Thoughts on the South Carolina Game

Best Throwback unis I've seen

Best Throwback unis I’ve seen

This game was a real head scratcher as I have no idea what to make of it.  Coming off our biggest win of the year and 3 VERY good wins over good teams a letdown game was bound to happen.  It’s a bit concerning as you want to play perfect and mistake free football every game but outside of Alabama very few teams do.   South Carolina is not very good and I think more than anything we played to the level of our competition after beating two pretty good SEC West teams on the “road.”

I would like to have a lot more momentum going into Tennessee.  I still feel confident we beat Tennessee being back at Kyle and a lot of excitement but I’m just not sure.  Let’s just get to the breakdown on each side of the ball.  This will be lighter than normal mainly because I wasn’t at the game watching with the same focus I normally do as I had an eye on the Tenn/UGA game to get an idea of what to expect on Saturday.

Offense:

Inconsistent Trevor Knight showed his head again and I don’t think it’s a coincidence inconsistent Noel Mazzone showed himself again.  As much as I get on Knight I think he’s a product of his playcalling.  Maybe it’s Mazzone trying some different things against weaker competition to see if he can create a bigger playbook.  We didn’t appear to want to establish the run early like we did against Auburn and to an extent Arkansas.  We seemed to have run a lot more passes than runs early in the game.  The end result was very balanced with 40 passes and 39 runs but the first half seemed to be a want to establish the pass and not worry so much with the running game that worked so well against Auburn and Arkansas.

Specifically it seemed like we were hell bent on getting Christian Kirk the ball.  I have nothing against Kirk but we kept running those short passes to him over and over again.  He had 12 receptions for 61 yards which you expect better of him if he’s going to catch the ball 12 times.  I’m not saying Kirk should have done better this game but it seems he’s better served across the middle than quick passes to the outside.  Don’t get me wrong Kirk was pretty productive doing what he did on Saturday as he set up a lot of 2nd and “reasonable” downs but we didn’t seem to capitalize on it.  It’s like Mazzone knew Kirk could get 4-6 yards on those first downs but then really didn’t have a true answer for second down.  Just kind of sporadic in how he called plays never really setting anything up.

Josh Reynolds had 3 catches for 29 yards and long of 17.  I’m sorry but that’s terrible.  And that’s not on Josh.  I’ve said it all season but Josh Reynolds is the best receiver on our team.  While we were working the ball on purpose to Kirk I’m guessing Reynolds had man coverage.  I think we took a shot or two his way downfield but Reynolds really needs to be more than a deep threat.   Knight really needs to be getting comfortable with Reynolds on a regular basis.  I just don’t get why Mazzone doesn’t really use the best receiver on our team.  Jeremy Tabuyo had the best game of his Aggie career with an amazing one handed catch on a 3rd down and ending with 4 receptions for 89 yards.  He filled in great for RSJ to the point I’m wondering if he shouldn’t be splitting snaps with RSJ.  Either way not to discount Kirk but I hope Mazzone plans on utilizing all of his receivers going forward.  That was the biggest negative from the offensive performance.  If you’re going to be balanced between the run and pass then be balanced in who and how you’re passing the ball.

The offensive line did a fine job for the most part.  It seemed South Carolina was bringing a lot of pressure and trying to confuse the offensive line which worked at times but for the most part the offensive line held their own from a pass protection standpoint.  In the run game in the second half we started to exert our will.  For whatever reason Mazzone doesn’t want to establish the run game in the first half but when we’ve needed it in the second half against it’s been there against Auburn, Arkansas, and South Carolina.  Maybe it’s by design since it’s worked but I think this line can open up in the run game in the first half if Mazzone tried.  This is a really young line at center and guard but damn they look good considering their youth.  Definitely the best line in the last three years.  I didn’t see any high snaps so credit to Jim Turner for the work he’s done with this line all season.

As for running back what more is there to say about Trayveon Williams?  The dude is a true freshman and he’s easily our best running back.  The dude just has something.  He’s got great vision, moves, speed, and power.  He’s not necessarily in the upper echelon of SEC backs but damn he’s playing lights out right now so I’m not going to complain one bit about him.  Dude is a stud and I’m glad he’s on our team.  Keith Ford got hurt and James White came in and looked pretty good so that gives us three serviceable backs when they’re healthy.  I used to think Ford was the best back of the three but it’s clear Trayveon is the best back.  His vision is what sets him apart.  He knows when to be patient and he knows when to go.  That’s a very underrated in a back.

As for Knight this was game 1 and 2 Trevor Knight.  He was inconsistent in the pocket responding to pressure and inconsistent in passing.  He made some damn good throws on the first couple of drives mainly the one rolling to his left where he dropped it into I forget which receiver.  It was an awesome throw.  But then as the game wore on he got worse.  Maybe he felt pressure in the pocket but he’s got to be confident and smart with the ball.  Running wise he looked great.  He’s REALLY an underrated runner in my book.  I really feel comfortable with him running and why I’d rather see him the tuck the ball and head upfield if he sees a seam or feels any kind of pressure that frazzles him.  The moment he feels pressure that’s bothering him while he’s looking for a receiver he just needs to tuck and run or get rid of the ball immediately.  He just tends to make bad decisions when he gets the least amount of pressure and still trying to pass.

Overall I’m okay with what this offense did during the game.  I’d rather have seen them dominate South Carolina more but the line was physical and held their own.  When push came to shove in the second half they did what they had to do to score.  I love the fact this offense seems to get better in the second half but would love a little more scoring in the first half.  We’ve basically been tied with UCLA, Arkansas, and South Carolina at half when we could have been leading all of those games.  Auburn we were only up by 6 points and could have been up by more.  At some point I would love to see this offense play 4 quarters of football.  It doesn’t even have to be 4 quarters of domination.  Just 4 quarters of mistake free, moving the ball, and scoring points on the majority of drives.  Maybe Tennessee is the week we do it.

The Wrecking Crew:

In typical Aggie fan fashion most want to focus on the negatives on this game but there was a TON of positives.  On the first play of the game South Carolina ripped off a 75 yard touchdown run.  No doubt that’s a negative but South Carolina wouldn’t score a touchdown the rest of the game.  And on that run realize they ran right where Myles Garrett would normally be.  Does that play work if Myles Garrett is starting?  I’m kind of thinking not.  Also on that play the defense looked a little lethargic so maybe that woke them up.  Let’s assume that play doesn’t happen and South Carolina goes three and out.  All of a sudden the end result is South Carolina has around 300 yards of offense and only 6 points with no touchdowns given up.  Would you nod in acknowledgment if Maximus asked if you were entertained with those results???  I think so.

A couple other key stats is South Carolina was 3 of 14 on third downs.  That’s a little better than 20%.  I’ll take that all day long against any opponent.  In addition we had 3 sacks, 10 tackle for losses, and 5 quarterback hurries.  Maximus once again asks if you’re not entertained.  Please tell me you’re nodding your head you were in fact entertained by the Wrecking Crew this weekend.  Yeah there’s still some things that need improving but 90% of this defense is better than any defense we’ve seen since the Silver Fox R.C. Slocum was wearing the number one headset.  Maximus is going to slaughter all of you if you don’t start showing some appreciation for what’s going on defensively this season.  It ain’t gonna look the same next year.

As for individual units I have to start with the defensive tackles.  These guys just do work all damn game long.  They don’t get a lot of the stats and press but all these guys do is consume the interior of the offensive line freeing up the linebackers and defensive ends to do their thing.  Seriously.  With our rotation of defensive tackles we basically have 2 guys consuming three offensive linemen on every play.  That’s making a HUGE difference for our linebackers in making plays.  That’s giving them gaps to go through to meet ball carriers or apply pressure to the quarterback.  In the past we had guards consuming our average linebackers and it was ugly for our defense.  So while our ends, linebackers, and safeties are making plays it’s all because of the work being done by our rotation of defensive tackles.  These guys are the unsung heroes of the Wrecking Crew.  As for the rest of the defensive line Dae Dae Hall got off to a slow start but he started showing he can survive without Myles.  The other DEs just did okay so next year we’re really going to miss Hall and Myles which is saying water is wet.  No doubt this game is different with the presence of Myles so don’t discount that when you’re bagging on the Crew this game as a key member was out.

As for linebackers Shaan Washington probably had his best game ever.  I never really tracked him but he was flat out making plays.  It was definitely the most productive day from a single Aggie linebacker I can recall this season.  Actually since 2012.  Alaka looked good as did Claude George.  Don’t recall a lot from Richard Moore like against Arkie or Tyrel Dodson at all.  Did Dodson even travel?  I don’t recall him at all.  Either way it was probably the best day by our main two linebackers in Washington and Alaka with a solid effort from George.  I like the depth that Moore and Dodson have provided all season but with the production Washington, Alaka, and George had this game I’ll take what they gave us and not worry about the others for now since they’ve provided depth in the past when needed.  Maybe Chavis is just seeing some separation with Washington and Alaka so they’re seeing the field more.

At safety I have to start with Watts again because of his interception.  The dude just has a nose for getting the ball.  The moment that ball was tipped in the air he had an idea where it was going and went for it and got it.  That can’t be coached.  That’s just a function of the game being slower for him than it is for others where he’s able to anticipate things happening and acting when he sees it.  Evans looked fine but I do have a knock on him on the first play for a TD.  His angles were all over the place and his effort didn’t look like normal Evans.  That’s a pretty high standard but I think like others on the defense they weren’t totally amped up and South Carolina snuck up on them for that play.  I think that woke everyone up and Watts and Evans did what they do the rest of the game.

As for cornerback, well, we ain’t so strong there.  Nick Harvey has shown he’s about to be picked on A LOT going into the meat of our schedule so get ready.  Our only hope is that he doesn’t give up the big play by keeping receivers in front of him at all times.  He also needs to learn that if he’s beyond 15 yards and burned that a pass interference penalty is only 15 yards.  If he doesn’t have position to make sure he grabs at least one arm and holds it down.  No jersey.  All arm and hold.  I’m not kidding here.  This defense has shown we can hold our own in the red zone so if you’re on an island and burned and feel the ball coming then grab the receivers arm at the wrist and pull it down.  Totally serious here.  Priest Willis doesn’t look much better but it’s clear Harvey is the weakest of our corners and he’s going to be picked on.  First step in having a problem is admitting you have a problem.  I hope Chief and Terry Joseph are very honest in how they handle our cornerback situation.

Overall though this defense isn’t perfect I can’t fault them at all.  They’ve been the most consistent unit on our team.  It’s not even close.  Sure they have some gafs here and there but show me a defense in college football that doesn’t with the teams we’ve played.  Seriously.  Show me.  Have you seen the Big 12 play defense?  </insert giggle>  Outside of Prairie View who scored ZERO points we’ve played some decent teams and our defense has played their asses off the entire game.  If this defense isn’t good enough there’s no pleasing you and I’m telling you next season is going to be worse.  This is a special unit and it’s the ONLY reason we’re looking at a 9 to 11 win season.  Last year’s defense wasn’t even close to being this good.  It’s not perfect and we’ll likely never see a perfect defense again.  This might be as good as it gets for a few seasons.  So enjoy this damn Wrecking Crew.  If I hear you bitching then I’m gonna unleash Maximus to sword your ass for not being entertained.  I won’t regret you having a sword stuck in you in the least.  You had it coming for being so damn hard to please.

Special Teams:

As for special teams I’m still no impressed with the units as a whole.  We don’t seem all that well coached.  The fake punt was nothing special and we totally fell for it.  I’ve always felt a team that falls for a fake punt like that is just lazy and going through the motions.  There’s no pride in the unit itself.  If I’m Sumlin I honestly tell Kirk to fair catch every ball and for the punt return team to just avoid a game changing moment.  We don’t really get any pressure on the punter so not sure if we have a game plan or we just go out through the motions because special teams are required.  It definitely doesn’t appear to be a focus for us as I’ve not seen anything that makes me feel we have something up our sleeve or really prepared.

Individually LaCamera was 1 of 2 missing a field goal he hit dead straight down the hash but since the hash is outside the post he missed it.  Tripuka did a fine job punting averaging almost 45 yards on 5 punts with a long of 50.  Evans had some decent kickoff returns but I’m still confused why he’s back there returning kicks.  I know Speedy wasn’t there but should Evans really be out there returning kicks?  Is there no one else?  Kirk returned two punts for 12 and 8 yards so nothing spectacular but he didn’t turn it over.  All in all our special teams are just meh and I see them as having the chance to be a negative every game over a positive.

 

As for going forward I’m still leaving this as a 9 win team.  I think we beat Tennessee this weekend but still not sure what to think of Ole Miss and LSU.  Ole Miss can play offense and I have no clue on their defense.  LSU seems to be fired up and Eddie O is coaching for his dream job so I don’t put anything past him at this point.  I think those are both winnable games but let’s get past Tennessee this weekend first and see what happens when Ole Miss plays their next three games against Arkansas, LSU, and Auburn.  One week at a time.

As for Tennessee this game is going to come down to one thing – TURNOVERS!!!  Tennessee has been the amazing beneficiary of turnovers this season.  Against Va Tech they got 5 and if UGA doesn’t fumble in the end zone late in the game those two hail marys never happen.  Sure, some can point to the fact Tennessee has confidence they can win any game and they’re a team of destiny but let’s face it Tennessee has been the benefactor of some real luck to be undefeated.  They’re creating their luck to a degree but they’re also living on borrowed time in my book.  If I’m Sumlin and Mazzone I stress BALL PROTECTION all week.  This means no forced passes, no high snaps, or anything else that could give Tennessee the ball for them to capitalize on as they will.  I’m not kidding.  If we don’t turn the ball over we win this game.  I want Mazzone to go back to what worked in the Auburn and Arkansas game.  Establish the damn run and work downfield and not outside.  I’m fine with the bubble screens to Kirk on occasion to make sure the defense respects that but let’s lean on our running backs and use Josh Reynolds more than just a deep threat.  We’re the better team but this game will come down to coaching and protecting the ball.  If Mazzone sticks with what works and we protect the ball we can win this game easily.  Maybe even a repeat of the Arkansas game.

Defensively we have to get pressure on Dobbs.  He’s not a very good passer so we need to duplicate what we did against UCLA and Arkansas.  I don’t think he’s as good of a passer as Rosen or Allen so we need to get to him early and often.  That’s what this defense is best at so let’s pin our ears back and go.  He won’t have the same results Rosen and Allen had against us if we get pressure on him.  They’re running game doesn’t really scare me so get after Dobbs and you can beat this team easily.  They’re living on borrowed time in my book and we need to be the team to end this team of destiny crap like they’re the next 2013 Auburn team.  We had the chance to prove 2013 Auburn wasn’t all that great at Kyle at missed the opportunity.  We don’t need to let that happen again with 2016 Tennessee.  We’ve got Gameday on campus and a national audience on CBS with the undertone we’re going to Bama next.  This is our game to win if Mazzone goes back to what has worked from a play calling standpoint, we protect the ball, and the Wrecking Crew brings pressure.  The blueprint is there and it’s not hard.  Just be smart and execute.

I’m not going to make a prediction other than to say if we don’t turn the ball over at all we win walking away.  If we win the turnover battle we likely win a close game and if we lose the turnover battle we lose the game.  It’s really that simple.  PROTECT.  THE.  FOOTBALL.

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