The 2021 Capital One Orange Bowl will feature one of the highly anticipated bowls outside of the College Football Playoffs. The #5 Texas A&M Aggies (8-1) will take on the #13 North Carolina Tar Heels (8-3) in Miami Gardens. Both teams come into the postseason exceeding expectations but failing to get into the College Football Playoffs. This game will feature two different styles of efficient offensive schemes led by two high-profile quarterbacks. The Orange Bowl has had some of the closest New Year’s Bowl games within the past four seasons. Last season, the #6 Florida Gators defeated the Virginia Cavaliers with a 36-28 score. The Aggies are coming into this game as a 9.5-point favorite over the Tar Heels.
2021 Capital One Orange Bowl Preview
The Aggies Offense Look to Show of CFB Playoff Potential
This season was the biggest year for long-time Aggies starting quarterback Kellen Mond. After their only loss to Alabama with a 52-24 score, the Aggies have been highly efficient on offense. Since the loss to Alabama, the Aggies scored at-least 30 points five times. Their most impressive performance was in the 41-38 win over the #4 Florida Gators one week later. Their offense ranks 41st in the nation in points per game (31.7) and 28th in total yards per game (435).
Mond has been a huge reason for the consistency of the Aggies’ ability to drive the ball down the field. They are not an offense that needs to light up the scoreboard, the Aggies like to win matchups against the opposing defense. With every consistent offense comes a talented and dominant offensive line. In 10 games played this season, the Aggies’ offensive line has only given four sacks.
The Tar Heels come into this game with a highly aggressive defense that can crash into the backfield. North Carolina has three defenders that have accumulated 7.5 or more tackles for loss with two of them accounting for six sacks. Senior outside linebacker Tomon Fox accounted for 9.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. North Carolina’s defense is efficient at stopping the run as they are ranked 47th in rushing yards allowed per game (147.8).
For the Tar Heels to have success against the Aggies’ efficient offense, they will need to create some stops on third down. North Carolina’s defense has allowed a third-down conversion rate of 37% (58-of-153) all season long. The Tar Heels will be missing their star inside linebacker Chazz Surratt, who leads the team in total tackles (91), solo tackles (49) as well as accounting for 7.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, and three pass deflections.
North Carolina’s High-Power Offense Versus Texas A&M’s Dominant Defense
North Carolina’s offense is ranked sixth in the nation in points per game (43) and fourth in total yards per game (539.5). They are led by sophomore quarterback Sam Howell, who is a second-team All-ACC selection this year. This season, Howell has passed for 3,352 yards, 27 touchdowns, six interceptions. Additionally, he has a quarterback rating of 182.2 on 219 completions (out of 317 passing attempts). He also rushed for five touchdowns.
North Carolina has been highly efficient in establishing a high-power offense all season. In the Orange Bowl, however, they’ll have to do to attempt to do it without three of their other playmakers. Running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter have combined for 2,957 total yards and 33 touchdowns. Wide receiver Dyami Brown will also miss this game.
The biggest attraction of the 2021 Orange Bowl will be the Aggies’ defense looking to suppress the elite offense of the Tar Heels. The Aggies have one of the most dominating defenses in the SEC. They are ranked 27th in the nation in points allowed per game (21.1) and 11th in total yards allowed per game (299). Their biggest strength is defending the rushing game as they are third in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game (92.2). This will force North Carolina to throw the ball more especially with their two leading rushers out.
Texas A&M’s defense play as a collective unit that creates tough matchups for any opposing offense. Their defense allows only a 35% third-down conversion rate (38-of-108). Look for the Aggies to force Howell to make mistakes without some of their key playmakers.