Thoughts from the Idaho Game

Although the score wasn’t as wide as we all would have hoped, there are a lot of positives to take from Saturday’s game.  Well, that’s assuming you didn’t wager too much on the Aggies covering.  I tend to say I don’t care about statistics and only care about the score.  That’s generally true but we dominated Idaho more than the score indicates.  The offense moved up and down the field for the most part but stalled out a couple of times resulting in field goals instead of touchdowns.  Defensively we held them scoreless until late in the game.  Score doesn’t show it but we were really solid.  Still, you wish the offense didn’t stall out but it happens.

Just so you know I left early in the 4th quarter to head to the tailgate and catch the OU/FSU game since our game was in hand and Tanny was out.  Call me a two percenter but I’d tend to blame the shakes of no cold beer than not being a true Aggie.  As fate would have it I watched the FSN replay at lunch today while I took down a queso covered steak burrito at Chuy’s.  I was able to fill in what I didn’t see in person for the most part but you have no idea how much I’m fighting through a nap right now.  Really fighting it.

OFFENSE – Had we not stalled out a few times this would have been as dominant as a performance as SMU.  There was at least 8 points left on the field due to offense stalls if not more.  As it stands I didn’t see any new wrinkles and Idaho was certainly selling out the run which factored into quite a few plays.  They tended to fill the holes that are normally there and forced us to stretch our runs out further down the line of scrimmage giving their guys more time to flow and stop the run.  We still looked really good running the ball but Idaho got lots of guys to the line of scrimmage most of the game to slow us down.  I kept waiting for us to break one with so many guys selling out but we never hit it.  Despite the selling out we still gained yards on the ground but smartly Sherman went to the air a little more often than I bet he thought he would.  Now, should we be worried we couldn’t line up and smash Idaho in the mouth?  A little bit but I have to imagine Sherm will have more wrinkles later in the season for teams that want to try this approach.

I don’t remember a lot of play action which is what you normally do when a team is run blitzing like crazy.  You also fake a reverse or even try it.  I think Sherm was committed to the run to get some more film for assignment teaching.  There were four times in the 1st half (maybe one early in the 3rd quarter) where we lined up in a tight bunch formation to the wide side.  Of those four times, we ran a sweep to the wide side.  It was pretty obvious it was coming and we got a few yards but never busted it.  Idaho recognized it and sold out stretching it out for a minimal gain.  What I noticed the times we did was that our pulling tackle and tight end/fullback weren’t clean on who they were blocking.  There were a lot of white jerseys and our guys looked a little hesitant on who to block because there were so many.   Hopefully Sherm just wanted some film to teach more assignments and recognition.  I wonder what it would look like if Idaho hadn’t sold out but at the same time you use that tendency to set something up later on in a real game.  I’m fine just trying to maul Idaho throughout even if we weren’t successful due to numbers.

Tanny looked really solid.  Not as good as SMU but he looked really solid none the less.  He missed some passes early in the second half but for most of the first half he made quick reads and let the ball fly.  His pocket presence is still very strong but there were a couple of times he held the ball a bit too long in the pocket and almost got sacked.  If anything that’s a good thing to remind him to not get too comfortable standing around.  It’s only natural to push it against a team like Idaho after getting comfortable against SMU.

Something else I saw Tanny do which made me smile was out throwing his receiver on deep balls.  He threw two deep balls to Fuller and one Fuller jumped out to catch and the second time it was too far.  On a deep ball you want to throw it too deep rather than too short so only your receiver can go get it.  If you’re going to go deep and underthrow it you might as well punt as the DB is usually in position to catch an underthrown ball.  Now, the second one appeared to re-aggravate Fuller’s hamstring so maybe that wasn’t a good thing but still, I’ve wondered if Tanny could out throw Fuller and he finally showed it on Saturday.  It’s great to have that on film as it’s a reminder to defensive coordinators that you leave Fuller on an island and Tanny can find him and get it out there.  Tanny came out late in the third quarter so I’m guessing Sherm thought there was nothing more for Tanny to gain by taking snaps but he looked fine in the time he was in there.

Our receivers looked fine for the most part.  There was one egregious drop that I remember but most of the missed passes were on Tanny not putting it where it needs to be.  There’s not much more to say about the receivers as it was just another normal day at the office.  The tight ends looked pretty good and have turned into a very good safety valve for when Tanny rolls out.  Tanny does a real nice job of looking downfield to use the tight end as a secondary receiver when there’s nothing else downfield.

Same thing with the offensive line.  They had a lot of numbers to deal with as Idaho constantly brought people attacking the line of scrimmage and they handled it well.  They did fine on pass protection with only one breakdown where Tanny avoided a sure sack and there might have been another breakdown as well.  Only one holding call that I remember and no false starts that I remember so that’s always a positive.

All in all you would like to have seen drives not stall out and see Tanny be a little better on completions.  67% is certainly not bad but the way this offense is built and considering the opponent you would like to see a percentage closer to what Tanny had against SMU where he was 80%.  You’ll take 67% against B12 opponents but it was Idaho so there was certainly room for improvement.  Let’s hope Sherm starts adding more wrinkles as we get into the meat of the schedule so this offense looks a little more complex and confuses defenses.

DEFENSE – Trying to analyze the defense is really tough.  We looked really solid but the stats outside of total yards don’t really bear it out.  We had no turnovers and only 3 sacks with two by corners on corner blitzes.  Time of possession is almost equal which is strange considering how dominant our offense was and how many 3 and outs our defense got in the first half.  I know they cranked up some TOP in the 4th quarter but at half it was split.  I remember seeing that stat at half and thinking it was weird because we moved the ball with no big plays.  So, in the interest of evaluating our defense I’m throwing out the stats and the 4th quarter as a whole.  Sometimes you just have to go with what your eyeballs saw and not worry about the numbers backing it up.  Also, it looked like we actually would have stopped Idaho from scoring had it not been for a penalty on a 3rd down where we stopped them near the goal line.  I was in a queso induced haze so I’m not positive that’s what I saw.

I thought our defensive line looked REALLY good again.  Not dominant but they created push all night long.  Sure, they were going against a lesser opponent but it’s still good to see our 3 man front occupying and moving the blockers of the other team.   I thought we had more sacks but my guess the QB was scrambling for a 1-2 yard gain which isn’t technically a sack but might as well be.  All in all this unit did what I expect them to do much of the season which is engage and push around the offensive line being disruptive but not dominant.  One person I’d like to make note of is Ben “Straight Outta” Compton.  This was his first game at NT as a true freshman and he looked pretty good.  Not dominant but he held his own.  Really reminded me of a bigger Lucas Patterson in that he’s not the biggest guy out there but you can tell his he has solid technique so with more time he only gets better.  Let’s hope so as having 3 fresh NTs will prove very beneficial to this defense since it’s a focal point.

Now, our linebackers.  Go get a cup of coffee as this might take a while.  First off, I’m just going to say the person I called out last week failed to impress again.  I thought Damontre Moore would have gotten more snaps but Russell got the majority of the snaps and just failed to do anything.  Not sure if Moore is still in the doghouse, not in shape, or what is going on but from what Russell has shown this season and what Moore showed last year it’s time for Moore to get the majority of the snaps.  I don’t get why he didn’t play more in this game unless it was a matter of giving Russell every chance to maintain the starting position since he hasn’t played there as much as Moore.  If Moore is not starting this Saturday I’m going to be VERY concerned.  Russell is a great story but he can be taken care of by a single man.  You don’t need to chip him, you don’t need to line a tight end up to help on him, and you don’t need to keep a back in the backfield to look for him.  I don’t expect anyone to fully replace Von but would like to see someone that the offense has to at least think about or our guy can dominate the single person assigned to them.  Russell just doesn’t have that so let Damontre go.  This is just really looking to shape up to be a Mike Goodson situation where it’s CLEAR who the better player is but Sherm wants to reward the guy who practices better or goes to every class or something else other than the performance when there’s a real live game being played.  I can’t help but think something is at play when watching Russell not really do anything and know the potential Moore has.  Maybe lack of PT is the only thing Moore responds to but whatever it is it needs to get straightened out pretty quick.  Maybe Von needs to call Moore.  I don’t know but after two games it’s clear Moore should be starting and seeing the majority of the snaps at the Joker position.  I think we would even be better served getting Brandon Alexander more snaps as he looked good at times on Saturday night.  On the other side Porter looks really good so need to waste a lot of words on him as he is who he is.  He just needs to be TJE’s little buddy on the outside cleaning up what TJE disrupts. Symbiosis at its finest.  Not a knock on Porter at all because he’s really solid but no doubt he benefits due to the attention TJE is going to get.

Inside linebacker.  Still unsure what we have here.  We did look better against Idaho but no one is standing out and a multitude of guys are coming in and out so it’s hard to really judge.  At Monday’s presser, Coach Sherman and DeRuyter mentioned Shaun Ward would move inside.  Based on his size I think this is a fine move but it also confirms what I’m seeing where there’s lots of room for improvement.  Now, to be fair we’re not blowing assignments left and right like we did before DeRuyter got here but no one is making plays left and right.  However, in a 3-4 your ILBs have to make plays inside.  You basically sacrifice your 3 defensive linemen to free up your 2 ILBs to make plays.  We’re clearly not doing that.  Garrick is the most consistent in my mind but it’s clear he’s missing Hodges.   I think Garrick should be getting the majority of the snaps and looking to figure out who to complement him with.

Of those left, Jonathan Stewart looks to be the most consistent but he’s not disruptive by any stretch.  He’s around the ball and helping with tackles so he’s not horrible but you’d like to see someone ready to crack heads inside.  Donnie Baggs is very hesitant but he’s a true freshman.  He has decent measurables but he’s just young.  Steven Jenkins passes the eyeball test and when he’s not hesitant you can see he could be the answer.  However, he still plays hesitant.  So, Stewart is our most consistent followed by Jenkins and then Baggs in my mind.  I’m almost of the mindset of getting Jenkins more snaps to see if he can learn the system on the fly because I think he offers the most potential right now.  Maybe you just keep rotating these guys hoping one finally clicks like Hodges last year.  It’ll be interesting to see what they do with Ward at ILB but it’s clear that there’s concern inside if they’re moving Ward.  To be fair though the ILBs aren’t terrible by any stretch but you just hope to improve and solidify the guys that you have.  We’ve had ILBs in the past that would make the guys we have now look all conference.  So, these guys should get credit for being better than we’ve had in the past but we still have a ways to go to be dominant.

I would hope at some point we have a starting four of Moore, Williams, Jenkins, and Porter for our four linebacking spots.  Based on what I’ve seen they offer the most promise right now.  Hopefully with increased snaps they all just kind of gel together but in the little time we’ve been looking for Von and Hodges replacements they offer the most promise.  We’ll still be susceptible to runs up the middle but should defend them better if Jenkins can develop.

In the secondary it’s similar to the DLine.  The Idaho QB didn’t make any long passes and tended to dump off quite a bit.  He didn’t get many of his yards until 4th quarter garbage time.  We didn’t look to have any busted coverage so it seems like some things were cleaned up from the SMU game but its clear Idaho isn’t even close to being the passing team that SMU was.  Howard Matthews did look pretty good in the brief snaps he got.  Campbell and Hunter are clearly our starting safeties but it’s nice to see there could be some talent waiting in the wings.  All in all the secondary was pretty solid but not dominant and I’ll take pretty solid all day long.  They just didn’t have a lot of opportunity to be dominant.

The one wrinkle I saw our defense do this game I haven’t seen in quite some time is make pre-snap shifts along the defensive line and have our ILBs show blitz in the gaps and then back off at the snap.  They did this a lot in the 1st quarter and then tapered it off for the rest of the game.  Some of it had to do with Idaho making an audible after our shift so maybe that factored into it more than anything.  I’m hoping this is a pre-cursor to messing with OkSU’s offense as they like to make their playcall based on what the defense shows.  I don’t know why more defenses don’t adjust and show fake looks but would like to see it tried against OkSU.  Surely with enough film study you can identify what types of plays OSU tends to run based on pre-snap looks. We shall see.

SPECIAL TEAMS – Bullock got a few more tries than I would have liked but he hit on all but one so that’s good to see.  He was 3-4 on tries and 2-3 in the 40 yard range.  That’s an improvement on being 1-10 from 20 yards which seems like we used to be.  Return game was fine as Judie had a nice kick-off return and no one dropped a punt from what I remember.  Punting was a head scratcher as Epperson hit a 40 yarder which is about as good as it gets with him.  Kaser shanked one for 23 yards on his first attempt and then boomed one 68 yards for a touchback according to the stats as I was tailgating by the time he booted that one.  I have to think Kaser gets the majority of snaps at punter if he can in fact boom them 68 yards even if it was slightly wind aided.

 

Oklahoma State Look Ahead – Up until watching OSU play Arizona and watching us play Idaho I felt REALLY good about our chances against OSU.  I still feel confident but not nearly as much as I did coming into the season.  This is gonna sound cliché but I think the team that wins either has the ball last or turns it over the least.  This just looks like two evenly matched teams that can move the ball with suspect defenses.  I will say I think our defense appears better just because we have DeRuyter who has proven to make chicken salad out of chicken sheet.

OSU is going to get points and I wouldn’t be shocked to see a 45-38 game going either way.  The other factor will be the defense that trades touchdowns for field goals.  If I’m Sherman I tell DeRuyter to keep it basic and to keep OSU in front unless he knows for sure he can get a blitz to work.  I also tell him I don’t give a damn about any stat other than the score where he has to keep A&M within 7 points for most of the game unless the A&M offense is just clicking and he can dial up the pressure to see if he can put a foot on the throat of the OSU offense.

My main reason for feeling different about this game is that OSU has a legit ground game.  I really thought they’d be one dimensional with the loss of Kendall Hunter but they’ve shown they really have the ability to run the ball and are very balanced.  This brings our weakness at ILB into play and I think OSU looks to exploit it and will likely be able to because they have a VERY good offensive line and solid backs.  If I hadn’t seen the running game against Arizona and Tulsa I’d feel much better about this game.  Sure, our defense should be better than those two defenses but we’re still a borderline Top 50 defense at best.

Offensively coming into the season I expected Sherm to lean on the OSU defense with the run but after the first two games I’m not sure that’s the answer.  After seeing Idaho sell out to the run I think we need to keep a balanced 50/50 approach with lots of play actions and roll outs to keep OSU from firing LBs and DBs straight up the field.  We need OSU to worry about defending a 20 yard box rather than just the line of scrimmage.  I know Sherm likes to be wrinkle free but I’d be fine seeing Cyrus attempt a tailback pass on one of those bunch formation sweeps.  Not get too cute but let the OSU DC know it’s there.  Also set up a reverse out of the formation with the power sweep if you see OSU selling out like Idaho did.

It’s going to be a close game but it’s at Kyle and we’ve played OSU close in the last two years so I think this is the year Sherm finally gets over on Mike Gundy.  However, make no mistake this is about as evenly matched teams as you get.  Two head coaches with heavy influence on their offense and two DCs with proven track records.  Star players at the skill positions on offense with solid offensive lines and just enough playmakers on defense to make them competitive.  Might as well be mirrors on the field instead of players.  Kyle Field will be rocking and I think that makes the difference.  Aggies 41, Cowboys 35.

BTHOOSU!

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