Texas A&M football faces North Carolina on Saturday at the Capital One Orange Bowl in Miami. Here are your three keys to an Aggie victory.
The Texas A&M Aggies did not make the College Football Playoff, as expected. Their consolation prize is less about the opponent – three-loss North Carolina – than the chance to beat former Texas head coach Mack Brown in a venerable postseason event, the Orange Bowl. The Aggies – who, as a member of the Southwest Conference, annually wanted to play in the Cotton Bowl for decades – have made only one previous trip to the Orange Bowl in their history. They played in the 1944 game and lost to LSU, 19-14. Several years ago, the Johnny Manziel team – though part of the SEC and not the SWC – gained a Cotton Bowl bid and thrashed Oklahoma. The Orange Bowl does represent something new, and that’s the most appealing part of this trip.
North Carolina, though, is not the high-end opponent the Aggies deserved to play after a one-loss regular season, the kind of season which justifies the dollars A&M spent on Jimbo Fisher. Unbeaten Cincinnati, one-loss BYU, and Big 12 champion Oklahoma would have all made better bowl opponents than Carolina. Moreover, as you’ll soon see, this isn’t even a full-strength Tar Heel team.
Nevertheless, because North Carolina is weak, it makes this a must-win bowl game for Fisher and the rest of the Aggies. Let’s look at the game keys in Miami Gardens:
1 – Strong game from the defensive front
Notre Dame showed exactly how to contain the North Carolina defense: If UNC quarterback Sam Howell doesn’t have time to set up in the pocket, the rest of the Tar Heel offense won’t work. Notre Dame generated a push from the front four against the run, and a consistent pass rush when Howell tried to throw. He couldn’t find receivers down the field. Dinks and dunks were his only options. North Carolina could not get the chunk plays it relies upon. UNC’s 2020 season has shown that its offense can roast bad defenses, scoring in the 50s or higher. Look at what Carolina did to Miami in the regular-season finale (62 points). However, when a defense shows that it can punch North Carolina’s offensive line in the mouth, the Tar Heels fold like a deck of cards and lack a Plan B. If the A&M defensive line is the Aggies’ best position group on the field, Jimbo and Mike Elko will walk away from this game with a comfortable win.
2 – Identify matchups
North Carolina’s best players have opted out of this game. UNC’s best defensive player is linebacker Chazz Surratt. UNC’s best offensive player all season was running back Javonte Williams. Both are out for this game, along with receiver Dyami Brown and running back Michael Carter. A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko can focus on taking away the veteran skill players left in the Carolina stable, and force Howell to turn to the backups if the Tar Heels want to make plays down the field or in the running game. Forcing the Carolina newcomers to make plays is the obvious but natural cornerstone of an adjusted game plan for A&M.
3 – Don’t sulk
Yes, this is not the sexy, high-end bowl opponent Texas A&M deserved. The matchup ought to be better and bigger after the regular season the Aggies had. We all know this. Yet, SEC teams have sulked before when snubbed for the College Football Playoff. It does no one any good to grumble and struggle through a terrible performance. Go out there, play hard, be mad, and take out the frustrations on a short-handed Carolina team. Beat Mack Brown and pay him back for all the times he beat the Aggies when he coached the Longhorns. Win the first Orange Bowl in program history. If you’re going to bother to make the trip to Miami, show up and make a statement.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 8:00 pm ET. Watch this Texas A&M football game on the ESPN Network.