Texas A&M to debut new starting QB in Music City Bowl
There’s plenty to talk about when it comes to the December 30th Music City Bowl between Texas A&M and Louisville, and it’s not all about the Aggies’ recent loss of two former five-star recruits at quarterback in Kyle Allen (+1.0) and Kyler Murray (+1.1). Still, there are standouts on the defensive side of the ball for both teams that’ll give us plenty to get excited about.
Texas A&M will start Jake Hubenak (-5.1) at quarterback after the departure of the two we mentioned above. He’s played sparingly this season, with just 51 snaps, and hasn’t looked particularly good in limited duty. That will likely mean that we see Texas A&M lean heavily on the running game, with three starting offensive linemen grading positively as run blockers, and running back Tra Carson (+12.9) who ended the season on an uptick with 15 missed tackles forced in the final five games of the year.
Louisville comes into the bowl game after a tumultuous beginning to the season that saw them drop the opening three games, all by a touchdown or less, and then finish with a 7-2 record the rest of the way. They have struggled on offense, and it’s not just at one position, but as much as that side of the ball has disappointed, the defensive side has actually been rather impressive. Louisville enters this game without a single starter grading below -0.7, and the vast majority are all marked fairly high.
The Aggies biggest difference maker comes in the form of defensive end Myles Garrett (+42.8). Still growing as a football player, he hasn’t developed into a superstar against the run just yet, but as a pass rusher he’s one of the very best in the nation. Garrett has registered 10 sacks, nine hits and 18 hurries so far this season, a year after an 11-sack freshman campaign in 2014, continuing to be a weapon against opposing passing attacks. His pass rushing productivity rating of 15.9 was the best in the nation in 2014 among 4-3 defensive ends, and while it dipped to 11.4 this year, he was still ranked in the top 20.
With Garrett bringing the pressure, cornerback De’Vante Harris (+11.9) has been the best player in Texas A&M’s secondary. Targeted 43 times in coverage, the 5-foot-11, 175-pound senior has allowed just 22 receptions for 275 yards and one touchdown allowed, and has secured two interceptions and seven pass breakups to go along. That’s not too far away from where he was heading into the bowl game a year ago, when he had allowed just 18 receptions in the regular season.
Louisville’s star player is defensive end Sheldon Rankins (+43.6). His impact slowed during the past three games of the regular season, but over the course of the year he has still been a disruptive force, registering seven sacks, nine hits and 26 hurries. Finishing the regular season with 37 tackles resulting in a defensive stop, Rankins has been a pillar for the Cardinals defense.
The Louisville offensive line has been a looming issue this season, and could be a weakness where Texas A&M pounces. Seven linemen have played 250 snaps or more for this season, and all have a grade of -10.2 or lower. None have struggled more than center Tobijah Hughley (-49.1), who has struggled in pass protection, giving up 32 total pressures and has committed 12 penalties over the course of the season.
With struggles for both teams, this has the makings of a game that sees plenty of big defensive plays, and possibly even some defensive touchdowns. Louisville have more talent on that side of the ball, so they should be strong enough to take advantage of a Texas A&M team in a bit of turmoil at quarterback.
Prediction: Louisville 31, Texas A&M 20