Thoughts From the UCLA Game

myles-on-rosen

First off, despite the Aggies blowing a 15 point fourth quarter lead, that was a damn solid win.  As we saw on Saturday a lot of good teams lost games they probably shouldn’t have.  You hate the minor collapse but you have to love the fact a win was had.  That’s a really good UCLA team and probably the best team A&M has opened against since Florida in 2012.  Lots of areas to work on but a win is a win.  Take it and move on down the road.

Offense:

I like a LOT of what I saw on the offense on Saturday except for two things – the QB play and play calling.  I’ll get to those two negativess in a bit as I want to hit on the positives first.  I thought the offensive line played pretty solid.  Not great but they looked better than last year as a unit.  The interior of the line looked MUCH better than last year.  It’s only one game but I think this line can be serviceable.  This line appears much better than last year.  We lost our starting left tackle but Koda Martin actually looked pretty decent in Gennesy’s place.  He wasn’t dominant by any stretch but he did a decent job of engaging and staying with their defensive end much of the time he was in there.  I was worried when Gennesy went out but Martin did okay and held his own.  With Turner as their coach I have faith this unit gets better and better along with having some depth.

I LOVED our running back tandem of Keith Ford and Trayveon Williams.  I don’t want to diss Tra Carson as that dude was all heart last year but this tandem is a BIG step up.  Those two guys have a burst and run angry not shying away from contact.  They’re not the top RBs in the country by any stretch but they’re very serviceable and better than what we had last year.  I’ll take that.

Our receivers are exactly the same as last year and that’s not a bad thing.  Josh Reynolds is probably the most underrated receiver in the country.  I’m not kidding.  He might be the best receiver on this squad including Kirk.  RSJ still has issues with his hands at times.  Kirk didn’t see the ball enough in my book but we know how good he can be.  He’ll get his at some point.  Speedy comes back next week and can’t wait to see if he’s progressed like has been said.  No issues here at all but would like to see these guys utilized a lot more.

Now for the negatives – I know everybody loves Trevor Knight because he looks and talks the part but in this game he reminded me of another Aggie quarterback in Stephen McGee.  I know everyone loves McGee because he looks and talks like Aggieland Central Casting would want in a quarterback but McGee really wasn’t all that productive if you watched him objectively.  McGee had horrible pocket awareness and I saw a LOT of that from Knight on Saturday.  There were at least 5 times where a pocket was forming for Knight to step up into but instead he kept going backwards.  I’ve always felt pocket presence is something that’s either there or not and can’t really be coached.  For a 5th year senior in college I’m not sure if Knight is going to develop it at this point.  It’s really important he have faith in his pocket, step up, and find an open receiver quickly.  He’s athletic but he’s not athletic enough to be a great scramble QB when the pocket breaks down.  He needs to step up with his eyes down field and find the open man and hit him or run for whatever gain he can get.  Going backwards is never a good thing.

In the end Knight was very serviceable on Saturday and helped us get the win but if his play had been a little more stellar we would have won walking away.  Some of that is on Mazzone as I’ll get to in a bit.  I still contend Trevor Knight is not going to win us any ball games.  The best he can do is not let us lose any games.  He’s got to be careful with the ball and most importantly aware of his limitations as a pocket passer.  He wasn’t terrible at all but he was the Trevor Knight that got beat out by Baker Mayfield last season.  I hope he can improve but once again he’s a 5th year senior so you really wonder how much improvement is there.  Even just a little bit would likely mean another win on the season.

As for the play calling, 2 quarters I loved and 2 quarters I didn’t.  The first four series seemed to basically focus on pass, run, pass, run.  We did nothing on any of those series and I was wondering if Mazzone was just trying to figure out what he had as on the fifth series he started combining pass and run and we moved the ball down the field.  In the second and third quarter we moved the ball up and down the field and then in the 4th quarter we just went stagnant with conservative and predictable play calling.  The proverbial taking the foot off the gas if you will.  I don’t know if that was an order by Sumlin or he was just trying to protect Knight from making a mistake.  At least it’s better than Spav as I hated his play calling for all 4 quarters.  Hopefully after watching the film and realizing what he has from an actual game he’ll make some adjustments.  I loved the up tempo stuff so hopefully we keep developing that.

The two stats I HATED from an offensive standpoint were we only converted 4 or 5 third downs in 15 attempts.  That’s pathetic.  Absolutely pathetic.  The other is UCLA won time of possession by a pretty wide margin.  With our defense that shouldn’t happen.  Our defense has shown they can get off the field so our offense has to do a better job of staying on the field via third down conversions.  We improve third down conversion and our time of possession goes up and we limit the other offense’s opportunities which results in more wins.  It’s really as simple as that.

Defense:

For 3.5 quarters and an overtime period our defense was flat out nails.  That’s a great UCLA offense and we held them in check for 3.5 quarters.  We did so with our offense turning the ball over twice and not being able to sustain drives to stay on the field.  Our defense was on the field more than our offense and that always put your defense in a bind.  Had our offense done more in the first and fourth quarter our defense likely doesn’t let UCLA score 15 points to tie the game in the final half of the 4th quarter.  We all want perfection and the Wrecking Crew but in the current college game that was a solid defensive effort due to our offense not being able to stay on the field and score more points.

The defensive line and specifically Mr. Myles Garret brought pressure all game long.  Garret’s stats might not have been as gaudy as we want but if you watched him all game that was Garret’s best game by far.  For the entire game he brought pressure from where lined up.  He played pass and run extremely well and his technique was outstanding.  He mixed up edge rushing, bull rushing, and interior spin moves which I don’t recall him doing an entire game last season.  Let’s cherish it because I think he’s about to have a Von Miller type final season in Aggieland where it’ll be a while before we have someone like him again.  That was also a pretty good left tackle he was going up against.

The rest of the defensive line was solid as well.  Hall was bringing pressure from the other side and the interior was bringing pressure all day as well.  Most impressive was the stunting and twisting we were doing along the front with the other the DLinemen thanks to Garret commanding so much attention.  Our DTs weren’t just firing straight up the field but attacking the UCLA line with multiple looks so they never knew exactly what was going to happen.  Lots of athleticism along that defensive line which should prove to be really big as the season wears on.

The linebackers looked solid as well.  What was most impressive to me was the amount of playing time they all got and how effective they were for the most part.  Alaka, George, Washington, and Dodson all got plenty of PT and to be honest they all looked the same.  That’s not a bad thing as we need depth at linebacker more than anything so no one is too burdened.   I wouldn’t say anyone truly stood out but they worked well with the defensive line and safeties to bring pressure from all over and maintain their assignments.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this crew against a run first team like Auburn in a couple of weeks because we were more about pinning our ears back to apply pressure.  That’s my only concern of this crew for now.

The secondary outside of a couple of botched plays late in the 4th looked really good.  Watts and Evans brought it all game long along with Wilson when he was in there.  The corners looked really serviceable but they’re not lock down corners at this point.  If our pressure doesn’t get to the QB they can’t hold all that long.  It’s just part of how this defense is built though.  I’ll take what I saw as if last year is any indication this crew gets better with each game.

The defensive unit as a whole basically picked up where they left off last season.  I’m not kidding in that if I was the Athletic Director I’d go guarantee John Chavis two more years of his salary no matter what Kevin Sumlin thinks.  Chief is one of if not the best defensive coordinators in the country and I don’t want him going anywhere.

Special Teams:

Nothing special here other than our punter looked solid.  Placekicking is in question.  I didn’t really like Evans returning kicks as I want someone with some wiggle.  Maybe with Speedy back that changes.

 

Looking forward I don’t want to get too high or too low after one game.  It’s the best opening game win we’ve ever had with Sumlin but lots of work to go.  I’m still just really uncertain on Knight.  Heart and leadership are not in question but he really was the weakest link of our offense in my mind.  What happens when he gets pressured or we can’t establish a running game?  I really would like to see the pocket moved with him more or him being more confident in the pocket and looking downfield.  His drop back pocket awareness just scares me based on this game and his time at OU.

Mazzone did say in his press conference it’s like a first date where they have to get to know each other.  Hopefully that’s true and they both adapt and grow together.  If that’s the case then I really like this team.

To be clear this is not a playoff team.  At best this is a 10-2 and maybe 11-1 team.  I just don’t see us getting past Alabama.  I’m not sure Bama goes undefeated in the SEC but after Week 1 it’s very possible they do.  They looked that good and the rest of the SEC showed major holes.  Bama will likely lose to someone but we’ll lose to Bama and then someone else in a best case scenario.  I’m totally okay with 10-2 though.  Totally okay with 10 wins.

Auburn looked MUCH better than I ever expected.  I’m not as confident about that game anymore.  Their defense and their penchant to run the ball will prove to be a major test for us.  Tennessee, Ole Miss, and LSU all look like much more winnable games after Week 1 but there’s lots of football to be played.  Let’s wait and see what happens between now and when we play them before moving the needle to a win on those game.  For now I’m sticking with 8-4 but I see us trending to more wins than less right now which means we’ll keep Sumlin another year as if he wins nine he’s fine.

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