When Kansas State and Texas A&M take the field Wednesday night there will be a sizable talent gap. The Aggies have more speed, strength and overall talent but the Wildcats make up for it by maximizing their player’s abilities and using effort and consistency to their advantage. Here are a few match-ups to keep an eye on as the game plays out.
K-State’s offensive line vs. Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett
This is by far the biggest matchup to watch because it pits strength against strength. On one side there is a likely top NFL draft pick come April, and on the other side a group of five that has paved the way for one of the Big 12’s best rushing offenses, including six straight 200 yard rushing performances coming into the game.
Texas A&M junior defensive end Myles Garrett is a beast. Garrett is a first team AP All-American and many predict will be the first overall pick in the NFL draft. Garrett has actually had a down year compared to his past two seasons; he has just 8.5 sacks this season with 4.5 of those coming in one game against UT San Antonio. But Garrett’s decreased production can be attributed to a nagging ankle injury he suffered in week four against Arkansas. He missed three games and wasn’t at full health until the end of the season, he should be healthy and ready to go against the Wildcats.
K-State will counter Garrett with an offensive line that has improved vastly from the start of the season. In their first game against Stanford the Wildcats offensive line allowed seven sacks and struggled to block for a run game that totaled just 93 yards. It’s been all up from there for the young but maturing line. K-State has rushed for 200 yards or more in six straight games coming into the bowl game. If they can find a way to keep the run game going and give junior quarterback Jesse Ertz enough time to make short throws to keep the chains moving the Wildcats can be successful.
K-State’s secondary vs. Texas A&M’s receivers
K-State’s secondary was considered a strength heading into the season with veteran safety Dante Barnett and promising young corner Duke Shelley both returning. Instead the secondary has struggled, in all three of their Big 12 losses teams have took advantage of their inability to cover the deep ball.
The secondary did end the season on a high note, with good games against Baylor, Kansas and TCU, intercepting six passes in those final three games. A turnover or two against the Aggies would greatly enhance the Wildcats chances of winning.
On the other side are two big time receivers; senior Josh Reynolds and sophomore Christian Kirk. Together, the duo accounts for more than 1,700 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns. If the Aggies are able to go over the top with the long ball, it’s going to go to Reynolds. Reynolds averaged 18.1 yards-per-catch, his longest catch being a 92-yard touchdown reception. Junior Speedy Noil is also a name to keep an eye on.
K-State’s Jesse Ertz vs. Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight
It’s no secret these teams love to run the ball, but even the running game starts with both of these quarterbacks. Their ability to run each team’s offense has led to their success.
Junior Jesse Ertz has been up and down most of the season, but was more up than down during the final stretch of the season. The offense has learned to play through Ertz’s strengths; his ability to run the bowl and complete short and intermediate passes. Ertz leads the team with 945 yards on the ground. Ertz will have plenty of opportunities to exploit the Aggies quarterback run defense.
Senior Trevor Knight is a familiar foe for the Wildcats. Knight played at Oklahoma for before transferring to A&M, he has faced K-State three times in his career. Knight was excellent for the Aggies this season, he has thrown for more than 2,000 yards and ran over 500 yards, despite missing a few games down the stretch.