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2011 Meineke Car Care - Texas A&M 33, NU 22
Posted Dec 31, 2011

2011-2012 Bowls - CFN's Preview & Prediction for the 2011 Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

2011 Meineke

Texas A&M 33, NU 22

- 2011-2012 CFN Bowl Central

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National Rankings
31st Total Offense 7th
81st Total Defense 65th
51st Scoring Offense 11th
65th Scoring Defense 77th
36th Rushing Offense 20th
89th Run Defense 13th
35th Passing Offense 18th
59th Passing Defense 113th
42nd Turnover Margin 100th
Position Rankings
relative to each other
5 Highest - 1 Lowest
N   T
5 Quarterbacks 4
2 RBs 4
3.5 Receivers 5
2.5 O Line 4.5
2 D Line 4.5
3 Linebackers 3.5
2.5 Secondary 2
3 Spec Teams 3.5
4 Coaching 2
Texas Bowl
Texas A&M 33 … Northwestern 22
- CFN Thoughts on the Meineke

(AP) HOUSTON -- Ryan Tannehill threw for 329 yards and a touchdown and Ben Malena ran for two more scores to lead Texas A&M to a 33-22 win over Northwestern on Saturday in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

Northwestern led 7-3 early in the second quarter before A&M reeled off 27 straight points to take a decisive lead and then fight off a late rally to capture its first bowl victory since 2001.

Texas A&M broke a five-game bowl losing streak in a win the team dedicated to fired coach Mike Sherman and offensive lineman Joseph Villavisencio, who was killed in a car accident last week.

Malena ran for 77 yards, filling in ably for Cyrus Gray, who missed his second straight game with a stress fracture in his left shoulder.

Northwestern hasn't won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl, a span of nine losses.

A&M won a bowl for the first time since a 28-9 victory over TCU after the 2001 season. That also came in Houston, when this game was called the bowl and played next door at the Astrodome.

The Aggies were up 30-7 before Brian Peters intercepted Tannehill early in the fourth quarter and the Wildcats took advantage of that mistake when Kain Colter scored on a 1-yard run for Northwestern's first points since early in the second quarter. The 2-point conversion left A&M ahead 30-15.

Colter found Tim Riley in the corner of the end zone for on a 2-yard touchdown pass to get Northwestern within 30-22 with less than six minutes remaining.

A&M responded with a clock-eating drive capped by a 31-yard field goal to secure the win. Senior Jeff Fuller, who has had a disappointing and injury-plagued year, had a key third down catch for 29 yards on that drive and finished with a season-high 119 yards receiving.

The Aggies were led by interim coach Tim DeRuyter in his last game at Texas A&M before leaving to become Fresno State's coach. The Aggies hired former Houston coach Kevin Sumlin earlier this month to replace Sherman, but he wasn't involved in bowl preparations.

Texas A&M wore helmet decals honoring Villavisencio, who died Dec. 22. The black and white decal, which says `Joey V.,' had his No. 67 and the Texas A&M logo. There was a moment of silence for Villavisencio before the game and fellow offensive lineman Danny Baker wore his number and greeted his father before the game.

Texas A&M erased a 7-3 second quarter deficit thanks to touchdowns by Malena and Fuller and a field goal by Randy Bullock to lead 20-7 at halftime.

Malena's second touchdown came on a 19-yard run early in the third quarter that made it 27-7. Another field goal by Bullock, this one from 47 yards, pushed A&M's advantage to 30-7.

The Wildcats alternated quarterbacks for much of the day with Dan Persa leading the more traditional offense and Colter directing the wildcat offense. But neither player could generate much offense while often under heavy pressure from the Aggies, who finished with eight sacks.

Texas A&M's offense got rolling in the second quarter when Tannehill found Ryan Swope, who was a high school running back, on a short pass that he took 37 yards to the 1. Swope tight-roped the sideline and avoided a half dozen tacklers before he was brought down.

Malena scored a play later to put A&M on top 10-7.

Northwestern took a 7-3 lead in the second quarter when Venric Mark scored 2-yard option run.

Mark provided another highlight for the Wildcats on a nifty 47-yard punt return where he spun away from a pair of tacklers before hurdling another one before being pushed out of bounds in the second half.

Northwestern (6-6) vs. Texas A&M (6-6) Dec. 31, Noon, ESPN

Here’s The Deal … Northwestern being 6-6 and in a mediocre bowl is solid, but Texas A&M being 6-6 and in a mediocre bowl, especially before heading off to the SEC West, is a disaster. Either the Wildcats will finally ease their pain, or the Aggies will get out of the awful 2011 season and start fresh for next year with a clean slate.

After a terrific 2010, A&M was a fringe national title candidate coming into this year and was expected to do what Oklahoma State did, but the team couldn’t close, couldn’t win the close games, and collapsed down the stretch leading to head coach Mike Sherman getting canned and the tag of being 2011’s Most Disappointing Team.

While it’s not always right to look at the close losses – you have to win the tight ones – A&M is roughly five plays away from being 11-1 losing to Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Missouri in overtime, Kansas State in four overtimes, and Texas by a total of 17 points and with chances to win all five. The team was set up perfectly to win in the fourth quarter with a veteran quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, a devastating running game working behind a great line, a top-shelf field goal kicker in Randy Bullock, and a defense just good enough to come up with a stop or two.

Instead, A&M lost four of its last five games, including a soul-crusher against Texas, and now the hope is to get through the bowl and not make a bad year even worse. Considering the Aggies have lost five straight bowls, nine of their last ten, and 12 of their last 14, they need to buck a whopper of a trend.

A&M might be one of college football’s worst bowl teams over the last 25 years, with blowouts in eight of the last 12 losses and losing four of the last five by 14 points or more, but Northwestern’s frustrations are worse.

To end the 1948 season, Northwestern won its first bowl game with a win over Cal in the Rose Bowl. That was the one and only bowl victory in the program’s history going 0-8 starting with the miraculous run to Pasadena in 1995 and with losses over the last three seasons under Pat Fitzgerald. However, at least the Cats are competitive, losing to Missouri and Auburn in overtime and coming back to challenge Texas Tech late in last season’s TicketCity loss.

Just being competitive isn’t enough for Fitzgerald, a true believe who thinks his program belongs in the Rose Bowl hunt every year. After a rough five-game losing streak and a 2-5 start, just getting a 13th game this year is enough with the defense improving over the second half of the year, the offense becoming more consistent, and the overall play much better. Now NU has to take advantage of the changes at A&M and come up with a winning season. The Cats are due, but A&M is also overdue to start playing like it’s supposed to.

Why Northwestern Might Win: Coaching changes are the great equalizer in bowl games, especially for teams playing out the string like Texas A&M is. Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter is finishing up his duties with the Aggies as the interim head coach, but he’s Fresno State’s head man now and has both feet out the door. Houston’s Kevin Sumlin is about to take over, all the discussion around Aggieland concerns the 2012 SEC schedule, and the focus and the interest just aren’t going to be there in a bowl of this caliber. Meanwhile, Northwestern, by all accounts, wants this bowl win very, very badly.

A&M might have a terrific offense, but DeRuyter’s defense is a disaster against anyone able to bomb away. The pass rush is tremendous and the run defense solid, but the secondary allowed 391 yards or more over a four-game stretch against Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Texas Tech, and Baylor, and Northwestern has the attack to do the same. Thanks to quarterback Dan Persa, the Wildcats have the eighth most efficient passing game in the country and should be able to dink and dunk their way down the field. Throw in a little bit of ingenuity when it comes to making the running game go – utilizing part-time quarterback Kain Colter in a variety of ways – and the Cats have the offense to keep up the pace.

Texas A&M gave up 126 points in the first halves of games, and 110 in the third and 79 in the fourth. Basically, the Aggies haven’t been able to adjust and they haven’t been able to slow down anyone’s offense in the clutch. Persa has a history of coming up big late, and if Northwestern is close, he might be able to make the difference. However …

Why Texas A&M Might Win: Northwestern is even worse in the fourth quarter. On the year, the Wildcats allowed 65 points in the first quarters of games, 78 in the second quarter, 66 in the third, and 118th in the fourth.

If the Aggies have everything working on both sides of the ball and are well-motivated, Northwestern shouldn’t be able to keep up the pace. The A&M pass rush is the best in America – coming up with a nation-best 43 sacks – while NU is miserable in pass protection and allows way, way, way too many sacks. On the other side of the ball, the defensive front doesn’t have any fight whatsoever, ranking last in the Big Ten and 101st in the nation in sacks and 105th in tackles for loss. The A&M offensive line has been outstanding, with only Boise State allowing fewer sacks on the season. QB Ryan Tannehill should have all day to throw on a Wildcat secondary that doesn’t have the talent or the ability to keep down the better passing games. The NU stats look better than they are going against teams like Army, Minnesota, and Rice who don’t/can’t throw. The Cats haven’t seen anyone who can throw like A&M can.

Everything has to go perfectly for Northwestern to win, that includes the special teams and the punting game. A&M doesn’t punt all that well, but Dustin Harris and the Aggie punt return game are terrific and NU doesn’t punt well. Northwestern also has a terrific punt return game, but this can’t be an even exchange; the Cats have to win on special teams, and they’re not going to, partly because of …

What To Watch Out For: A&M kicker Randy Bullock won the Lou Groza Award after nailing 25-of-29 kicks with three of his misses coming from beyond 40 yards. While he nailed a 52-yarder against Texas, he’s at his best from mid-range to deep, connecting on 10-of-12 kicks from 40-to-49 yards. Only one miss, a 50-yarder against Kansas State, ended up mattering in the final outcome, but he’s been reliable enough to be all but automatic from just inside 50.

Northwestern’s Dan Persa needed the first part of the year to finally return healthy from the torn Achilles suffered late last season against Iowa, and while he’s not the same runner and he’s been banged up throughout the year, he ended up with a strong finish throwing 17 touchdown passes to go against seven picks. He threw for 331 yards against Michigan in a loss, and was hurt for part of the big win against Nebraska – only throwing for 79 yards with a pick. He didn’t play in the bowl loss to Auburn two years ago and was out hurt for last year’s loss to Texas Tech. This is his final game, and to finally bring a bowl win back to Evanston would be a perfect way to close out his great career.

While the Texas A&M passing game has been excellent, the team has been at its best when the running game is rolling. Christine Michael was lost for the year, and then speedy Cyrus Gray was out against Texas with a fractured shoulder. Now he’s healthy and ready to roll, and he should be a workhorse. The 5-10, 198-pounder is one of the Big 12’s fastest players with sub-4.4 speed and great cutting ability. He carried the ball 30 times for 218 yards and two scores against Kansas State, and dominated last year over the second half of the season when Michael went down, running for 100 yards or more in each of the final seven games. Northwestern doesn’t have the speed in the back seven to handle him if he gets into the second level.

What Will Happen: Everything is pointing against Texas A&M losing off-the-field and with the way the team struggles in close games, but there’s way too much talent to not beat a vastly inferior Wildcat team with ease. Northwestern doesn’t have the defense to keep the Aggie O under wraps, and the senior leadership of Tannehill and Gray will keep the team from suffering too much of a letdown. Persa will throw for 300 yards, and it won’t be nearly enough.

CFN Prediction: Texas A&M 41 … Northwestern 24
- Click For Latest Line From ATS: Texas A&M -10   O/U: 64.5
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Texas A&M is four touchdowns more talented than the Wildcats. Northwestern never, ever, ever, ever, EVER wins its bowl game.

By Richard Cirminiello 
If motivation and want-to matter in Houston, Northwestern will rate enough of an edge to help narrow the gap on the Aggies.

By Matt Zemek
Texas A&M has the athletes, and what’s more is that Northwestern is a poor second-half team. That’s the perfect opponent for the Aggies.

By: Barrett Sallee
Follow me on Twitter: @BarrettSallee  
Texas A&M expected a trip to the Cotton Bowl, at worst, before the season. The coaching change coupled with the disappointment will produce a very flat Aggie team.

By Russ Mitchell
Hey, we're almost to New Year's Day - so the games have to be picking up by now. Right? In this corner, the coachless A&M Aggies of Texas, seventh place in the Big 12, fighting the smart kids from Northwestern - who wouldn't even be here if not for a late season win in Lincoln. Huskers, we're holding you responsible for this game. No, we're serious. The game's in Houston - just shocking that A&M was invited.

By Terry Johnson
It'll be a showdown between two of college football’s most underrated QB’s in Northwestern’s Dan Persa and Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill. Expect plenty of points. It'll be worth the watch.

By Phil Harrison
Follow me on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFN
It’s hard to tell what type of surprises this game will show. Both teams can put up points, but what will the psyche of A&M?
Best Bowl Moments

Best Wildcat Bowl Moment: No contest. When you’re the Big Ten’s perennial doormat and you haven’t been to a bowl game in 47 years, an unexpected berth in the Rose Bowl is more than a great bowl moment—it’s the modern day high point for your program. Such was the case for the 1995 ‘Cats, which shocked the world by winning the conference title and earning a trip to Pasadena. They led favored USC early in the fourth quarter before succumbing, 41-32.

Best Aggie Bowl Moment: In one of the most important wins of the modern era, the Aggies shackled Heisman winner Tim Brown and defeated No. 12 Notre Dame, 35-10, in the 1988 Cotton Bowl. The A&M attack was spearheaded by a couple of freshmen, quarterback Bucky Richardson, who was named game MVP, and running back Darren Lewis, who tossed a game-tying touchdown pass on a halfback option play.

Meineke Bowl History
2010 South Florida 31, Clemson 26
2009 Pitt 19, North Carolina 17
2008 West Virginia 31, North Carolina 30
2007 Wake Forest 24, Connecticut 10
2006 Boston Coll 25, Navy 24
2005 NC St 14, South Florida 0
2004 Boston Col 37, North Carolina 24

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