Aggie fans and NFL scouts as he faces one of the worst pass defenses in the country. Northwestern cannot rush the passer (they rank 108th in Adj. Sack Rate, and their leading pass rushers -- Vince Browne and Jack DiNardo -- have just three takedowns each), aren't particularly aggressive in the secondary, and allow offenses to be both efficient and explosive. On top of that, their run defense is only mediocre, and their 53 tackles for loss are among the worst in the country. It is as if they attempt a bend-don't-break routine, only they couldn't keep from breaking. There are plenty of defenses that lack aggression but still figure out how to play pretty well -- Kansas State and Nebraska, to name two; Northwestern's is not one of those.

The Verdict

Texas A&M by 9.6.

The projections see the following dichotomy: Northwestern might be able to move the ball on Texas A&M and put nice yards and points on the board. A&M, meanwhile, will be able to move the ball and light up the scoreboard against the Wildcats. There are plenty of extenuating circumstances at play here -- DeRuyter serving as interim coach, A&M clamming up in the third quarter of close game, etc. -- but the Aggies still hold quite a few advantages here and should, should, win comfortably. Good luck working up the nerve to bet on them, however.

--------------------

A Quick Glossary

Covariance: This tells us whether a team tends to play up or down to their level of competition. A higher ranking means a team was more likely to play well against bad teams while struggling (relatively speaking) against good ones. (So in a way, lower rankings are better.) For more, go here.

F/+ Rankings: The official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

MACtion: This is a look at how closely teams are associated with big-play football (like those high-scoring, mid-week MAC games). Teams that rank high on the MACtion scale play games with a ton of both big plays (gained and allowed) and passing downs. For more, go here.

Pace: This is calculated by going beyond simply who runs the most plays. Teams that pass more are naturally inclined to run more plays (since there are more clock stoppages involved), so what we do here is project how many plays a team would typically be expected to run given their run-pass ratio, then compare their actual plays to expectations. Teams, then, are ranked in order from the most plays above the expected pace, to the least.

Passing Downs: Second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more.

PPP: An explosiveness measure derived from determining the point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game.

S&P+: Think of this as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

Schizophrenia: This measures how steady a team's performances are throughout the course of a full season. Teams with a higher ranking tend to be extremely unpredictable from week to week. For more, go here.

Standard Downs: First downs, second-and-6 or less, third-and-4 or less.

Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

In This Article

Teams
Players
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.