In the days leading up to the anticlimactic (yet deeply satisfying) SEC championship game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Florida Gators, Team Speed Kills did an outstanding job of comparing the two combatants by calling attention to the seven opponents common to them both. On a much less impressive level, and to a much more limited extent, I would like to subject the Independence Bowl contestants, the Georgia Bulldogs and the Texas A&M Aggies, to a similar analysis.
Georgia’s and Texas A&M’s schedules featured only a pair of shared teams, the first of which we will look at this evening. Here is how the Bulldogs and the Aggies stacked up against the Arkansas Razorbacks:
|Score||W 52-41||L 47-19|
|Passing Yds. All.||408||271|
|Rushing Yds. All.||77||163|
|Third Downs||38.5% (5 of 13)||38.9% (7 of 18)|
|Third Down Defense||21.4% (3 of 14)||41.7% (5 of 12)|
I think I’ll start by going out on a limb here and declaring that the gridiron battle in Shreveport will not be a defensive struggle. Both the Bulldogs and the Aggies gave up a boatload of yards and more than 40 points to a Razorback offense currently ranked first in the SEC in scoring offense (37.3 points per game) and second in the league in total offense (439.3 yards per game).
Measured against Arkansas’s season-long figures, Georgia had more or less an average day against the Razorbacks in points permitted and Texas A&M had almost exactly an average day against the Hogs in yards allowed, but those numbers were padded by Arkansas’s dates with Division I-AA Missouri State, Eastern Michigan, and Troy. Those three opponents between them conceded 167 of the 448 points the Razorbacks have tallied this season. Against BCS conference opponents other than Georgia and Texas A&M, Arkansas averaged 27.6 points per outing, and only one team from an automatically qualifying league other than the Bulldogs and the Aggies gave up more than 20 points to the Hogs prior to November 7. Arkansas has a good offense, but that reality should not be allowed to mask the fact that neither Georgia nor Texas A&M sports a good defense. (That may be why Georgia’s entire defensive staff was fired and Texas A&M fans are debating whether to replace the Aggies’ defensive coordinator.)
That said, the two Independence Bowl invitees exhibited different strengths (or, perhaps more accurately, different weaknesses) against the Razorbacks. The Aggies surrendered more than twice as many rushing yards to the Hogs as the ‘Dawgs allowed, yet the Red and Black gave up more than a football field’s worth of yardage more than Texas A&M did through the air. To some extent, this is due to the different types of games the two teams played against Arkansas---Georgia engaged in a shootout with the Hogs while the Aggies had to play catch-up after trailing by 20 points at the break---but those statistics are not misleading: Ryan Mallett dropped back to pass five times on the Razorbacks’ first three drives against Texas A&M, and the results were three incompletions and two sacks.
On the opposite side of the ball, both Independence Bowl signal callers aired it out against Arkansas. The Aggies’ Jerrod Johnson connected with eight different receivers while going 30 of 58 for 345 yards and two touchdowns while the much more efficient Joe Cox (how often do you hear that phrase?) completed 18 of his 26 attempts for 375 yards and five TDs.
Georgia and Texas A&M succeeded in converting third downs at virtually identical rates against an Arkansas outfit ranked in the middle of the SEC in third-down conversions allowed (36.0%), but the Bulldogs’ third-down defense was markedly better against a Razorback unit that moves the chains 36.2 per cent of the time in such situations.
The red flags for the Red and Black are to be found on the lines labeled "passing yards allowed" and "total defense," although those numbers deserve a closer look. After taking a ten-point first-quarter lead, the Aggies gave up eight scores on a dozen Arkansas possessions, with six of those marches ending in touchdowns. The Hogs’ first three series of the contest ended in punts, after which the SEC West squad went on drives of 77, 38, 26, 73, 70, 63, and 73 yards, with an 85-yard Jerry Franklin fumble return for a touchdown thrown in for good measure. Only a second-quarter interception, a three-and-out to start the second half, a fourth-quarter fumble, and a kneeldown in the closing seconds prevented Arkansas from putting up points each time the Hogs touched the ball after their initial jitters.
The Bulldogs’ game against the Razorbacks in Fayetteville followed a very different pattern from that seen in the Aggies’ neutral site outing against Arkansas at Arlington seven days later. Instead of leaping out to an early lead, the ‘Dawgs were down 21-10 at the end of the opening period. Georgia mounted nine scoring drives, six of which covered at least 57 yards, and what happened to Mallett late in the game was even more bewildering.
The Razorback quarterback was on fire to start the second half against the Red and Black. Mallett completed eight of his first nine attempts and three of those passes went for 30 yards or more. Inside the five-minute mark in the third quarter, though, he was shut down, connecting on three of his last fourteen aerials for 36 yards. During that span, Mallett took a sack but did not guide a touchdown drive.
If the Bulldogs’ and the Aggies’ respective performances against the Hogs are any indication, there ought to be yards gained and points galore in Shreveport. Texas A&M probably is better against the pass and Georgia probably is better against the run, but neither plays much defense. The Big 12 South club has a greater propensity for takeaways yet the SEC East squad has a superior penchant for comebacks.
Of course, we are talking about a pretty small data set here, so we are not yet in a position to draw any ironclad conclusions. For that, we will need to turn to the other common opponent both Independence Bowl contestants share, the Oklahoma St. Cowboys.