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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Behind Enemy Lines: Texas A&M Aggies

For the final time in 2009, Georgia will be lining up on the field -- this time in Shreveport, La. in the Independence Bowl against Texas A&M. The Aggies are a bit of a mystery to most of us SEC folks, so in what will be the last '09 installment of our regular feature, we go behind enemy lines with Texas A&M beat writer Robert Cessna of The Bryan/College Station Eagle to get the inside scoop on all things Aggies.

David Hale: Georgia has played a couple of hurry-up teams this year in Auburn and Oklahoma State, but A&M might take the tempo to an even faster pace than that. What can you tell us about the Aggies' approach offensively? Which teams have done the best job of adjusting to the tempo this year and how'd they do it?

Robert Cessna:
A&M has worn down several defense in the second half, but its fast-paced approach also has led to defensive breakdowns, because teams can't substitute as much. Arkansas, Oklahama State, Kansas State and Colorado did not allow quarterback Jerrod Johnson to make a lot of big runs. Johnson has been sacked 20 times in A&M's losses and only seven times in the victories. Bottom line, you have to contain Johnson.

DH: Just how good is Jerrod Johnson? From what Georgia's players have said, he reminds them of Tim Tebow, only with shiftier moves and possibly a better arm. Sounds dangerous.

He might be the best quarterback back most of the nation hasn't seen. He's a 6-foot-5, 243-pounder who can throw the ball 60 yards flat-footed, yet nimble enough to run away from most defensive linemen and over and through or around linebackers and safeties. He's made amazing progress in one year in Mike Sherman's pro-style attack. He also throws the deep ball well.

DH: We've heard plenty about Von Miller, who led the nation in sacks. But A&M's defense ranks 107th nationally for a reason. So where are the Aggies vulnerable? What's been the biggest issues on that side of the ball this year?

Miller is the only player opposing coordinators probably scheme for. Power teams have been able to run right at A&M, and the Aggies have given up huge chunks of yardage through the air. Arkansas' Ryan Mallett and Texas' Colt McCoy each threw for four touchdowns and Oklahoma's Landry Jones threw for five. A&M just doesn't have playmakers on that side, though they had interceptions in five straight games until not getting one against UT.

DH: Special teams seem to be in Georgia's favor in this game. A&M's kicking game has been spotty and while UGA has an All-American punter, the Aggies are averaging only about 34 yards per punt. Has this been a focus for Mike Sherman & Co. during practice? Or might this just have to be an area A&M cedes to the Dawgs?

Sherman said this would be a concern, and you can bet it will be addressed, but since they couldn't fix it in 12 games, you'd think Georgia
has an edge. Then again, how many punts can these defenses force? A&M has given up several long kickoff returns, which has to be the Aggies' main concern.

DH: It's been said this game might come down to motivation. A&M has a young team that has a chance to get a somewhat signature win against an SEC foe in a game relatively close to home. Georgia's traveling to a bowl that is far short of its preseason expectations after three defensive coaches were fired. Seems like A&M should have the edge when it comes to motivation. Is that the sense you get?

Without a doubt. A&M players are pumped to be playing, which wasn't the case when the Aggies visited Shreveport in 2000. Players and coaches are going to give the party line, but you can tell the players are excited to be playing a big name SEC school. This is a chance for them to beat a name program and on TV. A&M is 0-6 on TV this year.

DH: OK, brass tacks... what's your prediction for the game? The over/under is around 66, so is it safe to say a shootout could be brewing?

The first one to 40 will have the lead entering the final quarter. I just can't see either team stopping the other. It might get down to which offense has to settle for too many field goals. I'm picking Georgia, 49-42. UGA's defense will have a little more to play for and the Bulldogs have an edge in special teams.

Big thanks to Robert for his help in answering our questions. You can read all of his A&M coverage HERE.

And don't forget, the game kicks off at 5 p.m. Eastern time on Monday on ESPN2.


Anonymous said...

David, I thank you for your coverage. You do a great job and are a huge asset to Georgia fans! By the way, did you read the name that Low mentioned yesterday (Grantham) for a possible DC candidate? What are your thoughts?

David Hale said...

I have been hearing Grantham for about a week now... I mentioned him in my online chat yesterday... I think bringing in an NFL guy has some real upside and Grantham has a solid resume. I wonder how he fits in big picture though and I wonder what the adjustment to DC in a big college program would be for him.