How does Jake Hubenak handle his first start?
The Aggies found themselves in a ridiculous situation after Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray decided to transfer a few weeks before the bowl game. Allen was the starter who had a big arm and the experience all coaches want. Murray was the true freshman that had the running ability that Johnny Manziel had and had shown signs of his potential when he saw the field. But, who is Jake Hubenak?
Hubenak was a player of the year in Texas as a Senior but he wasn't recruited by any division one schools so he walked on at Oklahoma State. His senior year of high school he threw for 4,000+ yards and he did the same at Blinn junior college last year. The latter led the NJCAA. Hubenak is very much an unknown but judging by the Auburn and Ole Miss games where he saw extended time, I think the Aggie offense could be fine with their third stringer. Hubenak showed that he can complete short passes accurately and that he can stand confidently in the pocket. Those are two things that guys tend to struggle with when they're untested. The read option would likely be off the table as Hubenak isn't a quick player but neither was Kyle Allen and they still ran it. I don't think that Hubenak playing helps TAMU or hurts UofL at all. The offense will be similar and unless a quarterback is a runner, not having film on him doesn't really mean much.
How does Louisville go about keeping Christian Kirk at bay?
Louisville has had a knack of letting the opposing team's best receiver have a big game. Kermit Whitfield, Steve Ishmael, Canaan Severin, Tyler Boyd, and DeMarcus Ayers all had solid or big games against Louisville even though everyone knew they were key players on their respective offenses. Whitfield, Boyd, and Ayers killed Louisville from the slot while Severin and Ishmael did their damage as outside receivers. Louisville hasn't adjusted their defense to compensate for a specific player all year but will they have to change that philosophy with the talent the Aggies have at receiver?
Christian Kirk was named the SEC freshman of the year and no matter how you might feel about the SEC being overrated or being overvalued, that's an impressive honor. Kirk gets about 14 touches a game for the Aggies and Louisville needs to try to cut that number in half. The first thing that they need to do is not kick to him on kickoffs and punts. John Wallace can kick the ball deep into the endzone so I would think that would be the strategy. on punts I think Louisville would be best served giving up a some field position by punting the ball higher and shorter or punting the ball out of bounds.
The TAMU offense will struggle more than it did with Kyle Allen and Louisville cannot give up easy points on a punt return to Kirk. Let's not forget that the Aggie offense wasn't all that great even with Allen playing so there's no guarantee that they play well at all against a good UofL defense. So why not give up 10 yards or so on special teams when there's a good chance it won't impact your defense?
When the Aggies do have the ball on offense I think that Louisville needs to put Jaire Alexander in the game as the nickel corner. He has a much better chance of hanging with a player like Kirk. Josh Harvey-Clemons and Chucky Williams are perfectly good players but they can't run in coverage like they've been forced to. Texas A&M will spread the field to get matchups and they will exploit them. If they don't want to change the personnel, they could at least move Jermaine Reve to the nickel spot. He at least has experience as a cornerback. Christian Kirk is the best guy they have on offense and Todd Grantham needs to adjust to make sure that they don't let the best receiver beat them again.
Texas A&M's focus with all of the distractions
Texas A&M has been an absolute circus since the end of the regular season. Kyle Allen decided to transfer, which is unbelievably rare for a starting quarterback. Kyler Murray was undoubtedly the next guy in line to be the starter and he decided to leave as well. After that, Chip Brown decided to add to the drama by reporting that the school president was looking for ways to get rid of Kevin Sumlin. It should be pointed out that this would be the equivalent to Matt Jones or Justin Rowland reporting the same about a UofL coach, but still. The report had to be refuted which is enough to cause a distraction. Players typically handle these types of things better than fans but one has to wonder if it's a factor.
What happens if the Aggies get down early? Do guys start to question the coaches just like the media is? Their defense played with a ton of fire and energy early on this year but as the losses built up you saw less and less of guys celebrating after big plays. If the offense struggles with Jake Hubenak I wouldn't be surprised to see guys start to show frustration. And then you have the very talented group of receivers. Playing with an quarterback that is struggling is a very hard thing to handle. We've seen it at times this year from Louisville's receivers. I think TAMU needs to have a really good start in this game or they're at risk of quitting on their coaches.
Louisville is looking for their first win against a "name" opponent since Notre Dame
You could ask fifty UofL fans whether this season has been a disappointment or a success and you'd probably get a split response. Some fans are pleased that the team responded to such a poor start and finished the regular season with seven wins. Others will point out that the team lost all of the "big" games except NC State. I wrote a long post about the need for the expectations for the program to be raised before the season started, so you can imagine what side of the vote I'm on. No matter how you slice it, UofL hasn't beaten a big name opponent since their road win at Notre Dame last year but they have the opportunity to change that. TAMU is starting their third string quarterback and Kevin Sumlin is (falsely, it seems) reportedly on the way out, but that doesn't change the fact that Texas A&M is one of the top programs in the country. They're not a traditional powerhouse like Texas in their own state or Alabama in their own division but Sumlin did have a Heisman trophy winner and a 12-win season. The Aggies have also been able to recruit at an extremely high level and they have multiple All-Americans on their roster right now.
The move to the ACC meant that Louisville would have more opportunities to play high level competition. FSU (2), Clemson (2), Miami, Notre Dame, Georgia, Auburn, and A&M are all programs that are nationally known and Louisville can only claim two victories. Throw in losses to Houston and Pitt this year and the reality is that UofL has mostly only beaten the teams they're supposed to. With Tom Jurich being willing to put literally any big time school on the schedule, that needs to change. A win in the Music City Bowl would be a good start.