For Texas A&M and first-year coach Jimbo Fisher, realistic or not, the expectations were sky-high in Aggieland. However, for the Wolfpack, expectations were not as high. But, the Taxslayer Gator Bowl features two teams that are pleased with where they are and quite frankly are happy to be playing in a New Year’s Eve bowl game.
Gator Bowl Preview: Texas A&M vs. NC State
What: 2018 Taxslayer Gator Bowl
Who: Texas A&M (8-4) vs. NC State (9-3)
When: Monday, December 31st; 7:30 pm eastern time
In the first place, the expectations were a bit ambiguous in College Station this year. Most fans were clamoring for an eight or nine wins season. Meanwhile, most in the media thought a six or seven-win season would be successful. Both sets of expectations were clearly met as the Aggies hit the eight-win mark. Most notably, the instant classic against LSU with the 74-72 triumph gave this team a kickstart into the postseason. That coupled with the fact that they were seven points away from a 10-2 season provides much optimism in the A&M camp.
Fisher has been known as somewhat of a quarterback whisperer. The development of Kellen Mond is one of the key indicators in the turnaround. Mond improved in every measurable quarterback statistical category in 2018. Most impressive was his touchdown to interception ratio. In 2017, he had eight touchdowns and six interceptions. Now, this year he threw for 23 scores and only had eight picks.
But, he did benefit from a strong supporting cast. The Aggies have had six players haul in at least 20 receptions on the season. However, the leader of that group has been the tight end, Jace Sternberger. He leads Texas A&M in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. The junior has 47 receptions for 804 yards and 10 touchdowns for the year.
The biggest impact may have very well come from the running back position. Taking the reigns as the unquestioned leading ball carrier, Trayveon Williams had a fantastic season. He ran for 1,524 yards and 15 touchdowns on the year. Williams also served as a receiving threat with 278 yards in receiving yards out of the backfield. Aggie fans will particularly be interested in Williams decision after this game as a draft-eligible junior.
Under head coach Dave Doeren, the 2018 Wolfpack are aiming to become just the second team in school history to reach double-digit wins. After a slow down in the middle of the season that saw Doren’s ballclub lose two out of three, they rebounded to win three straight to get them to nine wins. The one thing that NC State and Texas A&M both have in common is that had the pleasure of facing Clemson.
The offensive leaders are an experienced group for the Wolfpack. Senior quarterback Ryan Finley leads the charge for the Wolfpack offense. He has thrown for 3,789 yards with 24 touchdowns and only nine interceptions in his final season in Raliegh. NC State is paced by Kelvin Harmon and Jokobi Meyers at the receiver position. While A&M spreads the ball out more, 58% of the Wolfpacks yards through the air have gone to Harmon and Meyers respectively. Harmon has 81 receptions for 1,186 yards and seven touchdowns. Meanwhile, Meyers has 89 catches for 1,028 yards and four scores.
Finally, leading the way for the Pack on the ground is senior Reggie Gallaspy II. He has been a scoring machine this year for NC State this season. Gallaspy has run for 18 touchdowns on the ground. In total, he has 1,012 yards on the ground in his final year. He’s coming off of his best game of the season in 220-yard effort on December 1st against East Carolina.
- The first Gator Bowl was played on January 1st, 1946 when Wake Forest defeated South Carolina 26-14.
- The Gator Bowl is associated with a tragedy. In 1963, Hotel Roosevelt in downtown Jacksonville caught fire after a post-Gator Bowl party in the ballroom. The fire resulted in 22 deaths. Later it was determined that the Gator Bowl party was not the cause of the fire, but just a bad coincidence.
- NC State is 1-2 all-time in the Gator Bowl, while this is the first appearance for Texas A&M.
- Now, this will mark the first-ever matchup between Texas A&M and NC State.
- With a win, NC State will win 10 games for only the second time in school history.
- Finally, Texas A&M has lost three consecutive bowl games.