Texas A&M at Vanderbilt won't have any impact on the SEC title, but it could wind up defining one team's postseason plans. The Commodores need a win on Saturday to keep their bowl hopes alive, and a struggling Aggie team could be ripe for an upset. A&M has given up more than 250 rushing yards per contest in their last four games against conference foes. Ralph Webb, on the other hand, has gained an average of 107 yards per game over that same stretch and is primed for a big performance in the team's last home game of the season.
So do the 'Dores have a chance? We turned to an expert for help. James Gardner is one of the editors over at Good Bull Hunting, one of the most complete, thorough, and well-written Texas A&M sites on the planet. He was kind enough to sit down and chat up this week's Vandy/Aggie matchup with me. You can find my answers to his questions here. His responses to my questions about A&M are below:
1. Texas A&M and Vanderbilt have something in common; a tilting seesaw of underclassman quarterbacks. What has been creating Kyle Allen's struggles in the middle of his sophomore season? Who do you expect to see throwing passes in Nashville - Allen, or freshman Kyler Murray?
James Gardner: I think they’ll both play. Whether that’s by design and Sumlin wants them to both get reps – or – the starter throws three pick sixes and is hooked, is anyone’s guess. Kyle Allen has been hurt. Sumlin doesn’t say a damn thing about injuries unless they’re season-ending, so he’s played it off like his decisions are performance related from practices. My horse sense (never wrong) says Allen was really dinged up in October. Kyle Allen throws one of the prettiest balls in college football when he’s healthy, and when we went to Oxford, he might as well have been throwing with his left arm. Unpleasant to watch.
2. The Aggies are 2-3 in their last five games, and those two wins came against a disheveled South Carolina team and Western Carolina. How much have the aforementioned quarterback problems played into this rough stretch? What has been the main culprit behind A&M's midseason struggles?
Man. There are several culprits cannibalizing each other. The quarterback situation is certainly one of the culprits. We have two coddled 5-stars – one a true sophomore, the other a true freshman. Managing them seems to be quite the challenge. Many Aggies want our offensive coordinator run out on a rail, and they’ll likely have their wishes granted. From a very fundamental standpoint, A&M isn’t very good in the trenches. The offensive line is bad by SEC standards. Play calling and quarterbacks can look very poor behind bad offensive lines.
Oh, and our defense is still erratic and horrible against the run. We don’t have linebackers, you see.
3. When tailback Tra Carson struggles, the Aggie offense seems to slow down in turn. In games where he gains fewer than 50 rushing yards A&M has averaged only 18 points per game and gone 1-2. So what did Arkansas, Alabama, and Ole Miss do to slow down TAMU's running attack?
Simply put, they had big, bruising, athletic, and talented front sevens on defense that stuffed the run early and forced us out of it. They were bullies to our docile offensive line. I expect more of the same out of a very solid Vanderbilt defense, and it will be interesting to see how and if the offense can adjust if needed.
4. Texas A&M has given up 29.5 points per game in their last four FBS matchups - and that includes a 28-point showing against South Carolina (20.9 ppg this season) and a 41-point performance from Alabama (32.9 ppg). What weaknesses have SEC opponents exploited in the TAMU defense? Can a Vanderbilt team that relies heavily on its running game do the same?
Gashing the defense for big runs early has been the norm for most opponents who have had success running the ball: taking advantage of the aggressive defensive ends and getting solid blocking in the middle. Alabama in particular was able to pile up an enormous number of rushing yards within the first 20 minutes of the game or so before the defense managed to adjust.
5. The formula seems simple; A&M is scoring 38.9 points per game in wins and 12 points per game in losses this season. Can the Aggies win a game in which they score 17.4 points (Vandy's opponents' scoring average) or fewer?
Can't wait to see how Spav (our OC #FireSpav) manages to score .4 of a point and how our fan base reacts.
6. Finally, what's your prediction for Saturday's showdown?
Aggies 23, Anchors 17