A day after the start of the New Year, two underrated New Year’s Six Bowl games took place. These are bowl games with high-profiled teams left out of the College Football Playoffs. The 2021 Capital One Orange Bowl was set up with the #5 Texas A&M Aggies, who was the first team left out of the Playoffs, and the #13 North Carolina Tar Heels, who were a serious competitor for the ACC title. There were six total lead changes between the Aggies and Tar Heels. Despite a seven-point lead by North Carolina in the fourth quarter, the Aggies found their rhythm late in the game. Texas A&M scored 21 points in the fourth quarter as they defeated North Carolina with a 41-27 score. The Aggies received their 20th bowl victory in program history.
Texas A&M Gets 41-27 Comeback Win in 2021 Orange Bowl
Texas A&M Overpowers North Carolina In The Rushing Game
The offense of Texas A&M was looking to rely on the dual-threat capabilities and reliability of senior quarterback Kellen Mond. They were facing a Tar Heels’ defense that was ranked 47th in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game (147.8). Instead of trying to play against the weakness of North Carolina, Texas A&M offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey utilized their rushing game. The Aggies accounted for 457 total yards with 225 of them on the ground. They rushed the ball 35 times for an average of 6.4 yards per rush and five scores. Freshman running back Devon Achane rushed the ball 12 times for 140 yards for an average of 11.7 yards. His two touchdown runs in the game came in the final three minutes and 44 seconds in the game. Achane was named MVP of the 2021 Orange Bowl.
Sophomore running back Isaiah Spiller rushed for 50 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. Mond was highly efficient in leading the RPO portion of the offense against the defense of North Carolina. Mond threw for 232 yards and a quarterback rating of 136.5 on 16 completions (out of 26 passing attempts). He also rushed for 36 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. The biggest impact of the game was the highly efficient offensive line, who created a consistent push at the line of scrimmage. They were facing a Tar Heels defense that was highly efficient in getting the backfield. The Aggies’ offensive line allowed three sacks and four tackles for loss. Before the game, the offensive line only allowed four sacks throughout the season. They might be the biggest MVP of the game overall.
The Defense Of Texas A&M Limits The North Carolina Offense
The Aggies’ defense was facing one of their most efficient offenses in North Carolina since playing against the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Florida Gators. Defensive coordinator Mike Elko had to create certain packages in the front-seven and in the secondary to limit a Tar Heels’ offense ranked sixth in the nation in points per game (43). They had a top-19 passing offense and a top-10 rushing offense as well. The defense of Texas A&M held the offense of North Carolina to 324 total yards. The biggest factor for the Aggies was their impressive performance in shutting down the running game of North Carolina. Texas A&M held North Carolina to only 90 yards accounted for on the ground on 34 carries for an average of 2.6 yards per carry. This was a defense that constantly crowded the line of scrimmage and back into the backfield.
The defense of the Aggies was able to account for four sacks and nine tackles for loss. Senior middle linebacker Buddy Johnson lead the team in total tackles (10), solo tackles (8), and tackle for loss (2.5). He also accounted for a sack on Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell. Junior defensive end Tyree Johnson accounted for six total tackles, four solo tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. The Aggies completely limited the Tar Heels offense to only Howell to drive the ball with his arm. Howell threw for 234 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, and a quarterback rating of 147 on 18 completions (out of 31 passing attempts). The Aggies allowed 174 total yards in the second half including 99 in the fourth quarter. Their defense did hold the offense of North Carolina to finish 0-for-4 in third-down attempts in the fourth quarter.