Oklahoma State will play Texas A&M on Friday in the Texas Bowl in Houston. To get you guys ready for the game, we chatted with Jay Arnold, a former Aggies defensive lineman and contributor for Here and There Media (as well as Good Bull Hunting), to get to know the Aggies a little better.
Cowboys Ride for Free: Mike Gundy has called the Aggies “the best 7-5 team in the history of the NCAA.” Do you agree with this? Why or why not?
Jay Arnold: It’s tough to say just how good A&M has been in 2019. All of A&M’s losses are to teams in the top 15, but with the exception of LSU, the scores were somewhat respectable. However, I don’t think their wins against lesser competition are enough to say that the Aggies are the best 7-5 team ever. The Aggies struggled with Arkansas, Ole Miss, and to a lesser extent Mississippi State. Of those teams, only Mississippi State is bowl eligible. I think this bowl game against OSU could be a little more telling of how good the Aggies are as I believe the Cowboys are closer in ability to the Aggies than any of the teams A&M lost to. We’ll see what happens in this one and then re-evaluate Gundy’s statement after.
CRFF: You were on the Aggie D-line in 2013 and 2014 (medically retired due to a couple of shoulder surgeries). There’s been a few changes of coordinators since then. What changes have you seen good or bad from this defense since you graduated?
JA: The biggest difference I’ve seen defensively is that the Aggies under Mike Elko have been playing a much more disciplined brand of football. When I was still playing at A&M under defensive coordinator, Mark Snyder, we were such a young squad that the discipline was never really there. Then in 2015, A&M brought in John Chavis and changed the scheme. Chavis coaches a much more aggressive style of defense than Snyder did meaning that although there was less youth on the field, it was easier to make mistakes. Elko has much more of a bend but don’t break style and I think that’s been a benefit to the Aggies for the most part.
CRFF: As far as Chuba Hubbard, what would you do to try to contain him from a defensive game plan standpoint? If you were suiting up to go face the best running back in the NCAA, what kinda mindset would you have to have?
JA: When you’re facing someone as talented as Hubbard, you basically know going in that it is going to be nearly impossible to completely contain him. As a defender, you just have to do everything you can to limit the big plays. Against the running game, that starts up front with the defensive line. A&M’s defensive line has to present a level front against Hubbard. Differing levels of penetration by the big guys up front will only create seams to exploit for someone as talented as Hubbard. After that, the linebackers and safeties absolutely have to make tackles when Hubbard gets past the initial line and edge defenders absolutely can’t allow him to break contain. Any missed tackles could easily become a touchdown. As a fan Hubbard is a joy to watch, but as a former defensive player, he’s the kind of athlete you have nightmares about.
CRFF: Offensively, who would you say is the Aggies’ best weapon?
JA: The A&M offensive has been consistently inconsistent for most of 2019 but the one constant has to be that the offense goes as quarterback Kellen Mond does. Whether it’s with his arm or with his legs, Mond has been the driving force of this offense. If OSU can shut him down, it doesn’t bode well for the Aggies. Of course, that’s not to say that A&M doesn’t have other weapons. Quartney Davis is one of the best route runners I’ve seen in awhile, consistently using his footwork to create separation. Jalen Wydermyer has also become a real threat in the passing game as a freshman tight end who creates mismatches.
CRFF: Same for the defense?
JA: If you had asked me this question during the regular season, I would’ve said Justin Madubuike, hands down. Of course, with Madubuike making the smart choice in preserving his body for the 2020 NFL Draft, A&M will have to find a new spark on the defensive side of the ball. As good as Madubuike is, there is some other defensive tackles who have at least similar potential in Jayden Peevy and Bobby Brown. However, if I had to pick just one guy, I think it’s DeMarvin Leal. He hasn’t been the most consistent player for the Aggies, but he is probably the biggest playmaker A&M has, and as a true freshman, he’s only gotten better as the season has gone on.
CRFF: How much, if at all, will Cordarrian Richardson’s absence impact the Aggies’ run game?
JA: Richardson’s absence Friday will undoubtedly force the Aggies to make some changes. The way I see this playing out is with more designed runs for Kellen Mond just to take some of the pressure off of Isaiah Spiller. In modern football, you rarely see one running back stay on the field for every drive. I think A&M will find some way to give Spiller a breather but what that is I’m not sure yet.
CRFF: As a former player, gives us some insights into a bowl week.
JA: As a player, bowl week is likely the most fun you’ll have as a player. The entire grind of the season, both on and off the field, has been leading up to this and most bowls do a great job of making sure the extra weeks of practice feel more like a reward than a punishment. Now, depending on where the bowl game is and how highly rated it is the bowl gifts can differ a little bit, but they usually still end up being at least decent. From custom watches to electronics to food, the bowl gifts are always a nice little bonus for making it through fall. Of course, you are still there for a football contest so it’s not all fun and games. It is the last matchup of the season, meaning the intensity is still pretty high. Some of that even carries over to the activities the bowl games have pitting the teams against each other. I think one of my favorite memories from my time as a player was the fact that a Madden game at the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in 2013 had more trash talk than the actual game itself did.
CRFF: Looking at your Twitter. you’re a big BBQ guy. What’s a spot OSU fans should check out while they’re in Houston?
JA: I’m glad we’re getting to my actual area of expertise. I’ll have to break this down into a few categories so that people have options depending on where they are staying. The “Texas Trinity” of meats is brisket, ribs, and sausage and most of the joints on this list will be fantastic for any of those but I’ll highlight a few specialties as well.
North of Houston in the suburbs of Spring and Tomball are two of the best barbecue spots in the state. These are Corkscrew BBQ (Spring, TX) and Tejas Chocolate (Tomball, TX). Both will undoubtedly have lines so if you do choose to go to either, get there early. Corkscrew has some of the best pulled pork I’ve ever had in the state and their beans go through a three-day cooking process that makes them otherworldly. The folks at Tejas initially got their start as a bean-to-bar chocolate craftory as their name would suggest and they are still making fantastic chocolate out there. They also have what is probably my favorite sausage in the chile relleno sausage. It’s a must have.
Inside and around the 610 loop are several fantastic places from Gatlin’s just north, to Roegel’s to the west, to Pinkerton’s, Truth, The Pit Room, and Feges all within 610. You can’t go wrong with any of those places though I will say if you decide on Truth BBQ, make sure you get some cake to go.
If you end up on the southside of Houston outside of the loop, I’d suggest checking out Killen’s in Pearland. They have one of the best beef ribs I’ve ever had and the bread pudding is to die for.
Finally, if you’re out west of town in the Katy area, I highly recommend Brett’s BBQ Shop. You won’t find a better spot on that side of town.
CRFF: What’s your score prediction?
JA: By OSU standards, the Cowboys offense hasn’t been quite as explosive as in years past. A&M’s offense has been even worse at times, struggling with talented defensive teams. I think the defenses will be the story in this one and we’ll likely have a low scoring contest. In the end, I believe Hubbard will be the difference maker in this one and I think he breaks off a big run in the 4th quarter to give the Cowboys a 24-17 win in the Texas Bowl.