AutoZone Liberty Bowl Preview
By Jeff Vickers (@JVickers78)
Brief History of Bowl
Founded in 1959 in Philadelphia, PA, the Liberty Bowl is currently the 7th oldest Bowl Game played. The 1959 Liberty Bowl also started the record run of 24 consecutive bowls coached by Paul “Bear” Bryant, Penn State defeated Alabama that year 7-0. The 1st 5 Liberty Bowls were played in Philadelphia. The 6th Liberty Bowl moved to Atlantic City, and was the 1st time a Major Bowl was played indoors, the game also featured West Virginia. After the 1964 game, the Bowl found its’ current home in Memphis Tennessee. The Liberty Bowl also was the last game coached by Bear Bryant, who announced his retirement after the 1982 Liberty Bowl.
On paper, the AutoZone Liberty Bowl might be the bowl with the closest match up in recent history. Both Texas A&M and West Virginia finished with a 7-5 record, both went 1-4 against ranked (at time of play) opponents, both had 3 game losing streaks. The teams have one common opponent, Alabama, but comparing the scores does not provide a true measure of either team. West Virginia played Alabama to open the season and lost 33-23, A&M played Alabama mid-October and lost 59-0.
The Aggies passing game was their weapon, quarterbacks Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen combined to throw for over 3,600 yards, connecting for 35 touchdowns. 4 Aggie players had over 40 receptions; Ricky Seals-Jones (48 receptions – 44 yards – 4 touchdowns), Josh Reynolds (47 receptions – 762 yards – 12 touchdowns), Malcome Kennedy (46 receptions – 529 yards – 4 touchdowns), and Speedy Noil (44 receptions – 559 yards – 5 touchdowns).
The Passing Offense for the Mountaineers provided plenty of fireworks this season. Clint Trickett and Skyler Howard combined for 3,775 yards and 23 touchdowns. 3 Mountaineer players had over 40 catches on the season; All-American Kevin White led the way with 102 catches for 1,318 yards and 9 touchdowns, Mario Alford had 62 receptions for 888 yards and 10 touchdowns, and Jordan Thompson had 46 receptions for 514 yards and 2 touchdowns.
As a team, the Aggies rushed for 1,714 yards and 18 touchdowns, averaging 142.8 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry. Terry Williams led the way, gaining 474 yards and 6 touchdowns on 70 carries, Tra Carson was 2nd on the team with 448 yards on 99 carries, and Brandon Williams was 3rd with 386 yards and 3 touchdowns on 86 carries
The Mountaineers were relatively successful rushing the football this season. As a team, West Virginia combined for 2,250 yards on the ground and 18 touchdowns, averaging 187.5 yards per game, and 4.2 yards per carry. Rushel Shell led the Mountaineers with 766 yards and 7 touchdowns on 164 carries, Wendell Smallwood was 2nd with 645 yards and 2 touchdowns on 140 carries, and Dreamius Smith had 454 yards and 5 touchdowns on 79 carries.
Points per Game
Teams kept to the ground against A&M this season. The Aggie Defense allowed opponents to rush for 2,682 yards against them this season, for 23 touchdowns, on 529 attempts. Passing, opposing quarterbacks completed 222 of 386 passes for 2,706 yards and 16 touchdowns. The Aggie defense only picked off 5 passes this season, 3 of which were by Armani Watts. Howard Matthews led the team with 82 total tackles, while Myles Garrett swarmed quarterbacks and accounted for 11 of the teams 33 sacks. Devonta Burns and Otara Alaka each forced 2 fumbles on the season.
The Mountaineers were much improved on defense in 2014, much in part due to new defensive Coordinator Tony Gibson’s implementing the 3-3-5 stack defense. Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski led the Mountaineers with 96 total tackles, 10.5 of those were tackle for losses. Transfer Shaq Riddick made his presence felt, finishing the season with 7 sacks. Cornerback Daryl Worley led the team in interceptions with 3.