Liberty Bowl: Strong links for West Virginia, A&M

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Texas A&M and West Virginia enter Monday's Liberty Bowl knowing plenty about each other, even though they've never met.

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen worked as an offensive coordinator on Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin's staff at Houston from 2008-09, and they remain good friends. Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital was a quarterbacks coach for Holgorsen at West Virginia from 2011-12.

"Watching them on film, everything is pretty similar," West Virginia linebacker West Tonkery said.

The coaching connections aren't the only common threads between the Aggies (7-5) and Mountaineers (7-5).

"What you see is that both of us are extremely similar, not just in our approach to the game, but really in how the season has gone," Sumlin said. "We have identical records. We've won some big games, both of us. We've lost some games that we probably could have won but just didn't, and we've got some explosive players on both teams."

Both teams also are dealing with late-season quarterback changes.

Texas A&M's Kenny Hill started the season on such a roll that he was mentioned as a Heisman Trophy contender, then lost his starting spot by the end of the season. West Virginia's Clint Trickett missed the Mountaineers' final regular-season game and announced Friday he was giving up football after five concussions in 14 months.

Freshman Kyle Allen is making his fifth career start for the Aggies, while sophomore Skyler Howard makes his second career start for West Virginia.

Howard's mobility adds a new wrinkle to the Mountaineers' offense. Holgorsen said Howard has come a long way since being pressed into duty Nov. 20 after Trickett was knocked out of a 26-20 loss to Kansas State.

"I mean before we put him in against Kansas State I was concerned," Holgorsen said. "We didn't know how he would react, and he handled it well. I think that gave him a bunch of confidence to where he got better in the Iowa State game, and I've seen considerable improvement here in the last four weeks.

In any case, the winning quarterback can carry plenty of momentum into 2015. This game also marks the chance for Texas A&M's seniors to become the first class to win a bowl game in each of its four seasons. Texas A&M won the Chick-fil-A Bowl last season, the Cotton Bowl two years ago and the Texas Bowl in 2011.

"It's definitely something that we talk about," Texas A&M senior cornerback Deshazor Everett said.

Here are some things to watch in Monday's Liberty Bowl.

STANDOUT RECEIVERS: West Virginia's Kevin White is a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist who has caught 102 passes for 1,318 yards and nine touchdowns, though his production dipped slightly late in the regular season as he dealt with constant double-teams. Texas A&M's Josh Reynolds has 47 catches for 762 yards, and his 12 touchdown catches tied a school single-season record.

STAFFS IN TRANSITION: Texas A&M's coaching staff bears only a passing resemblance to the group that worked the regular season. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder was fired, offensive line coach B.J. Anderson also has departed and wide receivers coach David Beaty was hired as Kansas' head coach. Mark Hagen, the linebackers coach during the regular season, is the Aggies' interim defensive coordinator. West Virginia offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson is working his last game for the Mountaineers before taking the same position at Kentucky.

POTENT PASS RUSHERS: Texas A&M's Myles Garrett has 11 sacks this season to break the Southeastern Conference freshman record held by ex-South Carolina star Jadeveon Clowney. West Virginia's Shaquille Riddick, a Gardner-Webb transfer, has seven sacks this season and at least one tackle for loss in five of his last six games.

QUALITY KICKING: West Virginia's Josh Lambert, a Lou Groza Award finalist, has made 27 field goals this season to lead all FBS players. Lambert has gone 27 of 36, including 4 of 5 from at least 50 yards out with a long of 55. Texas A&M's Josh Lambo is 12 of 14 and has made 103 consecutive extra points.

FAST FINISHERS: If this game is still in doubt heading into the final period, both teams have reason to feel confident. Texas A&M has outscored teams 109-47 in the fourth quarter and 7-0 in overtime this season. West Virginia has outscored opponents 110-56 in the fourth quarter. The Mountaineers haven't allowed a second-half touchdown pass all season.

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