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5 Things To Know Before the Liberty Bowl (Texas A&M vs. WVU)

The AutoZone Liberty Bowl is set to kick off on Monday. Here are five things to know before the game that will help determine the outcome.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

1. It Starts Up Front for the Aggie Offense

As the Aggie offensive line goes, so does the rest of the Aggie offense.

If there is one group that will predominately determine the outcome of Monday's game, it will be the Texas A&M offensive line. The group hasn't played well in 2014, and in turn has stunted the growth of a young Aggie offense. This is why offensive line coach B.J. Anderson was not retained and won't coach the Aggies in this bowl game.

The offensive line will face an undersized three-man front from West Virginia -- the starting front of DE Noble Nwachukwu, NT Kyle Rose, and DE Shaquille Riddick are 265, 294, and 240 pounds respectively. I would not be surprised to see Ben Compton (who is expected to play) utilized often in this game in his H-back role. Texas A&M can then match West Virginia's 3-3-5 front with six dedicated blockers of their own, going man-for-man.

The key for the Texas A&M offensive line will be execution of double teams up front. Too many times in 2014, the line has failed to successfully block the down lineman up front with two of their own. Against Auburn, the offensive line focused on blocking the down lineman before moving up to block second-level linebackers. The Aggie offensive line hopefully will come in with the same mindset against West Virginia. These are match ups A&M should win on Monday.





2. The Secondary Must Defend Kevin White

West Virginia's best offensive player is JUCO transfer wide receiver Kevin White. White has 102 receptions for 1318 yards on the season to go along with 9 touchdown receptions. The last time the Aggie defense went up against a talented wide receiver, the secondary was torched for 8 catches, 140 yards, and 2 touchdowns by Alabama's Amari Cooper. Interim defensive coordinator Mark Hagen will have his choice of who matches up with White, either Deshazor Everett or DeVante Harris. Maybe this time around the Aggie defense won't be so surprised if Dana Holgorsen and the West Virginia coaching staff decide to move their best offensive weapon all around the field, much like Lane Kiffin did with Cooper.

In terms of who will be throwing the ball to White, it will be sophomore Skyler Howard instead of Clint Trickett.

Howard is a transfer from Stephen F. Austin, and in 2014 has a 55.4 completion percentage, 483 passing yards, 5 touchdowns and no interceptions thrown. Howard played in West Virginia's final two games of the season -- a loss to Kansas State and a win against Iowa State.

3. West Virginia Actually Runs The Football Out of A Spread Formation

The perception of Dana Holgorsen's West Virginia offense is of a true Air Raid system. However, West Virginia is 42nd in the country in rushing offense in 2014, totaling 187.5 rush yards per game for a 4.24 average yards per rush, and has scored 18 rushing touchdowns on the season. West Virginia also has managed a 3 RB rotation better than Texas A&M, as three rushers accumulated over 450 yards on the season:

Rusher Yards Average TDs
Rushel Shell 766 4.7 7
Wendell Smallwood 645 4.6 2
Dreamius Smith 454 5.7 5

West Virginia's offense is a physical group that will try to control the tempo of the game with their rushing offense. If West Virginia starts to control the ground game with Shell and company, the Aggies will be in trouble.

4. West Virginia's Third Down Defense

While West Virginia's defense overall is fairly pedestrian at 57th in the nation in total defense, allowing 388.6 yards per game, their 3rd down defense is a top 10 unit overall, only allowing a 1st down 30.9% of the time.  Texas A&M has struggled on third downs all season long, converting only 67 third downs out of 163 attempts, a 41.1% conversion rate on the season.

The Aggie offense can help themselves out by winning on 1st and 2nd down.  Too often over the course of 2014, the Aggie offense has faced either 2nd and long or 3rd and long, due in large part to a poor rushing offense or a failed 1st down completion.  If the Aggie offense can consistently put themselves in 2nd and medium and then 3rd and shorts, they will take West Virginia's stout 3rd down defense out of the game. However, if the 3rd and long trend continues, it will be more of the three-and-out drives that plagued the Aggie offense over the first three quarters against LSU in the regular season finale.

5. Both Teams Turn the Ball Over

Both teams enter the Liberty Bowl with some of the worst turnover margins in the country: Texas A&M ranks 109th nationally with a -7 turnover margin, but West Virginia is even worse with a -15 margin (120th nationally). Turnover margin was a big reason why both teams finished the season at 7-5 and are ending their seasons in Memphis.

The story is the same for both programs -- they fail to create turnovers on defense.

Team Fumbles Recovered Interceptions Turnovers Gained Fumbles Lost Interceptions Thrown Turnovers Lost Margin
Texas A&M 7 5 12 5 14 19 -7
West Virginia 2 11 13 18 10 28 -15

The team that hangs on to the ball on Monday, failing to give the other team extra opportunities on offense, is likely to walk away with the Liberty Bowl trophy. Any turnover caused will be a late Christmas gift to the other defense, because both defenses have failed to show the capability to create them on their own.

How Texas A&M Wins

Offensive consistency. Something that the A&M offense hasn't had much of in 2014. Can Texas A&M string good runs together and limit third and longs? Can they stop producing plays of negative yardage or no gain on the ground? If Texas A&M can mix the ground game with a consistent screen game (see South Carolina, Auburn), it will make Kyle Allen's job a lot easier on Monday and Texas A&M has a great chance to win their 4th consecutive bowl game.

If we start seeing the 2nd and 8s, 9s and 10s that turn into 3rd and 6s and 7s again, well, then the group hasn't shown much improvement with a month of bowl practices since LSU on Thanksgiving night.