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Independence Bowl Preview: Conclusions About the Georgia Bulldogs' and the Texas A&M Aggies' Common Opponents

Just as Team Speed Kills compared the common opponents of the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Florida Gators prior to the SEC championship game, so too have I looked at the common opponents of the Georgia Bulldogs and the Texas A&M Aggies, which led to these conclusions about the two teams appearing in next Monday’s Independence Bowl:

Category Georgia Texas A&M Difference
Points For 62 50 UGA +12
Points Against 65 83 UGA -18
Passing Yards 537 618 A&M +81
Rushing Yards 250 222 UGA +28
Total Yards 787 840 A&M +53
Passing Yds. All. 543 550 UGA -7
Rushing Yds. All. 249 332 UGA -83
Total Defense 792 882 UGA -90
Turnover Margin -5 +1 A&M +6

If I’m reading that right, I think it means that, if Willie Martinez had elected to stick around for the Independence Bowl, he would have coached the best defense on the field for the second straight game. I’m not entirely certain my brain is prepared to process that possibility.

Georgia averaged 31 points per game against the admittedly small sample set of their two common opponents. The Arkansas Razorbacks and the Oklahoma St. Cowboys surrendered an average of 25 points per game to the Aggies, for a differential of two field goals (or a touchdown and a missed extra point, but let’s give Blair Walsh a little more credit than that, shall we?) per contest.

Defensively, the contrast was even more striking. The Bulldogs conceded 32.5 points per game to the Hogs and the Pokes, whereas Texas A&M gave up 41.5 points per game to that same pair of opponents. That’s a nine point swing in favor of the Red and Black.

On the whole, the respective Independence Bowl contestants performed similarly in the ground game, with the Georgians outgaining the Texans by an average of fourteen rushing yards per outing, but the Maroon and White were more effective through the air by 40.5 yards per contest, giving Texas A&M an overall edge in total offense of 26.5 yards per game.

Once again, though, the Bulldogs fielded the more stout defense of the two, enjoying a minuscule advantage of 3.5 fewer passing yards per game allowed and demonstrating fairly solid superiority against the running game by giving up 41.5 fewer rushing yards per contest. What the Aggies have taken over the top, the Red and Black have taken away in the trenches. That’s a tradeoff I’m willing to take, as giving up 45 fewer yards per outing could make a real difference, particularly if most of that extra yardage is denied the opposition in the running game.

The above chart lists nine categories, and I have to admit that I’m feeling pretty good after looking at the first eight of them, as Georgia comes out ahead in six of those. The final line of that statistical thumbnail sketch is as ominous as it is amazing, though; the Bulldogs outperformed the Aggies against the Razorbacks and the Cowboys in spite of a gap in turnover margin of---wait for it---three giveaways per game operating against the Classic City Canines.

Depending upon your point of view, that figure represents a hopeful indicator or a glaring warning. If the ‘Dawgs were able to do so well comparatively while shooting themselves in the foot so consistently---in contests, it should be noted, that both occurred in road games on distant fields in Fayetteville and Stillwater, while the Maroon and White hosted the Hogs and the Pokes in their home state---just imagine how well they could do if they simply kept their turnover margin even against Texas A&M.

The flipside of that factor is obvious, though. Against the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Arizona St. Sun Devils, the Red and Black had games well in hand before turning comfortable wins into nailbiters through their own miscues. The Aggies certainly are better than Arizona State and probably are better than the Palmetto State Poultry; Georgia has a decent shot at beating Texas A&M, but the ‘Dawgs can make it harder than it has to be if they have to beat both the Aggies and themselves . . . and, after spending Labor Day weekend in the Sooner State, I am not sanguine about the Classic City Canines’ prospects for crossing several state lines to play a Big 12 South opponent and emerging victorious if they handle the football as though their hands had been smeared with the proverbial sticks of butter.

If the Independence Bowl combatants’ respective contests against Arkansas and Oklahoma State are representative samples of their bodies of work, Georgia can run the ball a little better than Texas A&M and stop the run a good bit better than the Aggies. If the Bulldogs can control the line of scrimmage, the Maroon and White’s superior passing game may not matter . . . but that ugly "A&M +6" in the column representing the difference in turnover margin ought to be keeping Coach Richt up nights between now and Monday afternoon.

Can Georgia hang onto the football against Texas A&M? The answer to that question most likely is also the answer to the question, "Can Georgia win the Independence Bowl?" As this season has taught me to do, I am hoping for the affirmative yet anticipating the negative.

Go ‘Dawgs!