Thoughts from the Miami Game

I heard a lot of disappointment from Aggies on the fact the Aggies beat a higher ranked team and covered the spread while missing four key freshman.  Seriously.  I get the frustration but this Aggie team was staring down the barrel of a 1-5 start.

The Aggies beat a Top 15 team who has a quarterback that’s a potential first round pick.  They beat a Miami team that has a lot of excitement and momentum.

This Aggie team lost to App State last week and a win over Miami still isn’t enough for a lot of fans.  This is why we can’t have nice things.  We ain’t winning the National Title this year so get excited about positive developments with some occasional struggles.

The Aggies won a football game that just might get their season back on track.  Sure, there’s still plenty of questions and concerns but a win is a win.  Enjoy it for a bit.  This week will feel much better than last week.

Overall this win is what I call a “Jimbo Special.”  Jimbo has won many times like this in his short tenure at Aggieland.  The defense does the brunt of the work while the offense jabs away trying to land a couple knock out punches that never land.  In the end the jabs are enough and the Aggies get a win.

I’d prefer to land knock out punches and put games away early but I like winning.  Winning is fun. I’ll take this over losing.

There’s still some questions and concerns about the rest of the season but let’s not get greedy just yet.  Let’s enjoy a win that was desperately needed.  At least that’s what I’m going to do.

Offense:

Devon Achane:

I’m starting with the guy that might be the most underrated player in college football.  A lot of people know his name and know about his speed but the dude is basically single handedly carrying this Aggie offense.  I don’t think people realize the amount of work he’s doing compared to the rest of the offense.

He’s the only guy that’s consistently doing anything.  It’s remarkable.  The dude is a football player but really isn’t that flashy.  We all know he’s fast but his ability to bounce off hits is uncanny for a guy his size.  He’s done it time and time again in his three years in Aggieland.

His touchdown catch early in the 3rd quarter completely changed the game in my mind.  It put the Aggies up by two touchdowns causing how the Hurricanes and the Aggies managed the rest of the game.  The Aggies were able to focus on playing mistake free football while Miami had to have a much higher sense of urgency. Well, they should have but their head coach didn’t exactly look like it. Fine with me.

The catch itself was typical Achane.  It was a short pass that looked like Achane would work to get 10-15 yards as a defender made contact.  Next thing you know Achane somehow sheds a couple defenders and he’s running free to the endzone.  Nothing flashy but he just somehow got free and then used his world class speed.

Beyond that catch he did a remarkable job running all night.  He carried the ball 18 times for 88 yards for 4.9 yards per carry.  That’s REALLY damn good considering the game plan and I bet you didn’t realize that.  There’s obviously issues with the offensive line but Achane is still out there producing even though there’s not a lot of room to run.

At one point in the third quarter he was averaging 6.6 yards a carry.  It didn’t seem like it because we weren’t scoring more points but Achane was absolutely producing on an offense that had struggles everywhere else.

I don’t think people realize what we have in Devon Achane.  He may be the most underrated Aggie player ever.  He’s extremely talented and productive but there’s no flash because he’s so damn smooth in what he does.  Can’t say enough good things about this guy.

He’s the ONLY bright spot on this offense right now.  In fact, he’s the Aggie Team MVP through the three games and there’s not even a close second.

I think we’re 1-2 without him.

We also might have got shut out by App State without Achance. Major ouch.

Offensive Line:

It was good to see Bryce Foster back.  It seemed to help a little bit but there’s still some issues.  I think it centers around the fact we haven’t settled on the five guys yet.  We’re still unsure who should be the left guard as Ogunbyi and Moko rotated throughout the game.  Moko started but Ogunbyi got some playing time.

I was a little surprised this group struggled so much with the pass rush.  They’ve been better against the pass rush in their first two games.  In this game they seemed a little better at establishing the run than pass blocking.  Not sure why that is but just more of the inconsistencies with this offensive line.

I don’t think this line is as bad as most people think.  It DEFINITELY needs improvement but it’s somewhat serviceable right now.  It’s definitely not as bad as the 2019 offensive line.

We need to decide on a left guard and let the five guys play together.  I don’t think it’s going to be the 2020 offensive line that just dominated people but I do think we’re going to start seeing more improvement with Foster back and settling on the left guard.

We’ll find out a lot about this unit on Saturday night against Arkansas.  I know you’re ready for the final answer but these things do take a little time to develop.

Wide Receiver:

Thanks to a rumored kick ass party at Prairie View A&M on Friday night we got to transport back to 2021 where our receiving unit was Ainias Smith and some other dudes.

We REALLY missed Evan Stewart in my mind.  None of the other receivers other than Ainias Smith could get any separation from the defender.  When they did get separation they dropped passes that should have been caught.

We had 140 yards of receiving on 20 attempts with 116 yards of that between Ainias and Achane.

Hopefully Evan Stewart stays in his hotel in DFW and Chris Marshall doesn’t fight anyone at practice this week.  We really need their talent on the field.  With Max Johnson at quarterback I think we’ll be able to exploit their talent so we need them.

People love to bitch about the offensive line not blocking and the quarterback not passing but when there’s not open guys it’s really a moot point.  There weren’t many open guys on Saturday night other than Smith and Achane.

Tight End:

Donavan Green had a nice 18 yard catch on the first series of the game but we never saw anything develop for the tight end the rest of the night. This is a little confusing as Jimbo has shown he loves tight ends catching balls in his previous four seasons.

Maybe he’s saving it for SEC play.

Quarterback:

I wasn’t far off in my guess for how the starting quarterback would play out this year.

This is what I wrote in May of this year:

I think we’re going to see King and Johnson share snaps in the first two games.  How that happens I’m not sure and that doesn’t really matter.  Maybe it’s 2 series and 2 series or 1st quarter and 2nd quarter.  I think you’ll see Johnson in the first half of both of those games though.  That means there is no definitive starter for Jimbo to start the season.

I think at some point in the Miami game Johnson goes in the first half and doesn’t come back out for the rest of the season.  At least as a starter.

I wasn’t totally right on how it played out.  I was right the Miami game would be the definitive moment for the quarterback position.  With that humble brag out of the way let’s talk about Max.

I thought Max looked really good.  Not great by any stretch but the dude was starting his first game in a new offense where he hasn’t got many game snaps.  His previous starting experience at LSU really shined in my mind. 

The moment was not too big for him.  That much was clear.

He was under pressure much of the night and had receivers that couldn’t get separation.  When they did they dropped balls.

The most impressive thing King did all night was his scrambles.  Max isn’t Johnny Football but he showed great awareness of the pocket and the coverage.  His runs were pretty decisive which was great to see.  He clearly saw what was happening on the field and processed it quickly.  I think that speaks to his awareness and experience.

I don’t have any delusions that Max Johnson leads us to the College Football Playoff.  I do believe Max can take us to at least 8 wins and potentially 10.  We weren’t getting that with Haynes King.

I know Conner Weigman is likely the future but Max Johnson is the now.  Let’s not get that confused.

I believe once our freshman receiving threats come back and the offensive line develops more we’re going to see a lot more out of Max Johnson.

He clearly has experience and poise which we didn’t see last year and the first two games this year.

I fully believe Max gets us back on track pushing to a 10-win season.  He’s not going to carry the team but he doesn’t need to.  He just needs to be smart and get the ball in the hands of our playmakers.

Based on what I saw on Saturday night I think Max can be the guy that keeps us from a potential freefall after App State. Thank goodness for quarterback depth.

Defense:

D.J. Durkin Assessment:

Three games in I’m scratching my head because I don’t know what D.J. Durkin is doing defensively.  I know he has a lot of questions when it comes to talent and experience outside of Antonio Johnson and Demani Richardson.

He’s rotating a ton of guys in and out while playing different sets.  That makes sense because he’s got a lot of talented youth.  I haven’t been able to track the sets in great detail because he seems to change it up quite a bit.

I can’t fully diagnose what he’s doing but through three games his defense is averaging less than 9 points a game.  That’s all I need to diagnose at this point.

There’s a lot of statistics in football but there’s two that matter more than anything else -Points Scored and Points Against.  When it comes to Points Against we’re doing REALLY damn good.

Here’s some random statistics that lead to my head scratching:

  • This Aggie defense has only given up touchdowns on Aggie offense turnovers.  This defense has not given up a touchdown when the opposing offense has received the ball via a punt or kick off.  Kind of quirky but interesting none the less.
  • App State rushed 52 times for 181 yards just bludgeoning us for 3.5 yards a carry.
  • App State only passed for 134 yards.
  • App State got 22 first downs.
  • Miami rushed 36 times for 175 yards which is 4.9 yards a carry.  That’s generally a REALLY bad sign.
  • Miami only passed for 217 yards.  Tyler Van Dyke has started a little slow this season but he averaged 351 yards a game last year.
  • Miami got 27 first downs.
  • Miami didn’t score a touchdown.

I don’t like the rushing yards and first downs given up to App State and Miami.  I like the lack of passing yards and especially no touchdowns given up except on two turnovers.

I don’t know if this is a mastermind by Durkin or it’s pure luck but it’s worked the first 3 games.  Our defense has played well enough to win all 3 games and that’s all you can ask for.  This is a good defense that should get better.

I’m interested to see what Durkin does against Arkansas this week.  In last year’s Ole Miss/Arkansas game where Durkin was Ole Miss’ Defensive coordinator Arkansas rushed for 355 yards and passed for 326 yards.  That’s 681 yards of total offense resulting in 51 points.

Lucky for Durkin in 2021 his boss at the time is an offensive mastermind and they totaled 611 yards and scored 52 points to win.

Unlucky for Durkin in 2022 his boss is not an offensive mastermind.  Giving up almost 700 yards and 50 points is not going to cut it for a win.  Durkin is absolutely going to have to come up with a scheme to keep Arkansas from rolling up and down the field on the Aggies.

If you can’t match Arkansas point for point you can’t let them run over you on the ground.  I sure as hell hope Durkin plans on a LOT more guys in the box to force Arkansas to pass more.  In addition, he’s going to have to get creative in how he uses those guys in the box.  If he just fires off our defensive lineman hoping the backers and safeties properly fill the gaps then Arkansas will simply find little seams to run through and bludgeon us on the ground like App State.

Durkin needs to create schemes that Arkansas isn’t expecting and disrupt their running game.

Arkansas is averaging 244 rushing yards a game this season.  They’re going to run the ball and we better come up with stops.  If not, we lose this game.

Personnel Assessment:

From a talent standpoint nobody is really sticking out as individuals.  That’s not a bad thing as it means guys are following the scheme and it’s working.

There’s guys that flash from time to time but 3 games in I haven’t seen anyone that’s truly disrupting every play.  Once again, that’s not a bad thing as a defensive unit is much tougher to defend than a defense that has two playmakers and not much else. 

You can scheme to disrupt defensive playmakers and attack a defense’s weakness if you have the offensive playmakers.  Just think back to the secondaries of Kevin Sumlin and the defensive lines under Mike Sherman and Fran.

We’ll see if any single player starts dominating against Arkansas but I’ll be happy if this defense continues to keep teams out of the end zone.  That’s more important than anything else from a defensive standpoint. Don’t let them score touchdowns.

The loss of Demani Richardson on a BS targeting call was pretty big but I thought Bryce Anderson did a really good job of filling in.

I also thought Jaylon Jones did a damn good job in his first game back.

These guys are playing great as a unit and I think as they get more games under their belt we’re going to see guys start to show some dominating tendencies.

Looking Forward:

We are truly in a week to week situation when it comes to assessing Aggie football.  Just look at the last two Saturdays.  After App State Aggies everywhere thought the world was ending.  A Saturday later they stuck up their head thinking it might be safe to wear maroon in public again.

This team is likely not going to the College Football Playoff so get that out of your head.  The reality is we can still salvage a 10-win season with a trip to an NY6 Bowl Game winning that for 11 wins.  If we played in any other division besides the SEC West it would be a much easier path.

Part of the price we pay for playing in the toughest division in college football but still possible.

I think we showed on Saturday night that we’re a Top 20 football team.  We’ll figure out in the next 3 weeks if we’re a borderline or even Top 10 team.

Calm down and let’s watch things develop week to week.

Recruiting Effect:

What a lot of you probably don’t realize is the most important thing that came out of Saturday’s game was some serious positive momentum with recruits.  We had a fair number of big names in attendance.  The environment and results didn’t disappoint based on feedback from the recruits that were there.

We take it for granted but 107,000 people in an electric environment is REALLY damn impressive.

We don’t return to Kyle Field until October 29th.  The last major memory in the mind of many recruits will be the environment they experienced at the Miami game.  It’s not as big as last year’s Bama game but it’s a serious positive swing for future recruiting classes.

If you’re bitching just know a bunch of important recruits had a great time.  That’s the most important thing that came out of the Miami game.

I saw D.J. Lagway’s father in the concourse before the game.  D.J. is one of the top quarterbacks in the country from Willis.  I introduced myself and just told him we would love to have his son play for the Aggies.  He told me his son really likes Texas A&M. 

I said, “Well, I sure hope he comes here.” 

He smiled at me and said, “Oh, he loves it here.”

I did my part.  I hope Jimbo can do his part.

But first he needs to get through Arkansas…

Thoughts on the App State Game

I’ve struggled on where to begin with this game.  I’m not totally shocked by what happened.  There were some big questions after the Sam Houston State game. I am a little surprised the Aggies lost to App State. I didn’t expect it at all.

I really thought we’d win this game until about 5 minutes in the 4th quarter.  I really thought at some point our superior athletes would take over and our coaching staff would throw a wrinkle or two at App State they weren’t ready for.

Neither of those things happened an App State walked out of Kyle Field with a victory over a Top 10 team.  It’s been 15 years but they got another.  It’s what App State does.  App State is a decent enough football team but there was no reason for them to walk out of Kyle Field with a win.  Credit to them as they outcoached and DEFINITELY outplayed the Aggie squad.

So what happened?

Two things – No quarterback play and arrogant ignorant coaching.  They were pretty equal in my mind and actually worked hand in hand this game.  Haynes King didn’t make any plays but Jimbo arrogantly and ignorantly kept calling his regular plays over and over with no wrinkles.  He also completely ignored Max Johnson when it was clear Haynes King had nothing.

Before I go any further I feel like I need to state this – Jimbo ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.  Barring a massive collapse he’s going to be our coach for at least 2-3 more years.  Likely longer.  I’m actually okay with that as he can recruit and I think he’s a pretty good football coach.  His offensive coaching offers PLENTY of questions but I don’t know who we would replace him with.  There’s only one Nick Saban and he’s caused irrational coaching changes along with driving up coaching salaries.  I don’t want a coaching carousel as that’s not going to help anything.

Jimbo is the best overall football coach we’ve had since R.C. Slocum in the mid-90s.  I truly believe for running a big time college football program he’s easily in the Top 20 and likely Top 10 of coaches.  The dude loves to coach football and can run a big-time college football program.  Can we find someone better than him?  It’s possible but not very likely.  To me Jimbo is in that first tier of college coaches that aren’t named Nick Saban.

Ultimately the play calling falls on him and there’s plenty of questions there but I don’t think pulling the trigger on firing Jimbo is very prudent right now.  I’m not going to discuss that because I don’t think it’s productive.

If there’s one positive that came from this game it’s we got our question about Haynes King answered.  He ain’t the answer.  I know Jimbo locks onto his quarterbacks but we’ve seen enough of King.  I don’t know what Max Johnson gives us but it’s time to find out.

Hopefully this game serves like an alcoholic waking up staring in the mirror of a jail cell wondering how they got there.  Maybe Jimbo just goes back to King like an alcoholic to the bottle but hopefully Jimbo looks for some help.  He certainly needs it.

Tossing out the Prairie View game Jimbo hasn’t looked great as an offensive coordinator in his last 5 games.  This goes all the way back to Auburn when we didn’t score a single touchdown.  We then struggled offensively against Ole Miss and LSU to close out the season.

We scored 31 against Sam Houston but looking back that was thanks to busted coverage more than anything.  The Aggie offense certainly didn’t do anything impressive against Sam Houston.  We just had better athletes.

We saw what happened yesterday.  We basically had two great offensive plays against App State.  The long King scramble and then the Achane touchdown run.  That was it.  We didn’t even have 100 yards of passing or 100 yards rushing.  AGAINST APPALACHIN STATE!!!! 

Less.  Than.  200 Yards.  Of.  Offensive.

That’s shameful.

I’ll get to the defense in a bit as they certainly had some issues but let’s not lose sight of the most embarrassing stat from this game – We couldn’t even muster 200 yards of offense against App State.  Mack Brown’s UNC team put up 567 yards of offense the week before.  We couldn’t muster up 200 yards of offense at Kyle Field against a defense that gave up 567 yards of offense the week before.

If that doesn’t signal something is broken then I don’t know what will.  5 straight games of pitiful offensive output.

Jimbo’s in a prison cell looking in a mirror.  Does he see an alcoholic that’s been making bad decisions or does he see a guy that’s just had a string of bad luck?  We’ll find out against Miami.  It ain’t bad luck.  It’s bad decisions.

Coaching:

The biggest issue with the coaching in this game is Jimbo and his staff wanted to win a game against an inferior talent with no wrinkles.  I think the plan was to establish a base they could build from by just overpowering a lesser talented team.  It didn’t work and that’s on the coaching staff.

Meanwhile App State played and coached a perfect game.  They clearly knew what to do.  They simply played mistake free football and let A&M implode on itself.

On offense they simply took what the A&M defense gave them.  They rushed for 208 yards because the A&M defense let them.  We played a 3-man front for much of the first half and App State just chewed up yards and the clock.  I really thought our rotation of defensive lineman would help us out but App State just kept chewing yards and clock.

It wasn’t fancy or flashy but they just chewed up 3-4 yards a play.  Lots of patience and faith it would work out for them.  The App State coaching staff never panicked and it paid off.

The App State coaching staff obviously realized the Aggie offense was in a complete funk.  They smartly decided to limit touches so it couldn’t get on track.  It worked beautifully as App State ran 82 plays to A&M’s 38.

Read that again – 82 plays to 38.  How the hell did we only lose by 3?  That’s a testament to our talent on defense as a whole.  Schematically we were weak but we should have gotten stomped when their offense ran 44 additional plays against our defense.

As you can imagine time of possession went App State’s way by a LARGE margin.  They held the ball for 41:20 to A&M’s 18:31.  App State held the ball for twice as long as A&M.  Once again, it’s pretty remarkable we only lost by 3 points in looking at the number of plays and time of possession.

The A&M coaching staff completely lost this game.  I have to imagine the App State coaching staff was talking bewildered in their headsets.  The Aggies were letting them get away with a very vanilla game plan because they were just taking what the Aggie defense giving them while their defense did just enough to confuse the Aggie offense.  That ain’t hard to do if you look at our last 5 games.

Just run some basic twists, stunts and delayed blitzes.  It’ll confuse our offensive line and quarterback.  Mostly our quarterback.

The App State coaching staff just called a game to let the Aggie team implode.  It worked perfectly.

I’m going to get to Haynes King next but this game is COMPLETELY on Jimbo.  He couldn’t see his team imploding and didn’t add any wrinkles.  He spent the entire game trying string together an offensive drive and it cost him in seeing other aspects of his team failing.

Haynes King was failing on the field and his defense was scared to give up a big play.  Jimbo either didn’t see this or completely ignored all of it.

App State just played into it perfectly.  Jimbo never called a wrinkle on offense or defense.  He was simply a kid playing Madden convinced if he could get 3-4 plays together his offense would take off and his team would win.  It never happened.

He blinded himself and nobody on his coaching staff said anything to him.  Or if they did he completely ignored it.  Either way it’s a terrible look for Jimbo.

He let his team down with terrible coaching.

Haynes King:

I hate to single this kid out but it needs to be done.  I know the offensive line is struggling and not helping him but King did NOTHING in this game other than that one long run.  He looks lost and shows no since of urgency or desire to create a spark.

He now has 3 full games against non-Power 5 football programs and you can count on one hand the plays that have truly been impressive.  The sample set has gotten bigger and the results have been virtually the same.  They actually regressed against App State which is concerning.

King hasn’t shown us anything to make us believe he’s the guy to be under center.  He’s not even pedestrian.  He’s in his third year in Jimbo’s program and he’s confused.

I’ll point to two plays in the 4th quarter.

The first was a zone read with Achane.  For those of you not familiar with a zone read it’s where the quarterback hands off to the running back while reading a defender.  Generally it’s the defensive end but on occasion it’s someone else.  The point of the play is for the quarterback to pull the ball back out if the defender sells out to the run and leaves the edge open for the quarterback.  It has to be a pretty quick read but it’s a play that’s been around for two decades from high school to college.

I promise you this wasn’t King’s first time to run a zone read.

On this particular play King held onto the ball entirely too long holding up Achane.  I don’t know if King was trying to pull the ball back out or was just making a slow decision.  Either way Achane had the ball and wasn’t giving it back.  It was completely botched by King.  That decision must be made pretty quickly.  If Achane has the ball King must let it go.  Instead King help up Achane and we got no yards on the play.  We might have even lost a yard.

The other play was the option play.  This is a play that’s been around for 50 years.  Any quarterback with his salt knows how to run this play even if it goes nowhere.  Especially a quarterback that’s supposed to be a running quarterback.

On this particular play King took the snap and ran to the right with Achane leading down the line with him.  It became apparent REALLY quickly the Aggies were running an option.  App State read it perfectly sealing the edge.  King had a decision to make to either cut up or pitch. He actually did neither and continued trying to stretch the play running into the defender.

I’d be okay with that decision if he pitched in time but instead he held on to the ball for too long not pitching until the defender made contact.  That caused him to have a bad pitch to Achane.  Achane missed the pitch but luckily fell on the ball for just a 7 yard loss.  It could have been a catastrophic turnover but luckily Achane fell on it.

It was the 4th quarter when the Aggies needed a massive spark and King couldn’t make quick and smart decisions.  That’s the sign of someone that’s overwhelmed and not confident.  I don’t want that in my quarterback.  Jimbo has to see this.

King got his shot and has done nothing with it.

Should Jimbo Name Max Johnson the Starter?:

Jimbo is a damn fool if he doesn’t.  I know he’s deeply invested in Haynes King and believes in him but tape don’t lie.  Haynes King hasn’t done ANYTHING of substance against non Power 5 opponents.  What’s going to happen against Power 5 opponents and especially the SEC?  The sample set says it ain’t gonna be good.

Jimbo is a stubborn fool if he runs King out against Miami.  There’s nothing that says he should do that.

I wrote a blog this summer about King and Johnson.

https://rcwouldhavegonefor2.com/2022/05/24/who-will-quarterback-the-2022-aggies/

This is what I wrote over the summer:

Here’s What We Know From Games:

  • Haynes King has started 2 football games.  None of them in the SEC and only played one full game.
  • Haynes King’s one full game was against Kent State where he was a 64% passer with 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
  • Max Johnson has started 14 games with 10 of those being SEC games.  He’s played in 3 other SEC games.
  • Max Johnson is a 60% career passer at LSU.  He’s 58% in the SEC.  57% in SEC starts.
  • Max Johnson has thrown 35 career touchdowns and 7 interceptions.  That’s an outstanding 5 to 1 ratio.  In career SEC games he’s thrown 22 touchdowns to 5 interceptions.  In SEC starts it’s 20 touchdowns to 5 interceptions.  That’s still an outstanding 4 to 1 ratio.
  • Max Johnson has played significant snaps in these stadiums – Auburn, Texas A&M, Florida, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Alabama.

We now have 2 more games for King and his resume hasn’t improved one lick.  We’re about to hit a serious run of 4 games against Miami, Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Alabama.

Based on those bullet points above with the addition of the last two games I have no clue how you can hand the keys to King for another game.  Jimbo is damn stubborn fool if he runs King out there against Miami.

I don’t know if Max Johnson is the ultimate answer but I do know his experience and resume is INFINITELY better than King’s at this point.  I want to at least try him against this four-game stretch we’ve got coming up.  It ain’t gonna hurt.

We’re seriously staring down the barrel of a 1-5 record if you keep doing the same thing that isn’t working.  At least offensively.

If you’d rather have King going into the Miami game over Johnson you’re a damn arrogant stubborn fool.  Or you’re just a terrible coach that doesn’t know how to utilize the experience and ability of Max Johnson.

We’ll see what Jimbo is.  I don’t have faith he gets help but instead just goes back to the bottle expecting a different result.  I fully expect to see King trot out as the starting quarterback against Miami.

The Rest of the Offense:

We all know the offensive line is struggling.  Fatheree got flat out run over which led to King fumbling a ball.  I was floored when I saw that.  They did a nice job of blocking on Achane’s touchdown run as he wasn’t touched.

I don’t think this offensive line is the biggest issue with this offense right now.  They ABSOLUTELY need to play better but there’s a bigger issue at play.  It’s the play calling by the head coach and execution by the trigger man.

Supposedly Bryce Foster is coming back this week.  There’s no doubt he’s going to be a little rusty but even rusty Bryce Foster should be a boost to this offensive line.

Achane was the sole savior of this game.  He was responsible for our only two touchdowns with one being on special teams.  The dude is a damn weapon.

He averaged 6.6 yards a carry with his long touchdown run being 26 yards.  He averaged 4.5 yards on his other 9 carries so he was pretty productive all things considered.  He was at 5.25 yards a carry if you take away the idiotic zone read error by King and the long touchdown.

That’s damn productive so that tells me the offensive line had some level of success if Achane is getting 5.25 yards a carry when you take away his longest and shortest run.

We’re completely wasting Achane’s talent right now.

Jimbo needs to figure this out.

The Defense:

I feel bad for these guys as they were out there all damn day.  It’s pretty remarkable what they did for the amount of time they had to play.

They had some really costly penalties in the first half but I don’t know how much it really mattered in the grand scheme.  I feel like App State was destined to win this game because the offense was inept.

The Aggie defense gave up 342 yards of offense and 17 points in over 40 minutes.  App State just chewed up this defense on the ground.  For whatever reason it seemed like Durkin and Jimbo were afraid to give up a big play through the air.

They really didn’t gamble much but when they did it seemed to work.  Case in point the blitz that was initially ruled a scoop and score by Fadill Diggs.  It was correctly overturned as an incomplete pass.  It was a beautiful blitz that caused the quarterback to make an errant throw under pressure.

For whatever reason Durkin just thought he could get off the field with his base defense but it didn’t work.

App State converted 9 of 20 third downs which is pretty decent but the kicker was they converted 3 of 5 fourth downs.  That’s the killer stat as there were 5 times App State felt confident enough to attempt a 4th down conversion due to the game situation and field position.  3 times they converted.  I don’t know if one of those was the defensive offsides but either way they converted 3 of 5 fourth downs and that was the difference defensively.

I like to hope this game was a perfect storm of an inept offense, new defensive coordinator, and inexperienced players.

Durkin’s body of work is pretty solid and this defense is loaded with talent.  I’m not too worried about the defense just yet.  The defense certainly dug their own hole a time or two but unfortunately Jimbo and King decided to jump in and make that hole MUCH bigger.

Special Teams:

What a kick return by Achane.

What a botched kick by Davis.  Pressure moment and the dude didn’t even hit it clean grounding his foot before kicking the ball.  We didn’t even get a chance to see if he can be accurate.

Kind of appropriate for the game.  Just ineptness all around for anyone without the last name of Achane.

Going Forward:

I’m not worried beyond Miami right now.  I just want to see what happens next Saturday.

Believe it or not this season can still be “salvaged”.  By “salvaged” I mean an 8-4 record.  That would be remarkable based on our first two games.

I think the ceiling is 10 wins and that’s a pretty big stretch unless 2020 can be repeated.  It’s always possible.

It’s all going to depend on what Jimbo wants to do.  He’s currently in a prison cell with no clue how he got there.  Everyone else knows how he got there.  Bad decisions and a lot of denial.

What’s it gonna be Jimbo?  You gonna go back to that bottle that got you there or do something different and get some help?

We’re all waiting…

Thoughts from the Sam Houston Game

To say the 2022 debut of the Texas Aggies was frustrating is an understatement.  The performance of some key units to the weather was not what everyone wanted.  I think it’s safe to say we wanted an impressive performance over an inferior opponent.  We didn’t even want dominant.  Just a sign this team was ready to compete for a College Football Playoff spot.

We didn’t get that on the field and the weather delay at half made it that much more frustrating. 

I left about an hour into the delay.  Things were looking bleak for a start so I headed back to Houston.  I made a 4-hour drive from Uvalde that morning where I had been dove hunting the previous couple of days.  I was tired and ready to head home.  I wanted my couch. 

I don’t think I missed a whole lot in the second half based on what I read and saw.

Defense:

I’m starting with the defense because they were by far the best unit on the field.  It wasn’t even close.  Sam is an inferior opponent but they’ve been pretty good at their level with an offense that can score points.  They did absolutely nothing against the Aggie defense.

I normally break down the units but since I’m only doing a half of football I’m going to talk about the whole defensive unit.

The thing I thought was the most impressive was the rotation of players.  D.J. Durkin played the vaunted true freshman and they did not disappoint.  I was having trouble keeping up with everyone because there was so much rotating going on.  It was clear they wanted to get as many people as possible real game experience to see what we have.

We seem to have plenty of talent.  It needs experience but the raw talent and numbers are clearly there.  That’s a great place to start when you’re talking about defense.

We ran a basic defense where we just mauled Sam’s offensive line with 4 guys and let everyone else fly around to the ball.  We didn’t need to do much because we had so much talent on the field.  I’m assuming we’ll get a little more complex so I’m fine with what we did defensively on Saturday.

From a participation standpoint Walter Nolen, Shemar Stewart, Lebbeus Overton, Denver Harris, and Anthony Lucas saw a significant amount of snaps.  These are all true freshman. 

All 5 of these guys were 5 star recruits.  It shouldn’t be any surprise they got the most snaps of the true freshman.  I thought they all looked impressive.  I thought Harris had some great moments as he looks like a difference making corner which we’ve been lacking.

Overton should be a senior in high school right now.  People forget he was in line to be the top recruit for 2023 but he re-classified.  Crazy that he’s on the field looking the part when he should be in high school.

As for the “older guys” I thought Fadil Diggs was the game’s MVP.  Dude seemed to be in on most of the plays and was all over the field.  He’s a redshirt sophomore so this is his third year in Aggieland.  Based on one game he looks ready to break out.

I thought our experienced safety duo of Demani Richardson and Antonio Johnson looked great.  They really look like two of the best safeties in the country.  Jardin Gilbert looked great as the other safety. 

Our corners really didn’t get tested thanks to the pressure from our defensive line.  Sam only completed 14 passes in 28 attempts for 98 yards.  A lot of those were just short little routes because their QB spent a lot of time running from pressure.

We were missing two experienced guys in Jaylon Jones and McKinnley Jackson.  Jaylon is a third year corner and McKinnley is a third year defensive tackle.  Both of those guys have next level talent but have played a little inconsistent over the last couple of years.  In prior years I’d say you DEFINITELY miss guys like that.  We didn’t really miss them at all.  That’s not really a knock on them but more of a testament to how much talent Jimbo and his staff have been stacking on defense.  It’s damn impressive.

Getting those two guys back will only make this defense better.

This defense has a long way to go as these young guys need to get more experience.  They’re going to play much more talented offenses than this one so we’ll have to get by on more than raw talent.  Raw talent is a great place to start when you’re talking about defenses though.

There’s going to be hiccups along the way but I think this will be a better defensive unit from last season simply because there’s more talent.  This is the level of talent you need to win national championships. 

I’m excited to see how this side of the ball develops.  Based on early returns we gonna defense like it’s the early 90s.

Offense:

Wide Receiver:

I’m going to start with the most impressive offensive unit on Saturday and it wasn’t even close.  I’ve been adamant the issue with our receiving units in Jimbo’s first four years was a talent issue.  We simply didn’t have the talent.

Based on a short sample set from a half of football we don’t have that issue anymore.

The biggest benefactor sems to be Ainias Smith as he turned 6 receptions on 9 targets into 164 yards with two touchdowns including a 63-yard touchdown.  Smith is back for his 4th season and I’m hoping this game isn’t an anomaly.  I don’t think it will be.  We finally have some talent to go with his talent.

As for the rest of the receiving unit Evan Stewart certainly showed why he was a 5 star recruit.  He “only” went for 57 yards on 5 receptions but he was a receiver getting separation and getting yards after the catch.  He looks like the real deal.  I haven’t seen a true freshman look like him since Christian Kirk.

Yulkeith Brown is a sophomore that had a beautiful touchdown catch and even more beautiful block to spring Ainias on his long touchdown catch.  Chris Marshall “quietly” had 4 catches for 41 yards and I thought he looked great.  He’s a true freshman and looks like he can contribute this season.

Chase Lane started at receiver but he didn’t do much only catching 2 balls for 25 yards.  I think Chase is going to get passed by Brown and Marshall.  Just proof it’s been a talent issue.

Jimbo ran four wide for a reason I’ll get to later but the most interesting thing was the long touchdown passes came from slot receivers.  It appeared they used deep crossing routes to confuse the safeties and corners and it worked.  It’s a hopeful sign we finally have both the awareness and ability to attack teams downfield with multiple receivers. 

That will pay huge dividends down the road if we can work out the issues with the other parts of our offense.  For the first time in five years I’m hopeful for production from Jimbo’s receiving unit.

Running Back:

Poor Devon Achane.  Poor.  Devon.  Achane.

The dude had nowhere to run but he kept plugging away. 

The reason is our next group.

Offensive Line:

The offensive line looked like garbage on Saturday.  They couldn’t get any push against an inferior opponent.  Most notably the left side of the line.  We lost time of possession in the first half against Sam Houston State.  That’s because our offensive line struggled to block Sam Houston State’s defense.

I’ll get to Haynes King and his issues but losing the time of possession battle in the first half is my biggest concern from this game.  Time of possession is generally the best indicator of who won in the trenches.  Not always but 9 out of 10 times I believe it’s the truest indicator of who pushed who around.  Offenses that stay on the field chew clock and defenses that get off the field don’t.

Based on the time of possession in the first half we didn’t push same around.  Our defense obviously did their job so that means our offensive line didn’t do it’s job. 

Trey Zuhn and Aki Ogunbiyi spent most of the first half confused by pretty basic twists and stunts.  Sam defenders were routinely disrupting runs to the left side of the line.

These two did better pass blocking than run blocking but they need to step up in a big way.  If these guys don’t develop we’re in big trouble.

Bryce Foster had been suspiciously limited during much of Fall Camp.  It came out late last week that he has/had mono.   This is actually decent news.  I was worried he dropped off talent wise or there was some nagging injury holding him back.  It’s not good in the short term but hopefully Foster can get back out there to starting at the center position.  Just his coming back will be a big boost to this line.

Matthew Wykoff started at center and did decent enough but had some issues with snaps.  That’s not uncommon for a center starting in their first few games.  I remember both Erik McCoy and Bryce Foster had issues with their snaps during their early starts.  Either way, let’s just get Foster back.

Layden Robinson was getting substituted for by Jordan Moko.  Apparently Robinson has a nagging injury but not serious.  Robinson is easily our best offensive lineman so we don’t need issues with him.  We don’t have much depth so we need Foster and Robinson to be healthy.

Fatheree had a penalty but I’m not worried about him.  He’s going to be fine so it looks we don’t have to worry about one guy on our offensive line.

If we get Foster back and get some development out of Zuhn and Ogunbiyi or Moko we should be fine.  This is the unit to watch the most in my mind.  If we have a line like 2019 this is an 8-4 football team even if we get improved quarterback decision making.  We need a 2020 offensive line if we truly want a shot at the College Football Playoff.

Hopefully we see a massive improvement against Appalachian State on Saturday.

Tight End:

This is probably a bigger issue than is getting discussed from Saturday.  Something happened to Max Wright where he wasn’t available to play.  He was on crutches with a leg brace on.  I know a lot of people aren’t high on Max Wright but the reality is he has more experience than anyone else at playing tight end in Jimbo’s offense.  I think he would have improved a lot of blocking issues when it came to the left side of the line.

Dametrius Crownover is a back up tackle and was wearing 89 on Saturday.  He’s a converted tight end but spent most of the spring and fall camp as a backup tackle.  He seemed lost at times blocking on Saturday.  Not sure what’s going on with Wright but my guess is Crownover was thrown into tight end duties at the last minute. 

You may not like Wright as a receiver but he’s our best blocking option as a tight end.  That’s been pretty critical for Jimbo to establish the running game.  That likely created some of the blocking issues.

It’ll be interesting to see what Jimbo does with the tight end position.  It’s been a key component of his passing game with Sternberger and Wydemeyer but that seems like it might not be necessary with our young receiving talent.

He’s got two great true freshman receiving talents in Donovan Green and Jake Johnson but we might not need to lean on them like he leaned on Sternberger and Wydermeyer.  Maybe these guys need to get their feet thrown to the fire to see if they can block.  If so, that could really help the left side of the offensive line.

No idea what Jimbo does with the tight end position based on what we saw on Saturday.  There’s some massive unknowns here with the receiving talent and lack of experience at this position.

It would be REALLY nice if one of Green or Johnson proves themselves as both an adequate blocker and receiver.  I think that will help a ton with the blocking issue we saw on Saturday but don’t know how capable of blockers those two are.

Quarterback:

This is clearly the most frustrating part of Saturday’s game.  This is Haynes King third year in Jimbo’s system.  I think I speak for everyone when I say we finally wanted to see some excitement from Haynes King.

We didn’t.

We simply saw more of what we’ve seen in his limited sample set.  He’s wildly inconsistent from a passing standpoint.  In addition, he doesn’t appear to be super elusive as a runner despite reports he’s one of the fastest guys on the team.  Just because he’s fast doesn’t mean he can allude defenders. 

Based on what I’ve seen I think Kellen Mond and Trevor Knight are better runners than King.  Knight for sure.  Mond wasn’t super elusive but he was pretty productive with his legs.  I haven’t seen that from King yet.  I think we can put to rest he’s the true dual threat quarterback he’s been made out to be.  He’s simply a guy with decent mobility that if he ever hits open field can run away from everyone.  Getting to open field appears to be a challenge though.

As for his passing in 5 career games King has 6 touchdown passes and 6 interceptions.  That’s not good.  He throws some great passes from time to time but then he throws some complete stinkers missing wide open guys along with struggling to see defenders throwing interceptions.  He also didn’t see a couple guys that were open choosing to throw to guys that were covered.  It’s a lot easier to complete passes to guys who aren’t covered.

Quarterbacks are going to miss passes from time to time but King threw two REALLY bad interceptions this game.  It really makes me question his decision making because he shouldn’t be throwing interceptions against an opponent like Sam.  In two starts he’s thrown 5 interceptions in 6 quarters of football against Kent State and Sam Houston State.  He also threw an interception in his debut against Bama.  The small sample set says he’s prone to throwing interceptions.

He must stop turning the ball over through the air.  There’s no reason for that.

He really reminds me of Kellen Mond prior to the 2020 Florida game where you can see all the tools but the decision making and consistency are in major question.  I defended Mond because I felt he was the best quarterback option for Jimbo’s offense.  There was nobody else on the roster.

I don’t feel that way with King.  Max Johnson and Conner Weigman have plenty of talent.  In Johnson’s case he has plenty of experience starting in the SEC.  If King is going to keep throwing interceptions there’s better options on the bench.

Jimbo has proven to be very stubborn with his quarterbacks.  He seems to pick a guy and stick with him through thick and thin.  Based on the snaps on Saturday it appears he’s fully prepared to ride King.  Max Johnson didn’t see snaps until the 4th quarter. 

I’m not feeling great about the Haynes King decision right now.  Maybe he turns the corner but he really doesn’t offer much from a running standpoint and he throws interceptions at a regular rate.  You can’t have your starting quarterback having a 1:1 ratio for touchdowns and interceptions.  2:1 really isn’t great either.  That just seems like the mark of a bad decision maker.

Max Johnson has a 4:1 ratio in SEC starts.  At some that ratio has to matter in who plays quarterback for the Aggies.

If Haynes is throwing 5-6 touchdowns a game I can handle a couple interceptions.  He’s not doing that so I have some real concerns.  A 1:1 or even 2:1 ratio isn’t going to cut it in the SEC.  That’s a sign of bad decision making.

You can’t have a bad decision maker at quarterback. 

We’ll see what King does against Appalachian State.  I think he should be on a short chain if he throws an interception.  If he throws 2 interceptions on Saturday he needs to be pulled and give Max Johnson some snaps.  You can’t consistently turn the ball over and expect to win in the SEC.

Hopefully Jimbo doesn’t have blinders on when it comes to Haynes King actual game performance. I don’t care what he looks like in practice.  Live bullets matter infinitely more than practice bullets.  King’s live bullets show he’s got issues when it comes to decision making.

Overall:

We have two main things we need to clean up in the left side of the line and interceptions.  If we get those two things cleaned up we’re going to be just fine. 

By fine I mean a 10-win team.  If not, we’ll be a 8-4 or even 7-5 win team. 

I don’t see us as a College Football Playoff team right now even with improvement to those two areas I mentioned.  It’s a big leap from 10 wins to the CFP and I just don’t think we have the experience and talent right now to get there.  I hope I’m wrong but I don’t see it.

Our defense is going to keep us in games.  However, at some point our offense has to exert it’s will on the ground and not give up passes to the defense.  You’re gonna lose football games if you can’t run and throw interceptions.  I don’t care how much talent you have.  You must run and protect the ball in the SEC if you want to win football games.

The good news is based on a half of football all those millions we spent on the 2022 recruiting class appear to be money well spent.

Jimbo might be stubborn when it comes to his quarterback decisions but he’s pretty astute at spending our booster’s NIL money.

For that we should be thankful even if it pisses off Nick Saban.

Let’s just hope there’s improvement on the field from Week 1 to Week 2.

2022 Aggie Football Season Prediction

Time for my annual season record prediction.  I’m hoping 2021 was an anomaly due to a season ending injury to our quarterback early in our second game.  That coupled with a young offensive line and still no receiving threats created a disastrous 2021 season.  If you call 8-4 disastrous.  That’s still a pretty good season by most accounts.  Aggie football just has higher expectations going into Jimbo’s fifth year.

I’ve mentioned it in my other blogs but I think this 2022 Aggie team will be more talented than the 2021 Aggie team.  It won’t have the experience the 2021 team had but I do think overall it will be much more talented.  If we keep a few key players healthy and the young guys develop this is going to be a damn good football team.

I’m basis my predictions on three key things:

  1. Improved quarterback play
  2. Improved offensive line play
  3. Improved production from receivers

I feel good about the defense.  Especially as the season wears on.  I think Durkin and the talented are going to be one of the top defenses in the country by the end of the year.  We just need to get some level of offensive production early on as the defense find it’s legs.  If we get offensive production from the start we’re all going to be pretty happy at the end of the 2022 season.

I don’t know who’s going to be quarterback but I do feel good about whoever gets the nod.  We’re either going to have someone in their third year of Jimbo’s system or someone in their third year of taking SEC snaps.  I tend to lean Max Johnson as the starter but I have no issues if Haynes King is the starter.  I certainly think it’ll be better than last year’s quarterback play.

Let’s get to the 2022 games.

Sam Houston:

This shouldn’t be a contest.  The only intriguing thing about this game will be who gets what snaps.  Mainly at the QB position.  I’m not talking about who takes the first snaps.  I’m talking about when the second quarterback takes snaps.  If someone else besides the starter takes snaps in the first half or starting the second half we’ve got a quarterback battle.  If the starter takes all the first half snaps and opens up the second half then that QB will be the clear front runner.  It’s their position to lose.

Ags Win: 1-0

Appalachian State:

This will be a tougher game than Sam Houston but I think we’ll prevail.  The most intrigue will be who takes snaps when.  Will a quarterback front runner have emerged?

Ags Win: 2-0

Miami:

Miami didn’t have a great win-loss record last season which is why they have a new coach.  They were playing well at the end of the season though.  Especially their quarterback Tyler Van Dyke.

They went 2-3 before their bye week and then were 5-2 after.  They didn’t play their bowl game due to COVID issues.  Sound familiar?

Mario Cristobal seems to be a great fit since he’s from Miami and played at “The U.”  He gets a lot of hype but his head coaching record is just okay.  He wasn’t that successful at Florida International and he didn’t exactly set the world on fire at Oregon.

He did okay in 2019 winning the Pac 12 and the Rose Bowl but his other four seasons he had at least 3 losses including 2020 where they only played 7 total games.  Cristobal even took over the team from Willie Taggart.  Cristobal didn’t come into a new situation where everyone had to adjust.  He probably should have had more success in Oregon considering the circumstances.

Miami is different as this is his first year.  First year coaches tend to struggle unless they’re Ryan Day or Lincoln Reilley where their dad gave them the key to the Ferrari while it was still in pristine shape.

The biggest question in this game will be if the quarterback situation is settled.  I think Jimbo knows it must be by this time and it will be.  I think you’ll see this as a close game through 3 quarters but the Ags finally pull away in the 4th quarter.  I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s very similar to the 2020 Orange Bowl.

Ags Win: 3-0

Arkansas:

Obviously this game caught us by surprise last year.  You had an Arkansas team with a ton of confidence after beating Texas.  Most importantly, you had an Arkansas team that wanted it more than the A&M team.  In addition, the Aggies had a few key positions that underperformed and a coaching staff that was completely confused by the Arkansas defensive scheme.

The Aggies were the more talented team last year but Arkansas was the better team executing a great game plan.  I won’t call it the perfect storm but I do believe Arkansas got the brakes their way because they were better prepared and played better.  Last year’s game was the perfect example that talent doesn’t always win.

The 2022 Arkansas is going to be a similar team but I don’t think quite as good.  They have wonderful coordinators with Kendall Briles and Barry Odom. These guys can coach and it’s their third season.  Arkansas is going to be a tough team for anyone.

I think where Arkansas takes a slight step back is with their defense.  Arkansas returns 3 of their defensive starters from last year’s team.  They return 11 other guys that played defense for last year’s team.  That’s decent experience for a defensive unit but I think it’ll be a different look than what we saw in 2021.  I think we’ll be better offensively (I hope we can’t be worse) and they’ll be slightly worse defensively.  That’s an advantage for the Aggies.

On offense the Hogs return KJ Jefferson.  He’s a dynamic QB and perfect for Kendall Briles’ system but I don’t think he’s a true polished passer.  He can throw but they’ll want to use his mobility to open up the passing game.  If you can control him on the ground without selling out the run you can limit him through the air.  I think the Aggie defense can do that.

It’ll be a tough fought battle like always but I think the Aggies pull this one out after last year’s stinker.

Ags Win: 4-0

Mississippi State:

The 2021 Mississippi State game at Kyle Field is Jimbo’s worse game as the Aggie head coach.  There was no reason to lose it.  We were coming off the loss to Arkansas and it’s painfully obvious there was no clear leader on this team.  We didn’t make enough plays and found ourselves limping off Kyle with a loss that should have never have happened.

I think 2022 will be different for a host of reasons.  I think we’ll have better quarterback play and D.J. Durkin knows how to defend Leach’s system.  For some reason Elko sat back last year giving Will Rogers time to throw and let their receivers work in space.  Huge mistake by Elko.

Will Rogers is going to get yards but you don’t want to give him time to throw.  Durkin knows that and I don’t think he’ll let Rogers pick the defense apart.  He’ll force him to make quick obvious throws which are easier to defend.

Offensively I think we’ll establish the ground game and control time of possession. We won’t dominate but I think we’ll win convincingly enough.

Ags Win: 5-0

Alabama:

The Aggies will roll into Tuscaloosa with five wins and no losses while the Crimson Tide have four wins and one loss.  That loss of course will come in Austin during the third of the week season.  Just kidding.  Bama will be undefeated.  I just hope we are.

We all know how big this matchup is.  It was going to be big after last season.  Then Jimbo decided to take on Saban during the off season yet again.  It worked last season but I don’t see it working this season.

Do I think the Aggies can beat Bama?  Absolutely.  I just don’t think they will.

Not much else to say about this game as we know the stakes and the teams.  We just wait for the results.

Here’s something interesting – each of Saban’s last three starting quarterbacks are projected starters in the NFL this season.  Bryce Young will likely be a first round draft pick and start in the NFL.  He’s already won a Heisman.  Gone are the days of Saban having a game managing quarterback with an elite defense and running game.  He’s got high level quarterbacks running his offenses now.  Saban’s the greatest because he evolves.

Here’s something else that’s interesting.  Those three quarterbacks tie Bama as the school with the most 2022 NFL starting quarterbacks having started for a college team.  This assumes Baker Mayfield wins the Carolina job.  The really interesting part?  Jalen Hurts gives both OU and Bama three former starters as 2022 NFL starters.  Even more interesting is that not one of OU’s quarterbacks starting in the NFL was recruited by OU.  They all transferred to become the starter.

OU doesn’t have a single starting quarterback in the NFL if Kyler stays in Aggieland, Baker stays in Lubbock, and Jalen stays in Tuscaloosa.  OU got two Heisman trophies because Sumlin couldn’t manage multiple quarterbacks, Kliff wouldn’t give Baker a scholarship, and Saban recruited a better quarterback than Jalen.

Enough of that diversion.  Bama beats the Aggies in Tuscaloosa.

Ags Lose: 5-1

South Carolina:

If there’s a trap game on this schedule this is it.  We get a week off after Bama and go on the road to South Carolina.  In addition, we’ve won the eight Bonham Trophy showdowns.  We’ve never lost a game in this series.  Kenny Trill set the tone in 2014 and we’ve never looked back.

There’s no reason we lose this game but this feels like a loss to me.

Shane Beamer has some nice momentum, Spencer Rattler is a talented quarterback, and South Carolina pulls off an upset from time to time.  This is purely a hunch because there’s no football reason.  Upsets happen in football and this feels like one right now.

Ags Lose: 5-2

Ole Miss:

While everyone is focused on the Bama game I think this is a game that Jimbo really wants more than anything.  He wants to embarrass Lane Kiffin at Kyle Field.  He’s got the team to do it along with Kiffin’s old defensive coordinator.  Couple those two things along with Kyle Field and I think Jimbo mops the floor with Ole Miss.

Ole Miss is still a decent football team but they lost a lot from last season.  Kiffin is still one of the best offensive coordinators in college football but I think Durkin understands how to defend what he likes to do.

Ole Miss did well in the transfer portal but they were non competitive in the Sugar Bowl against Baylor.  They need a talent infusion. Even with that infusion I think Ole Miss takes a step back while the Aggies take a step forward.  Couple that with Jimbo wanting to make a point against Kiffin’s NIL comments and the Aggies run the Rebels out of Kyle Field.

Ags Win: 6-2

Florida:

Hard to believe it was 2 years ago that a win over Florida at Kyle Field COMPLETELY changed the trajectory of the 2020 season.  I still remember walking into a 25% capacity Kyle Field at 11:00 a.m. with very little hope of winning.  Florida was #4 in the country and we were barely a Top 25 team after not competing against Bama.

A kick as the time expired had Kyle Field rocking with a victory over the number four team in the country.  The Aggies wouldn’t lose the rest of the season winding up as Orange Bowl Champs and ironically enough the #4 team in the country.

Florida would rebound from that loss to win 6 straight games and solidify themselves as a Top 10 team.  Then their defensive back threw that shoe against LSU and it’s been a straight spiral down from there.  Seriously.  Everything about Florida football went south real quick when that show went flying.  The irony is Max Johnson was the LSU quarterback in that game.

Dan Mullen lost his job last season and now Florida has Billy Napier as coach.  I like Napier a lot and think he’s going to do a great job at Florida but he’s going to have his struggles in 2022.  Mullen basically quit recruiting last season so Florida is not nearly as talented as they’ve been in years past.

This won’t be a cake walk of a game but I don’t see why the Aggies will struggle.

Ags Win: 7-2

Auburn:

They don’t get enough attention but Auburn is the most fascinating program in college football.  They’re completely schizophrenic.  Much of it is due to Nick Saban being in state but damn this is a program that’s all over the place.

They won the national title in 2010 and then played for it again in 2013.  That’s not that long ago and something only a handful of teams have done in that time.

They ran off Tommy Tuberville who had beat Bama six years in a row.  They ran off Gene Chizik who won them a national championship.  They ran off Gus Malzahn who’s had more wins over Nick Saban than any other coach in college football. 

They replaced Malzahn with Bryan Harsin who was never a good fit.  Someone from Auburn spent the offseason baking up a story that Harsin had an affair with a staffer.  They were hoping to fire him without paying him.  Apparently none of that was true so Harsin walks into the 2022 season like his predecessors waiting to get the word he’s no longer the coach with a big check to go away.

What a damn mess Auburn is.  I have no idea how Harsin finds the motivation to have a successful season this year.  Couple that with there’s a strong chance Zach Calzada is his starting quarterback and I like the Aggies chances in this one.

Ags Win: 8-2

UMass:

I can’t wait for that 9 game SEC schedule so we don’t have these weird games in November.  I get why it hits the schedule like this but I don’t like it.  I suppose it’s good for the players to a degree as it’s a glorified practice towards the end of the season but I don’t like it.  I’m on an SEC high by this point and don’t want to come down.

Ags Win: 9-1

LSU:

Hard to believe Texas A&M is the better program after LSU’s magical 2019 season.  That was one of the best teams in college football and now they’re in shambles.  It’s only been 3 years.

I don’t think Brian Kelly was the right hire.  I think he’s a pretty good coach but I think when push comes to shove and LSU isn’t winning an automatic 10 wins in the SEC he’s going to get eaten alive by the LSU faithful.

Kelly made his name at the marquee program in the country but really didn’t do all that much when you look at things.  He feasted off a questionable schedule.  He never showed up in a BCS or College Football Playoff game.  He’s never won a NY6 Bowl Game only playing in two of those.  Notre Dame has a TON of advantages and Kelly really didn’t do much with them.  I get the academic requirements but Notre Dame never showed up against better competition.

He has the perception he’s a successful coach.  However, when you look under the hood he’s good but by no means great.  I don’t see him lasting past his third season at LSU.  He’ll have made a ton of money but I don’t think his time at LSU is what people think it’s going to be.  I think he’s gonna wish he’d never gotten on that plane from South Bend from a football standpoint.  His bank account will say otherwise though.

Assuming the Aggies look more like the 2020 Aggies if not better I think the Aggies win here.

Ags Win: 10-2

Summary:

I hate saying the Aggies are a year away from winning it all but there’s so much youth and uncertainty at key positions.  If that youth grows and that uncertainty solidifies I truly believe this is a team that can compete for the College Football Playoff.

Even if we lose to Bama and go 11-1 I think we’re knocking on the door of the CFP depending on how things shake out.  I think it’s clear Bama, Georgia, and Ohio State are the class of college football.  The fourth best team is a major question mark. 

Our biggest challenge could be SEC fatigue if Bama and Georgia show up in Atlanta undefeated.  Even at 11-1 with just a loss to Bama I expect some “interesting” positioning to keep a third SEC team out of the playoffs.

Either way, let’s just get back 2020 production and let the chips fall where they may.

Five Key Aggies For 2022

As we learned last year the health of a football team is critical to the results of a season.  There’s no doubt in my mind had Haynes King been healthy all season we improve to at least 9-3 if not 10-2.  Hell, we could have been NATIONAL CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD!  Just kidding.  I don’t think we’d won a national championship even with King under center last year.

We might have actually lost to Bama but we would have won at least 2 of the losses to Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and LSU with King under center.  That’s water under the bridge at this point but we would have had a better overall record with Haynes King all season.  I’m confident of that.

Here’s who I think are the most important players for the Aggies to stay healthy for the 2022 season.  This is in order of importance.

Devon Achane:

I’m excited to see what Devon Achane can do as the featured back.  I have some durability concerns because we’ve not seen him get the majority of carries.  He’s not the biggest back but he’s elusive with great balance.  He seems to avoid the big hit so I believe he can stay healthy all season.  We just need to see it happen.

He’s number one on my list because I think he’s a potential Heisman Trophy contender.  I really do.  I believe 1,000 rushing yards is a lock for him but I really think he can get close to 2,000 total yards.  We’re talking about a guy that has averaged over 7 yards per carry in his first two seasons.  He’s a homerun hitter that keeps hitting homeruns.

If he’s healthy all season the Aggies are going to win a lot of ball games.

Edge Cooper:

I have Edge Cooper as the second most important because we have no real depth at the linebacker position.  Edge Cooper has All SEC talent which makes him staying healthy all that more important.  He’s not just a body filling a position with no real depth.  He’s a player that’s a legitimate difference maker in how our defense attacks our opponents.  If he’s out for any amount of time it’s going to change what D.J. Durkin can do.

We have talent and depth on the defensive line and in the secondary.  We don’t have it a linebacker.

When you’re lacking depth and have a guy that’s All SEC caliber you it’s REALLY important for him to stay healthy.

Right Side of the Offensive Line:

I’m a big believer in line play.  You can have all the skill position in the world but if you don’t have talent in the trenches it won’t matter.

The combination of Bryce Foster, Layden Robinson, and Deuce Fatheree also have All SEC talent.  They played well last year considering two of them were true freshman.  I expect this group to be better than last season.  If these guys stay healthy and build on what they did last year we’re going to be as good as anyone in college football on the right side of the offensive line.  They’ll be a big help to the newcomers on the left side of the line.  Defenses won’t be able to exploit the new guys on the left side if our right side is destroying their defense.  We’ll just keep running it to the right until they stop us.

These guys go hand in hand with Devon Achane.  If they stay healthy along with Achane I believe we’re going to have one of the best running attacks in the country.  You can control a lot of a football game if you can establish the running game.  These guys will be a big key to that.

Antonio Johnson:

Antonio Johnson will be the most talented Aggie player in 2022.  He’s potentially the best safety in the country and likely a first round draft pick.  Maybe even a Top 10 selection.  He’s that good.

When you have one of the best players in college football you’re much better off when they’re healthy. That’s stating the obvious.

Antonio Johnson listed as the fourth person is not a knock on him as a player.  I think the people listed above him are a little more important to the actual wins and losses for the Aggies in 2022. Thankfully Jimbo and his staff have stocked the secondary so we have a little cushion here.

Antonio would be second on this list if we didn’t have the depth in the secondary.

Evan Stewart:

This is a slight leap of faith so I hope I’m right.  The one thing Jimbo has lacked in his four seasons in Aggieland is a playmaker at the receiver position.  Early reports are that Evan Stewart can be that guy.

Having a guy that can put pressure on a defense down the field totally changes the dynamic of an offense.  We need Evan Stewart to be that guy.

I’m hoping at minimum Stewart can have a Christian Kirk type freshman year. Even better if it’s a Jaylen Waddle type freshman year.  We really need an explosive player at the receiver position and I think Stewart is going to be that guy.

So there you have it.  “Five” players the Aggies need to stay healthy in 2022.  If these guys stay healthy and play to their ability I don’t see any reason why the Aggies won’t win double digit games in 2022.

Jimbo’s Biggest Goal for 2022

The title of this post is a little mis-leading as Jimbo’s biggest goal for 2022 should be to win the SEC West.  That should be the goal every season.  Sure, winning the national championship is the ultimate goal every season but it all starts with the SEC West.  You win that and you’re playing in the SEC Championship.  Win that and you’re in the College Football Playoff.  Win those two games and you’re the National Champion.  Easy enough.

It all starts with winning the SEC West.  If you can’t win the SEC West it doesn’t really matter.  Sure, you can potentially sneak into the College Football Playoff without winning the West but it’s just easier to win the SEC West.

I’m not sure A&M is just ready to win the SEC West in 2022.  I think it’s very possible but this is a really young team with some questions.  I’ll do my season prediction next month but for now this is all about Jimbo’s biggest goal for 2022.

That goal?  Simple – Win every game at Kyle Field in 2022.

The most underrated part of Jimbo’s tenure at Texas A&M is his success at Kyle Field.  In four seasons he’s lost four games at Kyle Field.

Here’s those four games:

2018 – Clemson (eventual National Champion)
2019 – Auburn (Kind of a stinker but Gus had a great game plan and Derrick Brown destroyed our offensive line)
2019 – Alabama (Nick Saban.  Need I say more?)
2021 – Mississippi State (Total stinker like a baby’s diaper.  Pee Yew)

It should really be 2 losses as 2019 Auburn was winnable and 2021 Mississippi State was absolutely winnable.  Either way, I’m not terribly upset with Jimbo’s performances in his first four years at Kyle Field.

Kevin Sumlin lost 10 games at Kyle Field in his final four seasons.

Mike Sherman also lost 10 games at Kyle Field in his four seasons.

I’m not even bringing up Dennis Franchione as my therapist says it’s best.

Jimbo has done really damn good at Kyle with two wins over LSU and that win over Bama. He got the never beat Auburn at Kyle monkey off our back. He’s beat every SEC West team at Kyle and redeemed that Florida loss from 2012.

He has to keep the winning at Kyle momentum going.

Kyle Field must be a home field advantage if you expect to win the SEC West.  Winning in the SEC is tough so you better leverage every advantage you can.  If you can’t leverage Kyle Field as an advantage you’re not going to be successful.

Jimbo appears to be doing that but 2022 is going to be a massive test.

Here’s who we have at Kyle in 2022:

Sam Houston
Appalachian State
Miami
Ole Miss
Florida
UMass
LSU

Those are all winnable games.  Three of those teams aren’t in a current Power 5 conference.  Three of those teams are under new coaches and the other is a team I believe takes a step back from a talent standpoint.

I don’t know about wining the SEC West in 2022. I do know Jimbo needs to put wins over Miami, Ole Miss, Florida, and LSU at Kyle in 2022.  They won’t be easy but they’re more than attainable.  If he’s going to be a championship coach there’s no excuse to not be perfect at Kyle Field in 2022.   

I’m not saying Jimbo can lose the road games in 2022 if he wins at Kyle.  I do believe 10-2 is the baseline in 2022.  Establishing 7 wins at Kyle in 2022 is the easiest path to doing do that.  7 wins at Kyle and at least 3 on the road.

Will Jimbo make it happen?  I don’t see any reason why he can’t.

Who Will Quarterback the 2022 Aggies?

Before I get going on this “analysis” I must fully disclose I’m a Max Johnson fan.  I remember watching him at Kyle Field in 2020 and thinking LSU had a chance to beat us if he started that game.  Thank goodness Coach O couldn’t figure that out.  Part of that was TJ Finley looked so bad but I thought Max Johnson had some quarterbacking chops about him.  We obviously saw what Max Johnson did to us in 2022.  I think the kid can quarterback.

I don’t know what’s going to happen at quarterback for the 2022 Aggies.  I don’t think Jimbo Fisher knows either.  He’s got too many unknowns to pin down how quarterback is going to play out for the 2022 Aggies.  Haynes King doesn’t have enough snaps.  Max Johnson doesn’t have enough snaps in Jimbo’s system.  Conner Weigman doesn’t have any snaps in any college.  Lots of unknowns and variables.

In addition, Jimbo isn’t sure how strong his offensive line is going to be.  He doesn’t know what capabilities his receiving corps has.  He also doesn’t know his full running back situation.  Lots of unknowns on the offense outside of just who’s taking the snaps.

I think it’s only between Haynes King and Max Johnson for the 2022 starter.  I know Conner Weigman is the next coming of Johnny Football.  I get that.  However, even Johnny Football didn’t start his true freshman year in Aggieland.  I know the promise of a backup quarterback is always the most exciting thing for a college football fan.  That means hope springs eternal with Weigman.

For 2022 I don’t necessarily want Conner Weigman taking snaps.  Sure, Trevor Lawrence won Clemson a title as a true freshman but I don’t think that’s what we’re looking at for the 2022 Aggies.  That Clemson team was much different than this Aggie team.  If Conner Weigman beats out of both King and Johnson then so be it.  I don’t have a problem with that. I just don’t think you can make any analysis where Weigman gets significant playing time in 2022. 

We’ve been hearing about Haynes King for 2 seasons.  The problem is we don’t have a body of work to truly know what he can or can’t do.  We know he’s extremely fast.  Devon Achane says he might be the second fastest guy on offense which is quite a statement.  Achane knows speed.

King is the son of a coach and won a state title in high school.  He looks the part and talks the part.  He just hasn’t played the part.  Not saying he can’t.  I think he can but we just haven’t seen it yet. 

Max Johnson is the son of an NFL quarterback.  He’s 6’5”/220.  He’s left-handed which is rare from a success standpoint but he’s the prototypical quarterback from a physical standpoint.  If he’s right-handed people are drooling over him.  He can throw the ball and is much more mobile than people realize.  He’s taken a lot of snaps in football games so we have a body of work we can get some information from.

Max Johnson’s biggest problem is he played 2 seasons for a crappy LSU football team.  Those 2 seasons were so crappy it got a coach fired who had won a national title less than 2 seasons before he got fired.  That’s crappy.  Max Johnson didn’t have a lot to work with.  LSU was tied for 111th in the country last year in sacks allowed.  They averaged 3 sacks a game so Johnson didn’t have much time to throw for the most part.  I don’t know what Max Johnson looks like with a better team but a quarterback is often the product of their surroundings.  You need time and targets.

There’s not a lot of disappointment from LSU fans that Max Johnson left.  They feel he didn’t do enough to win more games as the LSU quarterback.  Like I said, most college football fans always believe the backup quarterback is always the better quarterback.  Maybe Max Johnson is the LSU equivalent of Zach Calzada.  I don’t see that.  I think Johnson is everything Calzada was physically but with a much higher football IQ.

I also know getting Max Johnson also helped get his younger brother Jake Johnson.  He’s a five star tight end.  No doubt it helped but I don’t think that’s the only reason Max Johnson came to Aggieland.

Here’s What We Know From Games:

  • Haynes King has started 2 football games.  None of them in the SEC and only played one full game.
  • Haynes King’s one full game was against Kent State where he was a 64% passer with 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
  • Max Johnson has started 14 games with 10 of those being SEC games.  He’s played in 3 other SEC games.
  • Max Johnson is a 60% career passer at LSU.  He’s 58% in the SEC.  57% in SEC starts.
  • Max Johnson has thrown 35 career touchdowns and 7 interceptions.  That’s an outstanding 5 to 1 ratio.  In career SEC games he’s thrown 22 touchdowns to 5 interceptions.  In SEC starts it’s 20 touchdowns to 5 interceptions.  That’s still an outstanding 4 to 1 ratio.
  • Max Johnson has played significant snaps in these stadiums – Auburn, Texas A&M, Florida, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Alabama.

What Else Do We Know:

  • For whatever reason Jimbo has never felt comfortable naming Haynes King the definitive starter.  After the loss of Kellen Mond, it was clear the next starting quarterback would be Haynes King or Zach Calzada.  It always seemed like Haynes King was the front runner, but Jimbo would never definitively say it.  After watching Calzada last season it’s a little concerning to me Jimbo never named Haynes King the definitive starter much sooner in the process.
  • Jimbo convinced Max Johnson to come to A&M.  This has lots of variables because Johnson didn’t know his future at LSU with the coaching change.  However, Jimbo likely convinced Max Johnson he has a legit chance to start at Texas A&M in 2022.  Johnson didn’t announce his transfer intentions until after Brian Kelly was hired.  Myles Brennan was already in the Transfer Portal.  Brennan was LSU’s other quarterback so Johnson’s competition was leaving.  Brennan decided to stay once Johnson left and Brian Kelly got there but before Johnson left it looked like Max Johnson would be the incumbent quarterback at LSU for Brian Kelly.  Max Johnson didn’t care.  He decided to transfer.  Max Johnson didn’t come to A&M to back up Haynes King.  He believed he could win the starting job.  Max Johnson may wind up never taking significant snaps at A&M but Jimbo convinced him he had a legit chance to take significant snaps at A&M.  Does that mean Jimbo doesn’t have full confidence in King?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I think it means Jimbo wants as much quarterback talent on his roster as he can get. Max Johnson is confident he can win the keys to the Aggie offense.
  • Coming out of Spring 2022 there’s still not a clear leader at quarterback.  Haynes King clearly has the most time in Jimbo’s system and took the first team snaps in the Spring.  However, Jimbo talks as if it’s an open competition.  I think he’s saying that because there’s no definitive leader.

What Does Jimbo Want To Do in 2022?:

There’s a bigger variable in all of this besides each quarterback’s ability.  I believe King and Johnson are different quarterbacks.  I believe King to be a decent passer with excellent speed.  Not sure how elusive King is as a runner but he has raw speed.  That brings a different element for attacking a defense.  A running quarterback can do real damage to a defense.  I think King can run every bit as good as Kellen Mond and likely much better.  We saw how Jimbo liked to use Mond’s legs to keep defenses honest.  Jimbo already has a blueprint of what he can do with a guy like King.

I believe Johnson to be a superior passer with better mobility than most people realize.  Johnson can make throws.  He did it against A&M in the 2021 game.  That last touchdown pass that beat us was as good as it gets.  That was the second great touchdown throw he had it in that game.  Couple that with the fact Michael Clemons was hammering on Johnson the whole game and that pass looks all that more impressive.  Johnson didn’t back down.

Does Jimbo believe he finally has the receivers to attack a defense downfield?  Does he have faith in Ainias Smith, Evan Stewart, and Moose Muhammed to repeatedly get open?  Does he think he has a deep threat?  Does he trust his offensive line to give his quarterback time to throw?

If the answer to those questions is “Yes” then I think Max Johnson wins the job.  He’s simply the better passer.  If the answer is “No” then I think Haynes King wins the job.  Jimbo will hopefully turn King into an improved 2020 version of Kellen Mond.  That’s not a bad thing, people.  2020 Kellen Mond lost one game all season to Alabama.  I think 2022 King will be better than 2020 Mond if that’s the route that Jimbo goes with.

I think we’re going to be fine at quarterback in 2022 but these two quarterbacks are different style players.  A lot is going to depend on what kind of offense Jimbo thinks he can and wants to run.

What To Watch For:

Jimbo has a saying – “Your actions speak so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying.”  That goes for how he handles playing time with his quarterbacks.

Zach Calzada played in zero games in 2020.  Haynes King took the backup snaps in 2020.  Zach Calzada didn’t get any significant snaps in the first game of 2021.  King was always well ahead of Calzada in the quarterback hierarchy the past two seasons.  JImbo said there was a close competition but his actions clearly indicated King was his quarterback all along.  Calzada’s play in 2021 showed us why.

In game snaps mean everything to Jimbo when it comes to quarterback snaps.

I do believe at this point Jimbo is giving King the job to lose.  He’s also telling Johnson he can win the starting job but his room for error is small.  Johnson must be perfect to take the job.  King knows the system and is a solid quarterback.  I don’t think either guy is going to let the other guy win it during the off season.  It’ll be decided on the field early in 2022.

The first two games of 2022 will give us a good indication of where things stand.  This is assuming Jimbo doesn’t declare a definitive starter at some point over the summer.  I don’t think he will as he’s not going to truly know what he has until there’s some game action against a non-Aggie opponent.  Even if it is Sam Houston and Appalachian State.

I expect Haynes King to start each of these games.  The big indicator will be when Johnson gets his snaps.  If Johnson gets snaps in the first half of those two games then he’s neck and neck with King.  If he doesn’t get snaps until the second half when the game has been decided then King is clearly the starter.  The timing of snaps for Johnson will tell us what’s going on in Jimbo’s head.

If Max Johnson takes the first snaps of the first game then he’s the definitive starter for 2022.  Jimbo will believe he’s the guy going forward and King is the clear backup.  In that scenario Johnson can still play himself out of that position but if Johnson takes the first snaps of the season then that’s the horse Jimbo would prefer to ride.

I think the first 3 games will decide who the starting quarterback is for the rest of the 2022 season.  We get a nice couple games at home and then a Miami team that’s in the first year of a new coach.  That gives Jimbo the perfect scenario to decide which guy to ride the remaining 9 games.

My Prediction:

I think we’re going to see King and Johnson share snaps in the first two games.  How that happens I’m not sure and that doesn’t really matter.  Maybe it’s 2 series and 2 series or 1st quarter and 2nd quarter.  I think you’ll see Johnson in the first half of both of those games though.  That means there is no definitive starter for Jimbo to start the season.

I think at some point in the Miami game Johnson goes in the first half and doesn’t come back out for the rest of the season.  At least as a starter.

I have nothing against Haynes King and hope he’s successful.  Jimbo didn’t just go get Max Johnson for the depth chart though.  Max Johnson didn’t come to College Station because he likes wearing maroon on the sidelines.  Jimbo and Max Johnson both believe he can be the starter.

I think Max Johnson will be the Aggie starter after the Miami game.

As long as whatever starter wins football games I don’t care who it is.  I just want Aggie wins.  My hunch tells me Jimbo thinks that’s Max Johnson for 2022.  Which obviously means Haynes King will be our starter for the whole season…

The Jimbo/Saban Comments:

My quick thoughts are I don’t have a problem with any of it. Both coaches made their comments to weaponize their fan bases. Saban did it to spur more money from his boosters and Jimbo was standing up for his. Nothing more or less.

It’ll all get settled on the field but this makes for some great theater. I’m a little nervous because Jimbo just wrote some big checks he and his team need to cash but let’s be real. Bama has always been the target. Might as well go at them with everything you got.

To be the man you have to beat the man. Dusty Rhodes wasn’t afraid of Ric Flair and Jimbo ain’t afraid of Nick Saban. It’s risky business but Jimbo’s clearly up for it.

Comparing the 2022 and 2021 Aggie Units

My last post talked about the Aggie position groups for 2022 in quite a bit of detail.  For this I’m going to take a “quick” look at the position groups and compare them to the 2021 team.  My initial thought was some of these groups won’t be as good.  After thinking more I believe my initial thought might be wrong.

With the NFL Draft done I think we can make a full analysis of the 2021 team.  The NFL Draft isn’t an end all be all on judging talent but it’s a damn good indicator.  Early rounders tend to fare better in the league than late rounders and undrafted free agents.  It’s an inexact science but it’s a pretty good indicator of talent.  The more players you have drafted and especially the earlier rounds is a good indicator of talent on a team.

There’s a reason teams that won the most games get the most players drafted.  Talent is a DEFINITE indicator of on field success.

The Aggies were 8-4 last year and wound up with 4 Aggies drafted.  That’s less than what we expected but it’s a great data point.  We had Kenyon Green (1st round), Demarvin Leal (3rd round), Michael Clemons (4th round), and Isiah Spiller (4th round) drafted.  That’s the same number of guys we had drafted in the 2021 draft.

I think I can say the 2021 Aggie football team wasn’t as talented as I thought it was.  I expected a couple more guys to get drafted.  It was still a damn good team and closer to 10-2 than people realize but they were an 8-4 football team.  That’s decent but not great.  Good enough to beat Bama so I’ll take it.

Will the 2022 Aggie football team be more talented than the 2021 Aggie football team?  Let’s look at the position groups.

Offense:

Quarterback – Much Improved:

I’m going to do a much deeper dive into the 2022 Aggie quarterbacks in my next post.

For now I’ll just say I think it’s safe to say/hope that one of Haynes King, Max Johnson, or Connor Weigman will be more productive than Zach Calzada in 2021.

If not, well, just get ready for the Aggie Football/Jimbo jokes from college football fans and the talking heads.  Much of it will be justified.

Running Back – TBD:

Initially I would have said the loss of Isiah Spiller would be a challenge to overcome.  Jimbo has recruited well but Spiller was a really damn productive back for 3 seasons.  Him leaving seems like a pretty big loss.  He was a very well rounded back in that he could run, catch, and block.  His blocking was probably the most underrated part of his game.

I’m putting TBD for two reasons – Devon Achane and the offensive line.  We all know about Achane’s talent.  We just don’t know about his durability.  If Achane is durable we’re gonna be just fine.  We might even be better.  If not, we’ve got some real inexperienced guys in the backfield.  Talented but inexperienced.

The other reason for TBD is because of the next group.  If they do what I think they’re going to do then our running game will be better than last season.

Offensive Line – Much Improved:

I’m really bullish on the 2022 Aggie offensive line.  We lose a first rounder in Kenyon Green but I think we’re going to be better.  Bryce Foster, Layden Robinson, and Deuce Fatheree all have All American talent.  All three of these guys are going to get drafted to play in the NFL.  Foster and Fatheree were true freshman last year and Robinson was starting his first season.  I don’t see how these guys won’t be much improved over last season.

Left tackle and left guard is a big of a crapshoot but I think we’re going to be fine.  We’ll step back a tad at left guard replacing Green but we’ve got talent in the wings.

I was never a fan of Jahmir Johnson at left tackle.  I’m not worried about improving from him at all.

This group could be better than 2020 offensive line which was a damn good unit.  If these guys gel early then the 2022 Aggie football team is going to be damn good.

Wide Receiver – Improved:

I’m marking this as improved for two reasons – It can’t be worse and there’s some young talent.

I’ve said repeatedly the wide receiver unit has been the most disappointing unit of Jimbo’s tenure in Aggieland.  We haven’t had a receiver drafted since Christian Kirk in 2018.  We’ve missed the days of Christian Kirk, Josh Reynolds, Mike Evans, and Ryan Swope.

We get Ainias Smith back which is a good base to start from.  We lose Demond Demas and Caleb Chapman.  I’m okay with this as they were long on talent but short on production.  Production matters.

I think Moose Muhammed is going to have a good year now that he’s a year older and getting regular snaps.  The early reports on Evan Stewart are REALLY positive.  Yulkeith Brown and Chris Marshall will hopefully provide that deep threat we’ve been missing.

I’d like to mark this unit as much improved but there’s just too much uncertainty.

Tight End – TBD:

I’m marking this as TBD just because it turns out Jaylen Wydermyer wasn’t as dominant as we thought.  It seems he just had a great rapport with Kellen Mond.  Don’t get me wrong in that Wydermyer was good but he wasn’t a special tight end.  Special tight ends get drafted.  That sounds harsh but it’s a reality.

This is TBD because there’s no one with experience but we’re long on talent and depth.  I personally think we’re going to see some combination of Jake Johnson and Donavan Green produce at this position.  At least from a receiving standpoint.

I think Baylor Cupp left because he wasn’t separating himself from the guys on the roster.  He knew he needed to find some place where could get snaps.

I believe we’ll have at minimum the same production we got in 2021 but likely more.

Defense:

Defensive Line – Improved:

I can’t believe I just said the 2022 defensive line will be an improvement over the 2021 defensive line.  The 2021 defensive line was the heart and soul of that team.  It was a damn good unit.

I just think there’s so much talent and depth on the defensive line that we’re going to see an improvement in 2022.  Not a drastic improvement but I think our defensive line is going to start doing what some Bama and Georgia defensive fronts have done in years past.

Like the offensive line I’m bullish here.

Linebacker – Improved:

Aaron Hansford was an outstanding linebacker for the Aggies in 2021.  I think Edge Cooper and Andre White are going to be better though.  In addition to the starters we’ve got some talented youngsters I think are going to add some nice depth.

This won’t be a massive improvement or a dominant unit but I do think the 2022 linebacker unit will be better than the 2021 unit.

Secondary – Improved:

I almost scored this much improved but I’m just going to say improved because of the inexperience.  We lose Leon O’Neal who I thought had turned into an outstanding safety.

There’s a lot of uncertainty of who plays where other than Demani Richardson but that’s not a bad thing.  The reality is we have a lot of talent to fill 4 spots.  This is a good problem to have.

I think when things shake out we’re going to have a really strong secondary with talent and depth.  Last year’s unit was pretty good but I’m comfortable saying the 2022 secondary will be better than the 2021 unit.

Summary:

Obviously I’m bullish on the 2022 Aggie units.  I think every unit could be better than the related 2021 unit.  Running back and tight end are in question but the talent is there to be better.  We just need health and early adapting to SEC play from the talented depth we have.

Every unit should be better than 2021.

I’m not exactly sure what that means for wins and losses but I definitely feel 8-4 is the floor.  I know that seems disappointing but that should really tell you how far Jimbo has brought this program in 4 seasons.  8-4 is now the absolute floor.

We’ve still got some developing to do but things are looking good. 

Thoughts on the 2022 Aggies

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged but I recently found some time.  I’m being cautiously optimistic on the 2022 Aggies.  2021 left a sour taste in my mouth.  If you look back there were a ton of factors.  More injuries than we realize and some coaching blunders along the way.

Calzada seemed to be the biggest factor but he’s just the most obvious.  Quarterback play is generally the biggest input into a team’s success or failure so that’s what people saw.  There were other issues leading to that 8-4 record though.

My biggest frustration in 2021 was Jimbo Fisher.  His inability to recognize what Arkansas and Ole Miss was doing with a 3 man front was really frustrating.  It also appeared some opposing defensive coordinators figured out how to make the Aggies one dimensional and Jimbo had no answer.

The entire offensive scheme simply got confused against certain defenses.  Jimbo has been pretty good at scripting plays and adjusting his offense in game but for much of 2022 he seemed like a willy nilly play caller.  He was just calling plays off a playsheet with no rhyme or reason.  Like a kid playing Madden.  Much of that was likely because he had no faith in Calzada but he didn’t do much to overcome Calzada’s issues.

Jimbo’s biggest issue in 2021 was sticking to what appeared to be a pre-determined running back rotation.  His greatest sin was not riding Devon Achane in the 4th quarter against Ole Miss.  He rides Achane late in that game and we likely end up 10-2 headed to the Sugar Bowl against Baylor.  I think a win over Ole Miss would have given us the momentum to beat LSU.  I could be wrong though.

Who knows what would have happened with our COVID mess in December so maybe it’s best we had to bow out of the Gator Bowl and not the Sugar Bowl.  The Lord works in mysterious ways…

Enough of 2021.  Let’s talk about the 2022 Fightin’ Texas Aggie football squad.

My biggest concern heading into 2022 is leadership.  More than experience. We’re a REALLY young team and lose our biggest leaders in Demarvin Leal and Kenyon Green.  These guys weren’t the most vocal of leaders but make no mistake they were the two guys everyone else looked up to.

The talent is there.  It’s still young but I think we’ll be a more talented team in 2022 than in 2021.  We just need some leaders to step up and guide this team. If we get leadership the experience will come a lot quicker.

Let’s get to the units on each side of the ball.

Offense:

Quarterback:

Seems like the new additions at quarterback leads to a lot of uncertainty with the new QB but I don’t think that’s the case.  Leading into the 2021 season there was talk of a quarterback competition between King and Calzada.  The reality is there never was one.  King was the guy all along.

I think that remains the same.  This is Haynes King’s team and Max Johnson and Connor Weigman don’t have the experience to overcome him in the off season.

I still have no idea what to make of King because he hasn’t played any meaningful minutes.  We all assume he can play at a solid level in the SEC.  We haven’t seen it though.

I’m not too worried about his injury because it was a bone break.  From what we can tell he’s been healthy his whole career except for that.  The guys you tend to worry about are the people that seem to have repeated tissue injuries.  Those seem to linger or manifest other injuries elsewhere.  Minor breaks don’t tend to be nagging.

Health wise he should be fine.  I just don’t know what to expect of him on the field.  I need to see SEC reps.  He seems to be extremely mobile.  I think that mobility in addition to experience in Jimbo’s system is what keeps him in from of Johnson and Weigman in the off season.

As for the other two I’m a big Max Johnson fan.  This dude is extremely talented from a throwing standpoint.  Those two touchdown throws against us weren’t his only great throws in his time at LSU.  The dude was good all things considered.  He was playing on a pretty crappy LSU team the last two season after their magical 2019 run.  It happens.  Just because his team didn’t win doesn’t mean he’s not a good quarterback. He’s pretty athletic and a lot more mobile than people realize. He doesn’t run nearly as well as King but he’s not a statue by any stretch.

I think of the three QBs on the roster Max Johnson will have the most productive NFL career.  He’s simply built like an NFL quarterback and has the mental aspect to go with it. If Max Johnson is your backup quarterback you’re in a good spot.  Actually, a great spot.

As for Weigman I know everyone thinks he’s Johnny Football 2.0 but let’s hold off on that a bit.  True freshman quarterbacks tend to struggle a bit.  Let’s let him simmer in Jimbo’s system for two offseasons and then see what happens.

I do think King will be on a semi-short leash.  He’ll have plenty of rope but I don’t think Jimbo will be afraid to roll Max Johnson out there if King just isn’t getting it done.  I hope it doesn’t happen but I could see a scenario where King doesn’t overly impress the first two games against much lesser opponents and then struggles the first half against Miami.  If that happens then I think you’ll see Johnson under center starting the second half.

I think we’ll be fine at quarterback but it’ll take a few games to figure out what we have and the true direction of the offense.

Running Back:

I can’t believe I’m about to write this but I am – I’m not sure how much the 2022 Aggies will miss Isiah Spiller.  That’s not a knock on Spiller at all.  The dude was a solid running back.  He ran hard for his 3 years in Aggieland and is a Top 10 all-time Aggie running back.  But, we may have something special on our hands in Devon Achane.

He’s had limited touches since Spiller took the brunt of the work the last two years but he’s been EXTREMELY productive in the work he’s received.  He has the highest yards per carry of any running back in Aggie history at 7.4 yards per touch.  That’s with 173 carries which is a pretty fair number to still have that average yard per carry.  No doubt that number is likely to go down as he gets more touches but that’s an impressive number for a running back in the SEC.

Achane doesn’t get a lot of attention because he’s not that imposing and he’s just so fluid of a runner.  He doesn’t get stuffed very often or take a big hit.  He just somehow churns out lots of yards in an unassuming fashion.  He reminds me a lot of Emmitt Smith and Mark Ingram but with a Tony Dorsett top gear.  He has legit Olympic sprinter speed with great vision and balance.  From a top end standpoint he’s probably the fastest player in college football.

If you need any reminding of his speed just watch his kick return in the 2021 Bama game. 

I contend this will go down as one of the most unheralded plays in Aggie history.  This kick return kept momentum on the Aggie side.  It was about to swing to Alabama but Achane kept it with the Aggies.  People want to talk about NIL money but there’s no doubt in my mind that win over Bama at Kyle Field got the recruiting momentum going.  That night was electric and the Achane kick return was the most electric moment of the night.  The recruiting momentum for the 2022 signing class started with this kick return.

With 55 yards to go Achane has cleared every bit of Alabama traffic and no one even comes close to him.  Not one Alabama player even comes close to Achane on this run.  Bama has the best athletes in college football and they’re all toast with 55 yards to go. It doesn’t even look like he’s running that fast but he’s flat out flying.  This is game changing speed.

It’s a big question mark who backs up Achane as it’ll be some combination of Amari Daniels, L.J. Johnson, Earnest Crownover, and Jacoby Mathews.  I think Daniels and Johnson will get most of the carries.  Daniels can flat out fly and Johnson is more of your between the tackles guy.

We certainly won’t have the experience we had with Spiller and Achane in 2021 but we’ve got some depth and talent so I think we’ll be fine.

I’m excited to see what Devon Achane does with a regular workload.  In limited experience he’s shown he can handle it.  He might even be on a level nobody sees coming.

Offensive Line:

Coming into the 2021 season this was my biggest question mark.  Turns out I wasn’t wrong.  Next to the obvious injury to Haynes King the lack of the offensive line ever turning into a cohesive unit was our biggest issue.  At least from a player standpoint.

They showed up in some games but in others they seemed to be overwhelmed.  Most notably the Arkansas and Ole Miss games where those defenses ran a three-man front.  For some reason this created utter confusion.

I do expect the 2022 offensive line to be much improved from 2021.  The loss of Kenyon Green isn’t easy to overcome but this line will be more talented and experienced compared to the 2021 unit.

The right side of the line will be as good as it gets in the SEC.  Duece Fatheree was by far the best freshman tackle we’ve seen since Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews.  Layden Robinson at right guard was second team All SEC.  We’re in good hands with these guys.

At center Bryce Foster returns.  He did outstanding as a true freshman in the SEC.  Like Fatheree, Foster was a Freshman All SEC and All American.  This kid is loaded with talent and I see no reason why he doesn’t take a major step forward with one season under his belt.

The left side has question marks mainly because we replace likely first round pick Kenyon Green at left guard.  Right now it looks like Blake Trainor will be replacing Kenyon Green.  That’s a tall order but this guy is coming into his fourth season in Aggieland.  He’s a little short on in game experience except for one game – He started at left tackle in the Bama game.  He more than held his own in that game.  I thought he actually should have started the rest of the season in place of Jhamir Johnson but Jimbo and Josh Henson didn’t see it that way.

At left tackle it looks like Trey Zuhn will get the nod.  He’s a redshirt freshman that saw limited experience last season.  I’m a little cautious about a freshman with limited experience starting at left tackle but I’ll defer to Jimbo and his new offensive line coach Steve Addazio.  I don’t think he can do worse than Jhamir Johnson from last season.  I wasn’t impressed with Jhamir Johnson at left tackle last season at all so I think improving from him will be pretty easy.

Speaking of Addazzio this seems like a great hire to replace Josh Henson.  This guy has a ton of coach experience and is an offensive line coach at his core.  We’ll find out soon enough but I do feel this could be addition by subtraction.  Nothing against Henson as he did a decent enough job but the resume of Addazzio for an offensive line coach is pretty amazing.

There may be shuffling along the left side of the line between now and SEC play but I think we’ll find a solid unit.  I’m not nearly as worried about this unit coming into 2022 as I was in 2021.

Wide Receiver:

It appears we lost the twin Bigfoots in Demond Demas and Baylor Cupp.  Heard all about them but never actually saw them.  I can’t recall a pair of guys that had more hype as legit game changers and we never saw a thing from them.  Demas had the one touchdown catch against New Mexico and that’s about it from them.  They’re gone and we’re moving on but man those two had some serious hype with a big bag of nothing on the field for the Aggies.

Ainias Smith is back for his fourth year.  I think it’s in everyone’s best interest.  He seemed to take a step back last season but that I think that’s probably due more to our quarterback and line play.  I have no issues with this guy and expect him to have a big 2022 as I think he’s going to be used all over the field creating matchup problems.  We need to get the ball in this guy’s hands and let him do his thing.  He’s probably going to see some time in the backfield which is fine by me.  He’s dynamic and needs to be used all over the field.

The practice reports on Evan Stewart sound positive.  This guy enrolled in December dripping with talent.  He was one of the best receivers in the country in the recent signing class.  Seems he’s got the work ethic to match his talent and he’s going to be seeing a lot of the field.  If you want a comparison think what Christian Kirk did his first year in Aggieland.  If that’s what we get I’ll take it.

As for the rest of the receivers we’ve got some names we know but none have separated themselves.  Caleb Chapman is hurt again so he’s a guy you can’t really rely on.  Plus, I contend he’s more of just a true deep threat than an all-around receiver.

Jalen Preston is back for his fifth season.  He hasn’t flashed yet but he’s a guy that has the talent if something could just click for him.  He’s had some solid moments in games but nothing super consistent.

My hope is that Moose Muhammad finally breaks out.  He showed up last year in some non SEC games with spectacular grabs.  Maybe the third year is the charm for him as he has the talent.

The rest of the receivers are names you’ve heard before and no clue if they’ll ever be major contributors.  Chase Lane, Devin Price, and Hezekiah Jones.

Two names that could break out are Yulkeith Brown and Chris Marshall.  Yulkeith saw limited action last year but could potentially be a deep threat.  Chris Marshall is still in high school but he too has the speed to be a deep threat.  We just won’t know until he’s on campus and playing in games.

I hope something finally happens with this group.  This has far and away been the worst unit under Jimbo.  It’s been a long time since we had a guy that was even of Josh Reynold’s caliber.  That was the 2016 season.

To the best of my knowledge Christian Kirk was the last wide receiver drafted in the NFL and that was after the 2017 season.  We’ve had 4 seasons where not one Aggie wide receiver has been drafted.  You can’t have that in today’s college game.

Let’s hope that changes this season where Ainias Smith starts another trend of Aggie receivers getting drafted.

Tight End:

Normally I lump these guys with the receivers but I’ll note them separate for this piece.

The loss of Baylor Cupp is definitely disappointing.  I was really hoping he was going to finally get healthy and live up to his talent.  By most reports from spring practice he was doing just that.  Then one day he appeared in the portal with nobody really knowing why.  Just another chapter in the Baylor Cupp mystery.

We should be just fine here.  We’ve got two of the best tight ends in the country coming to Aggieland.  Jake Johnson and Donavan Green were two of the highest rated recruits at their position last year.  Depending on the service they were the best.  Johnson is already on campus practicing and Green comes in this summer.

Don’t forget Jaylen Wydermyer came in as a true freshman and contributed right away.  No reason to think these guys don’t do the same.

We’ve got Max Wright back as the blocking tight end that will catch 5-10 passes.  He’s not the most dynamic receiving threat but he’s long on experience and willing to block.  He’ll serve his role.

We’ve also got Blake Smith and Fernando Garza who rated pretty highly as recruits.  We’ve also got the Norwegian kid coming in this summer but he’s going to need a couple seasons acclimating to American football.

Truthfully I’m hoping 2022 is the first season under Jimbo where a tight end isn’t the main receiving threat.  Nothing against these guys but it’s time for the receivers to carry the passing game and the tight ends to just add a dimension that makes the offense tough to defend.

Overall:

I feel good about the offense in 2022.  We need some positions to grow and stabilize but I think that will happen.

2021 had a quarterback and offensive line that Jimbo couldn’t trust and that really affected his play calling.  At least that’s what I hope happened.

We’ll find out in 2022 if Jimbo completely forgot how to call plays.

Defense:

New Coordinator:

Anyone that reads my blog knows what a fan I was of Mike Elko.  Despite some defensive lapses last year’s defense was really solid.  I hate to pick on one guy but Jaylon Jones didn’t make plays late in the Mississippi State and LSU games that could have really turned the outcome.  If he makes two plays we’re likely 10-2 with a totally different feeling for the season.  That didn’t happen and we move on.

I thought what Mike Elko did in 2021 was outstanding.  Sure, the record doesn’t show it but what I saw on the field was a defense that routinely held it’s own if not dominating.  They played their asses off while the offense was just out there sputtering around.

The best example of this was the Auburn game.  Auburn wound up not being a very good football team after us but our defense completely shut them down.  The defense scored the only touchdown that game.  You can’t ask for much more.

We were in a LOT of games last season thanks to our defense.  We might have been staring down a 6-6 season without this defense.

I hate to lose Elko but Jimbo went out and got one of the best defensive coordinators in the country.  What Durkin did with the Ole Miss defense down the stretch last season was remarkable.

They shut down Malik Willis who might be the first quarterback taken in this year’s draft.  We saw what Ole Miss did to us with a bunch of nobodies.  They kept Mike Leach’s offense in check in Starkville and then the Ole Miss defense was the only reason Ole Miss had any chance against Baylor in the Sugar Bowl.

That Ole Miss didn’t have much talent but Durkin did an outstanding job scheming and getting his guys to play within that scheme as the season wore on.   That’s usually the mark of a good coach.  In addition, he’s had highly ranked defenses in his time as defensive coordinator at Florida and Michigan.  I’m confident the dude can coach defense.

Durkin is definitely on par with Elko as a defensive coordinator in my mind.  I’ll miss Mike but I’m ready to change my adoration to Durkin.

Defensive Line:

We lose Demarvin Leal who’s been the heart and soul of this team for three seasons.  We also lose Michael Clemons, Jayden Peavy, and Tyree Johnson who started and played most of the games on the defensive line last year.

That’s usually a bad thing but Jimbo has recruited the defensive line better than any position on the team.  We’re a little short on experience but we’re loaded with talent here.

Looks like we’ll have Fadil Diggs, Shemar Turner, McKinnley Jackson, and Tunmise Adeleye starting for us.  All of these guys are legit football players.

This is McKinnley Jackson’s third season and he’s logged significant playing time.  He’s flashed at times and if he’s really committed he can be one of the best defensive tackles in the country.  The talent is there.

Shemar Turner is short on playing time but long on talent.  This guy could take right over from Leal playing up and down the line depending on the offense and situation.

Diggs should be able to bring some pressure off the edge and Adeleye will serve as the strong side defensive end in likely running scenarios.

Behind them is a cornucopia of talent.  Guys that have logged significant playing time like Adarious Jones and Isaiah Rakes.  Then there’s highly recruited guys like Jahzion Harris, Anthony Lucas, Braedon Mowry, Elijah Judy, Marcus Burris, and Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy who are on campus.  Some of these guys have been or are hurt and not practicing but the depth and talent on campus is pretty amazing.

Lucas and Brownlow-Dindy are part of the amazing 2022 recruiting class but we’re still waiting on Enai White, L.T. Overton, Shemar Stewart, and of course big Walter Nolen.  Those four guys alone would make up an amazing recruiting class.  We’re loaded before they’re even getting to campus.  Unreal.

2022 won’t be the year we completely dominate the defensive line of scrimmage but it’ll be the start.  Some of these guys won’t pan out but life is a numbers game and I LOVE our numbers along the defensive line right now.  

Linebacker:

We still need some serious talent and depth at linebacker but this isn’t the major issue it has been for some seasons.

Part of that is running a mostly 4-2-5 defense where we only use two linebackers.  That helps in only needing two linebackers.  We’ve got some decent talent and experience at those two starting spots.

Andre White returns as a starter along with Edgerrin Cooper.  Cooper got quite a bit of playing time last season and looks like he could be a stud.  He’s got speed and loves to hit.  He also tends to be in the right spot.  VERY important for a linebacker.  I wouldn’t classify White as a stud but sandwiched between the defensive line and secondary he’ll be just fine.

Looks like they’re going to try Donell Harris at linebacker.  He came in as a defensive end.  This makes sense due to his size and the numbers along the defensive line.  He only weighs around 220 but he’s got serious speed.  I think we’ll see him as a pass rushing outsider backer on obvious passing downs.  I’m good with this.

Tarian Lee and Chris Russell have seen the field so they have some experience.  Ish Harris is a true freshman and looks like he can play ball but he needs to put on some weight.  Hopefully he can put on the “Freshman 15” in straight muscle.  Martrell Harris will join in the summer and he has a lot of promise.

I’ll classify linebacker as the “weakest” link of this defense but that’s only because the line and secondary are so good.  Linebacker is not the liability it used to be which is a good thing.  We just need to continue adding some more talent and depth in future recruiting classes.

Secondary:

This unit used to be a MAJOR liability.  We’ve had a good run of safeties but prior to Jimbo’s arrival and early in his tenure we couldn’t find corners to save our lives.  Decent receivers would just torch our secondary.  Not even good receivers.  Decent receivers would have a field day against our corners.

That’s slowly changing thanks to Jimbo’s recruiting.

I’m going to start with our two studs in the secondary – Demani Richardson and Antonio Johnson.  Thankfully Demani returns for his fourth season in Aggieland.  This guy probably won’t ever start in the NFL but he’s a damn good college safety.  I fully expect him to take over Demarvin Leal’s role as leader of this defense.  If he does that’s going to be a great thing.

Antonio Johnson was second team All SEC in his first year to start.  This kid is a STUD.  It remains to be seen if he’ll continue to play the role of Nickel close to the line or if he’ll take over Leon O’Neal’s spot at the back of the secondary.  Wherever he plays he’s going to be fine and the Aggie defense will be better for it.

As for the rest of the secondary nobody knows how it’s going to shake out including the coaches.  They’ve got numbers and talent which is a good problem to have.  At the other safety it’ll be someone between Bryce Anderson, Jardin Gilbert, Deuce Harmon, and Jaylon Jones.  There’s also Jacob Mathews coming this summer.  Harmon and Jones have traditionally played corner but I think they’ll get looks at Nickel due to the amount of talent we now have at corner.

Seriously.  We have an amazing crop of defensive backs either on campus or coming in.  We used to clamor to have one or two of these guys on campus and now we don’t know who’s going to start and play.   It’s a damn good problem to have.

It appears Jaylon Jones and Myles Jones are working with the first team at corner this spring but I don’t think that’s going to last.  We’ve got a TON of young talent at corner that probably overtakes those two at some point next season.  The early returns on Denver Harris are he’s everything he was recruited to be.  Tyreek Chappell was freshman All SEC and All American.  I think these two guys are the most likely to take over from Jaylon and Myles.

We’ve got Brian George who’s been on campus for a couple of years.  I don’t think he’s as good as some of the younger guys and tends to get injured but he’s some nice depth.  Myles Jones goes all the way back to the Sumlin Administration (seriously) and he’s returning for his 6th season.  He really came on late in 2020 but spent all of 2021 hurt.  Similar to George I think he’ll eventually get beat out by the younger guys.  Crazy as 6-7 years ago we would have loved to have guys of their caliber starting for us even with their injury history.

I mentioned Denver Harris but we’ve got some other great corners in this signing class.  Marquis Groves-Killebrew is a four star out of Georgia.  Bobby Taylor is a four star out of Katy and the biggest reason for this recruiting class from a player standpoint.  Smoke Bouie is another four startout of Georgia.

We’ve got some older guys with solid experience and some younger guys with amazing talent.  Much like the defensive line it’s a good problem to have.  Enough guys will shake out where this unit will be really damn good.  It won’t be without hiccups as growing pains occur but I’ll take that over just not having the talent.

What Does All of this Mean?

I’ll get to my season prediction at some point this summer.  I’m really torn what all of this means for the 2022 season record wise.  There will be enough talent to win every game and a national championship.  I don’t think the experience will be there though and we’ll likely lose a game or two we shouldn’t.

More than anything I hope this 2022 signing class is similar to the Herschel Walker trade that will prove to be a springboard for a run of National Championships.  Hell, I don’t even need multiple.  I just want at least one to prove all the haters wrong the Aggies can’t win it all.

We absolutely can and the talent we have on campus or coming will be enough to do it.  We’ll just have to wait and see if it develops.

Little Miss Sassy Jane – Sterling Tribute

Writing about Sterling is a little bit difficult.  Not because of emotion but because it’s hard to put her personality into words.  Sterling had a lot of personality and you just kind of had to be around her to understand it.

Before I attempt to put her personality into words I have to to tell the story of how I happened to get Sterling. I’ve written a lot of stuff in my life. Without a doubt the best thing I’ve ever written in my life was the note to Sterling’s foster mom.  When I was ready to add a replacement for Chopper’s original sister I was pretty specific on what I wanted.  When I saw a picture of Sterling on PetFinder.com I knew she was the dog for me.  She’d probably be okay for Chopper as well…

I wrote her foster mom a note explaining how Chopper’s original sister didn’t survive a severe sickness and he was now ready for a new little sister.  I explained what kind of life they would live along with too many details like I tend to write.  Well, it worked. The foster mom wrote me back a note saying Sterling was already promised to someone.  However, she thought Sterling would be a better fit for me.  She wanted to talk to the other person and make sure they were okay with it.

The foster mom responded back Chopper and I could get Sterling.  I was extremely elated.  That first person interested in Sterling wanted to turn her into a dog that did those obstacle courses.  You know those courses where they jump over and run through things?

Holy cow.  I thought I was lucky to get Sterling.  EVERYONE was lucky I got Sterling.  Sterling was not made to be an obstacle course dog.  The girl was made to be a damn princess.  I can’t imagine the hell Sterling and the other owner would have experienced trying to get her to go around, through, and over obstacles.  No way Sterling would have enjoyed that life. She would have made whoever was trying to make her do that stuff pay for it.  Her foster mom made the perfect call.

Funny how life tends to find the right course.  Pun intended…

As for Sterling herself I think it’s easiest to break her down in little vignettes of her personality and stories of her life.

Sweet and Sassy:

I always joked Sterling had two settings – Sweet and Sassy.  I’m not really joking.  She basically had two personalities.  The one where she just wanted to lay around and sleep or snuggle and the one where she was awake and either barking her head off or looking to see what she could get away with.

When the sweet setting was on there was no sweeter dog in this world.  She really was.  She just wanted to lay around and sleep.  Even better if someone was next to her snuggling or cuddling on her.  She just wanted to be loved and share love.  So sweet.

When she was awake, she was VERY demanding of things.  She didn’t speak English but she did her damndest to tell you what she wanted.

The girl made three sounds:

  • Whine: This was her warning she needed attention.
  • Woof: This was the second level warning she needed attention because you missed her whines.
  • Bark: This was full throttle top of her lungs pierce your ears the girl needs something and you better figure it out.  Sterling went about 50 pounds but she was part hound dog so she had the lungs and vocal cords of a jet engine.  The girl was LOUD.  When she barked at you there was hell to pay.  It would hurt your ears and you couldn’t think clearly.

I loved each of her settings.  When she was Sweet you had your own little angel you could love on.  She reciprocated the love.  When she was Sassy you had a devil on your hands and you better get things corrected right away.  The girl seemed like she could bark for 30 minutes straight so you weren’t going to ignore her demand for corrective action.  You were just going to have to do it.

There really was no in between personality with her.  She was either sleeping or barking.  She didn’t need tasks to complete.  She didn’t need treats or food.  She wanted sleep or attention.

I sometimes joke if my ex-wife communicated with me like Sterling did we might still be married.  I suppose that’s why Sterling and I lasted a lot longer.  Good communication really is key to a successful relationship.  Sterling certainly knew how to communicate.

Daddy’s Girl/Uber Possessive:

Anyone that spent any time with Sterling knew she was a Daddy’s Girl.  There was one person in this world that mattered more to her than anyone.  That was me.  I don’t know how it happened but it did.  I suppose a lot of it was me being a total sucker for her.  I loved her personality and looks.  I thought she had the funniest personality and she was a beautiful dog.  She had those floppy hound dog ears.  When she perked them up at me I’d melt.  I make no apologies for how I treated her. I thought she deserved to be treated like a princess so that’s how I treated her.

In addition to being a Daddy’s Girl she was also super possessive of me.  Whenever she was roaming around off leash and another dog was in the area she’d often walk in between my legs if I was standing.  She’d put her front legs about where my legs where and she’d look up at me as I looked down because I felt something between my legs.  We’d make eye contact as if she was saying, “Don’t forget I’m yours.”  Then she’d lower her head waiting for another dog to come near.  When that dog came near she’d snarl and growl at it. 

It was pretty common at parks.  I’d just be standing and feel this dog walk between my legs.  I’d look down and there was Sterling just looking up at me.  Then I’d see another dog in my general vicinity.  The girl wanted everyone to know who belonged to who.  I always laughed even if it meant Sterling was ready to fight another dog.  She never did as I’d step away and call her to me if another dog got near.  It was a fun game we played.

The best story of Sterling’s uber possessiveness was after Kelly and I moved in together.  Kelly and Sterling’s relationship was one of love but moderate toleration.  It’s the classic tale of two females fighting over one man.  I’m not kidding.  They did love one another but they really just tolerated each other when I was around.

One day I was upstairs in our sports room watching the Astros.  Sterling had found me and was laying on the floor next to the couch where I was.  Kelly came in to tell me something.  Not more than a minute or two into our conversation Sterling jumps up and just lays into Kelly with her loud barks.  We tell Sterling to be quiet but she’s not piping down.  Kelly walks out of the room and downstairs into the kitchen.  Sterling follows her all the way downstairs into the kitchen still barking her head off.  She spent another minute or two just barking at Kelly.  I’m sure it felt like an eternity to Kelly.  When Sterling was done barking at Kelly, Sterling makes her way back up the stairs to where I was.  She just lays down on the floor resuming her position before Kelly came in the room.  I’m sure if we could translate Sterling’s barks it would be something like, “Lady!  This is my special time with my dad.  You get yours.  Get out of here and leave us alone!  Don’t come back either!”

Let me be clear – Kelly was a wonderful mother to Sterling.  She was always very loving on Sterling even if Sterling didn’t always reciprocate it.  Kelly was EXTREMELY loving on Sterling after she had her stroke.  Kelly was her main caretaker during the day.  Without Kelly we would have had to make a difficult decision much sooner.  I know Sterling certainly appreciated it even if she didn’t always show it.

Still, it was funny to see the back and forth between those two over my attention.

Love Language – Affection:

Chopper was a treat machine.  That dude would do ANYTHING for a treat.  Sterling didn’t give a damn about treats or food.  Sure, she enjoyed them when given to her but her love language was affection.  If you wanted her to do something you better love on her.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’d try to get her to do something.  If she wasn’t feeling it she’d just lay down on the ground.  I’d go over to pet on her and talk sweet to her.  After a minute or two I’d get up and she’d follow me to do whatever it was that I wanted her to do.  She just needed a little affection and she was good to go.

This was never more evident than in her final moments.  We had a vet come to our house to put her down.  Sterling was on the couch while Kelly and I loved on her while the vet got things ready.  The vet came over to give her the anesthesia and brought Sterling a treat.  It was a treat Sterling liked.  Sterling refused the treat from the vet and me as if to say, “Nah.  You’re not buying me off with a treat in this moment.  I want to be petted!”  So she got lots of pets as she took her last breath.

It was only appropriate her final moments were full of pets and affection.

Ageless Wonder:

Sterling’s greatest gift was the fact she never aged.  Seriously.  The girl never aged.  If you go back and look at puppy photos of her she just looks like a mini-version of her current day self.  It was uncanny.  She never grayed and she never gained any weight until after her stroke.  She basically looked like the same dog for 14 years.  As Chopper grayed people were shocked to learn Sterling and her big bubba were only 4 months apart.

The two funniest stories of this involve visits to the doggy emergency room.  Chopper hurt himself one day at the park a few months before turning 14.  He couldn’t get comfortable that night so around midnight I decided to take him to get checked out.  I took Sterling along for moral support.

The vet comes in to start checking on Chopper.  As we’re talking about things she mentions Chopper is almost 14 and things just don’t work as well.  She looks at Sterling and says, “He doesn’t have the benefit of youth like her.”  I tell her Sterling is only 4 months younger and she says, “You’re kidding me?”  I tell her Sterling will be 14 soon too.  She says, “I thought she was 9 or 10 at the most.  She’s gonna be 14 soon?  Girl, I need your secrets because you’re killing this aging thing.”

The other time was when Sterling had her stroke.  We took her to the Doggy ER and talk to the vet on duty that night.  She gives us the initial analysis that nothing life threatening has happened and they believe a recovery is possible.  She said we could go home and they would call us in a couple of hours once they’d run some X-rays and tests with a further diagnosis.  She calls us and tells us they think Sterling has had some neurological event and they want Sterling to see their Neurology Department in the morning.  We hang up and a couple minutes later they call back.  I’m worried something else has happened.  The vet says, “I was looking at her chart and the age they put down shows her turning 14 next week.  Is that correct?  I think that’s an error.”  I tell her it’s not an error.  She says, “Holy cow.  This girl looks good for almost 14 years old.  I really thought it was wrong.  She looks amazing for her age”

Sterling was the J-Lo of dogs.

A Smart and Devious Brain:

I often said, “Sterling hates being in trouble but she loves getting into it.”  I really mean that.  That girl was EXTREMELY smart but she liked to play dumb.  She loved pushing boundaries to see what she could get away with.  She knew all the rules but some she chose to ignore or knew they couldn’t be enforced when no one was around.

The best example of this was the bed and couch.  She knew she wasn’t supposed to be on any furniture.  She obeyed this rule when her daddy was around.  The second I’d leave though she’d jump on the couch or the bed when she still had the ability.  When I came home she’d either get alerted by Chopper I was home or she’d hear me at the door and jump off before I could see her.

The few times Chopper didn’t alert her or she didn’t hear me I’d look through the window and see hear.  I’d jiggle the key a few times and she’d pop her head up realizing I was home.  She’d then jump off the couch and immediately go into a stretch and yawn routine as I walked through the door pretending she’d just woke up on her bed.

She knew what she was doing and so did I.  I didn’t care.  I thought it was funny.  I loved her smart and devious brain.

Territorial:

I mentioned Sterling was uber possessive of her dad but she was also very territorial of where she lived.

At every house she ever lived she had an archnemesis.  I’m not kidding.  There was one specific dog she absolutely could not stand and would never get along with.  It wasn’t playful.  It was pure spite.

There would be multiple dogs next door and somehow Sterling and one other dog would become sworn enemies.  Every single house she lived there was one dog she just couldn’t or wouldn’t get along with.

The house before I moved in with Kelly was probably the worst.  The dog lived next door and there was a wooden fence between us.  Sterling would go outside and just sit at the fence peering between a crack waiting on that dog to come out.  Seriously.  She’d just sit there forever waiting.

When that dog did come out Sterling would just run up and down the fence line barking her head off.  Maybe they were playing but I think it was Sterling antagonizing him.

The craziest story of those two involved breaking windows.  The house was on a cul-de-sac so I’d let the dogs run around off the leash.  The neighbors had a window that went all the way down to the ground.  Sterling would run to the window in a full sprint and hit the brakes right as she got there.  She’d have her nose inches from the window and just go crazy barking at that dog.  I mean just go at each other.

Every now and then you’d hear glass break.  Sterling would antagonize that dog so much that it would charge at her breaking the glass.  This happened four times.  Every time it happened the glass would be on the outside of the house which meant their dog had charged at Sterling.  Each time it happened I offered to pay but they refused because in their eyes it was their dog that did it.  They said they thought it was funny.  Somehow Sterling always got away with it because she knew the boundary and wouldn’t go past it.  She was sure going to push that boundary as far as she could.  She loved pushing boundaries.

At the house Kelly and I live in now we didn’t have any dogs next door that became her archnemesis.  She somehow identified a dog that lived on our block around the corner.  This dog had a front yard with a picket fence so they could easily see each other.  Before her stroke that dog would see her and start going crazy.  Sterling would give it right back and they’d go crazy at each other through the fence.  I mean just an all-out war between those two.  I knew what was going on.  That was her current sworn enemy and she’d never show weakness to that dog.

She didn’t even back down after her stroke.  I’d take her on a walk around the block and that dog would be outside.  Sterling could hobble along just fine but she couldn’t run at all.  However, when she saw that dog she’d stop and make a legit running attempt at that dog and they’d just light into each other.  Usually she’d fall down and I’d pop her back up and they’d keep going crazy at one another.

I thought one time it was the death of her.  It was probably the hottest day since her stroke and that dog was outside.  Sterling did her usual quasi run and going crazy.  Right when we got past their house where they couldn’t see each other, Sterling went into the next house’s yard and passed out.  I mean just went limp and fell in the grass with no movement.  Her eyes were shut and she wasn’t breathing.  I thought she was dying.  I lay down next to her just petting her in case she really was dying.  I figure if she’s going to go out she might as well do it going after an archnemesis. 

After about 30 seconds she opens her eyes and starts breathing heavily.  She’s alive.  I just lay there with her.  Luckily the neighbor heard something going on and came over.  She went and got Sterling some water.  I called Kelly to come get Chopper.  After a few minutes we realize she’s okay so I carry her home.  We put her on the couch with some ice packs to cool her down.  30 minutes later she was barking her head off ready for dinner.

In addition to having an archnemesis Sterling would not allow being trash talked to.  If she was out and about and another dog started barking at her she NEVER backed down.  It didn’t matter if it was a dog behind a fence, walking across the street, or even driving by in a car.  If she got barked at she was lighting up barking right back.  I’m sure she knew her dad or big brother would cash the check she was writing but Sterling would NEVER let a dog bark at her without a bigger volley back.  Nobody trash talked the Sterls.  Nobody.

The Time She Growled at Reveille:

To further how territorial and possessive Sterling was she once totally broke my heart.  My ex-wife and I took the hounds to dog night at the Texas Rangers.  It was a little overwhelming for them as they were a little anxious but they were doing okay.

Reveille, the Texas A&M mascot, was there taking pictures with other dogs.  I thought it was a good idea to get a picture with all of us including Reveille.  This was going to be wonderful.  A photo we could frame, send to people for Holidays, or just show how big of an Aggie family we were.

As I’m trying to get everything lined up for the photo my ex-wife says, “Chewy.  This isn’t a good idea.”  I ask her why not and she says, “Look at Sterling.”

I look down and Sterling is showing teeth and growling at Reveille.  My heart sank.  Reveille was doing just fine but Sterling wasn’t having any company with her.  It was as if Sterling was telling Reveille, “There’s only one female dog in my dad’s life and it ain’t you.”  I was devastated.  I knew if I tried to get that picture with Reveille and Sterling it might not end well.  We moved on.

Sterling didn’t care if you were Aggie royalty or not.  There was only one female dog in her pack and she was it.  She defended her territory.

Bed and Snuggles:

I’ll close with how much Sterling loved beds and snuggles.  Words really can’t express how much Sterling loved both.  He favorite place in this world was snuggled in bed next to her dad.  Not even a close second.  Snuggling in a big bed with her dad was her favorite spot.

When she slept in my bed Sterling would get up several times through the night and get closer to me.  She would basically lay on top of me and I’d slide away from her.  At least 4-5 times a night she’d get up, do this little circle thing, and then fall back down as close as she could get to me.  If she didn’t feel enough pressure from me she’d make sure she got it.  It was all about the snuggles for her.

After her stroke she spent the next 9 months sleeping next to me every night in our bed.  Some of it was sympathy but some of it was she needed to be turned in the night.  It was just easier if she was lying next to me for me to turn her during the night. 

Even in her post stroke state if I wasn’t touching her she’d move herself until one part of her was touching me.  If I rolled over closer to Kelly it was only a matter of minutes before Sterling would use her legs to slide sideways until something of her was touching me.  The girl couldn’t get up but she figured out how to slide so she could be touching her dad.  It was cute.

As for beds the girl didn’t lay on the floor.  She wanted something soft and fluffy to lay on.  The softer and fluffier the better.  Throughout her life she had many beds.  As she got older the beds became more fluffier and plentiful.  She had multiple beds at my house and multiple beds at Kelly’s house.  When we moved in together there were multiple beds on both levels of the house.  If you were going to be in a room it better have a bed as she’d bark or whine until you got her one.

Her second favorite spot was on the couch.  After her stroke she couldn’t get up on the couch but she still wanted to be up there.  Kelly bought her this bed that lays on the couch.  It quickly became her favorite spot besides the upstairs bed.  When she was ready to get on the couch she’d simply walk next to that bed on the couch.  She’d stand there waiting on you to lift her on it.  If you weren’t fast enough she’d give you a bark as an indication of what she wanted.  Good communication and clear wants.

She passed on that couch bed and I’d like to think that’s how she wanted to go.  On a bed on the couch with her parents loving on her.  Sterling didn’t ask for much in life.  Just a soft and fluffy place to lay with all the pets.  She was a female afterall…

It’s been almost two months since she passed.  She was the end of a marvelous era in my life with her brother.  We’re all doing fine but we miss them dearly.  Coming home from the first trip we took after her passing was weird.  There was no one to greet us even if it was just a broke down dog laying somewhere barking for attention.  It was eerily lonely.  We missed the sound.  We loved her and her brother so much.  They made us a more complete pack.

We’ll get dogs again one day but we’re not in a hurry.  That’s the problem with perfection.  Once you have it and lose it you’re not sure if you can get it back just the way it was.  Chopper and Sterling were perfection to us.  They gave me 14.5 years of wonderful companionship and showed a girl who never had dogs just how much they can bring to a pack.  That was a remarkable achievement.

Rest in Peace Sterling.  I hope you and your brother are playing in a park in Heaven chasing squirrels waiting for the day one of us calls y’all over.  We miss you both dearly but so thankful for every moment we had together.