Thoughts on the Ross Bjork Hire

Ross Bjork AD Intro

When the news broke of Texas A&M hiring Ross Bjork as it’s Athletic Director my initial reaction was, “Meh.”  After reading and doing more research on Bjork along with watching his introduction and initial press conference my reaction is now, “Eh.”

This was not a home run AD hire by any stretch.  It doesn’t mean that Bjork can’t be an outstanding AD.  Only time will tell what kind of hire this is.  He’s a stray from our most recent AD hires as he’s short on experience compared to Bill Byrne, Eric Hyman, and Scott Woodward.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing as ambition can sometimes serve someone better than experience.  One of those names on that list was a failure and the other was just okay when it was all said and done.  I think it’s possible Bjork can be better than those two people so he has that going for him.  If he’s not better than the worst name on that list we’re in big trouble.  I don’t think that’ll be the case.

Bjork Before A&M:

Before Bjork was hired I only knew of him due to the NCAA investigations and Hugh Freeze hiring at Ole Miss.  How that was handled by Ole Miss was a colossal failure in my mind.  Ole Miss was taken down in classic failed leadership fashion by not getting in front of what they were charged with.  They then made it worse trying to make it sound better than it was placing the blame somewhere else.

It was clear to me the administration at Ole Miss did minimal digging when allegations came about.  They simply hoped time would pass with a toothless NCAA that couldn’t find anything.  It’s a decent plan but it didn’t work out so well for Ole Miss.  The Ole Miss football program is paying a major price today for decisions made under Bjork’s watch.  How much of it was Bjork’s decision I have no idea but he was certainly along for the ride and was front and center at times.

If you don’t know the details Hugh Freeze went public taunting people to come forward with specific examples of NCAA infringements.  That was a moronic decision unless you know you’re clean.  Nobody in collegiate sports is completely clean so keep your mouth shut.  To make it worse Freeze then went on to say the NCAA was investigating issues under Houston Nutt who was the previous head coach.  I’ve read Bjork did that as well.  Houston Nutt then sued Ole Miss for making those statements.

Because of the lawsuit, an open records request was made of Hugh Freeze’s university phone.  I believe it was done by Freeze’s attorney as they were trying to find evidence of Freeze talking to a specific sportswriter.  This writer had Tweeted the news the NCAA was only investigating allegations under Nutt’s tenure and not Freeze.  Nutt’s attorney made the request over a three-day period to hopefully not clue in Ole Miss to what he was looking for.  After receiving the phone records Nutt’s attorney worked with a moderator from a Mississippi State message board who discovered the call to the Tampa escort service.  This moderator had already started investigating the NCAA allegations and Nutt’s attorney had somehow found him to get information for their case.

Nutt’s attorney takes the apparent call to an escort service to Ole Miss.  Ole Miss claims it was simply a mis-dial.  This causes Ole Miss and Bjork to investigate Freeze’s cell phone calls.  They then uncover the “pattern of conduct that is not consistent with our expectations.”  At that point Freeze confesses to the conduct in question and resigns.

I’ll add links to all of this at the end if you want to see the details but here’s the jist of what happened – Ole Miss was not honest in their statements of what was going on with the NCAA investigation.  They were also not proactive in their investigation.  Because of that they wrongly placed the blame on the previous coach.  He then sued the University because they wouldn’t apologize for the unjust claim.  If they never blame Nutt or even just apologized after blaming him there’s no lawsuit that uncovers Freeze calling an escort service.  The discovery of that call lead to Freeze’s abrupt resignation.  Bjork was AD as all of this went down.

I’m certainly not saying this is a scandal at Bjork’s doing but it’s certainly not a good look for the man in control of the Ole Miss Athletic Department at the time.  Ole Miss GROSSLY mis-managed this and made it worse than what it could have been.  How much Bjork is to blame I have no idea.  It gives me some pause and I hope proper due diligence by A&M was done related to this specific matter.  It’s pretty bad when you analyze it on the surface.

Bjork might have simply been caught between a winning head coach and clueless administration leaving him powerless.  It’s a position many ADs often find themselves.  The point is he was there and the athletic department was under his leadership when all of this happened.  Ole Miss sat on their hands while denying and even lying about the allegations and paid a major price.  Look at the state of Ole Miss football today.  I never want that to happen to the Texas A&M football program.

It’s very possible Bjork learned a great deal from all of this.  Hopefully he has.  Hopefully he would handle it differently in the future.  I hope he was questioned extensively about what happened, his role, and how he would handle it differently.

Bjork Today:

Today, Ross Bjork is a 46-year-old serving in his third role as an Athletic Director.  He had previous stops at Western Kentucky (3 years) and Ole Miss (6 years).  He also served as Associate AD at Miami and UCLA prior to that.  He’s certainly not a seasoned AD like the ADs that came before him at A&M.  He does have some experience with most of it in the SEC so he’s familiar with the conference.

After watching his introduction and press conference there’s certainly some things to like about Bjork.  He appears enthusiastic and capable.  He seems very likable and personality wise I think he’ll fit in at A&M just fine.  He seems to understand the day to day mechanics of running an athletic department so that’s not a concern at all.  There’s no doubt he’ll be actively engaged which is a great thing.

My greatest reservation about Bjork outside of the mess at Ole Miss is if Bjork has the acumen a seasoned athletic director has.  Some things can only be developed with experience.  He’s definitely not at a point in his career where he’s experienced a number of situations or has an extensive network of deep connections.  In a role like his that experience and those connections can prove to be invaluable.

The reality is Bjork shouldn’t have to do much other than one single thing which I’ll get to in a bit.  He has one of the best coaches in college football signed to 9 more seasons.  He has a new football stadium that won’t need any major work anytime soon.  He has a brand-new basketball coach that appears to be the perfect fit all things considered.  Reed Arena might need some work from a fan experience standpoint, but he can worry about that when Aggie basketball starts winning again.  The two big revenue sports couldn’t be in a better situation.  He just needs to keep the trains on time for these two sports.

Blue Bell Park might need some enhancements with the success of ticket sales in recent years.  There certainly appears to be demand for Aggie baseball based on attendance.  There might be some things that can be done to Blue Bell Park to create some more revenue.  He has brand-new track and softball facilities.  Facility wise A&M is in great shape so it’s all about keeping them fresh and relevant.

Coaching wise he’ll likely have to make a move on a baseball or softball coach soon depending on if the A&M administration wants to win a national championship or not.  We have two good coaches but their body of work says they’ll never win it all.  Gary Blair basically has tenure so if he doesn’t completely bomb he’ll get to pick when he steps down.

There shouldn’t be any major decisions in the foreseeable future for Bjork so that should give him plenty of runway to gain experience and connections.  That’s good for Bjork and A&M.

Bjork’s Number One Responsibility:

Bjork’s number one job will be keeping Jimbo Fisher happy.  Everything else is secondary.  A&M has basically mortgaged the next decade of Aggie Athletics based on the success of Jimbo Fisher.  I’m totally fine with that.  College athletics is a cyclical thing based on coaching hires.  A&M is positioned in an upswing so Bjork needs to make sure A&M capitalizes on that.

I know Jimbo signed off on the hire but they’ve never actually worked together.  Bjork apparently had a strong recommendation from Jimbo’s agent but that doesn’t mean everything will be fine.  This is a situation where someone has a strong endorsement from a mutual colleague but you never know until you’ve actually worked with someone.  This is a MAJOR difference between Woodward and Bjork.  Jimbo and Woodward had worked together so they knew what to expect from each other.  Bjork and Jimbo still have to feel each other out on a day to day basis.

In conjunction with this, Bjork needs to make sure there’s no interference from A&M administrators when it comes to Jimbo Fisher coaching football.  I have no clue if the rumors about John Sharp are true when it comes to needlessly meddling in the athletic department.  There’s no doubt that John Sharp carries a big stick when it comes to the A&M administration though.  If there’s any truth to Sharp rubbing people the wrong way then Bjork needs to make sure he absorbs every arrow that Sharp could ever fire at Jimbo.

I thought it was interesting Bjork and Sharp had only talked on the phone and didn’t meet in person.  I don’t think it’s that big of a deal as talking in person wouldn’t likely change anything but it’s clear Bjork and Sharp don’t really know each other at all.  I’m sure Bjork was taking the job no matter what as this is a major step for him.  It seems Sharp was okay with Bjork if President Young and everyone else was okay with it.  Let’s hope Sharp continues to leave it to everyone else to manage the athletic department leaving Jimbo to do his thing.

I don’t believe Jimbo has any reason to leave A&M.  However, that doesn’t mean Scott Woodward or another AD won’t be waiting for an opportunity to grab Jimbo based on timing and circumstances.  Bjork better make sure that opportunity never comes.  If Sharp does indeed have an ego it better never clash with Jimbo’s.  An early departure by Jimbo would be a colossal failure for A&M.  Bjork must make sure his number one priority is avoiding this.  This is why his lack of seasoned experience bothers me the most.  I’m not sure he has the acumen to navigate a pending riff between Sharp and Jimbo if one develops.

I hope it never comes to that but stranger things have happened.  There are examples where egos in athletics sank an organization.  The most famous is probably Jimmy Johnson quitting on Jerry Jones.  Similarly, Bill Parcells appeared to give up on Jerry’s meddling.  For you Astros fans Gerry Hunsicker quitting on Drayton McLane put the Astros in a decade long funk that took getting new ownership to turn around.

When you have a competent person running a part of your organization they need to be left the hell alone.  That’s Jimbo Fisher with Aggie football.  Provided Bjork does everything he can to keep distractions away from Jimbo his tenure his going to be just fine.  A happy and content Jimbo at Texas A&M is all that really matters.

 

This is not a terrible hire but it is an unknown hire.  There are some questions based on Bjork’s tenure at Ole Miss.  It doesn’t mean he’s not capable.  Only time will tell what kind of hire this is.  Anyone that says otherwise is lying.  There’s certainly some potential for immense success with Bjork but there’s also a possibility it could be a failure if he’s not proactive in some regards.

I never want to see Bjork in a similar situation like at Ole Miss talking about a premature Jimbo departure for any reason.  I want Jimbo’s departure to be a recognition of success with lots of championship hardware on display in addition to a MAFGA hat.

 

Here’s some examples of what I never want to see with Bjork at Texas A&M.

The first one is the Ole Miss administration reacting to the NCAA allegations.  It looks like a hostage situation with expressionless faces simply reading words.  I can’t believe anyone thought this was a good idea.  They should have just done a press release and been done with it.  It’s 20 minutes of inane chatter with nobody looking good.  It almost looks like an extended SNL skit.

This is Bjork explaining why Freeze was forced to resign.  It’s not terrible but it’s not a good look for an AD either considering how the resignation came about.

 

This is a long but GREAT read on how things went down including things that Bjork said that wound up not being true.  The whole article encompasses how crazy college athletics can be.

https://deadspin.com/the-mississippi-state-fan-who-took-his-revenge-on-ole-m-1819064586

#MAFGA

 

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Game of Thrones – Episode 4 – Random Thoughts

GoT Episode 4 Picture

EPISODE 4 SPOILERS!

With two episodes left I have some random thoughts on how Game of Thrones could play out.  I say “could” because I have no clue which is what makes the show so great.  Just when you think something is going to happen then something else happens.

The first three episodes played out exactly how one would think.  We all had a pretty good idea the North would square off against the Night King.  We just didn’t know who would kill him.  We spent three episodes to find out Arya was the one to do the deed.  Episode 4 finally brought some plot twists.

What happens from here I have no clue but there’s LOTS of ways this thing could go in just two episodes.  There are so many plot potentials I really think this could play out over 6 more episodes.  I hope I’m not disappointed but the final two episodes are set up to be some intense and fast paced stuff.

Here’s my random thoughts so far:

Jon, Danny, Sansa, and Arya Dynamic:

This is such a fascinating dynamic for so many reasons.

  • Danny loves Jon.
  • Jon loves Danny but is now confused because she’s technically his aunt.
  • Sansa and Arya don’t trust Danny one bit. Their bitch radar is running full speed.
  • Jon loves his sisters even if they’re not really brother and sister anymore.
  • Jon’s sisters love him.
  • Danny doesn’t like his sisters because she knows they don’t trust her.
  • Danny is power hungry and is afraid Jon will take her power.
  • Sansa just wants the North to the Starks and to be left alone.
  • Arya is the silent assassin not interested in the politics but could totally kill Danny.

There’s more but this whole dynamic is fascinating to watch.  It proves no matter the time or level of power, family dynamics have not changed in thousands of years.  Jon is caught between a woman he thinks he loves and his sisters he truly loves.  Both sets of females don’t trust the other females and now they’re playing Jon against each other.

Danny wants the secret private because she wants her man and her power.  Jon thought his sisters would keep that news secret since they “swore” to do so.  He’s a moron.  Women can’t keep juicy secrets.  Especially when it’s against someone they don’t like.  That’s the just the way it is.  He messed up believing they could keep that news a secret.  The SECOND his sisters heard the news Sansa couldn’t figure out fast enough who to tell to her advantage.  Arya will keep it a secret for now but she’s going to use it later to justify something I have a feeling.

How all of this plays out I have no clue as there’s so many directions it could go.  I think it’s obvious there’s ZERO chance the storyline of Danny getting the Iron Throne while marrying Jon and having happy Starks in the North happens.  Even if Danny somehow defeats Cersei I don’t think her reign as Queen lasts very long.  The family dynamics involving the females aren’t going to let Danny have her dream.  Women are crazy, men are stupid.  It’s been that way for thousands of years and it’s not changing anytime soon.

Strategy of Cersei and Danny:

Until Episode 4 we forgot how cunning Cersei is.  She’s a bad B, y’all.  She hasn’t been sitting around waiting to see who won between the North and the Night King.  We knew she was working some stuff with Euron Greyjoy and the Golden Company but she was doing more than that.  Having Euron’s fleet ready with scorpion arrows to take out the dragons was amazing.

The difference in tactical thinking between Danny and Cersei is so different.  Danny has completely relied on power and might.  She has no real strategy other than to have a large number of fighters along with fire from her dragons.  Danny’s whole march for the series has been about acquiring numbers and assuming the dragons are invincible.  Both of those are now in major question.

Danny has thought through some basic strategy but it’s all been predicated on troop numbers and fire from her dragons.  She’s not cunning at all.  Meanwhile, Cersei has been assembling additional troops but she was clearly looking for strategic advantages.  She accomplished that with scorpion arrows and a surprise attack at Dragon Stone.  She might have more in store based on what we’ve seen in the past.  This is the same lady that burned an entire fleet and blew up an entire building of people.  She’s proven to be one step ahead of her opponent.

Right now, Danny is down in numbers of troops and only one dragon.  Cersei has numbers and a weapon system that can minimize the power of the final dragon if not completely defeat the final dragon.  To potentially gain an even bigger advantage Cersei beheads Missandei.  Cersei knows this will likely throw Danny into an emotional rage.  She’s hoping she can bait her into attacking on rage alone and no strategy.  Cersei is ready for Danny no doubt.  She’s got a big trap set for Danny if Danny doesn’t step back and think strategically.

One final thing on Danny is her response to her second dragon being killed.  She basically stays in the same flight pattern and flies directly at the ships.  She’s all but asking to be shot at losing her final dragon.  A competent strategist gets the hell out of that flight pattern either retreating or looking for a different pattern to attack from.  She eventually retreated but she completely put herself and her final dragon at risk of being lost.  All because of emotion.

Danny is very emotional while Cersei is cold as ice.  I think something happens to Cersei in the end but she DEFINITELY has the upper hand on Danny right now.  Danny won’t be able to defeat Cersei without help.  Cersei is infinitely superior at strategy.

Jaime:

The dynamic of Jaime is also fascinating.  Why he left Winterfell in this episode is up for debate but I think he’s leaving to go kill Cersei.  Jaime has seen the good side of life.  I don’t think he went to Winterfell just to fulfill Cersei’s obligation to help defeat the Night King.  I think he partially left King’s Landing for Winterfell to get away from Cersei.  Upon getting to Winterfell and seeing the Starks (especially Bran) and Breinne he was reminded of a different way of life.

He appeared to be completely content in Winterfell to live out his days with Breinne.  Upon hearing the news of what Cersei did he knew he had no choice but to head South.  I believe his comments to Breinne was about who he was and not who he wants to be going forward.  I think he regrets the things he did for Cersei (Bran especially) and he’s going to rectify all of it by helping kill Cersei if not do it himself.  As long as Cersei is alive then the bad parts of Jaime are still alive.  I think Jaime wants to live out his life as a different Jaime.

I could be wrong but that’s how I see Jaime developing the last two episodes.  I don’t know if he kills Cersei but he’s willing to die trying because Jaime can’t become who he wants to be while Cersei is alive.

Bronn:

I’ve been waiting for this moment and it was a solid scene.  Even though he’s a mercenary Bronn has an allegiance to both Tyrion and Jaime.  He doesn’t want to kill either of them.  It wasn’t about getting a bigger castle or believing Danny will win the pending battle.  He may believe Danny wins but he doesn’t want to kill Tyrion or Jaime.  He wanted those two to give him a reason to not kill them and they did exactly that.  Bronn knows he’s not a Lord.  He just wants to be a sidekick to those with power that he trusts.

Bronn doesn’t trust Cersei at all.  He better not trust her for sure at this point.  The second Cersei saw Tyrion then Bronn became a dead man walking.  Cersei ordered Bronn to kill him and he didn’t.  There’s no doubt in the back of Cersei’s mind in that moment she made a mental note to kill Bronn.

Something tells me the dynamic of Jaime, Tyrion, and Bronn with the crossbow are what takes down Cersei.  If not, they’ll all be happier dead than living under Cersei’s rule.  They’re all dead to her.

Bran:

What the hell is this guy’s role now?  He does nothing but stare into space.  It was clear the Night King was coming for him but other than that he’s done nothing this season.  He’s offered NOTHING with his unique abilities.  This dude can see all of the present and the past and it’s not utilized at all for anything.

Maybe he turns out doing something dramatic but he’s a big of nothing right now.  Shouldn’t he have been watching Euron Greyjoy and King’s Landing this entire time to see what they were doing?  His powers have not been utilized at all.  It’s a little disappointing.

Varys/Tyrion:

Tryrion has proven to not be the strategist he appears to be.  He’s like the coach that keeps getting hired because he talks the part but doesn’t actually win games.  I don’t think Tyrion has had any major contributions to winning battle strategies.

Meanwhile, Varys is as astute as it gets when it comes to awareness and strategy.  It’s pretty clear he’s dead to both Danny and Cersei at this point but he thinks they’re dead to everyone when it’s all said and done.  I think Varys dies at the hand of Danny but not before he sets up something that takes down Danny for the greater good.

Basically, Varys is Mike Leach and Tyrion is Kliff Kingsbury.  Bet on the one with the actual winning track record.

Ghost:

Ghost has played a weird role this season.  He shows up at times but has had no role.  Maybe Jon sending him north with Tormund is nothing, but I think it could be a plot twist.  Remember Ghost was the only thing in the room when Jon Snow came back to life.  There’s a theory that Jon can warg into Ghost which is what he did when he was being stabbed.  Maybe Jon sent Ghost out of harm’s way so he has a place to warg if something happens in King’s Landing.  I’m not sure how warging works and if there’s a distance limitation but I think it’s something to see if it develops.

Maybe Jon just wanted Ghost and Tormund away from harm’s way.  This way, if he survives the pending battle at King’s Landing he can go back to the North.  Jon doesn’t want to be king.  Maybe when the fighting is over he plans to find his drinking buddy and have a good wolf to pet leaving all that political ruling to the others.

Ghost may turn out to be nothing.  His appearances and actions so far lead me to believe some kind of plot line will happen with him.

Golden Company:

This group is the biggest wild card into how all of this shapes out.  Based on numbers they’re the swing play for Cersei.  Is it possible for Danny and/or Jon to swing the Golden Company to their side?  Will they walk away if Cersei is killed?  Will they look for the payment promised?

There is a theory the majority of the Golden Company is descendants of Targaryens.  If this is true it makes sense that Danny and/or Jon could sway their allegiance if it looks like a Targaryen will rule the Iron Throne.

I think whoever has the Golden Company on their side will wind up with the Iron Throne.  It will be interesting to see how their efforts play out.

 

My Prediction:

Based on what we know so far here’s what I think happens:

  • The Hound kills The Mountain. I’d be SHOCKED if this doesn’t happen.
  • The trio of Tyrion, Jaime, and Bronn kill Cersei with the crossbow.
  • With Cersei dead Danny convinces the Golden Company to align with her since she’s a Targaryen ending the battle.
  • Danny’s reign is short as Arya kills her believing she’s on her way to going mad if not already there. She likely does it as someone else I think.  Either Jaime or Jon.
  • Everyone wants Jon to assume the throne. He’s had enough of all the bickering between the women so he heads North to find Tormund and Ghost so he can live the rest of his life in peace.
  • Sansa assumes the Iron Throne.
  • Bran is sitting at the tree wondering where everyone went.

In all seriousness I don’t think Jon heads North when the fighting is over.  I think he assumes the Iron Throne with Sansa being the Warden of the North.  I do think Bran will still be sitting at the tree doing nothing useful…

What Does Woodward’s Leaving Mean for Texas A&M?

Woodward Aggie

Now that the dust has settled on Scott Woodward’s departure let’s look back at what happened and what it means for Texas A&M.  I’m not an insider and have no inside information to what took place.  I’ve only read the public reports with speculation on what happened.  Seems no one other than those involved know the real story but there’s plenty of speculation on what happened.

What we know:

  • A Tweet emerged from LSU media that LSU’s AD would be stepping down and Woodward would be the target. This was the first public report.
  • It caught everyone in the media including Aggie media “insiders” by complete surprise. There was a lot of shock and surprise on what was happening.  This seemed to be the first anyone close to the Aggie program had heard about Woodward leaving.
  • As people started chasing sources it became apparent that Scott Woodward was likely leaving A&M for the LSU AD job. This happened within a few hours of the first Tweet by LSU media about LSU’s AD stepping down.
  • The next day everyone agreed that after hiring Buzz Williams to coach Men’s Basketball Scott Woodward was in fact leaving for LSU’s AD job. It was a done deal and more covert than his hires.  Woodward being more covert in his departure shouldn’t be a surprise.  The dude is an assassin when it comes to job hires.  He keeps quiet and you’re only sure it happened when it’s already done.

What has been speculated:

These aren’t chronological but just a summary of the speculation as to why and how Woodward left.

  • Someone above Woodward in the A&M chain of command rubbed him the wrong way. This caused Woodward to put out feelers about becoming the LSU AD.  The belief is that when information about LSU’s current AD stepping down came out Woodward to LSU was already a done deal.
  • Once Woodward had agreed to take the LSU AD job he didn’t/wouldn’t consider any counter offers from A&M.
  • A&M didn’t make any efforts to keep Woodward upon learning of his potential departure to LSU.
  • Woodward simply wanted to “go home.”

What this means for Aggie Athletics:

  • Texas A&M was set to have a SOLID decade run of athletic success with football and men’s basketball. It wouldn’t be easy, but a proven AD, proven football coach, and proven men’s basketball coach were in place.  Their past success says A&M was set up really well.  Now one of those key pieces is gone.
  • A&M’s biggest competitor in terms of conference and geography just got infinitely stronger at the AD position. LSU under Joe Alleva as AD for football and men’s basketball was a complete mess in recent years.  He botched the firing of Les Miles and getting Jimbo Fisher.  He then thought he had Tom Herman locked up only to see him go to Texas.  He had to settle for Coach O.  In basketball Alleva’s hires of Trent Johnson and Johnny Jones didn’t work out.  The Will Wade situation is a mess right now.   Maybe it’s issues with LSU but Alleva’s handling of the football and men’s basketball program is a complete 180 from how Woodward handled those positions at A&M.  LSU now has an AD that’s shown he can execute in hiring coaches for those positions.  Life for A&M athletics would be easier if LSU continued to botch the handling of the head coaches for those two positions.  There’s no doubt LSU is MUCH better off in the hands of Woodward than Alleva.

My Thoughts on Everything:

Why Did Woodward Leave?:

While there are certainly some elements of Woodward “going home” I believe there was a big factor of someone at A&M upset Woodward.  Who that person is I don’t know but speculation is John Sharp.  I’ll get to more on Sharp later.

I believe this because of the timing and how people that are normally connected were taken by surprise.  For a few hours people that were normally connected were freaking out trying to figure out what was going on.  Those connected people didn’t see this coming at all.  The whole timing and lack of awareness speaks to Woodward wanting out before a natural departure and finding his way.

I have no issues at all with what he did.  If someone above you in the chain of command dis-respects you the only real recourse is to leave.  To gain even more respect you go to a competitor with the opportunity to go head to head with the person that dis-respected you.  I don’t think Woodward is vindictive but he took the absolute best position to prove his worth.

I respect the hell out of how Woodward handled the situation and where he went.  There’s nothing worse than working for someone that doesn’t value your true worth.  Woodward quietly put out feelers to take the job at a place he wanted to go.  When feelings were reciprocated he was able to work out the details to make it happen.  It’s fascinating in this day and age Woodward kept this all under wraps.  It’s remarkable and speaks to how the guy operates.

Even on his way out of Aggieland Scott Woodward showed he is a true professional while looking out for himself.  I can’t blame him for one thing he did.  I wish he hadn’t left but he proved how adept he is at change one final time in Aggieland.

Interim AD:

While I think R.C. Slocum is an outstanding representative for Texas A&M I cringed when I heard he was named Interim AD.  This is not a knock on R.C. at all.  We live in a different era of college athletics.  Gone are the days of plugging in good ol boys to run the athletic department.  You need an experienced administrator who has proven success in the financial, regulations, personnel, facilities, and marketing components of a major athletic program.  A popular figurehead doesn’t cut it anymore.  Just look at Lynn Swann at USC.

Mal Moore at Alabama was probably the last coach to have a successful tenure as an athletic director.  And Moore wouldn’t have been perceived as successful if he hadn’t hired Nick Saban.  That hire erased his hires of Dennis Franchione, Mike Price, and Mike Shula before him.  Without the hire of Saban Moore’s tenure as AD is in question.   That single hire changed the long-term perception of Mal Moore.  It’s also an interesting read on how Moore made it if you have the time.  It’s a fascinating read.  Just Google, “Mal Moore, Nick Saban Hire”.

Things have changed in college athletics and I don’t think coaches are equipped to handle the decisions an AD has to make in this day and age.  It’s a constant battle of generating revenue and smartly spending so your athletic programs are as competitive as other programs in the country.  What do you spend on staff, marketing, outside entities, and facilities?  It’s not just gland handling and raising money.

If R.C. was named the Interim AD for a few weeks that would make me feel better.  However, I don’t see the reason for that.  If you just needed a short-term placeholder I think Stephanie Rempe or Justin Moore would have been completely adequate as they seem to have been pretty involved with Woodward.

I get the feeling R.C. isn’t a true Interim AD.  I think he’s a short-term AD that’s set for a 6 to 18-month tenure.  The powers that be at A&M feel everything in the Athletic Department are fine with Jimbo and Buzz being on board.  They feel R.C. is just fine as the figure head of the Athletic Department for now.  R.C. will be the face of the athletic department while those at the highest level make decisions they should leave to a true professional AD.

Maybe things will be fine.  It’s certainly not the approach I’d take if I had influence on how the athletic department should be handled with Woodward’s departure.  I would be looking for the most professional AD I could find and put them in place right away.

Once again, none of the above is a knock on R.C. Slocum at all.  I had my issues with him as a head coach as in the end he didn’t win enough games.  I don’t blame him one bit for being the Interim AD.  He did what was asked of him.  He’ll be a fine figurehead but I think A&M needs more right now.

Future AD:

I have no clue what to think on the next AD in Aggieland.  I’d like to think we go hire another person like Woodward right away but I don’t see that happening.  This feels like when Mike Perrin was named Interim AD in Austin to bridge the gap from Steve Patterson who was a disaster.  Perrin wound up having the interim tag removed from his title four months on the job and would serve two more years before the Longhorns hired Chris Del Conte from TCU.

I’m not comparing A&M to the Longhorns so settle down.  I’m just saying this feels like a similar situation where the Interim AD could have a longer tenure than originally expected.  I’m not sure R.C. ever loses the interim title but it could be until the summer of 2020 until we see a new AD.  Why we wait so long I have no idea but that’s the general feel I get.

If I were going after a new AD my first call would be to Oliver Luck.  He’s currently serving as CEO and Commissioner of the XFL but I think we all know how that’s going to turn out.  He has AD experience having served as West Virginia’s AD for 4 years.  He spent 4 years with the NCAA as Executive Vice President for Regulatory Affairs.  He’s also spent time as GM for the Houston Dynamo, President of NFL Europe, and served as GM for some NFL Europe teams in the 90s.

He’s spent considerable time in Texas having played for the Oilers for 4 seasons.  After football he earned his law degree from Texas.  His son Andrew graduated from Stratford High in Houston before going to Stanford.  Needless to say he’s familiar with this part of Texas.  He’s the guy I thought the Longhorns should have hired when they hired Del Conte.  Not sure if Texas even tried to hire him but he’d be my first call.

Maybe R.C. was named the Interim AD to buy time and see if the XFL would fail.  I don’t think that’s the case but the XFL starts in Q1 of 2020.  The original XFL and more recent AAF couldn’t make it past the first season so odds are it won’t succeed.  Maybe R.C. was a chess move waiting to see if we can land Luck a year from now.

I personally wouldn’t wait on Oliver Luck and would look at current ADs at P5 schools and would start in the SEC.  I don’t think Greg Byrne would leave Alabama for A&M but if he would I’d make that move in a heartbeat.  I’d certainly ask.  I’d also investigate Hunter Yurachek at Arkansas.  He’s got time in Texas as the AD at UH.  Not sure there’s anyone else in the SEC I think would be possible to grab.  I’d still look down the list of current SEC ADs and see if there’s any worthy of asking.

Outside of the SEC I’d look at Kirby Hocutt.  I know we tend to despise things at Tech but Hocutt seems to have done okay in Lubbock.  Football has struggled but I don’t think he had a choice in hiring Kingsbury and holding onto him as long as he did.

There’s speculation of Dan Radakovich who is the current AD at Clemson but I’m not sure he’d leave what he has at Clemson right now for A&M.  He’s from Indiana and the closest he’s been to Texas professionally is 5 years as senior associate AD at LSU.  If he was interested in moving from Clemson to A&M I’d certainly do the due diligence but I don’t see it happening.

I’m certain with effort and diligence A&M can hire a quality AD sooner than later.  That certainly would be my approach.  We have serious momentum with what Woodward left us and we need to act like a major athletic program.

As for the talk of having Jimbo involved in the AD hire I’d certainly seek his input and allow him to sign off.  I wouldn’t waste Jimbo’s time on being fully involved though.  He’s got a football program to run.  I can’t see Jimbo wanting to meddle in the search.  Just hire the best AD you can that’ll support Jimbo and leave him the hell alone to win football games.

There is speculation Rick Perry will step down as Secretary of Energy to become the Aggie AD.  I can’t imagine that.  Rick Perry is a likable person but putting him as the Aggie AD would be the most good ol’ boy move ever.  He has no business running the Aggie athletic department.  It would be a disaster.  If this is being considered I’d much rather see R.C. named the Aggie AD.

Is This John Sharp’s Fault?:

As reports of Woodward leaving surfaced, Aggie insiders started investigating and a similar story seemed to emerge.  Woodward had enough of someone above him.  Some of those insiders implied it was John Sharp without saying his name while others directly stated Sharp’s name.  The smoke sure made it seem like Woodward was tired of working under Sharp.

I have no clue if this is true but this speculation came from people who seemed to be correct about lots of things in the past.  I don’t know if Sharp did something specific or if it was a collection of things.  I do think there’s a lot of truth to Woodward’s leaving coming down to an issue with John Sharp.  Based on timing and most folks being blindsided by the news I believe Woodward was tired of someone above him.  It sure seems like John Sharp.

LSU is Woodward’s home but he was in a good position as Aggie AD.  He’d just made two amazing hires in the biggest revenue sports.  Maybe he just wanted to go home but wouldn’t he want to see the fruits of his labor at A&M for a little while?  Something seems off in the timing of all of this.  I don’t think Woodward just decided to head to Baton Rouge having no issues with anyone above him.  There just feels like there’s some kind of fire to the smoke from Aggie insiders.

With the smoke around Woodward’s departure there’s now three big data points related to leadership at A&M since Sharp took over as Chancellor:

  • Bowen Loftin who astutely took us to the SEC stepped down as President so he could teach in the College of Engineering. He then took the job as Chancellor of the University of Missouri.  That tells me he wasn’t ready to stop leading a university.  There was speculation he was tired of working with Sharp.
  • Eric Hyman had an interview with Mac Engel where he referenced leadership at Texas A&M meddling with the AD and not letting them do their job. I’ll post the relevant quotes at the end of this so you can read them.  I’m no fan of Eric Hyman as Aggie AD but his comments align with the smoke around Woodward’s leaving.  Hyman also specifically referenced things changing in his role when Loftin stepped down.
  • At least two Aggie message boards that have been on point with major moves in the past pointed to Woodward having an issue with someone above him as major factor in leaving. Those issues were pointed towards John Sharp.

Maybe John Sharp is a fine Chancellor for Texas A&M. However, there’s some data that indicates he needs to stay in his lane as Chancellor and let those he hired do their jobs.  Especially those that have proven to be extremely competent.  Texas A&M is greater than any one person.  If any one person believes they are greater than Texas A&M they need to be shown the door.

If Sharp is the reason Woodward left then someone needs to have a serious conversation with him.  We don’t need anyone else of Woodward’s competence level leaving.  John Sharp is not bigger than Texas A&M.

Will Jimbo Leave?:

As of right now I don’t think there’s any concern with Jimbo leaving.  However, I’m not foolish enough to think that Jimbo can’t do to us what he did to Florida State.

10 years for $75 million was certainly a factor in Jimbo’s leaving FSU for A&M but that wasn’t the only reason.  It was also about Jimbo not seeing eye to eye with the leadership at FSU when it came to program support.  Jimbo felt he wasn’t getting the support he needed to win national championships.

Jimbo isn’t coaching for money at this point.  He’s coaching for national championships.  Kevin Sumlin he’s not.  Jimbo knows he’s going to get paid wherever he coaches so it’s all about the opportunity and support to win national championships.  He wants to be compensated on the level of the highest paid but it’s not just about the annual salary.

As long as the leadership at Texas A&M leaves Jimbo the hell alone and gives him all the support he requests as head coach there’s no reason for Jimbo to leave.  If someone above Jimbo pisses him off I can see Jimbo doing the same thing Scott Woodward did.  Texas A&M leadership needs to study the Alabama playbook for dealing with Nick Saban.  They also need to study all the mistakes Jerry Jones has made in handling his head coaches.  Support Jimbo and leave him the hell alone.

As for LSU I’m not dumb enough to think Jimbo could never go there if someone pisses Jimbo off.  The state of Louisiana might not be the most financially stable state but you’re a fool if you think they won’t find the money to lure Jimbo and especially under Woodward’s stewardship if the opportunity and timing are there.  They’ll search every couch crevice and pass every gumbo pot in the state to find the money to get Jimbo this time.  LSU also has one of the most talented teams in the country so Jimbo could step right in and compete with anyone in the country from day one.

There’s no concern in Jimbo leaving right now but if A&M leadership doesn’t learn from other events it could happen.  Thinking it won’t ever happen is foolish.  We’ll just have to see if those in power have learned anything from the past at A&M and other places.

So Now What?:

What’s done is done.  Texas A&M’s best AD is gone and A&M is in EXCELLENT shape as an athletic department.  There’s no immediate concern.

If the powers that be feel the athletic department will run itself then we’re in trouble.  If the powers that be believe it’s okay to meddle in the day to day operation of the athletic department then we’re in trouble.  There’s a difference between checking in and getting updates compared to meddling.

What Texas A&M needs to do is hire the most experienced and competent AD they can find.  They need to do it sooner than later.  I’m fine taking time to make the right hire but that shouldn’t take more than a few months.  I don’t see any reason why the new AD can’t be in place by summer.  That would be my goal.

Texas A&M is set up to have an unprecedented run in football and men’s basketball.  The leadership just needs to make sure what’s in place doesn’t get off track.  They need to hire the best AD they can get and then just leave them the hell alone.

No one person is bigger than Texas A&M.  We can all celebrate together as the good times happen in football and men’s basketball.  Egos and stupidity don’t need to ruin this.

Gig ‘Em.

 

 

Here’s the excerpt of Hyman’s interview with Mac Engel that I referenced earlier in this piece.  Like I said I’m no fan of Eric Hyman as A&M AD but his comments seem to have a little more merit based on the smoke around why Woodward left:

Here’s the link if you want to read the whole thing:

https://www.star-telegram.com/sports/spt-columns-blogs/mac-engel/article174596706.html

You have a legacy at TCU and South Carolina; do you feel like you have one at Texas A&M?

I wasn’t there long enough. We tried to implement some programs but at A&M they managed the activities, they didn’t manage the results of what we were trying to do.

What does that mean?

They were in the day-to-day activities of athletics. If you want to hire an athletic director you have to let them do their job.

Who is they?

The leadership of the university.

Do you regret taking the job?

There are some things that I felt because of my ethical standards I was not a good fit. I felt if I had to do it again, I would probably do a lot better job of researching it.

The myth surrounding the expansion at Kyle Field is that it was done on the back of success of Johnny Manziel. Is that true?

It was already done. When I got there, before Manziel won the Heisman Trophy, a lot of work had already been done. The road map was in place. Did Johnny make it easier? Sure. No question. Because of the success and notoriety. When I got there, I think, most people were apprehensive about the SEC. Most people felt they were not sure how well they were going to do. Johnny flipped the thought process and gave them a boost of confidence.

Can A&M in the SEC be successful and sustain it?

It’s a tough league but if look at historically, what A&M has to do is not shoot itself in the foot. Yeah, I think the potential is there. My reservations about taking the job was the 12th Man Foundation and how involved they were in what you were doing. I thought they were fantastic.

What were those reservations?

I had heard they ran athletic department, which was just a rumor. When I got into it, that was my biggest surprise. The quality of people was terrific.

Did you enjoy your time at A&M?

Parts I enjoyed and parts that I did not. There were situations they did not let the athletic director do their job. People there wanted to run the athletic department and not let the athletic director do it. It was so political. Because of that it’s made it difficult to achieve of what you wanted to do.

I laid out, in the interview process, what I wanted to do to do what a successful athletic department does. I didn’t deviate from that. That’s what I tried to do. When I got into the situation, that was not true.

They told you what you wanted to hear?

Well, Dr. (Bowen) Loftin was the president, and then he was asked to leave. At that point in time, it was Katy bar the door.

Are you hopeful or concerned about the future of A&M athletics in the SEC?

If they allow the people to do the job, they can be very successful. They’ve got people there that want to be the athletic director. They micro manage.

Do you think that is a common problem at other large, Power 5 state schools?

You have the presidents more wired than they used to be, because of the visibility and because of the money that is involved. Some schools, probably so. It just varies. But the ones I’ve talked to, none are like Texas A&M.

Thoughts from the Gator Bowl

trayveon gator bowl

I don’t care the record, location, or opponent of a bowl game.  When you dominate your opponent in a bowl game it feels good.  Especially after experiencing recent losses against Louisville, Kansas State, and Wake Forest.  I know Louisville had Lamar Jackson but that was still a very winnable game that we lost.  I don’t like losing.

After three seasons of frustrating bowl showings it’s good to see Jimbo bury an opponent in a bowl game.  This really reminded me of the 2012 Cotton Bowl where we played OU close for a half and then buried them in the second half.  The Gator Bowl had a slight question mark for the Aggies in the second quarter but the Aggies responded right before half and then buried NC State early in the second half.  The second half turned into a party for those Aggies in attendance at the Gator Bowl as Tyrel Dodson picked off a pass on NC State’s opening drive for a touchdown.  The Aggies then forced a punt and responded with a touchdown followed by forcing another punt and responding with a touchdown for a 42-13 lead right after the fourth quarter started.  When Trayveon Williams finished off his 93-yard touchdown for a 42-13 lead, the party was in full effect.  It wasn’t like it used to be.

Let’s get to what happened.

Offense:

The Key Decision:

The thing that’s impressed me most about Jimbo Fisher so far this season is his in-game recognition and adjustments.  He’s not perfect but Jimbo is really aware of what’s going on in the game.  I’ve never seen a more obvious moment with an adjustment like in the Gator Bowl.

We all know about Kellen’s long run for a touchdown on the first drive.  On the second drive it was an inconsistent drive with Kellen going 3 for 7 on completions.  Trayveon had one nice run with 2 runs for no gain.  The drive gained 3 first downs but ultimately stalled after a false start on 1st down.  They couldn’t gain 15 yards on three downs and the Aggies would punt.

On the third drive Corbin had a nice 4-yard run but on the next play Mond’s pass is tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted.  Back to back bad drives.

The fourth drive was by far the worst drive of the night.  I think because of what happened on this drive Jimbo changed things up.  The drive started with two incompletions where I don’t think the receivers were that open but Kellen threw the ball anyway.  On 3rd and 10 Kellen drops a beautiful ball between coverage to Quartney Davis for a 30-yard gain.  The Aggies are set up 1st and 10 at the NC State 35 and down 13 to 7.  Looks like they’re about claw back into this thing after giving up 12 unanswered points and struggling on offense.

Kellen hands the ball off to Trayveon who is stuffed by the NC State right defensive end who blew up the Aggie left tackle.  That results in a loss of 4 yards.  On 2nd and 14, Mond hits Ausbon on a nice slant route for 13 yards.  On 3rd and 1, Mond keeps the ball and tries to go left side but gets nowhere.  It’s 4th and 1 at the NC State 26-yard line.  Jimbo decides to go for it rather than kick a 43-yard field goal.  Mond hands the ball off to Trayveon who tries the left side and is stuffed for a one-yard loss.  Once again, the NC State right defensive end destroyed our left tackle.

Up until that moment the Aggie offense had a couple solid plays in Kellen’s long touchdown run and the 30-yard pass to Quartney.  The offensive line had looked decent pass blocking but the receivers weren’t really getting open.  Run wise the Aggies hadn’t done much and it appeared the NC State defense was owning the line of scrimmage against the Aggie offense.  Especially the NC State right defensive end against the Aggie left tackle.  Things weren’t looking good for the Aggies despite only being down by 6 points.

I was at the game so I didn’t see this but apparently the television showed Jimbo talking to the offensive line in the second quarter.  It seemed like he was challenging his offensive line and asking them if they could get push.  I’ve seen this before with Jimbo at Florida State where he would basically tell his offensive line they were getting pushed around and asked them if it was going to continue.  Basically, Jimbo was telling his offensive line they were getting their ass whipped and if they wanted to respond.

That’s great recognition by Jimbo to know his offensive line wasn’t dominating the line of scrimmage.  A lot of coaches would just look at their spreadsheet trying to figure out plays that might have a “schematic advantage.”  Apparently Jimbo understands if you’re not winning the line of scrimmage it doesn’t matter what plays you’re calling.  Every play works better when the offensive line isn’t getting pushed back.  Rather than try new plays, Jimbo went to the heart of the matter addressing the offensive line directly.  That’s solid coaching.

Even more solid was a recognition and adjustment based on what had happened.  On their fifth offensive possession the Aggies were set up nicely thanks to a decent punt return by Rashaud Paul.  On the first play Mond hit a wide open Sternberger for 28 yards.  Mond misses Rogers on the next play but the following play changed everything about the game.  Mond handed off to Trayveon who ran to the right side and ripped off a 30-yard run to the 2 yard line.  This run was even on the right hash so it was the short side of the field.  The right side of the Aggie offensive line sealed the edge for Trayveon to get loose.  Trayveon would punch it in on the next play to take the lead back.

From that moment everything changed for the Aggies.  On their next possession they’d mix passes and runs covering 72 yards in 11 plays consuming 5:15 of the clock.  They’d score on a typical Kendrick Rogers leaping touchdown grab to go up 21-13 with 32 seconds left in the half.  Momentum was clearly on the Aggie side.

Coming out of the second half Jimbo was determined to crush the will of the Wolfpack thanks to a 28-13 lead coming from Dodson’s interception return for a touchdown.  On the first offensive series of the second half Trayveon got the handoff five straight times where he ripped off runs of 38, 5, 4, 18, and 17 yards.  5 handoffs and 82 yards to Trayveon.  The first 4 runs went to the right side.  The final run for the touchdown went to the left side but the play design was perfect.  The Aggie left guard pulled left to kick out the right defensive end that had wreaked havoc on our left tackle.  The play used the aggressiveness of that right defensive end to get up field where the left guard easily pulled and sealed him so he was neutralized on that play.  The rest of the line was blocking downfield and Trayveon strolled into the end zone for an easy score.

On the next offensive series we all know what happened on the first play.  Mond handed off to Trayveon to the right side.  Trayveon had a huge hole to run through and it was off to the races for a 93-yard touchdown.  In addition to the offensive line springing Trayveon, Jhamon Ausbon did a tremendous job blocking his defensive back.  Ausbon flat out owned his defensive back making sure he wasn’t anywhere close to the play.  Without Ausbon’s block those 93 yards don’t happen as Trayveon never broke stride once he hit the second level.

The first 6 offensive plays of the second half were to Trayveon resulting in 165 yards and 2 touchdowns.  That’s 27.5 yards per carry.  That’s total dominance.  That 93-yarder would be Trayveon’s final run of the evening as Corbin would see the next carries where he hit on runs of 4 and 35 yards before the Aggie offense sputtered a tad settling for a field goal.

We all know about Gillaspia’s run on the final offensive play of the night.  I’ve been critical of Gillaspia’s blocking this season but I could not be happier for him scoring that touchdown.  He’s busted his ass and represented the 12th Man well his entire Aggie career.  For him to score a touchdown on his final play could not be a better ending for the 12th Man.

When it was all said and done Jimbo and the Aggie offense simply stomped on the Wolfpack defense with the run.  A team that was struggling at the line of scrimmage early in the first half was challenged to get push.  Most importantly, a coach realized he was better off running away from one side of the ball.  Don’t underestimate Jimbo realizing the left side of the Wolfpack defense was the vulnerable side to run to.  There’s a good chance an offensive coach might have thought a simple “rah rah” speech was enough.  Jimbo knew better than to attack the side that had dominated his offense.  Sometimes it takes words and brains to get the job done.  Jimbo smartly used both in that game which was the difference between a close game and a blowout.

Running Backs:

I pretty much covered everything on the running game above.  Trayveon carried the ball 19 times for 236 yards and 3 scores.  That’s a 12.4-yard average.  That’s insane.  Jashaun Corbin made hay in his short time carrying 4 times for 41 yards so 10 yards a carry.  One carry was for 35 yards but that’s still an impressive 4 carries.

I’ll get to Trayveon’s decision to go pro later but after that final touchdown run it was clear he was going pro.  He started blowing kisses to the Aggie faithful and waving goodbye.  His decision was made before the game and he was just living in the moment.  After that performance I don’t blame him one bit.  The Aggie fans in attendance certainly ate it up.

Offensive Line:

Outside of our left tackle struggling against their right defensive end I thought these guys were tremendous.  The running stats speak for themselves especially when you throw in Mond’s long touchdown run.  In passing situations they gave Mond plenty time of to throw as he wasn’t sacked all night.

Maybe the NC State defense isn’t an SEC caliber defense but they still had enough talent to give our offensive line fits if they didn’t play well.  I questioned Jim Turner and this unit coming into the season and at points this season but there’s no doubt the line got better as the season went on.  That is an EXCELLENT thing to see.  This line developed and improved as the season got better.  They saved their best effort for the last game which was a welcomed sight as they were the key unit in blowing this game open.  We don’t score 45 points on offense without the effort of these guys.

Wide Receiver:

Our receivers had an average game.  Some of this was due to the fact of how well we did on the ground in the second half but a lot had to do with not getting open all the time.  There were times nobody was open.  This is consistent with what we’ve seen all season.  They totaled 14 receptions for 140 yards and the Kendrick Rogers score.  Not a bad day but they weren’t dominant by any stretch.  I think that’s partially why Jimbo finally went to the run to see if we could put it away on the ground.

After watching this game I’ve realized this unit gets open because of play design for the most part.  We run a bunch of routes that feed off each other and force defenders to pick one or the other.  A fair amount of time they pick wrong and we have a receiver running open.  This applies to everyone.  We just don’t really get separation in true one on one situations with a defender.

It’s great to see Jimbo and staff create plays where these guys can get open but right now I don’t have faith in any of these receivers dominating man coverage.  We have guys that complimented each other really well so this receiving corps was serviceable all season.  There’s just not a guy on this roster that you’d completely trust to dominate man coverage and make a play.

Ausbon is your go to guy on a quick slant/in route to pick up 5-10 yards.  Sternberger is your guy to exploit the middle of the field.  Quartney Davis is your quick guy you hope the defense forgets to cover.  Of course, Kendrick Rogers, Jr. is they guy you’re throwing it to the end zone as he’ll battle for a ball when he doesn’t have to worry about continuing to go downfield.

I don’t want to take anything away from the effort and productivity these guys had this season.  It’s just we’re still missing a Mike Evans, Josh Reynolds, or Christian Kirk type play with this unit.

Kellen Mond:

Oh boy.  Here we go.  I thought this was a normal Kellen Mond game.  He had a tremendous run on the second play of the game and then was hit or miss on a couple series after that.  He wound being 14 of 26 for 140 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception.  That’s not a bad day at the office at all.  I don’t necessarily put that interception on him as it was batted at the line of scrimmage and a defensive lineman caught it.

There’s no doubt the offensive line and Trayveon carried this team but Kellen was a big contributor.  He wound up as a 54% passer and had some really solid throws.  The 30-yard pass to Quartney Davis was beautiful as he stepped up in the pocket to avoid their right defensive end who had beat our left tackle and threw a beautiful ball between coverage.  That was an amazing play.

He certainly missed on some passes as he missed some receivers high but when receivers were open he hit them for the most part.  He had a solid game.  If you can’t admit that then I can’t help you.

The reality with Kellen is I don’t think we’re ever going to see him win a Heisman Trophy or be a guy that carries a team all by myself.  That’s okay though as that’s not what Jimbo is looking for.  JImbo wants a guy that understands every play design and can execute it quickly when the defense does exactly what’s expected.  I’ve seen Kellen do that all season long where he follows the play design and executes it quickly.  His job is to anticipate where guys will be open based on the play design and hit them when they’re open.  He does that pretty well other than a few mistakes this season.

Kellen isn’t a guy that’s going to consistently make something out of nothing.  That’s not a bad thing.  Just give me the guy that can execute Jimbo’s play design and calling because we finally have a coach that can read and adjust to a defense in game.  Kellen does this pretty well for the most part.  He certainly still has some developing to do but we don’t have a 9-4 season if Kellen is a complete waste of space under center.

I have no clue if we win a national title with Kellen.  It certainly won’t be because of his play by himself.  I do understand that.  It’ll be because we have 85 scholarship players contributing with a few walk-ons potentially thrown in as well.  Kellen will be under center minimizing mistakes and simply running Jimbo’s offense.  It’s entirely possible we win a national title in 2020 with Kellen under center.  There’s no way to tell right now.

We know of quarterbacks like Tim Tebow, Vince Young, Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, and Deshaun Watson winning national titles for their teams.  Here’s another list of names that have also won national titles as the starting quarterback in the last few years – Matt Flynn, Greg McElroy, AJ McCarron, Cardale Jones, and Jake Coker.  I don’t think we’ll see Kellen in that first list of names but it’s entirely possible he shows up in the second list of names.  He’s finishing up his true sophomore season so he can absolutely still develop.  There’s a lot of positives with Kellen after the 2018 season.

If sorry if none of that helps your Kellen Anxiety.  There certainly won’t be anyone on the roster better to run Jimbo’s offense in 2019.  Probably the same in 2020.  It’s not nearly as bad as you think.  I promise.

Defense:

I’m going to write about the defense as an entire unit this game mainly due to a couple key injuries and how the game played out.  The Wolfpack had one drive in the 1st quarter where they drove 71 yards on 12 plays and consumed almost 6 minutes of the clock.  That play resulted in a field goal.  That was by far the most impressive drive of the night for the Wolfpack.  The Wolfpack’s next most impressive drive was to open up the second half where they drove 50 yards in 7 plays consuming 3:42 of clock.  The only issue with this drive is it resulted in Tyrel Dodson baiting them in to an interception return for a touchdown.  I don’t think I’d call that an impressive drive when you give up a touchdown to the defense.

Their touchdown came off our interception where they only had to drive 27 yards for the score.  They had a couple of other series where they gained 35 and 36 yards with one of those resulting in a field goal.  Other than those four drives it was basically three and out all night for NC State.

You probably already know this, but NC State was 0 for 13 on 3rd Down conversions for the night.  That’s right.  In THIRTEEN tries the Wolfpack converted ZERO third down plays for a first down.  ZERO THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS.  That’s unreal.  They were 2 of 4 on 4th Down conversions but to fail on 13 3rd Down conversions is a real testament to our defense.

We only had two sacks on the evening but we had 11 tackles for losses.  We brought pressure to the Wolfpack backfield all night long.  We had 7 defenders credited with 6 tackles or more with the highest number of tackles being 9.  It was spread evenly between those 7 guys.  To me that’s the mark of a defense knowing their assignments and making plays.  Everybody contributed.

I think early on we really missed Otara Alaka as NC State was able to rip off a couple of decent runs on their 71 yard drive.  I think Tyrel Dodson was getting used to playing middle linebacker in Alaka’s absence.  After that drive though, the defense seemed to really settle down and controlled the game for the most part.

It’s hard to isolate any single player on defense because everyone contributed and that’s what you want out of a defense.  Everybody just did their job and helped each other out.

This isn’t a terrible NC State offense either.  Their quarterback is a potential first round draft pick and their center won the Rimington Award as the best center in the country.  They had a nice duo at running back with Reggie Gallaspy II and Ricky Person, Jr.  Yes.  One guy goes by the second and the other guy goes by Junior.  Either way, those guys were solid running backs.  I know NC State was missing their best receiver who decided to sit out and focus on the draft but I’m not sure he would have made that much difference.  The Aggie defense was that dominant.  At best he’s worth two touchdowns.  It would have certainly made the game different but the Aggie defense was ready for what the NC State offense tried to do.

Overall this unit really reminds me of the 2012 defensive unit.  A few really talented guys but for the most part a cohesive unit.  I know out secondary was terrible most of the season but the defense’s ability to play the line of scrimmage was outstanding all season.  I think next season we’ll have even more talent and depth but I think we’ll step back at linebacker trying to fill the holes left by Dodson and Alaka.  Those guys were studs all season long.  I just hope Elko can keep the cohesion going for next years unit as this unit was solid defending the line of scrimmage all season.  If you can defend the line of scrimmage you can win football games.

Special Teams:

Not much to report here.  Seth Small missed a 52-yard field goal at the end of the first half but also hit a 35-yarder.  Rashaud Paul had a nice 21-yard punt return and Jashaun Corbin had a nice 30 yard kick-off return.  It was un-eventful for the Special Teams and I’m okay with that.

 

I think that pretty much covers the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl for the Aggies.  You can’t ask for much better when it comes to a bowl game.  Sure, there were some minor issues here and there but for the most part the Aggies took their foot and stomped it on the Wolfpack.  It was a nice ending to Jimbo’s first season.  Maybe this is a total repeat of the 2012 season with a few more losses but this time feels different.  This entire team feels different than that 2012 season.  That was lightening in a bottle.  This feels like the foundation of something bigger being built.

 

Georgia vs Texas:

If you don’t care about the Texas Longhorns no need to read this section.  Here’s the reality of what happened – Texas came out and beat Georgia.  You can blame Georgia not being ready or some other lame excuse like Georgia made some early mistakes with the knee being down on the punt and Swift’s early fumble.  It doesn’t matter.  Texas came out and soundly beat Georgia.  Texas beat Georgia.  Simple as that.

It wound up being a 28-21 game so the final score looks close but Texas controlled that game from start to finish.  I’ve watched a fair amount of Texas games under Tom Herman and what I was most impressed with was Texas’ ability to control the line of scrimmage.  They didn’t let Georgia run the ball and did an outstanding job running the ball on Georgia.  I’ve not seen that under Herman and it was impressive.

Sam Ehlinger managed the game really well.  He didn’t light it up passing but he made some key throws and didn’t make mistakes.  He also did a really good job running the ball fighting for hard yards while protecting the ball.  It was just a solid effort from Ehlinger.  This guy has really grown in his two seasons under center.  He made a lot of mistakes throwing the ball last season and against Maryland but he did a really good job making smart plays the ball down the stretch.

I’ve had my questions about Tom Herman since he got there but that was a damn impressive win.  They were underdogs against a team that almost won the National Title last year and took Bama to the wire in their last game.  It didn’t faze Texas.  They came out and took it to Georgia all game long.

Don’t look now but don’t be surprised to see Texas in the Playoffs next season.  If they can get by LSU at home in their second game of the year they have a very manageable schedule to at worst go 12-1 winning the Big XII.  I expect OU to take a step back unless Kyler Murray comes back but that seems like a longshot.  OU also hired an outstanding Defensive Coordinator but I think Texas is set up REALLY well to make the playoffs in 2019.

I’m not totally convinced it happens as they lose a lot of starters on both sides of the ball from this 2018 team.  They’ve recruited well so they’ll have young talent filling the departures.  I know they played close games against Tulsa, K-State, Baylor, Tech, and even Kansas this season but it’s pretty clear they learned how to win.  There’s a lot to be said for a team that learns how to win.  They get past LSU though and then everything is front of them to make the Playoffs in 2019.

It’s also possible Georgia isn’t that dominant as the body of work on Kirby Smart gets bigger.  They’re certainly a really good football team but he’s not had them prepared against Auburn last season and LSU and Texas this season.  They’ve been playing in a down SEC East the last two seasons so maybe they’ve just benefited.  He also may just know how to coach against Saban.  I tend to think Georgia is a really good football team and Texas won a big football game that could propel them to bigger things.

We’ll just have to find out in 2019.  I do know this – if Texas makes the College Football Playoff next season that means they got past a perennial SEC West power in LSU.  This is partially why I don’t have a problem playing Texas every season.  If Texas makes the Playoff then Aggies can only blame ourselves because we didn’t line up and keep them out of the Playoff.  I still believe in lining up and playing Texas every season as a lot more good than bad can come of it in my book.

Maybe Texas sputters in 2019.  Right now though Tom Herman has a TON of momentum rolling in Austin thanks to the win over Georgia.  If Texas can figure out a way past LSU which is entirely possible their path to the College Football Playoff might be as easy an anyone else’s.

We’ll just have to see what happens.

 

Early Departures:

There shouldn’t be any surprise by the early departures of Erik McCoy, Trayveon Williams, and Tyrel Dodson.  All three of those guys are three-year starters in the SEC and some of the best at their positions.  They have nothing to gain by coming back to A&M for another year.  They’re basically who they are as players.  They wouldn’t get much better by coming back.

While all of three of those guys are a loss for A&M there’s no doubt Dodson is the biggest loss.  We’ve got Corbin behind Trayveon so we might not see a drop off at running back.  McCoy has been our best lineman for three seasons but I think we have enough talent and depth next season where we won’t see a major drop off.  At least I hope.

Behind Dodson there’s major question marks at linebacker.  Anthony Hines and Buddy Johnson have plenty of talent but they haven’t played the majority of snaps in a full season.  We’ve got a lot of youngsters with talent behind them but playing linebacker is as much instinct as it is talent.  Tyrel Dodson was a legit SEC linebacker and I really think our best linebacker since Dat Nguyen.  For selfish reasons I wish he was coming back but I fully understand his decision.  He’ll likely have a pretty long career in the NFL so time to go make that money.

Jace Sternberger is the guy I think made a questionable decision.  He graduated high school 4 years ago and wants to capitalize on a great season so I get why he made the decision he made.  I’m not sure it’s the best one though as he really could use another season in the SEC.  He’ll get his shot at the NFL but I’m not completely sure he’ll stick.  He had issues blocking this season and he disappeared at times receiving in games.  Most of the time he got open because of the play design.  He wasn’t a guy that just dominated defenders when he was covered.  He also had his fair share of drops this season.  He’s excellent after the catch but I think he would have done himself a favor by getting one more season in the SEC so he’s truly ready for the next level.  For the most part you get one shot to make an NFL roster.  If you don’t make an NFL roster your first season out of school you likely won’t make it in the NFL.  There’s stories of practice squad guys getting a shot on a different team and flourishing but those stories are few and far between.  The reality is if you don’t make an initial 53 man roster you’ll never make it in the NFL.  I hope Jace makes it in the NFL but I’m not convinced he’s fully ready for the next level.

I think we’ll be fine at tight end as we have some awesome tight ends coming in.  He’ll be a true freshman but I think Baylor Cupp might be a more talented receiver than Sternberger.  Jalen Wydermeyer can also catch along with block so I don’t think we’ll see a major drop off with Sternberger leaving.  It still would have been good to have Sternberger back for both the Aggies and for him to develop for the next level.

I wish them all the best and hope they have fruitful careers in the NFL.

 

The Future of Aggie Football:

There’s still a decent path to go to truly Make Aggie Football Great Again.  Things look really good right now but the 2019 season will be the most crucial season for Jimbo.  I don’t think we’re quite ready to break through as we’ll be much younger in 2019 than in 2018.  I think we’ll be more talented across the board but in the SEC you need talent and experience.  That’s the main reason Alabama is so good is because when they roll out a new starter it’s someone who’s been on the roster for a year or two.  Unless they’re an exceptional talent Nick Saban doesn’t roll out freshman on his team including redshirt freshman.

In addition to a young team we have a BRUTAL schedule.  We get Alabama at home but I don’t think it’ll matter.  We must go on the road to Clemson, Georgia, and LSU.  While I’d like to see us win more games in 2019 it might not happen.  At minimum we need to go 8-4 to match this season’s total.  I don’t think we beat Bama.  If we can beat everyone on our schedule of the teams I haven’t mentioned and then win one of those three road games I mentioned above that will put us at 9-3.  That would be a really solid season setting us up nicely for 2020 which I think could be the real breakthrough year for the Aggies.

What makes the 2019 season so crucial is we can’t have a regression from the 2018 season.  We’ve seen it time and time again over the last two decades where the Aggies would have an impressive season but then do nothing the year after.  1999, 2005, 2011, and 2013 all come to mind.  For Jimbo to keep this MAFGA train on track we can’t do worse record wise in 2019 than 2018.  We just can’t.  That’s been the missing element for Aggie Football over the last two decades.  We could get a positive step but couldn’t string another step go with it.  When we couldn’t follow up a successful season with another things fell apart.  That has to change in 2019 with at least an 8-4 record but 9-3 would obviously be even better and a major step forward.

Jimbo needs to make sure 2019 ain’t gonna be like it used to be in order to Make Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

 

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2018 Wasn’t Like It Used To Be

Jimbo with team on Sidelines

On the surface, an 8-4 regular season record in Jimbo’s first season doesn’t look much different than Kevin Sumlin’s final five seasons.  In those five seasons Kevin Sumlin had the following regular season records: 8-4, 7-5, 8-4, 8-4, and 7-5.  Strictly on wins and losses, which is the ultimate metric, Jimbo Fisher doesn’t seem that different of a coach.

When you dig a little deeper, Jimbo’s 8-4 record in his first season looks MUCH different than Kevin Sumlin’s tenure.  Jimbo still has a long way to go to get A&M into the national championship picture but I’ll take his 8-4 over Sumlin’s 8-4 any day of the week.

A lot of Aggies will look at 8-4 and feel we should have been 9-3 or even 10-2 with wins over at least Auburn and maybe Clemson or Mississippi State.  The reality is we’re just as close to 6-6 as we are to 10-2.  We could have EASILY lost to Kentucky and LSU.  Those were both OT games where we came out on the right side.  Hell, we could have been 5-7 had we not overcome key turnovers against Ole Miss.  In the end I do think our 8-4 record is a true indication where this program is under Jimbo after his first year.  It’s a good record in the toughest division of college football but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Let’s look at how Jimbo’s 8-4 is different than Sumlin’s 8-4.

Why 2018 Wasn’t Like It Used Be:

Kyle Field Matters Again:

While it’s only one season it’s nice to have only one loss at Kyle Field.  Especially when it’s a 2-point loss to the second best team in college football.  Alabama was on the road, but the Aggies held their own at Kyle Field this season against some good teams.  This includes the overtime wins over Kentucky and LSU.  Even the Ole Miss game was a bigger win that it appeared.  I’m not certain under Sumlin we win the games against Kentucky, Ole Miss, and LSU the way the flow of the game was.  In each of those games the Aggies had to overcome key turnovers and didn’t give up.  I think we certainly lose one of those games under Sumlin.

We talk about Kyle Field being a home field advantage but under Sumlin it didn’t really seem to matter.  He didn’t just lose games at Kyle Field.  We routinely got our ass kicked at Kyle Field under Sumlin.  It wasn’t just Alabama either.  Every SEC West team at one point throttled our ass at Kyle Field.  Ole Miss, Auburn, Mississippi State, and LSU all kicked the shit of the Aggies at one point during Sumlin’s tenure.  All but Mississippi State have multiple wins against Sumlin at Kyle Field.  That’s right, Ole Miss won multiple times at Kyle Field with Sumlin running the show.  That was inexcusable.

Maybe things change with Jimbo where he loses at Kyle like Sumlin but the first step to Make Aggie Football Great Again is winning games at Kyle Field.  It’s that simple.  During that run from 1985 to 1995 the Aggies lost 5 games at Kyle Field.  That’s right.  In 11 seasons the Aggies lost FIVE games at Kyle field.  The record during that time at Kyle Field was 63-5-1.  That’s a 91% winning percentage.

You must make Kyle Field a tough place to play as an opponent.  Jimbo took care of that in his first season.  Let’s hope it continues.

Ironically enough in Sumlin’s best season where we went 10-2 the two losses were at Kyle Field.  They were against REALLY tough teams and were REALLY close games but for whatever reason Sumlin couldn’t make Kyle Field an advantage in his six seasons as head coach.  You have to leverage 100,000 people including 30,000 screaming students on the opponent’s side of the field.  If you can’t do that you’ll never be successful as head coach of Texas A&M.

Undefeated at Kyle in SEC Games:

Building on the first point but it needs to be noted for the first time ever the Aggies were undefeated in SEC play at Kyle Field.  I think we kind of took those wins for granted because everyone harps on the Miss. St. and Auburn losses.  Don’t discount how important it is to win every SEC game at Kyle.  This was a MAJOR step and I hope like hell it holds.  I can’t state this enough – You can’t lose games at Kyle Field.  It’s too much of a home field advantage to not leverage.

3-1 in November:

Going all the way back to the Dennis Franchione years and even R.C. Slocum’s final years the Aggies had a bad habit of going flat in November.  Every coach suffered from this other than Sherman in 2010 and Sumlin in 2012.  Those were anomalies.

Here’s the breakdown of total wins and losses for previous Aggie coaches in November games:

R.C.’s Final Three Seasons: 2-8
Dennis Franchione: 4-12
Mike Sherman: 7-9
Kevin Sumlin: 13-11

Sherman went 4-0 in 2010 but other than that he was 1-3 in November games each season or 3-9 outside of 2010.  Sumlin had the 4-0 November in 2012 which boosts his November record but he also got a major boost due to the SEC schedule where a non-conference team played at Kyle in November.  Take away the 2012 season and that non-conference game for each season and Sumlin is 4-11 in SEC November games.  Since 2000 the Aggies haven’t played well in November except for two seasons.

Maybe 2018 is anomaly for the Aggies as well.  Hopefully it’s the start of something new.  Either way don’t under estimate the Aggies having a winning record in November.

A Win over LSU:

We’ll find out in a couple more years but the win over LSU feels like it could be the second most important win since joining the SEC.  No doubt until we win a Division Championship the 2012 Alabama will always be the biggest SEC win.  That win got us a Heisman Trophy and national attention.

Since Jimbo got here I’ve said the biggest step we’ll take is replacing LSU as the second-best team in the West.  No doubt replacing Bama as the best team in the SEC is the ultimate goal but in order to get there we have to prove we’re consistently the second-best team in the SEC West.  We finally beat that team that’s been entrenched as the second-best team in the SEC West.  That’s a good start to the ultimate goal of being the best in the SEC.  We just need to beat LSU consistently now.

2nd in the SEC West:

Building on that last point, for the 2018 season we are in fact the second-best team in the SEC West.  We tied with LSU in overall SEC record.  Since we have the head to head win we can claim second in the SEC West.  This is the first time we’ve ever been able to claim second in the SEC West.  In 2012 we shared the same SEC record as LSU but they beat us head to head so they got to claim second place.

A win over LSU is key but coupling it with a good enough record to claim second in the SEC West is even bigger.  That’s a great body of work in SEC play and this needs to be our new baseline going forward.  Expectations don’t go below here.

Margin of Defeat:

Other than the Alabama game where the Aggies lost by 22 the Aggies held their own in every game.  Note that was the smallest margin of defeat for an Alabama regular season game.  The Miss. St. lost was the next largest margin at 15 points but the Aggies where within a score the entire game until Nick Fitzgerald’s late touchdown run.  The other losses were by 2 to Clemson and 4 to Auburn.

I think this is one of the hardest things for Aggies to understand in how Jimbo coaches.  I know the offense and Kellen Mond struggled at times, but the reality is the Aggies were in every game until the final whistle except for Alabama and Miss. St.  That’s a MARKED improvement from Kevin Sumlin where it wasn’t uncommon to get our ass kicked by at least one more team other than Alabama every season.  By getting our ass kicked I mean you could leave the game or turn off the television at some point in the 4th quarter with no concern of missing an Aggie comeback.  Other than Alabama this season you can’t say that about the other 11 games.  Even after Fitzgerald scored his long TD run to go up by 15 the Aggies had 2 minutes to score a TD and get an onside kick.  Against Clemson we were looking to tie the game with a 2-point conversion with less than a minute left.  As big of a collapse as Auburn was we still had one final play to try and win as time expired.

To be competitive in every game this season other than Alabama was also a big step.

Reduction in Blown Leads:

Blowing massive and numerous leads in 2011 got Mike Sherman fired.  Blowing a massive lead to UCLA in 2017 ultimately got Kevin Sumlin fired.  In addition, Sumlin had plenty of other games where blew a 14-point lead to lose or to have to pull out in overtime.  Arkansas, UCLA, and Tennessee all come to mind.

The worst blown lead by Jimbo was a 10-point lead to Auburn with around 5 minutes in the 4th quarter.  Auburn was able to score 14 unanswered points in the 4th quarter to win 28-24.

I certainly don’t like the outcome of the Auburn game but if that was our worst blown lead then I do see this as a minor step.  It’s one thing to get beat but it’s a completely different thing to have a game in hand only to give it to the opponent.  That happened once in 2018.  It happened a LOT under Sumlin.

Time of Possession:

Despite what Kevin Sumlin and Mike Leach say, time of possession in a football game is important.  It’s even more important to a guy like Jimbo Fisher who has a complete game plan.  When you hold the ball longer than your opponent it allows you to control the game more how you want it.

Time of possession is predicated on two things more than anything:

  • The defense getting off the field on third downs.
  • The offense being able to string drives together to get first downs limiting three and outs.

The Aggies winning time of possession while going 8-4 says they did those two things pretty well.  What hurt the Aggies this season was the big plays against their secondary.  With more talent in their secondary the Aggies easily win 1 or 2 more games this season.  Hell, they might have won 11 games as long plays against Clemson, Miss. St., and Auburn were the reason the Aggies lost.

I’ve said it all season that I think Armani Watts is worth one more win and Christian Kirk is likely worth another.  Glad to see Jimbo control the possession clock but he just needs more playmakers to translate that time of possession into more wins.

Comprehensive Game Plan:

It was pretty clear to me Jimbo had a good feeling going into each game the strengths and weaknesses of his team and the opponent.  It didn’t always work out like he wanted but essentially being in every game with 2 minutes left indicates a coach who game planned pretty well.  It feels like Jimbo watched film of both teams on all sides of the ball and knew what the overall game plan should be.  It wasn’t simply let the coordinators do their jobs and see what happens.  He understood how it all fit together from every aspect of the game.

The biggest indicator of this to me was when Jimbo called timeout in the Ole Miss game halfway through the fourth quarter.  The Aggies were up 24-21 and Ole Miss had 4th and 2 from the 5-yard line.  It looked like an easy field goal.  Jimbo frantically called a timeout to keep the ball from being snapped.  Apparently Jimbo or someone on his staff picked up on a potential fake.  It certainly wasn’t to ice the kicker as a time out for that situation is too valuable.

If Jimbo isn’t paying attention to the entire game or isn’t aware of Ole Miss’ special teams tendencies he may not have called the timeout.  That could have swung momentum.

Jimbo’s press conferences also indicate he’s very aware of what happened in the game.  He can speak to the entire game citing specific plays right after it’s over.  There’s no generic coach speak.  He speaks to key moments of every game right after it happens.  He was paying attention to the whole game.

Jimbo is a solid offensive coach but when I watched the Aggie team this year it was pretty clear to me Jimbo had an entire plan to win the game.  It didn’t always work.  It was much more enjoyable to watch someone executing an entire plan rather than someone hoping random selections on a play sheet will produce more points than the opponent.

New Bowl Destination:

In the previous four seasons the Aggies have gone to bowl games in Memphis, Nashville, Houston, and Charlotte.  Nothing against those places as they’re great cities but nobody dreams of playing in those cities for a bowl game.  Especially when it’s not even close to New Year’s Day.  Two of those were even games that started early in the day which tells you how they rank in the grand scheme of bowl games.  ESPN doesn’t air the most intriguing bowl games when the sun is just peaking.

The Aggies lost the last three bowl games to Louisville, Kansas St, and Wake Forest.  Louisville was Lamar Jackson’s coming out party but the Aggies still could have won that game.  I’m sorry, but there’s no excuse for Texas A&M to lose to Kansas St. and Wake Forest in a mid-tier bowl game.  None.  Somehow it happened in back to back years.  That’s bad coaching.

Kevin Sumlin took the Aggies to the Cotton Bowl in his first season which was a major feat but it was a slow and steady decline from there.

In Jimbo’s first season he’s got the Aggies in Florida on New Year’s Eve.  I was hoping for the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day but it could be MUCH worse than playing in Florida on New Year’s Eve.  Crazy to think if we beat Auburn we’re probably in a New Year’s Six Bowl but at the same time had we lost to LSU we’d been in Memphis or Nashville more than likely.  Like I said earlier, 8-4 feels about right for the season.  Starting off the Jimbo Era in Florida on New Year’s Eve is certainly MUCH different than what we’ve experienced in the last four seasons.

Let’s hope Jimbo gets a win over the Wolfpack of NC State to keep the momentum going.

 

Overall Feelings for 2018:

Obviously I’m pretty pleased how things turned out.  In March I established what I felt would be 8 conservative steps for Jimbo to take as head coach of A&M.  Right now he’s slightly ahead of those steps because we’re sitting second in the SEC West after one season.  He got us 8 wins and it looks like there’s no issue closing on a Top 10 class in 2019.  It’s looking like Top 5 but Top 10 for sure.  2nd in the SEC West and a Top 5 recruiting class for his first year is really solid.

If you want some more off season reading here’s the link to what I wrote back in March and those steps:

https://rcwouldhavegonefor2.com/2018/03/27/expectations-for-jimbo-fisher/

Quick Look Ahead to 2019:

I think this team will be better in 2019.  It’ll be young with talent but overall it should be more talented.  I’m not quite sure what that means in terms of wins though.  After all, wins and losses is the only metric that matters in the end.

In my original steps I felt Jimbo needed to win 10 regular season games in 2019.  That is going to be EXTREMELY difficult due to playing Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia in addition to LSU.  Now I think just getting one win more in 2019 will be fine.  If Jimbo can pull off 9-3 in his second year with that schedule it’ll be a really damn good season.

I’ve always thought 2020 would be the year when A&M should take that big step to national prominence.  I don’t think the youth on the team and the schedule will allow us to take that big step to national prominence in 2019.  That’s okay because that’s all part of the building process.  Aggies may just have to be patient one more year before realizing for certain things ain’t gonna be like they used to be.

I’ll leave you one final thing for the 2019 schedule – In 2017 Auburn won the SEC West with almost the EXACT same schedule.  They played at Clemson the second game of the year and then played Georgia as part of their SEC East schedule.  Auburn was able to pull off 10-2 and win the SEC West so it’s not impossible.

We shall see if the Aggies can do the same.

First, we need a win over N.C. State to reverse the losing momentum in bowl games.  It’s small steps to Make Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

 

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Thoughts on the LSU Game

Hold on a Second Final Play

After the Clemson game this year I said the Aggies made a statement they could play with anyone in the country.  On Saturday night the Aggies began to change the perception the Aggie program is in fact “ain’t gonna be like it used to be.”  I’ll do my full season analysis next week but this week is about that seven overtime thriller at Kyle Field where the Aggies beat LSU.

8-4 with a win over LSU to close out the season looks COMPLETELY different than 7-5 with yet another loss to LSU to close out the season.  A&M walked out of Kyle on Saturday night with a regular season record of 8-4 while LSU walked out with a record of 9-3.  You change those to 7-5 and 10-2 and the two programs look completely different compared to one another.  COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

Add seven overtimes where the Aggies and Tigers went blow for blow with the Aggies coming out on top and those who watch college football certainly took notice.  The Aggies suddenly look like they could be a different program under Jimbo Fisher.  I say “look like” because there’s still a LONG way to go.  With a loss to the Tigers, fans of college football simply assume it’s the same old thing with yet another Aggie coach.  That win makes everything look different heading into the offseason.  Even with seven overtimes had the Aggies lost it wouldn’t have felt much different than before.  It would have felt much closer to being different but in the end wins and losses matter more than anything.  The Aggies beat LSU for their final game.  That’s really all the matters.

For the first time since 2012 the Aggie head coach has something to sell going into the offseason.  Going back to the days of Fran, Sherman, and Sumlin the offseason was generally a tough sell due to how November turned out.  We had two outliers in 2010 when Sherman beat Oklahoma, Baylor, Nebraska, and Texas and then in 2012 when Sumlin beat MSU, Bama, UTEP, and Missouri.  Other than those two seasons November has been pretty bleak the last two decades of Aggie Football.

I’ve said since Jimbo got here the biggest issue with Fran, Sherman, and Sumlin was they could never take consistent positive steps.  They all had one good season and one good recruiting class but they could never consecutively build on those.  We’d have a good season or recruiting class and then the head coach would snub their toe with a bad season or recruiting class and any momentum gained would fall apart.

I know 8-4 may not look much different than season’s past but beating LSU to close out the season changes the perception of how that 8-4 looks.  Jimbo Fisher has the whole offseason to sell a different A&M program thanks to the victory over LSU.  He closed out the 2018 recruiting season really strong and this win over LSU pretty much ensures the stellar class of 2019 stays intact.  If a 2019 committed recruit wants to go somewhere else after watching or experiencing that seven overtime thriller then that’s not on Jimbo.  That kid just wanted to go somewhere else.  This win also gives Jimbo serious ammunition to sway those final studs on the fence for 2019 things are different in Aggieland.  For the 2020 class and beyond he can keep selling the same story with minimal questions.

There’s a long way to go until Jimbo competes for a national championship but he’s making consistent positive steps since he got here a year ago.  It wasn’t easy with seven overtimes but the end result is all that matters.  For the first time since joining the SEC the Aggies have a win over LSU.  An Aggie season finally ends on a high note for the first time in 6 years.  Don’t underestimate what this win can mean long term.

Before I look at the game make no mistake LSU is a legit football team.  They’re EASILY one of the 10 best programs in the country.  They’re likely Top 5 in talent alone.  Other than the Aggie loss they’ve only lost to Alabama and Florida which as off this week’s playoff ranking are Top 10 teams.  They have convincing wins over Miami, Georgia, and Mississippi State.  For some reason a lot of people want to write off the LSU program every year, but LSU is loaded with talent and a tough game every damn season since Nick Saban got there.  They are literally one second away from being ranked in the Top 5 or 6 of this week’s playoff ranking.  Funny how that one second can change the perception of two programs but it did.

By the way – I think the name of this game should go down as “Hold on a Second.”  So much changed due to one single second.  Sports are funny that way.  Feel free to razz your LSU fans with “Hold on a Second” anytime you want.

Overall:

Obviously the referees’ calls were a big factor in this game.  There were certainly some close calls that wound up going the Aggies way but I’ll just say it feels good to be on the good side of the referees’ calls.  It happens every game.  For all the Aggies blaming the Clemson loss this season and going back to the 2014 LSU loss on the referees, we were finally on the right side of those calls that did or didn’t happen.  It tends to balance out over time.

The reality is in a game one play doesn’t make a game.  It’s a collection of plays despite how people want to fixate on single plays.  Ed Orgeron can blame “one second” all he wants but the reality is his team had seven overtimes to overcome that “one second”.  The Aggies certainly benefitted from the referees deciding that second should be added back.  At the same time, LSU certainly had their opportunity to take care of the ref’s decision to prove who was the better team.

Based on what I’ve seen, the calls on Kellen’s knee and the time with the spiked ball were all correct calls.  The call on Greedy Williams pass interfering with Kendrick Rogers during the 2 point conversion in the seventh overtime can be debated.  The reality is there was contact and the ball was in the air.  It’s not a made-up call by any stretch.  I thought Williams grabbed Rogers hair which is an extension of Rogers’ body, but I haven’t looked at a replay to analyze it like the Zapruder film.

While Eddie O and LSU fans are griping about the officials overturning calls on the field they conveniently forgot about the Myles Jones “interception” returned for a touchdown.  Luckily, replay overturned it correctly so it wasn’t just the Aggies benefitting from replay correcting wrong calls on the field.  LSU may not like it but in the instances in question replay did in fact get it correct.

LSU fans also seem to forget that up until 6:41 left in the 4th quarter the Aggies either lead the game or had it tied.  This was a closely disputed game so it really wasn’t the refs that decided the game.  The Aggies and Tigers were going at it for most of the game.

If Trayveon Williams doesn’t fumble that ball in the 4th quarter allowing the Tigers to tie it up the Aggies likely win going away.  The Aggies were starting to exert their will on the ground.  If Trayveon holds onto the ball the Aggies likely try a field goal at minimum rather than give up a quick 7 points allowing LSU to tie.  My point is not to take away from the LSU defense as they absolutely made the play to cause Trayveon to fumble.  But, football is a collection of plays and “one second” or another single play doesn’t totally alter the outcome all by itself.  The Aggies had to be in the game for that “one second” to matter like it did.

It’s crazy to think if Trayveon holds onto that ball it could have been a “normal” win in regulation.  As it turned out it’s a win that any Aggie fan alive will never forget.

One final overall thought is there’s no doubt to me Joe Burrow was the MVP of that game.  His team lost but I can’t think of a single player on that field who had a more valiant individual effort than him.  That dude threw almost 40 passes, carried the ball over 20 times, and was sacked 6 times.  He kept coming though.  That was one gritty effort by him so he deserves some serious props.

Offense:

Offensive Line:

I’ve been critical of these guys all year but on Saturday night they played their best game of the season.  They were tremendous.  They weren’t without fault as Mond was officially sacked twice and hurried another 6 times.  For the most part the line gave Mond enough time with a pocket.  They were also opening holes in the running game.  The Aggies had 107 total plays in this game and the Aggie offensive line showed up for every damn one of them.  I can’t say enough good things about the effort these guys put forth on Saturday night.

I don’t know where it came from but it was a welcome sight and truly the key to the Aggie victory.  It was certainly a team effort but the Aggie offensive line took a really solid LSU defensive line and imparted their will for the most part.  They hadn’t done anything like this all season.  They played above the standard they had been playing to all season.  Kudos to Jim Turner and his charges as they picked the right game to make their presence felt.

Trayveon Williams:

I’ve already talked about his fumble so I’m not talking about it anymore as it was a blip for what he did do.  What Trayveon Williams did on Saturday night should be up there with what Jamar Toombs did against Texas in 1999.  I know the Nebraska game gets Toombs more credit but he only carried the ball 10 times in that game.  In that ‘99 Texas game he carried 37 times for 127 yards and 2 scores Toombs did the heavy lifting that day on the way to an Aggie victory.  On Saturday night Trayveon carried 35 times for 198 yards and two touchdowns.  Trayveon was doing the heavy lifting for this offense behind the effort of the offensive line.

His longest run was only 24 yards but he carried 35 times for an average of 5.7 yards per carry.  Against that LSU defense it was an AMAZING effort.  His line was giving him holes to run through but Trayveon’s ability to find and exploit the holes was amazing.  Of those 35 carries he only had 5-6 for losses and they were only for a yard or two.  All night long Trayveon was finding holes to run through and getting second effort yards.  Can’t say enough about Trayveon’s will on Saturday night.  Next to Burrow no skill player gave more grit on that field than #5 on the Aggie offense.

I know I was critical of Trayveon’s pass blocking ability earlier in the season but he’s made TREMENDOUS strides in that.  I haven’t seen him miss a pass block in the last few games.  Kudos to him for improving that important aspect of his game.

I know I also said he was a mis-match behind this offensive line because he wasn’t a between the tackles runner.  He ran between the tackles all night against LSU.  A lot of credit goes to his offensive line but on Saturday night Trayveon was looking for yards and wasn’t settling until he was brought to the ground.  He consistently changed speeds and direction looking for holes and avoiding contact in the middle of the field.  He wasn’t just looking to get outside.  He ran hard all night cranking out yards even getting two short yardage goal line touchdowns which we hadn’t seen much of all season.

I don’t know if he comes back next year because at this point he’s pretty complete.  His issue is going to be his style of running back isn’t in big demand in the NFL.  The NFL is a numbers game and there’s a lot of guys that look like Trayveon.  He’s not built to be an every down back so he won’t get drafted very high if at all.  He can certainly last in the NFL for a decent period as his work ethic and durability this season are some positive signs for that.  He just needs to find the right situation for him.

Trayveon will make the best decision for himself and his family.  It certainly won’t be easy because he’s already accomplished a lot at Texas A&M.  If he decides it’s time to pursue his NFL career then Aggies need to wish him the best.  If he decides he wants to come back for his final season then Aggies just need to stand and smile with open arms.  I simply want what’s best for him.  He’s earned it this season.

Wide Receivers:

For the receivers in this game it’s really a tale of two parts.  The first 59:30 and then everything after that.  I didn’t think the receivers played exceptionally well during the regulation part of the game.  Sure, Kellen Mond wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire but the receivers weren’t getting a ton of separation and when they were they weren’t making the catches.

The greatest example of this was the second possession of the second half.  LSU had just gone down and scored to tie the game up at 17-7.  The Aggies come out and run two beautifully designed plays were both Kendrick Rogers and Quartney Davis are running across the field set up for a solid gain if they catch the ball.  Mond puts the ball where they can catch it but neither guy made the catch.  We’d wind up going 3 and out for the second series in a row.  Either of those guys make one of those catches and we likely get a 20-40 yard gain on the completion.  The plays were there but the receivers didn’t execute.

Ausbon and Sternberger had some nice completions in regulation but they also had a couple passes they couldn’t quite bring in.  Sternberger also had a nice TD in OT.  Sternberger is kind of who he is.  He’s a little inconsistent but he’s a huge weapon for this Aggie offense.  As for Ausbon he really reminds me of someone who could be a Michael Irvin style receiver when he played for the Cowboys.  Not the fastest guy on the field but Ausbon can use his size to be a big-time possession guy.  Not sure Ausbon will ever turn into an explosive receiver like Evans, Reynolds, or Kirk but he’s plenty talented to be a big part of the Aggie offense for the next couple of years.  He and Mond are developing a rapport in certain situations so I hope it keeps developing.

As for Quartney Davis and Kendrick Rogers these two guys knew when to show up.  These guys were HUGE in getting the game to overtime and in overtime.  Davis’ TD catch at the end of the game was beautiful as was his catch in the seventh OT to tie it up.  Davis has some serious explosive ability but he just needs to become more consistent.

Kendrick Rogers shows up when there’s lights on and Tigers at Kyle Field.  He’s been spotty all season but late in the games against Clemson and LSU he’s flat out balled out.  I’ve been saying since the Arkansas game he’s not good at catching balls when his legs are moving forward.  If his legs are going sideways or stationary and the ball is in the air he’s going to make a play for it.  He’s basically a basketball player in pads right now.  He’s been clutch in some big games at Kyle.  The ball he caught with the LSU defender draped on him was by far his best catch but don’t discount his winning two-point conversion.  He saw Mond scrambling to his left and immediately reacted changing his route getting to a spot where he was wide open and Mond could make the throw.  Rogers has a lot of development but it’s clear around the goal line he’ll go get the ball.

All in all this receiving corps has a lot of development to do.  Despite that, there’s not enough good things to say about how they showed up when it mattered most on Saturday night.  There’s something to be said for not shying away from the moment and the entire receiving corps stepped up when it was needed most.

Kellen Mond:

Oh boy, here we go.  Kellen Mond all season has basically been the President of the United States.  Half the Aggies support him and the other half don’t like him.  That’s not meant to be political in any way but no matter the party of the President half the country supports them and the other half bitches about them.  I feel like that’s Kellen Mond right now.  He can’t win the support of half the Aggie fanbase no matter what he does.

Kellen Mond is not without fault but make no mistake Kellen Mond was a big reason why the Aggies put 31 points on LSU in regulation to send it to overtime.  He then went toe to toe with LSU for seven overtimes.  He could have EASILY backed down after the interception that wasn’t but he didn’t.  He got up from that play and delivered three beautiful passes to get the Aggies tied up.  There’s not enough to be said for Mond’s effort after Aggies at home had turned off their TV sets while Aggies in the stands either headed for the exit or slumped in their seats.  For the record I never headed to the exit but I’ll admit I was slumped in my seat.  Oh I was slumped in my seat wondering how we’d ever take that next step.

When he hit those first two passes after the interception was overturned there was a lot of anxious energy built up in Kyle Field.  When he hit Quartney Davis for the touchdown that tied it Kyle Field erupted.  That anxious energy would never leave for the rest of the night.  From that moment Mond never backed down and made play after play to help lead the Aggies to victory.  It wasn’t just him as it was a team effort but you can’t deny he made some awesome plays when the Aggies needed it most.  He never backed down or got flustered.

Everyone has their opinion on Mond and this game likely didn’t change it much.  If you don’t like him you still question his overall ability but hopefully you respect his ability to make plays when it’s needed.  He helped the lead the Aggies back in a game for the ages and he deserves a lot of respect for that even if you don’t like him as a player.

I’m tired of trying to change people’s mind on Mond.  Before the comeback I was considering not even doing a blog for this game.  So many Aggie fans would have been validated because they could just say “Mond sucks” and blame the entire loss on him.  There would have been no changing people’s mind on Mond.  Hopefully at least coming out of this game the people that don’t like Mond have some respect for his ability to make plays.  If you don’t see that there’s nothing I can say after his final three throws in regulation and his effort in seven overtimes.  You think he sucks and you’re entitled to your opinion.  I just happen to think you’re wrong.

My final thought on Mond as I watch him more – I think Jimbo has a bag of plays he know will work.  The other plays require a little more read and react to see what the defense will do.  When Jimbo calls those plays he thinks will work then Mond tends to execute them flawlessly.  The best examples are the touchdown passes to Davis at the end of regulation and the Sternberger pass in the 6th overtime.  Both of those passes Kellen knew exactly where the guy was going to be open and threw a perfect pass right away.  They weren’t easy passes but Mond made them look easy due to quick recognition and reaction.

I think there’s a lot more method to Jimbo’s madness with Mond.  I’m not saying Jimbo is having Mond struggle to set up good plays, but I do think there are plays where Jimbo is very specific to Mond on who will be open.  When it’s there Mond hits it more times than not.  When it’s not, Mond gets a little confused and isn’t sure where the play will develop so he struggles.

I don’t know what the next two years look like with Kellen Mond at A&M but I see some promise as he and Jimbo grow together.  It could certainly be a lot worse than having Kellen Mond under center the next two seasons.  If you’re one of those people that will never come around on Kellen Mond that’s fine.  One game doesn’t make a quarterback.  Just know in two more years you’ll get the chance to have a candidate you can get behind.  Maybe Mond gets impeached and thrown out of office but I don’t see it happening right now.  Jimbo clearly sees a lot of promise in Mond and Saturday night proved Jimbo more right than wrong for the season.  Right now I don’t see anyone unseating Mond unless he just totally regresses but I don’t see that happening.  He’s been solid all season despite what some Aggies think.

Defense:

Front 7:

Not much to say about these guys.  They did what they normally do.  They gave up one run of 46 yards and the next longest run by a running back was for 16 yards.  Take away that 46 yard run and the LSU running backs had 20 rushes for 66 yards.  That’s a little over 3 yards a rush which is respectable for a defensive effort against LSU.

The wildcard in this game was Joe Burrow as I don’t think anyone expected him to run the ball over 20 times.  His running was really the difference in this game.  Without his running effort there’s no way this game gets to overtime much less seven of them when it did get there.  I think LSU saw a lot of what Mississippi State did with Nick Fitzgerald.  Burrow was up for the task and he certainly delivered.

I’m not letting our defensive line off the hook for Burrow’s effort but they weren’t really prepared for his running and adjusted pretty well.  The Front 7 accounted for 5 sacks on Burrow so he was feeling pressure.  It was just a constant battle between our Front 7 and Burrow all night long.  Sometimes we got the better of him and other times he got the better of us.

I thought the two most impressive series for this unit was LSU’s final possession in regulation and first possession of overtime.  LSU got the ball back with 2:32 on the clock and A&M only having two timeouts.  It was no secret that LSU was going to run the ball but the defense held LSU to 5 yards on three tries ensuring LSU would punt giving the Aggies one final chance.  They did their job in that moment when we’ve seen PLENTY of Aggie teams not make a final stand to get the ball back.  They stood their ground when they had to.  That was a big effort by the Front 7 there.

LSU got the ball first in the overtime and the Aggie defense along with the 12th Man pushed LSU back 7 yards on three possessions.  The 12th Man helped get LSU to false start and then Otaro Alaka sacked Burrow for a five-yard loss setting up a 49 yard field goal.  I was certain LSU would miss it but either way momentum was squarely in the Aggies favor.  As we know LSU made that field goal and the Aggie offense couldn’t punch it in from 1st and goal at the 1 when we got the ball but the Aggie defense never gave up all game long.

The Front 7 also had a great effort on the final LSU play where the pass was tipped on the two point conversion.  An LSU receiver was able to catch it and tried to work his way into the end zone but the defense held him out.  An underrated as who knows what could have happened if the ball wasn’t tipped or the defenders weren’t looking to make the tackle after the tip.  They didn’t give up until the LSU receiver was on the ground short of the goal line.  This unit played heads up ball for most of the night.

I think what’s most amazing about this unit is I’m not sure there’s an NFL starter other than Tyrel Dodson.  I think a lot of these guys will see NFL rosters but I’m not sure there’s any of these guys that will be every down starters in the NFL.  It’s pretty amazing to think what these guys have achieved as an entire unit.  Don’t get me wrong there’s a lot of talent with these guys but there’s as much smarts and effort as there is talent.  These guys have played as an entire unit all season long and it was a remarkable run.  If there’s one group that reminds me of the 2012 team it’s these guys without a doubt.  There’s a lot of comparisons between the Front 7 in 2012 and 2018.

Secondary:

This unit didn’t play half bad but LSU really didn’t test them.  LSU never took any real deep shots downfield but I think that was partially by design.  LSU wanted to keep the ball moving and chewing clock.  They didn’t want to get into 3rd and long situations which they didn’t for the most part.  LSU was able to convert 10 of 20 third down conversions and were really successful converting third downs early in the game.

The Aggie secondary was never really tested and they gave up a lot of completions but they kept LSU from breaking off a big pass reception.  There’s some credit owed there as we’ve seen this season where a short pass turned into a much longer gain.  Still a lot of changes need to be made to this secondary but for one night it was nice to see the Aggie secondary limit the opposing receivers to no big plays.

I think LSU copied a lot of what Mississippi State did with Fitzgerald going after high percentage passes. Burrow was 25 of 38 passing which is 66% and damn good for an LSU team.  Burrow is a much better passing quarterback than people think.  All year long he’s made some pretty solid throws.  His longest completion was for 25 yards.  That was in overtime on the first play of a possession so there were no big gains through the air in regulation.  Burrow just made smart throws and turned in a remarkable performance.  Lucky for A&M it simply wasn’t enough.

The one person I’d like to point out in the secondary is Myles Jones.  Since the Ole Miss game he’s been really solid.  He’s been a MAJOR addition to this secondary because it got Charles Oliver off the field.  Nothing against Oliver personally but he’s terrible at corner and teams know to pick on him.  Whenever Oliver came in for Jones in overtime it wasn’t a surprise Oliver wound up getting a pass interference call.  It’s obvious it’s a different secondary with Myles Jones at corner over Charles Oliver.  Jones is a sophomore so let’s hope he keeps developing as he’ll probably need to start another year while some of these young recruits adapt to SEC play.  At minimum he’ll provide nice depth at a position where we have none right now.

Overall:

This was a solid but not spectacular effort by the Aggie defense.  I expected LSU to score 23 points in regulation and they did almost that at 24.  In the end they did just enough to give the offense chances to win which the offense finally did in the seventh overtime.  This has been a pretty remarkable unit all season despite the lack of talent in the secondary.  The defensive line has been as productive as any unit recent memory.  That defensive line has been the biggest key to the success of the defense.

The other part is Dodson and Alaka.  I’ll say it now as I’ve been afraid to say it all year – how Alaka and Dodson were able to stay healthy all season is the real story of this defense.  We have NO depth behind those two guys.  I mean ZERO depth.  If one or even both of those guys goes down this defense looks COMPLETELY different.  By different I mean TERRIBLE.  We need to thank Sweet Baby Jesus for the health of Dodson and Alaka all season.  I’m not kidding.  Their ability to stay healthy was the real key to this defense.  Those guys go down and there’s no way we’re 8-4 with a win over LSU.

I can finally write that last paragraph.  I’ve been wanting to mention how important their health was to this defense but was afraid I’d jinx it.  Thank you Sweet Baby Jesus for their health this season.  Amen.

Special Teams:

Solid effort by this unit.  Seth Small was perfect which was no small feat with the pressure in this game.  Mann was booming punts.  Paul wasn’t spectacular on punt returns but there’s one thing he didn’t do – turn the ball over.

Like Trayveon’s fumble being a key moment for LSU gaining momentum, the Aggies recovering the fumbled punt by LSU was a MAJOR swing in the Aggies direction.  The Aggie offense took the ball and scored putting the Aggies up 24-17.

I’ve been saying all year if you don’t have a dynamic punt returner then give me someone that can confidently catch the ball.  That’s been Paul all year other than the Ole Miss when he was off for some strange reason.  If LSU doesn’t fumble that punt I’m not sure what that game looks like.  While not spectacular Paul was solid at fielding punts all season except for that one game.  Don’t underestimate what that meant to this team all season.

 

Looking Forward:

In addition to everything I’ve mentioned above for this win helping change the perception of A&M it also provided a major immediate benefit.  Thanks to this win A&M is likely headed to Florida for a New Years Eve or New Year’s Day game against a Big 10 team.  This keeps us out of Nashville, Memphis, or Houston.  Florida is much more prestigious for a bowl game than those locations.  Plus, we’ll likely match up pretty well against whatever Big 10 team we face.

It’s looking like the Outback Bowl right now unless the conference championship games have some major chaos.  If the Outback Bowl happens the Aggies will decide for all of America if there’s going to be free coccy skrimps or a free big ass fried onion on January 2nd.  Who ya’ got, Ags?  Personally, I hope the Aggies are the coccy skrimp team as they’re just as tasty and better on the waistline.  That dipping sauce is divine.  If it’s a big ass fried onion I’ll be okay with that too as long as the Aggies win a bowl game proving their taking even more steps towards a national title.

Things are looking good for Jimbo to be the right guy to Make Aggie Football Great Again.  It just took seven overtimes to keep us on that path.  Hold on a Second – a night for the ages for Aggie Football at Kyle Field.

#MAFGA

 

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Thoughts on the Auburn Game

Mond vs Auburn

That loss to Auburn on Saturday was a serious deflation to the 2018 Aggie football season.  Nobody liked the lost to Mississippi State but the reality is they’re a good team that beat us from the get go.  Against Auburn it looked like everything for the 2018 season was going to get right back on track.  Then the Aggies fell apart.

Losing a game like that spans a ton of emotions.  Right after the game you’re upset and disappointed.  The next day you feel the sky is falling and Aggie football can’t get any worse.  Monday comes around and you start looking forward to the next game against Ole Miss and hopefully getting back on the good side of the win and loss column.  By the time you’ve read this you’ve forgotten all about the Auburn game for the most part.  Being a devoted sports fan is truly a span of emotions most of the time.

The reality of Saturday’s game against Auburn is this Aggie team is not as bad as some Aggie fans make it out to be.  It’s also not as good as we’d hoped from earlier in the season where we came close to upsetting Clemson and played Alabama closer than anyone in the country this season.  That’s right.  The Aggies have the closest margin of victory against the two best teams in the country.  I know.  I can go stick my moral victory where the sun doesn’t shine because we’ve lost the last two weeks and that’s what matters most right now.

The truth is this Aggie team is somewhere between the “moral victories” against Clemson and Alabama and the disgusting defeats against Mississippi State and Auburn.

Before I get to the Auburn unit analysis I want to point out a few things:

  • If Gus Malzahn had followed Joe Moorhead’s game plan there’s a chance Auburn wins this game the same way Mississippi State did where A&M never chokes away a victory. We don’t know that for sure but I was shocked Auburn didn’t come out firing through the air.  They wanted to establish the run and the Aggies flat out denied it.  Maybe Gus wanted to try and establish the run to keep our safeties’ eyes toward the line of scrimmage which worked a couple of times.  Their first touchdown on the reverse pass was based on their trying to establish the run.  Maybe Gus was afraid Stidham would throw it away like he did against LSU.  No telling the reason but I was surprised Gus didn’t attack our secondary like MSU did from the get go.  The outcome could have been a totally different where there was no lead to blow with 2 minutes left.
  • We all have our opinions but I don’t think this team is as talented as last season’s. I believe if this team had Armani Watts and Christian Kirk we would have beat one of Mississippi State or Auburn if not both.  I sure don’t see anyone in our secondary or receiving corps that is close to their level of talent.  Our defensive line and linebackers are certainly better than last year, but I think that’s more scheme and coaching along with being a season older.  Our offensive line and running backs are basically the same as last year.  I really feel our secondary isn’t even close to what we had last year with Watts and our receiving corps doesn’t have on playmaker like Kirk.  Maybe you feel this team is as talented as last year but even if that’s the case last year’s Aggie team got humiliated at Kyle Field in back to back weeks against these two teams.  We got beat 35-14 against MSU and 42-27 against Auburn.  At Kyle.  This season on the road we lost 28-13 and 28-24 to the same teams.  I know “moral victories” suck but the reality there is some progress using similar measuring sticks from 2017 to 2018.
  • This Aggie team flat out collapsed in the final minutes against Auburn. Here’s the sequence of events:
    • With 2:19 left on the clock and Auburn having just used their second timeout Kellen Mond flat out misses Quartney Davis on a wide receiver screen on 3rd and 15. Mond totally misses Davis high when Davis is wide open.  Davis doesn’t likely get a first down but at worst Mond completing that pass would have forced Auburn to use their final timeout.  Auburn would get the ball back with around 2:00 on the clock and no timeouts.
    • Mann then punts the ball 41 yards to the Auburn 14. He kicks it near the right sideline.  The Auburn returner doesn’t fair catch.  The Aggie gunner is in position to bring him down but doesn’t make a play on the returner.  He completely lets him go with no contact.  The rest of the Aggie team for whatever reason is nowhere near the returner.  Several of them are actually on the other side of the field.  Let me repeat that – the rest of the Aggie coverage team is NOWHERE NEAR the catching the ball.  Auburn had two guys back and the punt coverage team bit on the guy who wasn’t getting the ball pretending he was about to field it.    Three Aggie defenders run to where the ball isn’t.   The Auburn punt returner who is not challenged by the initial Aggie defender heads up field 28 yards where he’s brought down by Braden Mann.  That’s right, the freaking punter makes the stop when the returner was pinned to the sideline but the Aggie punt team had NO clue where the damn ball was going and let the returner go.  Great job by Auburn to fool the Aggie special teams.  Auburn now has the ball at their 42 with a little over two minutes left and one timeout.  They should be pinned inside the 20 if not the 10 with less than 2:00 left and no timeouts.

If you want to see the punt click here.  Watch it several times and start/stop to break it down and see how this was a colossal failure by our punt unit.  If they tackle the punt returner at the 14 the outcome could have been totally different I think.  Momentum wouldn’t have swung Auburn’s direction like it did after the punt return.  I set it to the Mond/Quartney Davis play so you know just how maddening and crucial these plays were in Auburn’s comeback – https://youtu.be/IlEMg2cGkCk?t=757

  • They say bad things come in threes so with the offense and special teams already on the board for bad plays the defense got involved on the next play. With our defense playing back Stidham throws a one-yard crossing route.  That’s right, a one-yard crossing route.  With no Aggie defender around the Auburn receiver heads up field where he weaves and runs into Charles Oliver at the Aggie 40-yard line.  In addition to him running into Oliver there are two other Aggie defenders within 2 yards of the ball carried and a fourth Aggie defender closing in 3 yards away.  Somehow the Auburn ball carrier spins away from all FOUR Aggie defenders and keeps running.  He winds up getting pushed out of bounds at the 11 yard line.  That’s a 47 yard gain on a 1 yard pass when he was nailed dead to rights 18 yards from the line of scrimmage.  Auburn would then put the ball in the air and score an 11 yard touchdown on the next play.
  • As if that weren’t enough the Aggies get the ball back with 1:35 and one timeout on their own 16 yard line. Not ideal, but enough time to drive down and potentially get a hail mary to try and win.
  • The Aggies get two quick plays to get to their 44 yard line.
  • On the next play Mond misses a pass to Hezekia Jones but it doesn’t matter because Quartney Davis is illegally downfield. Let’s back it up 5 yards and try again, Ags.
  • On the following play we have a screen set up for Trayveon but the unblocked defender bats the ball away.
  • Mond is then rushed where he’s basically sacked but squirms for a two yard gain. This sets up a 4th down so we take our final timeout.
  • Mond then hits Kendrick Rogers for 10 yards across midfield and a 1st
  • Mond then hits Quartney Davis on a roll out running for his life for 10 yards down to the 39 yard line and out of bounds. So, we’re at the Auburn 39 yard line with a stopped clock and 23 seconds left.  This is doable, Ags.  One problem – Davis had stepped out of bounds making him ineligible for the catch.    No play.
  • On the next play Mond is running for his life again and throws the ball away. Another problem – holding by Carson Green so back across midfield to the Aggie 41 and 12 seconds left.  One step forward and two steps back.
  • We essentially have one hail mary left. Auburn rushes 2 guys against our 5 offensive linemen and get pressure on Mond where he as to roll out and heave it downfield.  The ball is intercepted out of bounds.  After a review it’s deemed there’s one second on the clock so the Ags get one final shot.
  • This time Auburn sends three guys and gets pressure on Mond and he’s sacked for a loss of 9 yards as the time expires.   Three Auburn guys against five Aggie guys and Mond gets sacked 9 yards deep.

I know that’s a lot to read but in 2:19 of football with a 3 point lead and around midfield the Aggies have a comedy of errors on the offense, special teams, defense, and offense again.  Auburn definitely took the victory but the Aggies did nothing to stop them in the final 2:19 of the game.  I mean nothing.  That’s on the players and coaches equally.  It’s mind boggling how a team sitting on a win just completely botches so many consecutive plays.  Maybe Auburn still wins but if Mond hits Davis on the screen not even getting a first down we force their final timeout.  If our gunner stops their punt returner at the 14 he doesn’t get a free 28 yards.  Then if Charles Oliver makes the stop at our 40 maybe they hold Auburn to just a field goal sending it to overtime rather than a loss.

In the end you have to make plays but those three consecutive plays are totally maddening.  Just a lack of focus and execution by the staff and players.  They played almost 58 minutes of winning football but brain locked in the final 2 minutes and lost the game.  Football is 60 minutes and when you don’t play all those 60 minutes you stand a chance to lose.  Coffee is for closers and the Aggie football program doesn’t deserve any coffee after Auburn.

Overall:

Defense:

We all know about the issues with the secondary.  We can’t cover.  What’s interesting is our guys are not completely out of position but they can’t play the ball because they’re using every ounce of athleticism just to keep up with the offensive player.  Their lack of ability to play the ball even though they’re on the receiver shows the athleticism is just lacking.  Time and time again receivers have gone up to make plays against our defensive backs.  Unfortunately, even though our defenders are on the receiver they’re just not athletic enough to make a play on the ball.

The defensive line and linebackers were outstanding against the run.  Auburn running backs had 41 yards on 18 carries.  That’s outstanding.

Not much else to say about the defense.  We’re the best in the nation against the run.  Against the pass, well, we can see it with our own eyes.  It’s bad, Ags.

Offense:

The majority of this is going to be about Kellen Mond since he’s the focal point of every Aggie’s thoughts on why we’re losing.  Before we get to Mond I want to point out the following:

  • This offensive line is MUCH better at run blocking than pass blocking. The performance of this offensive line is deceptive because they’re pretty decent at blocking forward.  When they must slow someone down in the passing game they’re terrible at technique and assignments.  I think most of this is talent but if you’re watching the offensive line these guys leave a lot to be desired when it comes to pass blocking.  Mond may hold the ball too long but his offensive line is not helping him when it comes to giving him time and space.  He’s constantly trying to feel out pressure.
  • Trayveon Williams was a stud against Auburn. Jashaun Corbin gets better every day.  Those guys are proving to be a really good 1-2 punch against most defenses.
  • Our receiving corps is not that good. All of our receivers not named Kendrick Rogers are listed at 6’2” or shorter.  I think that’s being a bit generous as I don’t think many of these guys are over 6’.  They certainly don’t play tall at all.  They don’t go out and fight for the football.  In addition, none of them are true burners with break away speed or a knack for finding the open area on the field.  I know we’re missing Ausbon but he has yet to blossom.  Rogers is the tallest but I’m telling you he’s not a strong route runner and unless his legs are still and he’s turned back for the ball he’s not a consistent receiver.  If you want to see what I’m talking about watch that highlight film of the Auburn game above.  Watch the number of catches their guys make where they go up and get the ball.  We don’t have anyone in the receiving corps that plays above a defenders helmet other than Kendrick Rogers.  Sure, some of it is Mond isn’t making those passes but I don’t see our receivers going up and fighting for the ball on a regular basis.  Right now I wouldn’t put a single receiver on this team above any of these guys from past teams – Mike Evans, Josh Reynolds, Christian Kirk, Ryan Swope, Uzoma Nwachuku, Malcome Kennedy, Jeff Fuller, and Receiver Ryan Tannehill.  I’d take any of those guys from the past 10 years over anyone on the roster right now.  Hell, 2017 Damion Ratley might be better than anyone on the roster right now.  These guys have talent but they have a LONG ways to go to develop into a solid receiving corps.  I just don’t see it right now.

Kellen Mond:

Let’s talk about everybody’s favorite scapegoat.  Before I do I think it’s obvious no matter what anyone thinks Jimbo is sticking with Mond.  I think there’s some reasons for that.  The first is that physically Kellen Mond is fine.  His mechanics are pretty sound and he’s got mobility.  He made some plays in the Auburn game nobody else on this roster can make.  As crazy as it seems Mond was 50% passing against Auburn.  That’s not terrible.  You remember the bad throws and decisions but you forget the good throws.  He had one play where he was rolling right and then threw left hitting Sternberger on a backside drag for 42 yards.  Nobody else on this roster can make that throw.  It was really an amazing throw.  He also had some other good passes.

He’s not without fault though because his greatest issue is 100% mental.  If the play is not there he doesn’t know what to do.  He’s also slow to diagnose the play at the line.  He’s at odds with Jimbo which you can see as he comes off the field.  Jimbo is questioning his decision making and he doesn’t have an answer.  Couple his uncertainty with a line that can’t pass block and receivers that struggle to get open and fight for the ball making this offense a damn mess right now.  It’s on everyone.

Kellen Mond is basically a student that has the ability but is utterly confused on what is going on.  He understands some of what Jimbo wants him to do but not all of it.  He’s not helping himself as he’s lost confidence.  He appears afraid to make a mistake and that’s causing him to make mistakes.

It’s easy to point to Mond’s mistakes for the last two losses but I think he’s playing within what Jimbo is wanting him to do.  He’s not without fault but he’s not total garbage either.  He’s just utterly confused on what’s going on at times.  He definitely makes bad decisions at times with the ball.  At times he makes pretty good decisions and plays as well.  It’s good and bad with Mond right now.

I think it’s clear Jimbo sees something and is hoping that if he can get over his mental hurdles then he’s going to take off.  It’s basically the same thing with how people perform in their first year on the job as opposed to their second and third year.  Maybe Mond never advances from here.  I have no clue, but I understand what Jimbo sees and what his long term plan is.  Jimbo is sacrificing a little for this season hoping Mond turns into a veteran signal caller by his senior year.  No doubt Jimbo wants to win now but I think he’s also having some patience to see if he can develop Mond.  He’s the guy on his roster that fits his system the best.  Remember, Jimbo is the guy that got Deondre Francois to 10 wins a couple of seasons ago.

As for Starkel I get he’s everybody’s darling because he’s the back up.  That’s always the case.  Starkel might be a better decision maker but I don’t think he’d fare any better behind a line that can’t pass block and receivers that struggle to get open.

He was 2-5 as a starter and 1-3 in the SEC last year.  He also never beat a ranked team and I feel he was playing in a system better suited for him.  Quick reads and throws are his thing.  Sure, he got hurt against UCLA so maybe the outcome of his 2017 stats change but I’m not sure it would other than the outcome of that UCLA game.  Overall, he wasn’t that bad as he completed 60% of his passes but he did throw 6 interceptions to 14 touchdowns.  He was better against non-conference opponents as he was a 65% passer in those games as opposed to 55% in SEC games.  The big contrast was his TD/Int ratio which was 8/1 in non-conference and 6/5 in conference games.  He certainly had his challenges in SEC games last year.  It’s possible that carries over from last season but it’s also possible he improves under Jimbo.  Nobody knows that but for some reason Jimbo believes Mond is the better option.

I’d be fine if Jimbo put Starkel in but I don’t think we’d see overall improvement.  We might see a quick lift but I think defenses would learn to play Starkel with a lot of pressure.  They’d basically copy what Mississippi State did stacking gaps along the line and challenging our receivers at the snap so they couldn’t get into their routes.  They would probably apply pressure to Starkel and we’d see sack after sack I think or bad throws leading to interceptions.  Maybe not.  No way to know that but there are indications Starkel wouldn’t have time or open receivers.  It’s infinitely better for a quarterback when they both.

If you want a one sentence summary of all of everything it’s this – Jimbo makes $7.5 million a year to coach football because he has a lot of skins on the wall and right now he believes Kellen Mond is his best option to win football games.

It really boils down to that.  Maybe Jimbo is a complete moron and doesn’t know what he’s doing.  Maybe the people that don’t get paid to coach football know more than he does.  It’s entirely possible.  I’m certainly not going to say I’m right in that Mond is the better option right now than Starkel.  I do firmly believe that Mond is not as bad as some Aggie fans make him out to be.  We did come back against Clemson, put points up against Alabama, and currently sit at 3-3 in conference with wins over Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina.

Mond certainly needs to improve but so does the entire talent on this team other than defensive line and starting linebackers.  Maybe Mond gets there.  Maybe he doesn’t.  You can gnash your teeth all day about Mond taking snaps but I don’t think it’s going to do any good.  There’s a different style of football being played from the past and it may take a little time to get where it needs to be.  After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Yes, I went there.

At least we’re not getting our asses kicked like we have in so many games the last 4 years.  I do see that as improvement.

Looking Forward:

Right now I can’t look past Ole Miss.  I feel like coming back to Kyle and with their defense this is just what we need.  I think we’ll put the ball on the ground and keep their receivers in front of us for the most part.  Keep their offense in the red zone instead of the end zone as their red zone offense is worse than the Aggies.  We’ll get a win against Ole Miss and UAB so we’ll be sitting at 7-4 with LSU coming to town.  If Jimbo can somehow pull off the upset against LSU which is entirely possible we’d be looking at an 8-4 season with SERIOUS momentum heading into our bowl game.

I think right now EVERY Aggie fan would trade losses against MSU and Auburn for a win against LSU.  It’s an absolute long shot but football is a crazy game.  Let’s see Jimbo’s first year body of work before we decide he’s not the guy to Make Aggie Football Great Again.  I still think he is.

#MAFGA

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