Before I hit the UAB game, let me quickly touch on the Utah St. game since I never wrote anything about it:
- We were gutted up the middle on defensive. There is little doubt our weakness on defense is up the gut. When we face running teams it’s going to be a looooong night. Just get used to giving up yards on the ground.
- Jerrod Johnson didn’t look good at all. He was getting pressured but he was missing guys left and right.
- We played GREAT defensively in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. My personal belief is that Utah St. was ready for us and we were a bit sluggish in the 1st quarter being off for two weeks. I think the 4th quarter was just us getting lax up by a decent margin coming off the previous throttling of New Mexico.
- All in all it was a nice win but obviously showing areas of concern.
On to the Blazers of Bama Birmingham:
- We actually had a decent special teams showing as a whole but we had two BIG snafus early on. The first one was the idiotic move by our kick return team of retreating without knowing where the ball was going. The upback should have called a fair catch and been done with it. As it happened the guy let the ball hit the ground and then UAB recovered. They would drive to get 3 points on us on their opening drive thanks to that gift.
- The other snafu was Dustin Harris’ fumbled punt in the same quarter in which they turned into 3 more points. Dustin is a true freshman and had a decent return later on so you hope it was just a freshman fluke.
- That’s pretty much it for special teams other than Ken Wood looking decent as a punter. Definitely not on the level of Brantley but he’s looking decent.
- Jerrod likely had the game of his career so far. Dude did everything right and looked outstanding. I don’t know what else to say about the kid as he was EXTREMLY accurate hitting short and long balls. I think I saw one play where he didn’t see a wide open guy and forced a ball into traffic but the best QB is going to have that happen to him.
- JJ also looked extremely good running the ball. He obviously scored 3 running TDs but one of those was a QB sneak. One involved a run to the corner and the other involved a draw up the middle. I don’t know if it was a draw by design but it was a great decision and great run by JJ.
- Howard Morrow came out of nowhere and had a great night. I’ve always liked this kid and I hope he has more games like he did Saturday night. He looked really good catching the ball. The only thing missing was that sleeve he wore last year. I kind of liked that look. Seriously. I miss his sleeve. He could prove to be a very solid #2 or #3 wide receiver this year. I hope he does. And I hope he reconsiders the sleeve.
- Other receivers that looked good in general were Jamie McCoy and Brandal Jackson. Jackson still has some work to do but he looks like a straight up possession guy. With this offense Jamie McCoy just seems like one of those guys that’s going to get lost by the defense which will result in a great safety valve for JJ and moving the chains. Need guys like Jamie on your team.
- Ryan Tannehill just looked tremendous on Saturday night. Kid is a football player plain and simple. He finds the open spot but most importantly positions himself to block the defender and keep positioning where only he can catch the ball. I don’t want to say he’s like Larry Fitzgerald but he has that same ability where he can just adjust and position himself where the defender has to go through more of himself to get the ball. It makes it easier to catch the ball when you know how to shield the defender. It’s one of those underrated skills like a pitcher that is able to hide the ball longer from the hitter.
- 9 total people caught the ball which just tells you how well JJ did finding the open guy.
- The offensive line looked pretty decent. Not great but maybe the best I’ve seen them in the three games. I think a lot of it has to do with Shumard at guard. He’s by far the best lineman on the team as long as he’s playing guard. That can be stated enough. He’s a natural guard and a damn good one. When he’s not there the line is weaker. Let’s just leave him there.
- Barrera looked pretty good at LT and I dare say has looked better than any other LT in our short season. Not saying he looked great but he did do a decent job. Long ways to go and he’s going to have his hands full when he goes up against the better DEs in the Big XII but if one game is an example then it’s better than anything else.
- Danny Baker looked to do okay as well at the RT but I did see him get blown up once resulting in the RB getting pegged in the backfield. It’s probably best he’s not at LT anymore.
- Didn’t really see much out of Matthews or Allen which is fine. It’s sometimes best not to notice an offensive lineman.
- I did watch Pat Lewis quite a bit as he got quite a bit of PT at guard and looked damn good. Didn’t get a real good look at him on running plays but he’s a solid pass blocker. He’s just got a low center of gravity and uses great technique. If he doesn’t start at center this year then I think he just plugs in next year and goes. He might still Matt Allen’s spot this year which I’m fine with if that’s what it comes down to. It’s good to know that it appears that Lewis can push both Matthews and Allen.
- All in all this line looked decent on Saturday night. Don’t take it as things are hunky dory as there are still issues but if they played like they did on Saturday night all season we can easily get to a bowl game and a half decent one. They didn’t dominate but they did a nice job of engaging their man on run plays and creating some semblance of a pocket on pass plays.
- I hate saying this next thing but Cyrus Gray is no Christine Michael. I don’t mean that as slight to Cyrus as he seems like such a great guy and team player. I think we’ve gotten spoiled with the explosiveness in guys like Goodson and saw it early on in Michael. Without CM suited up it became painfully obvious what Cyrus is missing. He’s not a horrible back by any stretch as I think he’d start on several other Big XII games but he just lacks the explosiveness of a featured back. What Cyrus does well is make cuts and shift. Think of him like a healthy Courtney Lewis but without the acceleration. Against good teams he’s never going to break one off out of nothing and I don’t see him ever really carrying a team.
- I was actually really impressed with Bradley Stephens. He’s more explosive than Cyrus and looks to be somewhere between Cyrus and Christine. I know he’s had issues holding onto the ball but I would actually feel decent about a Cyrus/Bradley tandem if we had a better OLine. We don’t have that so let’s just feature CMike from here on out.
- There’s not much else to say about the offense as they put up 56 points. And that was without their two best playmakers in Christine Michael and Jeff Fuller. Let’s hope they keep this.
- Overall this was a VERY good defensive performance. Joe Webb (UAB QB) is no slouch and the special teams turned the ball over at some key points to really shorten the field and put the defense in a bind which the defense worked out of. It was not a dominating performance but it was a VERY good performance.
- It’s hard to really point out any one person as it was a true team effort. Seriously. 11 guys playing their assignments, getting to the ball, and making the tackle. UAB scored points but let’s just realize that we don’t have the experienced talent it takes to shut teams out for four quarters. Maybe in two years but not right now.
- We do have a severe weakness in that we’re weak up the middle. I think some of this is by design as Kines has consistently given some slack up the middle. I think it’s just him trying to eliminate the big play over the top and keep his defense playing side line to side line.
- As always, Von Miller looked good but I think his days of getting sack after sack are over as he’s getting more double teams and the competition will only get better. Don’t get me wrong as he still got 2 Saturday night but I think more and more teams will commit more resources to him and he won’t be as disruptive as he’s been in these first three games. That’s actually a good thing as two people on Von means we have better coverage or opportunity elsewhere. Let’s hope some others can step up. You’ll still see Von applying pressure but it’s going to get harder and harder on him.
- Outside of giving up yardage in the middle the DLine looked decent. I thought Matt Moss did a great job opposite Von and I think the guys inside actually do a pretty good job considering I rail on this defense for giving up yards up the middle.
- All of the linebackers looked solid but not yet spectacular. This group is leaps and bounds of where they were last year but they still have a ways to go to being one of the top LB corps in the country which is where we ultimately want get back to. Each one will have a great play each game but they’re not disruptive by any stretch all game and that’s where I think we have to get back to. I think Kines is not attempting to try and make them disruptive as he doesn’t want to give up the big play.
- Same thing with the secondary. Very solid but not yet spectacular. Don’t get me wrong in that this group played a very solid game but they’re not quite disruptive of where the Wrecking Crew used to be. I would have to go back and look at the stats but I’m not sure this secondary has an interception yet. They have some fumble recoveries but I’m racking my brain trying to remember an interception by the secondary and can’t think of one right now. You don’t need interceptions to be good but I do feel you need interceptions out of your secondary to be great. At the same time, you never want to trade interceptions for touchdowns as TDs burn you much more.
- Tackling – This can’t be talked about enough in that this crew tackles 100X better than last year. It’s not even close. This defense is fundamentally sound and they can bring down the guy with the ball. A lot of this has to do with being in better position and having speed to get to the ball carrier but it’s good to see these guys bringing ball carriers down with initial contact.
- 3rd Downs – I need to go look at the stats to see exactly how good they were but this defense did a damn good job getting off the field on 3rd downs. This is probably the best stat for a defense (outside of points obviously) as I don’t care how many yards you give up if you’re getting off the field on third downs. Not only does it give you the ball back but it keeps your defense fresh. This was a huge problem last year and what ultimately led to our second half collapses. So far they’ve been really good in getting off the field on third downs and that’s great to see.
- Don’t worry about yards given up by this defense. It’s going to happen. Focus on the score given up and 3rd down holds. I’m convinced that’s all Joe Kines cares about. He’ll give you yards on 1st and 2nd down but he’s going to do everything he can to get his defense off the field on 3rd down. Same thing with points. He’s going to try and keep you outside of the red zone but if you get there he’s going to do everything he can to keep you to a field goal.
Looking at Arkansas:
This is not a big game by any stretch but I think it’s safe to say that this is the biggest game since Miami in 2007. We’re playing a name team on national television so we can get some good pub if we do well. We’ll be opposite of OU/Miami so we won’t get that much national pub but it’s better than nothing. We win this game and we’re clearly on the road to a bowl game and maybe even something on the level of the Alamo Bowl.
I’ve watched the highlights of Akry in their first two games and then the first half against Bama. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1) Their OLine is not that great.
2) Their defense is not that great.
3) Ryan Mallett can throw like a mother.
4) They don’t have a dominant running back.
If we play like we’ve played then this is a VERY winnable game. The talent is very equal so it’s all going to come down to preparation and scheme. In my mind this is clearly a game that will be won by the coaching staff unless one of the QBs can’t hit the broad side of a barn then it will be on the QB. Make no mistake as this game will be won by the coaching staffs and the QB play.
It’s going to be a shoot out for the most part and we won’t be able to win if JJ isn’t hitting his guys. If JJ plays like he did against Utah St. then we lose. If he plays like he’s played against New Mexico and UAB then we win.
I do think Sherm and Co. have to come up with a slightly different scheme offensively for this game. Not a drastic one but they need to introduce a new set besides the bunch formation. It’s served them well but I think they need something to surprise and give Arkansas something to think about.
My prediction – Aggies 45, Arky 35
I don’t feel good about it as neither team has had enough games to truly see what’s going on but I think we win based on what I’ve seen in the first three games. And just so you know I didn’t think there was a chance in hell we could win this game coming into the season based on how both teams closed out last year.