The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Aggies aim to finish on high note in Belk Bowl against Wake Forest

Photo by Photo by Cassie Stricker

Redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Starkel hands the ball of to sophomore running back Trayveon Williams during the game against LSU on November 25, 2017.

CHARLOTTE – Much has happened with the Texas A&M football program over the past month, yet the Aggies still have one final game to play, against Wake Forest in the Belk Bowl Friday.
While most teams use bowl games as a springboard into the next season, A&M has tailored its game plan solely for the Demon Deacons given the Aggies’ current position with a coaching change.
“We really tried to shape this thing differently because we knew these schemes are probably not going to carry onto the next staff,” A&M interim head coach Jeff Banks said. “What we were thinking about was getting the morale back of the team, because obviously this is a tough transition seeing that every guy in the building has been recruited by Kevin Sumlin and now he’s not there.”
An emphasis will be put on Wake Forest QB John Wolford, who poses dual-threat capabilities. Wolford has not only passed for 25 touchdowns, but has a team-high 10 rushing touchdowns as the Demon Deacons’ second-best rusher.
Despite A&M safety Armani Watts (upper ribs) being questionable and fellow safety Derrick Tucker serving a first-half suspension for targeting, the Aggie defense believes making Wolford win through the air is the key to success.
“What we’re going to do is just try and collapse the pocket on him,” defensive tackle Kingsley Keke said. “Make the pocket tight on him, make him throw tough throws to make him feel uncomfortable.”
Getting off the field will be pivotal for the A&M defense that faces a Wake Forest offense that ranked first in tempo in the ACC this season. Banks said he believes starting the game fast is the best way to counter the Demon Deacons’ high-functioning offense.
“You look at these bowl games, everybody who’s come out fast has kind of pulled away from people,” Banks said. “That’s something we talked about after practice yesterday, hey man we’ve got to start fast. It took kind of a real physical period yesterday in the middle of practice to get everybody going … if we do that in this game, we’re going to be down two touchdowns because Wake Forest is that explosive on offense.”
Countering A&M’s approach, Wake Forest will attempt to push Aggie QB Nick Starkel out of the pocket and make plays on the run. Linebacker Grant Dawson said the Demon Deacon defense does have high respect for Starkel’s IQ in the pocket, which could cause them to hold back on full aggression.
“Like with any other quarterback, you want to make them uncomfortable, especially with a guy who’s got as comfortable throwing on the run as in the pocket,” Dawson said. “He’s great at reading a defense. He’s a smart guy, so we’re going to be careful of what we show because he could very well see what we’re bringing and hurt us.”
One area A&M believes it can win in some believe could be a tight shootout is special teams, particularly in the return game with Christian Kirk.
“That’s one thing we always stress is let’s go win that one-third of the game,” punter Shane Tripucka said. “I think going into this game, it’s going to continue to be a big part of the game.”
Still, the Aggies and its seniors are eager to end on a high note for Banks and the old coaching regime led by former head coach Kevin Sumlin.
“Being a senior, I’m trying win this bowl game for Coach Banks and Coach Sumlin,” tight end Tanner Schorp said. “Those guys have given me the most incredible opportunity and it’s been an awesome journey, so I’m hoping we can get a win for them.”
A&M and Wake Forest will kick off from Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers, at noon CT. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.

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