No. 17 Texas A&M Aggies (8-3, 7-4 ATS) at Texas Longhorns (5-6, 3-8 ATS)
Thursday November 25th, 8:00PM Eastern Texas Memorial Stadium Austin, T.X.
By Jay Horne, Professional Sports Handicapper of Predictem.com
Betting Odds: Texas A&M -3/Texas +3
College Football’s rivalry week gets an early start this Thanksgiving when the no. 17 Texas A&M Aggies travel to Austin to battle the Texas Longhorns in a showdown of the nation’s 3rd longest running rivalry. The Aggies captured their 5th straight victory last week with a huge win over Nebraska 9-6. The Cornhuskers were ranked inside the top 10 and it was the Aggies 2nd victory over a top 10 opponent during their 5 game hot streak. The Aggies look to keep their momentum alive this week when they battle with their in-state rivals in the Texas Longhorns. For the Longhorns, it has definitely not been the season they had expected. Texas suffered 4 straight losses before knocking off an inferior Florida Atlantic team 51-17 last Saturday. The Longhorns are now just 5-6 on the season and another loss would mark the first time they have had a losing record since the 1997 season.
However, historically the Longhorns have had the advantage over the Aggies in this annual rivalry meeting. This season the Longhorns will have their work cut out for them as they look to stop one of the best offenses in the Big 12. Despite a defensively dominated game last week against Nebraska, the Aggies own the nation’s 15th ranked offense averaging 455 yards per game. Texas A&M has also posted huge numbers throwing the football averaging 295 yards per contests which has resulted into 32 points per game on average as well.
The Aggies season really took a turn for the best earlier this year when they turned to Ryan Tannehill to lead the offense behind center. Tannehill had been one of the offense’s go to receivers over the last 2 seasons, but after inconsistency with QB Jerrod Johnson Head Coach Mike Sherman turned to Tannehill. Tannehill had initially been brought to College Station to play the quarterback role, but was moved over to the receiver position when he failed to capture the starting position. However, Coach Sherman’s move to put Tannehill back under center has produced outstanding results. Tannehill has completed 69% on the season for 10 touchdowns and just 3 picks. The once inconsistent pass offense has turned into a quick striking dangerous force that has propelled the Aggies into a breakout season.
The well balanced Texas A&M offense has tons of weapons and ways to move the football. Running back Cyrus Gray has posted 810 rushing yards with 10 touchdowns this year while backup Christine Michael has rushed for an additional 631 yards. Both tailbacks are averaging over 5 yards per pop and can grind out tough runs in short yardage situation. However, the strength of the offense still comes from the air assault which ranks 11th nationally in passing. Tannehill has averaged 281 yards in his 4 starts including a school record performance for 449 yards against Texas Tech. Wide outs Jeff Fuller and Ryan Swope are lethal weapons on the outside. Fuller has been slowed by an ankle injury but is still just 41 receiving yards shy of the 1,000 yard plateau. Swope has caught 65 passes for 760 yards on the season and can definitely be a big play guy.
The Longhorns on paper appear solid against the pass ranking 11th nationally holding opponents to 164 yards per game. However, those numbers can be misleading as they gave up over 400 yards to Oklahoma State and also some big plays to Oklahoma earlier in the year as well. Therefore, I think Texas is going to have a tough time slowing the Aggies efficient pass offense. However, if the Longhorns come ready to play they should not be taken lightly. Their defense is very strong holding opponents to just 294 yards per game. Considering the offense has turned the ball over constantly resulting into one of the worse turnover ratios in the country, the Longhorns’ defensive numbers are really quite impressive.
I expect the Longhorns to play well on the defensive side of the ball this week again. The difference will be if the offense can find ways to score and not give up any dreaded turnovers. So far the Texas offense has had a ton of problems. Starting with QB Garrett Gilbert who has completed just 59% on the season with 9 scores and 15 interceptions. Leading rusher Cody Johnson has just 485 yards on the season and WR James Kirkendoll is the only receiver over the 500 yard mark with 655 yards on the year. Just looking at the numbers of the Longhorns leaders on offense you can grasp the idea that they are missing that star at the skill position that they have had for so many years. The Texas offense is really looking for that guy to step up and take control of the offense, but that has just not happen thus far.
While it appears that the Longhorns are overmatched, do not be fooled. One thing Texas can do is throw the football and Gilbert has posted solid yardage against weak pass defenses this year. Texas A&M has allowed 242 yards per game through the air this season. If Gilbert can get in rhythm, Texas will move the football. The troubling aspect of that scenario is the more often Gilbert has thrown the football the more often he has thrown picks. In Gilberts top 3 games in terms of yardage this season, he has thrown 9 interceptions. Those interceptions will be critical to keeping the Longhorns competitive this Thursday. If Gilbert can keep the turnovers to a minimum, Texas will move the football.
Jay’s pick to cover the spread:
Both teams have been on different roads the 2nd half of the year. While the Aggies are peaking, the Longhorns have done the opposite. I just can not find justice where that will change this Thursday night. While I expect Texas to come out and play well, they just are simply not going to be able to stay close the longer this ball game continues especially if they keep turning over the football. Not to mention if the Longhorns happen to come out playing badly this game could get out of hand quickly. Both scenarios point to a cover by the Aggies. Take Texas A&M.