Both teams had disappointing 2015 seasons finishing at 8-5. UCLA lost to Nebraska in their bowl game while the Aggies lost in the Music City Bowl to Louisville. Texas A&M’s 5 losses came to opponents with a combined overall record of 48-18 overall.
The Bruins had a potent offense in 2015 that averaged 32 points per game and was very balanced rushing for 177 yards on the ground with 288 passing yards through the air. The offense will be led by sophmore quarterback Josh Rosen who completed 60% of his passes for 3,669 yards with 23 TDs and 11 interceptions. Rosen started off fast in his first game against Virginia, but struggled against the more physical defenses he faced in conference play. In the Bruins five losses in 2015, Rosen completed 122 of 216 passes for 1,492 yards with 9 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
The offense will need to replace leading rusher Paul Perkins who led the team with 1,343 yards with 14 touchdowns. Leading receivers Jordan Payton (1,105 receiving yards with 5 TD’s) and Thomas Duarte will not return, which puts pressure on returning senior wide receiver Darren Andrews to step and be the go to target for Rosen. Last year, Andrews caught 43 passes for 443 yards with 1 touchdown. The offensive line was very solid last year only allowing 14 total sacks as a unit. If the offensive line can protect Rosen in this game against Texas A&M defensive ends Myles Garrett and Hall, they will have the opportunity to win this game.
Defensively, the Bruins allowed 26 points per game in 2015 and failed to shut down the run consistently in big games. On the year, the unit gave up 198 rushing yards per game and in the team’s 5 losses, allowed 220 rushing yards per game. In 3 of the team’s 13 games, the defense allowed 300 yards or more rushing yards to their opponents (Arizona, Stanford and Nebraska). The Bruins lose defensive tackle Kenny Clark and linebacker Myles Jack to the NFL and will need to step up on the defensive side of the ball in this game to pull out the victory. UCLA finished the year even in turnover margin and recorded 28 sacks as a unit last year. The key will be can the defensive front seven create pressure against a Texas A&M offensive line that allowed 34 sacks last season.
In 2015, the Aggies averaged 27 points per game and were led by quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray for most of the season. However, before the team’s bowl game against Louisville, both quarterbacks had left the program. Texas A&M rushed for 169 yards on the ground and passed for 255 yards through the air in 2015 and will get a boost from former Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight. Knight burst onto the scene two years ago with his Sugar Bowl victory over Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Entering 2015, Knight was penciled in as the starting quarterback before a player by the name of Baker Mayfield beat him out as the starting quarterback for the Sooners. Playing sparingly last year, Knight completed 22 of 40 passes 55% with 305 passing yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He is a graduate transfer that brings big game experience to the position. He is a mobile quarterback that will need to play within the system and distribute the football to a solid wide receiver corps.
The Aggies will also have the benefit of former Oklahoma running back Keith Ford. Ford is a slashing runner that is a solid pass catcher and can be utilized in the short to intermediate passing game by head coach Kevin Sumlin. Ford can put pressure on the “edge’ of opposing defenses and is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the rock.
The strength of the offense is the wide receivers. Christian Kirk, Ricky Seals-Jones, Josh Reynolds and Speedy Noil have the ability to be one of the nation’s best groups in 2016. Last season, they combined for 197 receptions for 2,702 yards with 18 receiving touchdowns. Kirk led the team with 80 receptions for 1,009 yards with 7 touchdowns and is a dangerous punt/kickoff returner.
Noil is suspended for this game due to violations of team rules.
Defensively, the Aggies can flourish in year two of defensive coordinator John Chavis’ system. Last year, the Aggies allowed 22 points per game and gave up 213 rushing yards per game along with holding opposing offenses to 166 passing yards per game. The Aggies must get better against the run if they are too pull out this victory against Rosen and the Bruins.
Defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall combined for 19.5 of the team’s 34 sacks last year. Garrett led the team with 12.5 while Hall added 7. In the first game of the year against Arizona State, the team recorded 9 sacks. In conference play, the defense recorded 16 sacks in 8 games (2 sacks per game).
Texas A&M had problems forcing turnovers and finished the 2015 season -6 in turnover margin.
The strength of the defense was the secondary and look for this group to get better in year two under Chavis’ tutelage. In the team’s last four games, the secondary held opposing offenses to 41 of 94 passes (43%) with 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. The unit on the year held 8 of 13 opponents to under 200 yards passing per game and 6 of 13 opponents to under 170 passing yards per game.