Thoughts from the Auburn Game

myles-at-auburn

 

Before I get into the game I have to comment about everything Auburn.  Their fans were amazing all weekend.  From being out on Friday night at their version of Northgate, to some tailgating before the game, to during the game, and then at the bars after the game on Saturday night.  Just tremendous and welcoming all weekend.  I didn’t run into one jackass.  I put them as the nicest fan base I’ve visited above Nebraska and Alabama.  I hope we’re just as nice when visiting fans come to Aggieland.  The scene in the stadium was tremendous.  There’s no doubt we made the right choice going to the SEC.  If you haven’t been to Auburn put it on your list as you won’t be disappointed.

As for the game that’s a damn nice win.  We went on the road against a damn talented football team and controlled the game for most of it and put them away when we had to.  There are lots of areas to work on and we didn’t even come close to playing flawless but we held control and momentum for most of the game.  While you can question the coaching of Auburn that’s still a really talented team so we had to work for it.  In the end I’d say we out coached and out played them and that’s something we couldn’t say last year and even two years ago.  As a whole this team has improved for the third straight week and that’s not something I’ve felt we’ve done in the past two years and even in 2013.  This kind of feels like the 2012 season which I’ll touch on later.

Before I get into each unit I have to say this game felt like the Vanderbilt game last season.  We were playing a really tough defense and had trouble in the red zone all night but converted 5 field goals and scored a long touchdown.  Auburn has a much better offense than Vandy but it just had that feel where we were in control the entire game but just couldn’t quite walk away until late in the game.  That’s not a bad thing but we could have really blown that game away with better play calling and execution in the red zone.  As it was though we didn’t take any chances and didn’t make any mistakes.  We held control and walked out of our first SEC road game against a really talented team with a solid win.  You take that all day long.

Offense:

I have to say Trevor Knight played a really good football game.  He wasn’t flawless as he was only a 50% passer on the night but his receivers had some drops they shouldn’t have had.  Most importantly Knight did not turn the ball over.  For the most part he played within himself and played his best game against the best defense he’s faced without a doubt.  At least as an Aggie.  Knight missed some passes on his own but I’ll take the Trevor Knight we saw on Saturday night all season long.  Even better if he improves some which I think he will.  I thought his decision making in the pocket was pretty decent.  He’s still not perfect but he did a good job of just tucking and running or throwing the ball away and not trying to do too much.  The kid is a really good runner and I have no issues that if he feels pressure and sees a lane to tuck and head up field.  I’m going to do a little piece on Knight later this week if I get time but I was impressed with Knight on Saturday night considering he appears to be improving and not regressing.  Regressing is what we’ve seen out of our QBs the last two seasons.  If this is Knight’s baseline for the rest of the season I’ll take it.  Would love to see him keep improving which is what I think will happen.

The most impressive part of our offense on Saturday night was our offensive line.  Not because they dominated but because the adjusted in game.  On the first two series despite us getting positive yards at times the Auburn defensive line was blowing up our offensive line for the most part.  I really thought we were in for a long night.  Auburn scored on their second possession and we had two punts on our first two offensive possessions with Auburn’s defensive line over matching our offensive line.  I was seeing 2015 all over again down 7 to 0.  Not sure what Jim Turner did but he got our line in tune and they handled Auburn’s defense for the rest of the night.  Not dominant by any stretch but all of a sudden our offensive line was holding their own.  The interior part of the line was especially taking the fight to a really good Auburn defensive line.  Never saw that in game adjustment last season with our offensive line so it’s great to see.   Later in the game the work our offensive line did all night finally showed in Trayveon Williams long run which was the official dagger in Auburn.  Their defense was fully cooked at that point.  Our offensive line has lots of improvement but I like what I’m seeing.  Great game by them and let’s hope they keep improving with Knight.  I have no reason to think they won’t at this point.

Outside of Williams big run our backs didn’t dominate by any stretch but they worked and ran tough all night against a really good defense.  I have no complaints with what they did and assume as our offensive line improves so will their yards.  We don’t have the talent of LSU or Bama in our backfield but the guys we have are really serviceable and an improvement over last year which is not a knock on Tra Carson at all.  That dude had major heart but Ford and Williams are just better equipped for what we need right now.

The biggest negative of our offense against Auburn was our receivers no doubt.  Everybody had some drops they shouldn’t have and RSJ is just still inconsistent with catching balls.  He shouldn’t be this bad at this point in his Aggie career but he’s just not a reliable pass catcher.  Reynolds had his usual nice long catch along with a TD catch but he also missed another TD catch.  Kirk didn’t have any long catches but had a couple key receptions.  He also got his bell rung in the third quarter but came back in.  He had a nice 20 yard run so he’s just a weapon I’m glad to see Mazzone utilize in many different ways.  Kirk does a lot of work as a receiver he doesn’t get credit for.  Speedy had a nice catch and run for 40 yards but I thought he made a mistake going out of bounds when he could have given an inside cut to the defender and potentially broke into the end zone with his speed.  I’m really not impressed with Moorehead as a receivers coach with these drops and then seeing Speedy step out of bounds when he could have made a move for a potential TD.  It just seems Moorehead is an average coach and that’s it.  He doesn’t appear to be a nails recruiter so he’s a guy I’d like to see replaced assuming Sumlin is here next year which I’ll touch on later as well.  Now, I will credit this receiving corps in that they doing a pretty damn good job blocking and take that seriously.  That’s a really solid thing and hope it doesn’t change.

Outside of the individual units the biggest negatives of this offense remain the same.  It’s third down conversions, red zone conversions, and time of possession.  On third down we were 2 of 15.  TWO of FIFTEEN.  That’s 13%.  THIRTEEN FREAKING PERCENT.  How in the world did we even win this game with that conversion rate and actually scored 29 points?  It’s really mind boggling.  We actually had 19 first downs which is pretty impressive but that means we had 16 first down conversions on 1st and 2nd downs as we converted a 4th down but man we’ve got to get better at converting third downs.  That would go a long ways to winning time of possession and giving our defense a huge lift.  I still contend Mazzone is just picking plays and not really sequencing or scripting plays which would help our offense control a game better if he could get us in shorter third down situations.

As for the red zone we were inside the red zone 5 times and kicked 4 times.  We also made a trip inside the 30 yard line that turned into a field goal and not a touchdown.  Outside of that we had one big play that got a touchdown.  We’re going to need bigger plays or a much better conversion rate in the red zone against teams like Bama and Ole Miss if we want to beat them.  I’d prefer red zone conversion to hoping for big plays to score touchdowns.  Hopefully Mazzone works on some red zone plays that show the defense a different look and catches them by surprise.  We’ve also got to get better converting third downs.  We get better in the red zone and converting third downs then our time of possession gets better and our defense gets better.  Mazzone still has lots of improvement as a play caller in that regard.  He’s not terrible by any stretch but he’s nowhere near the play caller that Petrino and Kiffin are and that’s what I hope he aspires to be.

Defense:

I have to start off with Mr. Myles Garrett because the dude is just amazing to watch in person.  We’ve got at least 10 more games with him and maybe a couple more but enjoy the 10 games because he’s special.  For 3 games now from start to finish he’s just wrecking shop and altering the plans of the offense.  I can’t believe Gus thought a backside guard could get to him before Myles wrecked their backfield.  You would think when it didn’t work on the first play of the game he wouldn’t try it again but Gus stupidly tried it again to similar results.  I think it only happened twice.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again but Myles is just dominating the left side of the offensive line by himself.  If you don’t give the left tackle help Myles is going to destroy him.  It’s really creating so much else for our defense.  Myles may not be the #1 pick next year but if you’re an NFL scout and watch him in person it’ll be hard to walk away and not think he’s the best defender in the country and be someone at the next level like a JJ Watt.  His stats aren’t showing it but his play flat out is.  Myles just does everything he can to help his defense from start to finish.  There are no taking plays off waiting to get an easy sack as Myles knows there’s not any.  He’s just a special special guy.  I don’t know how he comes across on TV but I can’t take my eyes off him when the ball is snapped because he’s just that amazing.  I think against Arkansas he could flat out dominate their Undertaker looking left tackle.  Arkansas will probably put him on an island early on and once Myles gets his third sack they’ll start looking to help Undertaker, Jr.

As for the rest of the defense they did what they had to do.  If you thought Auburn wasn’t going to get some rushing yards you haven’t been paying attention to what they do.  They run the ball and run the ball really well.  They got 236 yards of rushing which is more than you want to give up but most importantly their longest run was 33 yards.  That’s a damn fine job by our defense that got gashed for long run after long run last year in this game.  The longest runs by their two backs were 33 and 20 yards which is okay by me.  Auburn is just built to run.

In all honesty no one else on the defense really stood out to me other than Myles.  That’s not a bad thing at all as against Auburn you have to play disciplined defense.  Everyone seemed to step up and make a play at times which was great to see.  The defensive tackles were on a solid rotation which kept them fresh against Auburn’s big offensive line.  I’m sure the Auburn offensive line was wondering why our defensive line wasn’t wearing down.  We run a solid 5-6 guys out there at defensive tackle so they’re always battling someone fresh.  Hall had a decent game and made a couple of really nice stops but seems he was just out there holding his position and playing responsibilities.  That’s not a bad thing.  I did see him get burned crashing on a zone read but he didn’t do it all night so I’m fine with a mistake here and there assuming it’s not repetitive.

The linebackers seemed to be really solid and they also rotated a lot.  Last year’s linebackers seemed to be one step too slow and out of place which lead to some really big Auburn runs last year.  Not this time.  The linebackers were filling the gaps they were supposed to and not being out of position.  This linebacking group really reminds me of the 2012 in that they’re not dominant but they’re playing really smart football.  This is a younger group with more depth than the guys in 2012 so that’s a really good sign.

The group that looked the best behind Myles was no doubt our safeties.  Justin Evans is just a flat out baller.  Watts and Wilson are no slouches and they looked really solid as well.  There’s no doubt in my mind Evans and Watts are playing on Sundays and I actually think Wilson will play on Sundays as well in his nickel role he does for us.  This group like Myles just keeps holding their own and getting better which helps mask our inexperience at the corner position.  As far as the corners go they did okay.  Auburn had 163 yards of receiving which isn’t amazing but they averaged 7.4 yards a pass which is pretty good.  They just don’t pass a lot but they do it regularly enough you can’t forget to defend it or totally sell out to the run.

Kind of like defending the running game, Auburn’s longest pass was 18 yards so we didn’t give up a big pass.  There’s a lot of factors for that including the pressure we could get on the QB if they tried to set up for a long pass but it’s nice to know Auburn didn’t get any long passes by surprise.    Our defense was ready.  The other impressive thing this defense did was playing the first down marker on 3rd and longs.  What I saw a lot of the night was on anything 3rd and 10 or longer we’d give them an open zone about 6 yards downfield which baited the QB to throw there and then immediately crashed for little to no gain.  Auburn was 6-17 on third down conversions and 0-2 on fourth down conversions.  I’m too lazy to look but I bet they didn’t convert more than one third down that was longer than 6 yards.  If we tackled them for a loss on a first down I don’t think they converted the second or third down.  That’s pretty impressive when you don’t give up that momentum as a defense when you get a tackle for a loss on 1st down.  That’s the way it should be but defenses don’t always execute it that way and there’s nothing more demoralizing than have an offense convert 3rd and 12 on you.  That wasn’t happening with our defense on long 3rd downs against Auburn.

As a whole I’ve mentioned this defense reminds me of the 2012 defense.  It does in many regards but it’s just flat out better.  We really need to enjoy this defense this year as it’s going to drop off next year.  We’ll lose Myles, Hall, Evans, and Watts.  Maybe Watts stays another year but I think there’s a chance he goes.  Myles and Evans are getting drafted in the first round.  Hall and Watts will go in the second to third rounds.  I don’t think we’ll see the drop off in talent like we had from 2012 to 2013 on defense but I’m telling you now to cherish this 2016 defense because it’s the best we’ve had since back to RC Slocum and the legit Wrecking Crew of old.  I’m not quite ready to call these guys the Wrecking Crew as they’re missing some dominant linebacker play.  But at any given time there’s 11 guys out there playing their asses off and most importantly playing their role against their opponent.  It’s been a long time since I’ve since this in an Aggie defense and I’m loving every minute of it.

Special Teams:

Have to start off with LaCamera going 5 for 5 and none of them were really gimme kicks.  LaCamera had kicks of 46, 35, 31, 37 and 26 yards.  The 26 yarder was sort of a gimme but the others were legit kicks on the road in a pretty tight game that he nailed.  Much like the Vandy game.  Tripucka averaged 42 yards and had a long of 59 which he flat out booted.  We didn’t have a single return this game.  Not one on punts and not on kickoffs.  I’m actually okay with that as in a game like that just take the ball on the 25 if it’s kicked in the end zone and on punts just call the fair catch and hold the ball.  No need to take a chance giving the other team a turnover on the road in a pretty tough environment.  Special teams just executed all night long and that’s what you want.

Going Forward:

After seeing Tennessee’s third performance I’m ready to move this to a 9-3 team.  Kevin is gonna win nine and be fine.  I have a good feeling we’ll be 6-0 rolling into Tuscaloosa.  I’m also really thinking this could be a 10 win team as I want to see what LSU does against Auburn this weekend.  I think LSU wins that game so I won’t be able to move us to a 10 win team yet but if Auburn beats LSU then Les is a dead man walking and that team will have quit come Thanksgiving night.  I also think there’s a strong chance we beat Ole Miss as they’re reminding me of 2011 Texas A&M.  I mean they’ve blown two 21 point leads.  That’s Mike Sherman style right there.  Ole Miss is still a really talented football team but they’re obviously struggling to put 4 quarters together and if that trend keeps up there’s no doubt we can beat them at Kyle in November if this A&M team keeps  getting better each week.  I honestly didn’t feel that the last two years at this point.  This could honestly be an 11 win team playing in a major bowl game.  With the right breaks we could even play for the SEC Championship but any discussion of that begins or ends in Tuscaloosa so let’s cool our jets on that talk until after that game.  Nick Saban controls the gate to the SEC Championship for SEC West teams.  That’s just the way it is.

We have to get past Arkansas first but they really don’t scare me.  Auburn scared me like Arkansas scared me the last two years.  We got by Auburn.  This Arkansas team is not as good as their last two seasons’ teams.  Maybe I should be scared but what I saw in their TCU game and what I saw in our UCLA and Auburn games I feel really confident we’ll win this game and there’s a good chance we walk away with it.  Assuming we don’t make mistakes with the ball.  That TCU defense is not that good and Arkansas had to come back on them and get them in double overtime.  Arkansas also played La Tech close and I don’t think La Tech is good at all.  Just based on three games for both teams I think we handle Arkansas really well.

I know a lot of people are afraid of Arkansas because of the last two years but our offense really struggled those years under Spavital.  Mazzone while not spectacular has shown to be a marked improvement over Boy Wonder.  With the way our defense and offensive line is playing I just feel really confident going into this game that we could really make a big showing against Arkansas.  This could be that statement game we didn’t have the last two years where we had to come back and basically steal a victory.  I don’t see that happening this year.  I really think we walk out of Jerry World with a statement win that this is a different A&M team that’s not going to collapse down the stretch like we’ve done in the past.  Maybe I’m wrong but with 25% of our schedule done I’m feeling a statement game.  I don’t think it’ll be a 2012 Mississippi State game where we announced we’re kicking ass from here on out but I think it’s going to be pretty convincing.  We’ll need a wide margin as a lot of people won’t see the second half as they’ll be asleep .  They’ll just see the final score on Sunday morning.  I’m all for this team making a statement they’re a Top 10 and deserve to be there.

My prediction – Aggies 33, Arkie 16.

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