COLLEGE STATION, Texas — No. 12 Texas A&M hosts a late game tonight, taking on UTEP at 9 p.m. ET at Kyle Field. Here are five things to watch for when the Aggies and Miners take the field.
1. Health issues: Last week there was much attention around the throwing shoulder of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel after he injured it against Auburn the week before. But Manziel started and played well against Vanderbilt, throwing for 305 yards and four touchdowns. Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said that Manziel threw early this week without any problems and he didn't anticipate that the shoulder would be an issue for Manziel this week. There are a couple Aggies whose status is uncertain heading into tonight's game: starting offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and starting defensive tackle Alonzo Williams. Both missed last week's game against Vanderbilt. Sumlin called both a "maybe" to play, though later said Ogbuehi has a "pretty good chance to play." If Ogbuehi is held out, it would be strictly precautionary, Sumlin said. Williams "may or may not play," Sumlin said earlier this week.
2. No Showers: This was supposed to be the homecoming of sorts for UTEP quarterback Jameill Showers, who spent three seasons in Aggieland and backed up Ryan Tannehill in 2011 and Manziel in 2012 before graduating with his degree and transferring to UTEP for his final two seasons of eligibility. However, a shoulder injury that Showers suffered last week against Rice will keep him out tonight and possibly for the rest of the season, according to UTEP coach Sean Kugler. Instead, the Aggies will face sophomore quarterback Blaire Sullivan, who came into the Rice game last week in relief of the injured Showers. Sullivan was 6-of-9 passing for 112 yards with a touchdown and an interception while filling in last week. Showers will travel and remain a captain for the game for the Miners, but will obviously spend the day on the sideline.
3. UTEP struggles vs. the SEC and AQ teams: The Miners (1-6, 0-4 Conference USA) have had a tough season and they're going into a situation that has been tough for them historically. UTEP is 1-7 all-time against SEC teams, and in road games against teams from automatic-qualifying conferences, the Miners are 0-17. The last time it beat an SEC team was in 1967 (Ole Miss in the Sun Bowl).
4. A&M defense: The Aggies (6-2, 3-2 SEC) had perhaps their best performance of the season last week in the win over Vanderbilt, forcing three turnovers, compiling seven sacks and holding Vanderbilt to 329 total yards (95 rushing). If the Aggies are truly going to improve as a unit on defense, this week is another opportunity they'll have to take advantage of, as they face a backup quarterback for the second straight week. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said he dialed up a lot of pressure against Vanderbilt; he'll probably be well served to do so again this week and continue to build the confidence of his young and inexperienced group.
5. Early exit?: The final quarter of the Aggies' season are all SEC battles -- they host Mississippi State next week before hitting the road for battles against LSU and Missouri (with an off week before LSU). If Texas A&M can get a big lead early and finish UTEP off quickly, it would help. They can get the starters out early in the second half and let those banged-up guys get a breather, because if they plan on winning out, they'll need every weapon they have.