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Independence Bowl Preview: How the Georgia Bulldogs and the Texas A&M Aggies Each Fared Against the Oklahoma State Cowboys

As I noted previously, the days leading up to the SEC championship game saw Team Speed Kills comparing the Alabama Crimson Tide’s and the Florida Gatorscommon opponents, which I have begun to do for the Independence Bowl participants, the Georgia Bulldogs and the Texas A&M Aggies (while conceding the admitted limitations inherent to such an endeavor).

Georgia and Texas A&M had only two common opponents this season. Last night, we looked at the Arkansas Razorbacks. Tonight, we will examine how the Independence Bowl invitees each performed against the Oklahoma St. Cowboys:

Category Georgia Texas A&M
Game Number 1 5
Score L 24-10 L 36-31
Passing Yards 162 273
Rushing Yards 95 109
Total Yards 257 382
Passing Yds. All. 135 279
Rushing Yds. All. 172 169
Total Defense 307 448
Third Downs 33.3% (4 of 12) 43.8% (7 of 16)
Third Down Defense 40.0% (6 of 15) 42.9% (6 of 14)
Turnover Margin -3 Even

Once again, a cursory look at the statistics suggests that the outing in Shreveport very well could be defense-optional. Although the Bulldogs’ and the Aggies’ contests against the Razorbacks were more proximate in time than their respective games against the Pokes, Georgia’s and Texas A&M’s showdowns with Oklahoma State were more similar sorts of games.

The Cowboys held a three-point halftime lead on the Bulldogs in Stillwater on September 5 and they carried a one-point deficit into the locker room in College Station on October 10, which is about the difference you would figure, given that the Waddies were playing the former game at home and the latter on the road. Georgia and Texas A&M both trailed Oklahoma State by seven points at the end of three quarters.

Accordingly, it is unlikely that the game situations appreciably altered either squad’s approach, as both outings unfolded along similar lines. That being the case, the Aggies clearly made better adjustments against Oklahoma State in the final 45 minutes.

The Bulldogs led the Cowpokes 7-0 after one quarter of play, only to be outscored 24-3 the rest of the way. The Oklahomans led the Texans 7-0 after one quarter of play, only to be outscored 31-29 the rest of the way. Georgia began the autumn by receiving the opening kickoff in Boone Pickens Stadium and marching 80 yards in ten plays to score a touchdown on the season’s first drive. Joe Cox attempted just three passes, completing two of them, and the ‘Dawgs ran the ball on the other seven snaps. Richard Samuel (four rushes for 31 yards), Branden Smith (two rushes for nine yards), and Logan Gray (one rush for two yards) all contributed to the ground game on the initial series. It was a good start to 2009, but the game---the season, really---went straight downhill from there.

After forcing the Pokes to punt on their first possession, the Red and Black again were back in business; three snaps into their second series, the Athenians had picked up a first down on a pair of Richard Samuel rushes and an Oklahoma State penalty. Georgia’s next four plays were a trio of Joe Cox passes, two of which were broken up by Perrish Cox, and a Drew Butler punt.

The Bulldogs ran sixteen more plays in the balance of the first half. Nine of these were passes, of which four were incomplete and three of the other five picked up three or fewer yards. A Cowboy field goal with five seconds remaining until halftime staked Okie State to a 10-7 lead and Georgia never did more than threaten to climb back into the contest after that. Joe Cox finished with a 50 per cent completion rate for 162 yards and as many interceptions as touchdowns.

The ‘Dawgs trailed the Pokes by 50 yards of total offense, had fewer first downs, and held the ball for a little more than 26 minutes of clock time. The Aggies, by contrast, were a couple of minutes closer to even in time of possession and picked up five more first downs than their Big 12 South opponent in a loss. Texas A&M had little early success against Oklahoma State, as the Aggies ran the ball eight times in the opening quarter (discounting sacks) and never gained more than six feet on any of those rushes. The first five times Jerrod Johnson tried to pass, the results were completions of four and twelve yards to Uzoma Nwachukwu, a pair of incompletions, and a sack.

Trailing by a touchdown, Texas A&M came to life in the second stanza. An eight-play drive beginning in the first quarter and featuring two passes which together covered 42 yards of real estate went deep into Cowboy territory before Randy Bullock missed a 32-yard field goal that Sandra Bullock should have made. Undaunted, the Aggies launched touchdown drives of 57 and 51 yards, responded to the Pokes’ recovery of a Jerrod Johnson fumble at the Texans’ 37 yard line by picking off a Zac Robinson pass to reclaim possession, and drove 71 yards to the Oklahoma State one yard line before turning the ball over on downs just before intermission.

Again discounting sacks but including two-point conversion attempts, the Aggies ran the ball thirteen times in the second quarter, only twice gaining more than five yards in a single rushing attempt, but Texas A&M remained sufficiently dedicated to the run that it opened up the pass. With a balanced attack featuring 42 pass attempts and 41 rushing attempts, Jerrod Johnson threw for 273 yards, three touchdowns, and no picks.

If there is any encouragement to be taken from the Bulldogs’ and the Aggies’ comparable games against the Cowboys, it is this: Texas A&M played much better against Oklahoma State than Georgia did, but all the Maroon and White had to show for it was a more exciting loss. The Pokes beat the Aggies despite (1) playing at Kyle Field, (2) trailing in first downs, (3) offsetting their lone takeaway with a corresponding giveaway to even the turnover margin, and (4) incurring 118 yards’ worth of penalties to Texas A&M’s 30.

The Big 12 South battle went in favor of the visiting Okies because they outgained the hometown Texans by 60 yards on the ground and six yards through the air, averaging 11.2 yards per pass. Georgia was much more careless with the football than the Aggies, posting a minus-three turnover ratio against the Cowboys that would become disturbingly familiar to Bulldog fans over the course of the campaign, and the Classic City Canines partially offset the Pokes’ 106 penalty yards with 58 of their own.

Nevertheless, a fairly decent defensive effort by the ‘Dawgs limited Oklahoma State to 6.1 yards per pass and held the Cowboys to a rushing effort (3.7 yards per carry) comparable to the 3.5 yards per running play they averaged against the Aggies. Carelessness with the football was a large part of what doomed the Red and Black in Stillwater, and that would become a familiar and infuriating theme of the season, but that fact offers at least some cause for hope, for this reason: Georgia has won the turnover battle in two of its last three games. If the SEC representative in Shreveport can find a way to hang onto the pigskin, the Athenians have a chance.

Go ‘Dawgs!