Thoughts From the Games

Thoughts from the Games
Florida, SMU, and SC State

I’ve been holding off writing this again because the new gig has been taking up a lot of time but mainly I didn’t know what the hell I was looking at with this Aggie team. An amazing first half against Florida followed by an offensive turd in the second half. The turd continued through the first quarter against SMU before getting flushed. Then we struggle in the first couple of series against SC State before really opening it up. Through it all I feel like I started seeing what’s going with this team.

The La. Tech Game:

I’m still torn on if the lack of the La. Tech game has hurt us or helped us. As we get further along I think it’s actually helped us. They’re a good team and there’s a good chance we would have gotten beat as our offense would have struggled being on the road for the first time. Make no mistake we came out against Florida on emotion and surprise due to our first game in the SEC. I honestly can’t think of a time when campus and Kyle was fired up for a 2:30 game like that. There were a couple of the OU games in the early 2000s that had a 2:30 start and Kyle was rocking but they’re few and far between. I can’t help but think that carried over to the team and that’s part of the reason we jumped out to a great start.

Plus, with the element of surprise Florida had no idea what to look for offensively. Had they had film of us against La. Tech I think you might have seen our offense struggle the entire game as we’ll get to in a bit. I really do think we might have lost to both La. Tech and Florida had we played that game. As it stands I think we can now go into Shreveport and win that game and the result of the Florida game would have been the same and maybe even actually worse. We lost that Florida game but we all walked out of there thinking we could in fact compete against SEC teams. Let’s not underestimate the result of that. So, I think we dodged a bullet not playing La. Tech as this season is shaping up.

Offense:

I think we’ve all figured out what happened in the second half of the Florida game. I remember noticing it in the game and the quotes after confirmed it. Florida stopped sending their backers and just relied on their front four to apply pressure. That eliminated the open lanes due to over pursuit that our running backs and Manziel were able to exploit in the first half. Since that change our running game has been non-existent. Sadly, I think it’s going to continue that way until we start hitting passes down the middle of the field to pull linebackers from attacking the line of scrimmage or implement a true tight end or fullback.

What happened on Saturday night confirms what I believe as we couldn’t establish a rushing attack against a much inferior front 7. If we can’t establish a running game against this crew even without CMike we’re not going to do it against anyone. Much like Florida, SC State implemented the same scheme against the run. The used their front four to engage our offensive line and then the backers would simply scrape and fill holes. Not aggressively but basically seeing the same thing that the running back on the other side is seeing. The end result is their backers and our running backs are meeting at the LOS. I watched the SMU game on TV so it’s hard to tell but I’m guessing we did the same because we didn’t start moving the ball until Manziel made plays when the defense broke down on the ground and he was able to exploit it through the air in addition to his running. Other than Manziel we really didn’t have a running game against SMU either. Not good.

The reason this is happening this year and not last year is because we don’t have a true TE or fullback. What’s essentially happening is that our 5 offensive linemen are engaging the defensive front four leaving the 3 linebackers to fill the hole that’s created. In addition, because there’s no TE the outside linebackers are playing back off the line of scrimmage and just outside the tackles shoulder looking inside to fill those holes between the tackles. Normally they’d be lined up further outside on a TE and much closer to the line of scrimmage trying to avoid being sealed inside on a block. Without the concern of being sealed inside they can play both the inside and outside assuming they read the offense correctly.

Certainly our offense line has struggled early on with assignments but on Saturday night against SC State I watched our offensive lineman handle the front four of the defense only to have the LB fill the hole and meet out RB at the line of scrimmage. It’s not the line’s fault as much as it is the scheme’s fault. With a fullback they block the linebacker filling the gap and clear them out or at least engage them so the running back has a chance. It’s simple numbers working against us and no matter how well you execute you can’t block 7 guys with five guys. And they’re obviously going to leave their 7th guy home since we essentially have 2 RBs in the backfield with Manziel. So it’s basic 7 on 7 inside the box and I don’t see it changing if SC State can stymie our running game.

The other reason we’re struggling to establish a running game is we’re asking our lineman to run block without a hand on the ground. Without a hand on the ground it’s harder to keep lower leverage as well as fire out off the ball. Think of why track sprinters launch with their hands on the ground instead of on two feet. It’s much harder for our linemen to displace the defensive line so the best they can do is engage the defender and try and move them a little bit.

With all that I just don’t see us establishing a running game in this offense. At least between the tackles like we’ve seen in the past. What’s really lacking that I think we should be able to do is being able to establish an outside run. I would love to see us do overload sets to one side to see if we could seal an edge. Run some sweeps, screens, and zone reads to see if we can get those OLBs to focus outside more or exploit them if they’re hell bent on helping inside. I’d like to see Christine Michael get involved more in the running game so let’s hope he’s got his head clear and realized he’s costing himself money by doing whatever he’s doing to limit his playing time. He can actually take on a linebacker in the hole and get yards after contact. We’ll find out this weekend hopefully.

At receiver it’s hard to figure out what we have. We all know Swope and EZ but it seems like the staff is trying to figure out what they have in the others. It’s quite clear they’re trying to establish Mike Evans as the outside guy if you leave one on one he’s going to make you regret it. It seems we’ve tried to establish that without success and that’s why we can’t exploit the middle of the field with seam routes that Swope is perfect for. Manziel is also missing a bunch of open guys across the middle. Maybe he’s focused too much on the pocket pressure and not looking down field soon enough for fear he misses the pressure. However, it does seem Manziel is getting more familiar with his receivers as he’s been spreading the ball around the last two games. The receiver rotation has also been a little inconsistent so I’m not sure what all is going on and what we’re trying to accomplish with who. We’ll call the receiving corps a work in progress. There’s certainly talent there but it seems everyone including this coaching staff is still trying to figure who’s who and what’s what.

Alright, let’s get to Johnny Football. The kid is electric no doubt. There’s also little doubt he won’t be able to do what he’s done against SMU and SC State on the ground against our conference opponents. I think we’re going to find out that we played the weakest two teams we have on our schedule so it only gets tougher for Johnny Football from here. He has gotten much better about trying to stay in the pocket and when he scrambles keeping his eyes down the field and throw the ball rather than run. Still, there’s times when space is there and the kid should in fact take off and run. He did it against Florida until they took it away from him and he’ll learn over time as he gets more experience when it’s there and when it’s not. He’s just a work in progress.

Don’t forget ultimate success in college football happens because of one of two things or both. Those things are a suffocating defense and/or an electric player on the offensive side of the ball. You know the defenses of Alabama and LSU and even Florida’s first championship under Meyer but the times those teams haven’t won it you know the names of Vince Young, Tim Tebow, and Cam Newton. Now, I’m not saying Manziel is on the level of those guys but it’s pretty clear to me if you want to win it all you need someone that can transcend the offensive side of the ball if you don’t have a strong defense. Looking back there’s never been a “system” offense to win a National Championship. Oregon tried against a fairly average Auburn defense and couldn’t do it. Even Mike Leach’s vaunted offense often stalled against better defenses which is why he rarely beat Texas or OU and struggled in both Cotton Bowls he made it to with what might have been the SEC’s third or fourth best team.

I say all that in hopes that our offense is evolving from game to game as the coaches and players learn one another. I’d rather see that happen than the coaching staff stand headstrong and try to install their “system.” I’d really like to see Kingsbury evolve beyond what appears to be his “Air Raid” roots at Tech and UH. Nothing against Kingsbury but I’m beginning to see his roots won’t do well week in and week out against the SEC defenses.

As for what happens from here it’s not ideal but I think we can have a run of 3 games against Arkansas, Ole Miss, and La. Tech where can have some learning curves and still win. Now, I’m not saying we can win those games with major hiccups because we can’t but I think we can have some growing pains in those games and still win. Mainly because I think our offensive line is getting more comfortable in this system and receivers are learning what to do when the play breaks down and Manziel is able to extend the play with his legs.

So, in summary we’re not going to establish a running game between the tackles. Because of that let’s hope that Manziel and this coaching staff can learn from each other and craft the offense to the strengths of the talent we have on that side of the ball. It’s our only hope Luke.

Defense:

“The one constant through this season so far, Ray, has been defense. Aggie Football has rolled by like an army of steamrollers remaining competitive because of defense. The Wrecking Crew had been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again by men that go by the names of Fran and Sherm. But defense has marked the time and Aggie fans have waited for its return. Kyle Field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.” I adjusted the quote from Field of Dreams to reflect somewhat of how our defense has really carried this team so far. It feels good to have a defense that looks like it knows what its doing and can respond when needed.

Without our defense we get blown out by Florida and probably even play SMU close. Make no mistake this is no Wrecking Crew. Not even close outside of Demontre Moore. Dude is a one man Wrecking Crew so he definitely can be called that but there’s no one else. What this defense is doing is playing assignment football REALLY well. People are executing their assignment which allows all 11 defenders to cover the entire field and line of scrimmage. I think as we get more comfortable with the base defense and continue to execute it in our sleep we’ll see it get more aggressive. Until then I hope Snyder doesn’t change a thing as it’s absolutely marvelous to watch even if it’s not the old Wrecking Crew we know and love.

It’s also not on the level of Bama or LSU simply because we don’t have the athletes but it reminds me a lot of TCU’s defense. Now, don’t get me wrong in that we haven’t played an offensive juggernaut as Florida was very basic on offense, Garrett Gilbert couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat, and SC State missed a lot of open receivers or dropped balls that hit them in the hands. However, rarely is a receiver running wide screaming open like we saw with the litany of DCs that came before Snyder. Our LBs seem to understand their gap assignments and not overrun the ball carrier and the DLine understands engaging the OLine to free up others to make plays. Then there’s DeMonster who just wrecks shop all over the field. What’s impressed me the most is not what he’s done in the backfield but his pursuit all over the field. Time and time again he’s making tackles on the sideline simply because he’s pursuing the ball carrier the entire time. He must realize he can get paid like Von one day.

We are weak in a couple of areas and those include screen recognition and runs to the outside. Our defensive line will get sucked in by a screen and our LBs will either be slow to react or get up in the blocking or trash. Florida and SC State both ran some plays to the outside and gained positive yards. I think the weakness on these two things is our focus of not getting gutted up the middle and focusing our attention inside. I hold out faith that as our defense gets more comfortable with base assignments they’ll recognize screens and outside runs quicker and be quicker to react.

Despite how bad they’re playing as a team right now a Tyler Wilson lead offense can move the ball so we’ll find out where this defense really is on Saturday. Let’s hope we’re still proud.

Special Teams:

I have no clue what we have on special teams. No clue at all. We seem to be getting better each week but I’m still not sure as a whole. Our kicker hasn’t seen a tough field goal and he’s 1 of 2 making a 27 yarder and missing a 23 yarder. Doesn’t exactly instill much confidence does it? Epperson punts either like an old man playing golf that hits a shot 120 yards in the air but gets no trajectory so it rolls another 60 yards for a somewhat respectable drive or he punts like those rugby guys that rely on a roll except Epperson isn’t running before kicking. Whatever he’s doing it’s working for the most part so we’ll take it.

As for returns Dustin Harris has looked pretty decent returning punts but let’s be real in that he’s not an explosive returner. He’s got decent straight away speed but he’s no Dante Hall unless he’s jumping the curb and parking on the grass next to Kleberg that we don’t know about. Kick return wise our blocking was TERRIBLE against Florida and we haven’t seen many kicks in the other games thanks to our defense. However, with the new rules we shouldn’t be returning kicks on anything 2 yards or deeper in the end zone. Just take a knee and take it out to the 25 and be done with it. You get caught at the 15 yard line and then stall on a three and out all of sudden you’re behind on field position and that stuff matters.

There are just still a lot of unanswered questions about everything to be honest. Looking forward to Arkansas I’m DEATHLY afraid of this game. Tyler Wilson can still move the ball so they’re going to have the best day of any team against our defense so far. If our offense stalls a few times like it did against Florida we could be looking at being on the short of a shootout. I’d like to think we could win 35-21 but I can also see us losing 28-24 which would result in John L. Smith streaking on Kyle Field. Nobody wants that. Nobody.

If we can in semi-convincing fashion and our offense doesn’t stumble for the most part and our defense can hold Wilson and their offense mostly in check than I think we can go 8-4 with conference wins over Ole Miss, Auburn, and Mizzou in addition to our non-conference games. Arkansas reminds me of A&M last year. In total disarray as a team but there’s still enough talent that if it all clicks then they can beat a lot of people.

I’m somewhere between 8-4 and 6-6 with this team with all the clarity coming over the next three games.  When we get to the mid-point of the schedule we’ll have a good idea of what we have despite still having LSU and Bama on the schedule.

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