It’s bowl season!
As the year draws to a close, college football teams are competing in postseason “bowl games,” traditionally played by NCAA teams. Houston played host to a bowl game when the Texas A&M Aggies and the Oklahoma State Cowboys faced off in the TaxAct Texas Bowl on Dec. 27. Inside NRG stadium, the Aggies and Cowboys fought for the grand prize.
Texas A&M quarterback Jaylen Henderson was injured on the offense’s very first play when he fell and landed on his arm. He walked off the field with assistance, clutching that arm and in visible pain. He was later ruled out. While he had X-rays on his arm, freshman Marcel Reed came in at quarterback.
The Aggies began to pick up yards using their ground game before Reed threw a 22-yard completion to wide receiver Moose Mohammed III. Referees threw a penalty flag as Muhammad was running; several Cowboys and Aggies got into a scuffle and had to be separated by referees before the penalty was revealed. (It was holding on the defense.)
Texas A&M got to the red zone, and he tried to convert another third down by throwing to the end zone where receiver Jahdae Walker was waiting. But Oklahoma State safety Trey Rucker broke the pass. After they collided to the ground, Walker was slow getting up – he, too, was holding his arm as he walked off the field. The Aggies settled for a field goal with 4:34 left in the first quarter. The Aggies and Cowboys were tied, 3-3.
Oklahoma State exploded on offense when quarterback Alan Bowman threw an end-zone pass to receiver Rashod Owens. He caught the ball at the edge of the end zone, helping the Cowboys pull ahead 10-3.
The Aggies’ offense surged after a 39-yard catch by freshman tight end Jaden Platt. A pass interference penalty on Oklahoma State added 15 yards and took A&M to the red zone. Unable to score a touchdown, the Aggies settled for another field goal, this one from 24 yards out. That made it 10-6 with 11:31 left in the second quarter.
Bowman threw a 26-yard strike to receiver Brennan Presley, who in turn tossed a 34-yard completion to Owens. On 1st and goal, Gunnar Gundy came in at quarterback (even though he’s in the transfer portal) and rushed in for a 10-yard touchdown, no doubt pleasing his father — Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy. Oklahoma State led 17-6.
The Aggies were facing another uphill climb. It’s been a tumultuous season for Texas A&M: after starting the season 4-1, they fell into a slump, culminating in the firing of longtime head coach Jimbo Fisher in November. Fisher’s defensive line coach Elijah Robinson served as interim coach over the final three games, finishing 1-2 with a win over Abilene Christian and losses to LSU and OSU.
Mike Elko was named as Fisher’s replacement on Nov. 27 – just 30 days before the bowl game. Elko joined commentators Roy Philpott and Roddy Jones in the ESPN broadcast booth. “It’s been an absolute whirlwind trying to get this thing going,” he said. Elko says the team must work hard to reach its full potential: “We’ve got to roll up our sleeves and go to work,” he said. “We’ve got to become what we’re capable of becoming.”
That wouldn’t be easy. During Elko’s interview, Moose Muhammad made an incredible one-handed throw – the result was a gain of 29 yards, putting Texas A&M in a position to potentially score. But the offense stalled after that, and the Aggies punted on fourth down. So did Oklahoma State, after they, too, came up empty.
After each team punted, Texas A&M made a valiant attempt to keep Oklahoma State out of the end zone. But the Cowboys mounted a long drive culminating in two big plays: Braden Cassity made a 17-yard catch that took them to first and goal and then Ollie Gordon plowed his way into the end zone for another touchdown. Oklahoma State led 24-6 at halftime.
The second half turned into a shootout after a big defensive play. Bowman got intercepted by Texas A&M freshman safety Dalton Brooks; his diving catch gave the Aggies possession, and they took advantage. Reed hit tight end Max Wright for a 40-yard completion. A few plays later, Wright again helped his team by drawing a pass interference penalty on Trey Rucker (the Cowboys safety covering him). Aggie running back Amari Daniels subsequently rushed in for the touchdown. The Aggies trailed 24-13.
Oklahoma State bounced right back when Bowman threw to Leon Johnson III, who made the catch for a 32-yard gain.
Minutes later, Bowman heaved the ball to Owens, who fought off an Aggie defender to catch his second touchdown of the night. And in the process, he set a record: Owens’ 164 total receiving yards are the most ever for Oklahoma State in a bowl game. (It’s also a Texas Bowl record.) But Texas A&M responded quickly: Marcel Reed took advantage of wide-open gaps in space, rushing down the sidelines before leaping into the end zone.
The Cowboys punted after their next possession, but Texas A&M was driving as the third quarter ended. Reed converted a third & 10 with a 17-yard completion; later, Daniels turned on the jets, speeding towards the end zone – only to have the ball knocked out of his hands, recovered by Cowboys defender Nick Martin. No sooner had Oklahoma State reached midfield than they gave the ball right back: A&M grad student linebacker Sam Matthews intercepted the ball. But the Aggies couldn’t capitalize on that turnover and eventually had to punt.
The offensive stagnation finally ended about midway through the fourth quarter, when Walker seized a pass to gain 30 yards. Reed got sacked to foil the drive, but kicker Randy Bond drilled a 51-yard field goal that bounced off the crossbar and went in. (Bond’s 51-yarder set a Texas Bowl record.) Texas A&M had cut an 18-point lead down to eight.
And it would stay that way. After their last drive stalled out near midfield, Oklahoma State attempted a 47-yard field goal but missed, and a last-minute drive by Texas A&M fell apart when Reed got intercepted. Oklahoma State held on to win, 31-23.