The Independence Bowl probably isn’t much on the minds of the folks at ESPN2, but if they do spend any time looking ahead to the Georgia-Texas A&M matchup, they’ll no doubt be licking their chops over the prospects of a shootout between two teams known for scoring points and for having suspect defenses.
Especially with the sidebar that one of the teams fired all but one of its defensive coaches and will see the former quarterback head coach and two graduate assistants helping the lone survivor try to scheme against the No. 5 total offense in the country.
I watched that Texas-Texas A&M game on Thanksgiving night in which Aggies QB Jerrod Johnson was so impressive, and when it was mentioned they might be headed to the Independence Bowl, I remember thinking, “I really don’t want to see the Dogs facing that quarterback.”
Ranked sixth in the nation for total offense, Johnson is one of those mobile throw-or-run types that the Dogs have had trouble with over the past couple of years. He’s passed for 3,217 yards (averaging 268 per game) for 28 touchdowns and has run 131 times for a net of 455 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Aggies rack up an average of 465 yards per game on offense and rank 15th in the country in scoring at 33.9 points per game. They rank 22nd in passing offense (274.9 yards per game) and 25th in rushing offense (190 yards per game). They scored 38 or more points in six games this year. They’ll be meeting a Georgia defense that gave up 34 or more points five times this season but still managed to rank 30th in total defense, 33rd in pass defense and 40th in rushing defense.
The other side of the coin might put a gleam in the eye of Mike Bobo as he anticipates the first meeting between these schools since the Herschel days: The Aggies are even worse on defense than Georgia on its worst day this season, ranking 87th in the nation against the run (giving up 168 yards per game) and a dismal 111th nationally in pass defense (yielding 263 yards per game). The Aggies gave up 47 or more points four times this season, including 65 to Oklahoma and 62 to Kansas State.
Aggies fans have taken note of the way the Dogs approached their game against Georgia Tech, running a ball-control offense and eating up clock, and that’s what they fear most from Georgia in the bowl game. A&M tends to have trouble stopping hard-running tailbacks, and the Dogs have a pair of them in Caleb King and Washaun Ealey. And then there’s the prospect of Georgia getting back its biggest offensive weapon in time for the bowl: A.J. Green.
So the game plan for Georgia appears clear: Keep Jerrod Johnson off the field by running the ball. And when the Aggies crowd the box too much, throw it downfield to A.J. Another plus to keeping the ball on the ground: If Joe Cox spends most of his time handing it off, he won’t be as likely to fall vicitim to Aggies defensive end Von Miller, who leads the nation in quarterback sacks with 17.
Speaking of Cox, I got a chuckle out of the way one Aggies fan blogger summed him up: “Cox is a mediocre college QB. Unfortunately our defense can make mediocre QBs look like world beaters.” Sounds like Georgia fans describing the Dogs defense after the Tennessee game.
Of course, regardless of the opponent, Georgia fans are less than thrilled that the Dogs’ season-ending upset of the team that went on to win the ACC championship failed to improve our bowl standings. Interestingly, the Aggies’ fans apparently aren’t thrilled with going to Shreveport, either. They wanted to play Navy in the Texas Bowl, which actually pays less than the Independence. That might tell you a little something about their state of mind after a 6-6 season.