The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, is the site of the 2011 Cotton Bowl Classic, and the LSU Tigers of the SEC are slated to do battle with the Texas A&M Aggies of the Big 12 Conference in that showdown.
"The Cotton Bowl is one of the all-time great college bowl games and to be able to participate in what is the 75th anniversary of this legendary game will be special for our team," said LSU head coach Les Miles. "Texas A&M has an outstanding program and we are looking forward to renewing our longstanding rivalry with them."
LSU carries a 10-2 overall mark into the game, the 10th time in program history that the Tigers will finish with at least 10 wins in a campaign. They will be making their school-record 11th straight appearance in a bowl game, a streak that dates back to the 2000 Peach Bowl. LSU is 4-1 in bowl games under Miles, which includes a pair of wins in BCS bowls. Overall, the program is making its 42nd bowl appearance and owns a 21-19-1 record in the previous 41 affairs.
The regular season ended on a sour note for LSU, which fell to Arkansas in a 31-23 final on Nov. 27. The team's only other defeat this season came by one touchdown to Auburn, which will play Oregon for the national title.
As for Texas A&M, which is led by head coach Mike Sherman, it surprised many fans and analysts by earning a share of the Big 12 South title. The Aggies, who are 9-3 overall, won their final six games of the regular season and figure to carry plenty of confidence into this bowl matchup.
"As a football team we are very excited about playing in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic," said Sherman. "This is a great reward for a group of players and coaches who have worked hard. Our players have family and friends who will be able to attend and we know we will face a quality SEC opponent."
This trip to the Cotton Bowl Classic will be the 12th all-time for Aggies and their first since 2005 when they fell to Tennessee. It also marks the second straight bowl appearance for Texas A&M, which is set to make its 32nd overall bowl appearance (13-18). Last season, A&M played Georgia, another SEC team, in the Independence Bowl, and considering that game ended in a 24-point loss, the Aggies are hoping for a much better result this year.
The meeting between the Tigers and the Aggies will be the 50th all-time between the teams, but the first since the 1995 season. LSU owns a 26-20-3 edge over Texas A&M.
Through 12 outings, LSU is generating 28.8 ppg, and that respectable output has come in spite of the fact that the club is only gaining 332.6 total ypg. The Tigers are far from explosive offensively, as they rely heavily on long, run-heavy drives. Of the 34 touchdowns scored by the LSU offense thus far, 27 have come on the ground, and the team is gaining 177.2 rushing ypg as compared to just 155.4 passing ypg.
Stevan Ridley has had tremendous success running the football for LSU this season, as he has compiled 1,043 yards and 14 touchdowns on 225 carries, proving to be a workhorse. Unfortunately, Ridley has been ruled academically ineligible for this bowl game. Although Ridley and the program are appealing the NCAA's decision, it is unclear if that appeal will yield the answer that the Tigers are hoping for.
Jordan Jefferson, the club's quarterback, is second on the roster in rushing with 383 yards and six scores. A mediocre passer at best, Jefferson has completed only 56.8 percent of his throws for 1,253 yards and four touchdowns with only nine interceptions. Jarrett Lee has seen some time under center and has produced modest results. As for the Tiger receivers, Terrence Toliver is tops with 36 catches for 467 yards.
The LSU defense is led by dynamic defensive back Patrick Peterson, the 2010 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, as well as the winner of both the Thorpe and Bednarik Awards. Peterson, who was also named the SEC Special Teams Player of the Year, is eager to get on the field against the Aggies.
"First of all, it's going to be great experience going to Dallas and playing in the largest stadium in America," said Peterson. "We get to renew a rivalry with a great Texas A&M team. I watched them against Texas and they are a great team with a traditional offense but can still run spread and I-formation. This is a big time opportunity for them as well getting to play us."
Peterson and company have been able to limit opponents to 17.8 ppg and 301.7 total ypg. The Tigers have allowed 27 touchdowns to opposing offenses, including 15 rushing scores, but they have held foes to 3.6 rushing ypc. With 28 takeaways, including 16 interceptions, as well as 32 sacks, LSU has certainly been opportunistic. Peterson has four interceptions to his credit and is the definition of a shut-down corner. As for Kelvin Sheppard, he leads the Tigers with 108 total tackles, including 11 TFLs and four sacks.
Clearly, the Texas A&M offense will have some big-time defenders to contend with, but the Aggies do have some firepower. They are averaging 31.8 ppg and 447.6 total ypg, and of the 44 touchdowns scored by the offense, 25 have been of the passing variety. Christine Michael was lost to injury in the eighth game of this campaign, and many wondered how A&M would survive without him. Fortunately, Cyrus Gray has stepped up in a big way, running for 1,033 yards and 12 touchdowns despite starting just six games. Gray racked up 223 yards on the ground in the regular-season finale and is running with a ton of confidence.
At the quarterback position, Ryan Tannehill took over for the turnover-prone Jarrod Johnson midway through the season, and Tannehill is unbeaten in his five starts. He has completed 65.3 percent of his throws for 1,434 yards and 11 touchdowns against only three interceptions. Ryan Swope paces the receivers with 67 catches, but Jeff Fuller is the true playmaker at receiver having turned his 65 receptions into 983 yards and 12 scores.
The man to watch on defense for Texas A&M is Von Miller, the 2010 Butkus Award winner as the nation's top linebacker.
"As a senior, I am very excited about playing my final college football game in my backyard, the Cotton Bowl," said Miller, who attended high school in the Dallas area. "This team is a family and just getting a chance to prepare with them is a blessing. We know a big challenge is ahead from the SEC."
Miller has 14.5 TFLs to his credit, including 9.5 sacks, and he has forced three fumbles. Leading tackler Michael Hodges, who has 111 stops, has posted 4.5 sacks and a pair of interceptions. The Aggies are limiting foes to 20.3 ppg and 357.5 total ypg.
Give the edge to Texas A&M in this game, as it played tremendous ball down the stretch and will be motivated to finish strong. LSU may be a bit sluggish, as coach Miles has built a BCS-or-bust quality program.