MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Texas A&M relied on big performances from freshmen all season, and the Aggies’ bowl game was no different.
Kyle Allen threw for four touchdowns and ran for a fifth Monday, and Texas A&M erased an early 10-point deficit to defeat West Virginia 45-37 in the Liberty Bowl.
Allen, a true freshman making his fifth career start, went 22 of 35 for 294 yards to make up for an early interception that KJ Dillon returned for a touchdown. The Aggies’ season leaders in sacks (Myles Garrett), all-purpose yards (Speedy Noil) and interceptions (Armani Watts) also were true freshmen.
“Next year we’re going to be a much more experienced team, and we’re going to work hard in the offseason because we know what’s at stake and how our work ethic this year didn’t produce the record we want,” Allen said. “It’s going to be great for us, winning this game, for confidence.”
Malcome Kennedy caught two of Allen’s touchdown passes, and Tra Carson rushed for a career-high 133 yards on 25 carries. Allen’s 14-yard rushing touchdown in the final minute of the first half put the Aggies (8-5) ahead for good.
Texas A&M has won bowl games in four straight seasons for the first time in school history. The Aggies won the Chick-fil-A Bowl last year, the Cotton Bowl two seasons ago and the Texas Bowl in 2011.
“That’s something that nobody can ever take from them and puts (the seniors) in a separate class by themselves,” coach Kevin Sumlin said.
West Virginia’s Skyler Howard went 20 of 45 for 346 yards and three touchdowns while making his second career start in place of Clint Trickett, who announced Friday he was giving up football because of multiple concussions.
Kevin White had seven catches for 129 yards and a touchdown for West Virginia (7-6). Josh Lambert made all three of his field-goal attempts.
“Too many stalled drives,” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “When you play a game that you’re going to have to score 46 points to win it, you can’t settle for that many field goals. … I thought we moved the ball well. We just didn’t score enough points.”
The game lived up to its billing as a shootout between two fast-paced offenses that had scored over 30 points per game while allowing more than 25 this season. This wound up as the second-highest scoring day in the Liberty Bowl’s 56-game history, trailing only Louisville’s 44-40 victory over Boise State in 2004.
The first quarter alone featured 34 combined points, with West Virginia leading 20-14. The most notable hits of the first half came out of bounds: Sumlin ordered Michael Richardson off the sideline for the second half after videos showed the student assistant striking West Virginia players in two separate incidents.
“I was made aware of the situation at halftime,” Sumlin said. “He did not return to the field, and he’s already been sent home. That’s nothing that we condone. There’s nothing about that whole situation that’s a part of who we are and what we believe in.”
Texas A&M outlasted West Virginia by outrushing the Mountaineers 235-126 and holding West Virginia below 4 yards per carry. The Aggies had allowed 5.1 yards per rush this season.
Perhaps the biggest play of the game came in the first quarter.
Texas A&M trailed 17-7 when it went for it on fourth-and-5 from the West Virginia 40. The move paid off when Allen found running back Trey Williams for a touchdown.
“That’s a play we had put in this week specifically for that blitz they were bringing us,” Allen said. “They brought everyone and they left four people to cover the receivers, but we knew they wouldn’t cover the running backs.”
Texas A&M pulled ahead 21-20 early in the second quarter on Allen’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Kennedy. Just 39 seconds later, West Virginia went back in front 27-21 on Howard’s 49-yard TD throw to White.
Texas A&M took over from there.
The Aggies got a 28-27 lead with 53 seconds left in the half as Allen went to his right and saw a defender converging, then headed to his left and ran down the sideline for a touchdown. Texas A&M scored 17 points on its first three series of the third quarter to pad its advantage to 45-30.
West Virginia cut the deficit to 45-37 on Howard’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Wellman with 2:32 remaining, but the Mountaineers’ offense wouldn’t touch the ball again.
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