Thoughts from the Tennessee Game

trayveon-vs-tenn

First off, something VERY major happened with that Tennessee win.  Kevin Sumlin confirmed his spot as Aggie head coach for one more season.  It was trending he was off the hot seat but if the Aggies collapsed like the last two seasons and he lost to Tenn, Bama, Ole Miss, and LSU there’s a slight chance Sumlin could have lost his job.  With this win we’re a 9-3 regular season team and will play in a damn good bowl game.  Kevin is gonna win at least nine so with that Tennessee victory on Saturday night he guaranteed he’s fine for 2017.  Congrats Coach.

Secondly, I’m TIRED of all the hand wringing about the Wrecking Crew.  Yes it’s frustrating and statistically it doesn’t look good at times but the reality is this Wrecking Crew while not dominant responds and makes plays when it has to.  The offense is still a work in progress but for 90% of the game our defense is playing their assess off and making plays.  I get the frustration of the 10% when they’re not dominant but don’t ever forget what those guys are doing for almost the entire game.  Tennessee is a damn good football team and dialed up some great plays and made some second half adjustments we were late to adjust to.  Still, that defense played their ass off on Saturday night and they’re the reason we won.  While our offense was sputtering our defense was holding their own for most of the game.

If Trayveon Williams doesn’t fumble out of the back of the end zone there’s a good chance we win that game 42-28.  I’m not sure Tennessee would have scored knowing they had to come back two scores down with under 2 minutes.  If he’s tackled it’s a 35-28 game that we kneel out.  That changes the perception of things big time.  I’m not putting this on Trayveon directly but the odds of that play happening are miniscule and yet totally changed the perception of the game from a defensive standpoint.  In overtime the Wrecking Crew showed up and held Tennessee to only 5 plays including the field goal.  When they had to, the Wrecking Crew has shown up twice in overtime games.  I don’t like the stats either but the point is this defense has shown they can show up and make plays when it’s needed most.  We haven’t had this trait in a LONG time.  Like I’ve been saying this defense won’t be this good next year so quit with the hand wringing on this defense and enjoy it because you’re going to be doing lots of hand wringing next season.

Before I get into the analysis can we PLEASE stop assuming when a defensive player goes down he’s faking it?  Every time a Tennessee player went down someone in my section was yelling they were faking.  Even before they carted their guy off people were yelling he was faking.  Uh, he went off on a stretcher.  That’s one hell of a fake.  We’re not even running a true up tempo offense right now so Tennessee had ZERO incentive to fake injuries because they were already missing three starters on defense.  When you’re injured you have to sit out a play.  They weren’t faking.  The rules allow a defense time to make substitutions based on offensive substitutions so you don’t see the amount of faking you used to see.  The worst was I heard an impromptu yell while a Tennessee player was on the ground.  That’s completely classless.  I would love to think Aggie fans are better than that but maybe not.  The MOST important thing that should come out of every game is every player leaves without any kind of injury.  Please have some respect when people are down on the field.  If we’re running true up tempo and an opponent’s player goes down repeatedly then it can be questioned.  But please don’t boo or yell at a player down on the field just because you think they’re faking it.  I don’t want Kyle Field turning into a place that’s not respectful of the opposing players when they’re injured and it sure got close on Saturday.  We’re not the idiots in Austin.  At least I hope not.

The Wrecking Crew:

I’m starting with the defense this time mainly to drive home the work these guys did.  Statistically at the end of the game they look liked crap.  I mean utter crap.  Evidently we witnessed the defense that gave up the most yards ever in an Aggie football game.  That’s insane because for the 3 quarters and then in 2 overtimes I saw a damn dominant defense.  At the end of the first half we were up 21-7 and at the end of the 3rd quarter the score was 28-14.  I mean that’s REALLY respectable.  Damn respectable.  That’s where I wrestle with Tennessee played better than A&M and we got lucky to get a win.  For 3 quarters we soundly beat Tennessee mainly thanks to our defense.   We really did.

Tennessee was 0-7 on third down conversions to start the game.  They didn’t convert one third down the entire first half.  Say what you want but that’s DAMN impressive.  They wound being 6-17 for the game which means they were 6-10 in the second half which isn’t so impressive.  I don’t know the exact stats but I’m assuming at least 4 of those came in the 4th quarter.

We clearly melted down in the 4th quarter giving up 21 points and everybody forgets what this defense did for 3 quarters.  We won 3 quarters and OT and Tennessee won the 4th quarter.  So did Tennessee really play better than us?  I don’t think so.  I think Tennessee just got really hot in the 4th with some REALLY great play calls and our defense was too slow to adjust.  Most of those play calls were screens that took advantage of aggressiveness and pressure along with crossing routes that took advantage of the pressure our linebackers and safeties were applying. We were leaving the middle of the field wide open for crossing routes.  It was some really great play calls by Tennessee.  We probably should have gone to a much more conservative defense but that’s not how Chavis rolls.  He likes to bring pressure.  I don’t like what happened in the 4th at all but it’s hard to fault these guys for how they played for 3 quarters and the overtime.  They were truly dominant for 45 minutes of the game and then the same thing in overtime.  I can’t fully explain the 4th quarter melt down other than solid play calling by Tennessee and execution by a pretty talented team.

There are two things I can fault this defense for and the first time I’ve seen it all season.  The tackling was TERRIBLE.  I mean just terrible.  I don’t know if it was because Tennessee is the best team we’ve played athletically all year or something else but this defense was not bringing Tennessee players down like we’ve done with other teams.  It was really noticeable.  The other terrible thing by this defense was the defensive ends playing in place of Myles Garrett were biting on the zone read really bad.  So much so Dobbs got some pretty nice runs when there shouldn’t have been anything there.  On the zone read the defensive end is left alone and the QB makes the decision to leave the ball with the running back or pull it and run outside if the defensive end is crashing.  Usually there’s not much help out there so if the QB sees the defensive end crash and pulls the ball he’ll get a decent gain.  Dobbs was doing that repeatedly so I don’t know why our defensive ends kept crashing as they need to stay home and be disciplined.  I think it was just a case of those back-up defensive ends being excited to make plays and forgetting what should have been disciplined football.

Speaking of defensive ends I have no clue what was going on with Myles Garrett. Early in the game he was playing on passing downs but then he kind of went away for the most part and then showed up in the 4th quarter and played basically the rest of the game.  He was even in on a punt return in the 4th quarter.  If he was hurt why was he in a punt return?  I don’t get why we’d even expose him to special teams.  Either way I’m not sure why they handled him like they did.  Maybe they realized they finally needed him in there later in the game but it’s kind of head scratching how he was handled.  I will say when he finally did go full time in the 4th quarter he looked solid.  He wasn’t his normal dominant self but Tennessee was focused on him and Myles was  pushing their tackle around.  In VERY limited action he still got 1 sack and a tackle for a loss.  I hope he’s fully healthy going into the Bama game as he’s a flat out game changer.  Even injured he helped stabilize a defense late in the game.

As for the rest of the defense the guy who stood out the most was Armani Watts.  Watts is such a baller.  I mean flat out baller.  The dude took the ball away from a guy that was about to walk into the end zone again.  He just clean stripped it from the guy and held it.  He just does that time and time again.  It’s amazing.  Obviously he got the game saving interception which looks like a bad throw by Dobbs but if you watch Watts on that play he had great anticipation knowing where it was going.  He was playing the ball and not the receiver because he knew where it was going.  His instincts are uncanny.  I questioned if he was going pro after this season but there’s no doubt in my mind he’s gone.  I think he’s a first round draft pick.  He should be an All-American based on how he plays.  I once thought Evans was better but Watts is the better all-around safety and it’s not even close at this point.  That’s not a knock on Evans at all but Watts is just better.

The other guy that stood out the most was Shaan Washington.  That dude seems to be coming into his own right now.  I really feel like he’s gotten better each week where he’s now a legit SEC linebacker.  Alaka looked decent but Washington is clearly our best linebacker right now and I don’t think it’s close.  I’m not sure how many plays Tyrel Dodson got but he had some really solid plays.  He’s a true freshman but I think he’s going to be a really solid contributor the next 2-3 seasons.  I doubt he goes pro early but the kid looks like a baller as a true freshman.  Nobody really stood out from the linebacker position as the lack of tackling was really bad.

The defensive line didn’t get as much pressure as it usually does but it wasn’t bad at all.  Dobbs wasn’t holding on to the ball very long but we still wound up with 4 sacks and 5 QB hurries on 47 pass attempts.  Keke, Henderson, Walker, Mack, and even Chevis did they usual thing of just consuming blocks for a big part of the game.  Henderson and Mack each got ½ a sack each.  Hall had a pretty solid game bringing pressure from his side as he wound up with ½ sack but most importantly he had 4 QB hurries.  Even though I griped about the other defensive ends biting on the zone read when they shouldn’t have, Dobbs only wound up with 57 yards of rushing with a long run of 33 so he wasn’t gashing us on the zone read.  As usual the defensive line was the strongest part of our defensive effort.

Not much more to say about Watts and Evans as they wound up being the leading tacklers on the team along with each having an interception.  I don’t know what more you could want out of these two.  Donovan Wilson was tied for 4th on the team in tackles so all our safeties do is produce.   At corner I actually thought Harvey and Willis played really well.  Probably their best game yet.  Dobbs threw for 400 yards but 160 of them were to their running back so I can’t fault our corners for those yards.  I mean that’s 40% of their passing yards right there.  They didn’t get burned deep as the longest pass was for 43 yards and the rest were under 27.  All of the passing yards just seemed to be screen plays to the running back and then crossing routes late in the game.  As much as I love Chief that’s really on him for not adjusting to a Tennessee OC that was clearly calling great plays against an overly aggressive defense that wasn’t watching for certain plays.

I know people want to rail on the Wrecking Crew for the total yards and the defense at the end but I just can’t.  For three quarters they played stellar football and I contend had our offense taken better advantage of the turnovers the defense got then everyone is talking about what an amazing game the Wrecking Crew played.  I’m not totally putting it on the offense but the offense did need to do more in the second half when the defense was giving them the ball.  I know Tennessee had 7 turnovers but a lot of those were caused by us and most importantly we got to the ball.  There was one fumble late in the game where the running back fumbled it and Dobbs tried to pick it up rather than run with it to which he bobbled it and we jumped on it.  We have to give credit to our defense for being around the ball and jumping on it rather than trying to be a hero.  Just jump on the ball.  Fundamentals.  The Wrecking Crew just makes plays when they have to.  It doesn’t look like the Wrecking Crew of old but like I’ve said time and time again this ain’t the Southwest Conference.  We need to clean up our tackling but these guys play their asses off and make plays when they have to.  We now have two 2 OT wins where the defense held the offense to a field goal in the first OT and then didn’t let the other team score a TD when they had to in the second overtime.  That’s pretty damn solid.

Offense:

Not sure where to begin here.  Do I start with Knight or Williams?  I’ll start with Williams.  Except for ONE play this guy was amazing.  I mean flat out amazing.  217 yards on 28 carries averaging almost 8 yards a carry.  That’s unreal for a true freshman that wasn’t touted like an Adrian Peterson, Fournette, or any of those Georgia running backs.  This dude has essentially been carrying this offense since the Auburn game.  He really has.  He’s the biggest difference maker on this offense and it’s not even close.  He’s come so far since his first game when I honestly thought Keith Ford was the better back.  Williams’ vision is his secret.  The dude is so good at anticipating things and adjusting before it happens.  He knows when to cut and when to be patient.  This was his 4th SEC game and he hasn’t been denied the end zone in any of them.  When he gets to the second level he’s really dangerous but watching him he’s so good at getting beyond the line.  He sees the whole develop and knows to accelerate or do a jump cut and go.  Then when he’s on the second level he doesn’t go down with contact and constantly adjusting while going forward.  I don’t know who he looks like to be honest.  It’s a rare combination I haven’t seen in a long time.  Maybe more like Ladanian Tomlinson more than anyone but I think Williams is bigger.  He’s just amazingly fluid in doing it that it looks effortless.  He obviously had the fumble at the end of the game.  If he scores or gets tackled that game is over and never goes to overtime.  It’s hard to fault him for what happened because of his effort the entire game but hopefully he learned a lesson you don’t ever give up until you cross the goal line including protect the ball.  Still, this guy has carried this offense to 4 straight SEC victories so I’m not going to get on him about anything.  He’s going to be a BIG reason why we win 10 or 11 games in the regular season as opposed to just 9 if we wound up with 10 or 11.

Good ol’ Trevie Knight.  At this point he is who he is.  He was a dead flat 50% passer with 2 TDs and 2 INTs.  That’s about as half good and half bad as it gets.  But the damn kid can flat out run.  I mean flat out run like you wouldn’t expect.  If he didn’t have his legs I think we’d be miserable with him as our quarterback but if he gets a seam up the middle on the zone read and into the secondary the kid has amazing top end speed.  It’s actually really amazing to watch as he’ll frustrate you with his passing and decision making through the air but then the next thing you know he found a seam up the middle and he’s prancing untouched into the end zone because no one could catch him.  He sucked everyone into being frustrated and then next thing you know he’s in open field showing off his wheels no one expects him to have.  All you can do is smile as he crosses the goal line and gives everybody the double gigs.  Kid doesn’t get down and just keeps grinding waiting on opportunity to strike.  That’s actually a very admirable trait as a quarterback has got to have confidence and persistence.

Watching him pass is just really remarkable because he’s so inconsistent.  He’ll have some flat out amazing passes and then have some head scratchers on how the same guy can be so inconsistent.  The pass I do like the most although I don’t always agree when it’s called is the deep sideline ball.  He’s obviously inconsistent but he hits it enough it’s worth trying and with our receivers it’s likely to not be intercepted.  I love that it keeps the defense honest because if they don’t account for it and Knight hits it then it’s a big play.  Mazzone tends to do it on second downs where I’m wanting to string along a more consistent drive but it’s worked enough I’m okay with it.  Mazzone is trying to hide it between 1st and 3rd downs to keep defenses on their toes and to give us another down if it doesn’t hit.  It’s worked enough that I can’t really complain but there’s been a drive or two where I just wanted to keep the ball on the ground and move the chain that way.  The biggest problem with Knight passing is that his bad passes are so frustrating they outshine the good passes.  After every game I can remember a lot more bad passes than I can his good passes but that’s just the way it goes.  I’ve also gotten so used to his passes being bad I thought the pass to Kirk in the second overtime was actually picked off the way people dove for it.  I was shocked when it was actually caught by Kirk.  Sorry for ever doubting you Trevor as I don’t know if it went where it was supposed to but it was between two defenders where only Kirk could catch it.  Keep doing what you’re doing as you have more confidence in yourself than any fan does.  More often than not it’s worked in everyone’s favor so just be you and we’ll enjoy this ride with you.

I thought the offensive line did fine as usual.  Tennessee slowed down our running game it seemed in the late 3rd and early 4th quarters but when it mattered most they made holes for Williams to run through and gave Knight time in the pocket late in the game.  They weren’t really dominant at all but they only gave up one sack and we had almost 600 yards of total offense so we clearly had time and holes most of the game.  I don’t remember any WTF moments like we tended to have 2-3 times last year in a game which is a big positive.  There were a couple of penalties that need to get cleaned up and only one high snap on a play I thought we were going to fumble but Knight was able to get into Williams hands for a touchdown.  I’d obviously like to see this line keep getting better and better but the end results are about as much as you can ask for considering we had no clue what to expect coming into the seasons.  Jim Turner has just done a tremendous job with this group considering this was a major question coming into the season.

As far as receiver goes I still stand by the fact Josh Reynolds is the best receiver on this team and the most underrated receiver in the country.  I’m not sure if he plays at the next level but he’s got the speed with decent size that some NFL scout and GM has to watch some film and be giddy at the fact they could take a flier on this guy late in the draft at this point because no one talks about him.  He had a tremendous one handed catch that went for over 30 yards.  It was just an amazing catch with a defender draped all over him.  He had a 15ish yard catch that would have been a clutch 3rd down conversion but we had a lineman downfield so it came back.  That would have pushed him to over 100 yards on the day.  He’s not Mike Evans so you can’t just lean on him like we did with Evans but I firmly believe we should use him more often.

Kirk had a nice day as well catching 7 balls for 80 yards and a score.  I’m not sure what to think about Kirk at this point.  I love the guy and we all know he’s amazingly talented but I’m not sure Mazzone is using him the best way he can.  He seems to be using him mainly on the edges on the bubble screens.  Kirk is an amazing talent so it seems like we should be using him more in space.  I know defenses are keying on him but it just seems we’re not exploiting him as best we can.  We love to run him in all kinds of motion but we don’t ever use him in the motion.  I keep waiting for us to flip the ball to Kirk as a diversion but we haven’t done it these last few games.  Maybe it’s being done to keep defenses honest and read coverage but we’ve never used him of all the times we’ve run Kirk in motion and snapped the ball with him in the backfield.  We did do it against UCLA I think but nothing in SEC games.  I’d love to see him and Reynolds lined up in a stack and run routes downfield off each other.  It just seems he could be much more productive.  I’m not down on Kirk at all as he’s producing but I’m just not sure Mazzone is really using him like he should be.

As for the rest of the receivers they didn’t do too much which is pretty disappointing considering Tennessee’s secondary isn’t one of the best we’ll face all year.  I know RSJ was out but with the way Tabuyo played last week I was hoping he might be a factor and wasn’t.  Speedy had a 27 yard catch but he also dropped a 3rd down conversion that hit his hands so that was a little disappointing.  I know Trevor is an inconsistent passer but this whole squad of receivers except for Reynolds and Kirk just seems to be inconsistent as well.  There’s plenty of talent there but they just seem to underachieve.  I don’t know if that’s on the receivers themselves or Moorehead as their coach.  If he wasn’t our receivers coach next season I wouldn’t be too disappointed as I haven’t see anything come out of that guy in the time he’s been here other than late night Twitter battles.

As for the play calling I’m still not sure what I think of Mazzone.  I still believe he’s a play picker and not a true play caller.  To me a true play caller is someone that is always setting plays up or sequencing plays to keep drives alive.  We were 5-16 on third downs which isn’t great by any stretch and how we’ve been all season.  We have to get better at that.  I mean it’s actually really terrible as we could be sniffing 50%.  The offense is a little too sporadic for me to think he’s always thinking 2-3 plays ahead or knows the perfect time to call a play based on what he anticipates the defense is going to do.  He’s not horrible by any stretch as we saw horrible the last two years but we just seem to stall out for periods at a time and can’t sustain drives.  We’re a big play offense more than anything else and at some point we’re going to run into a defense that doesn’t allow big plays.  I’m looking mainly at LSU and Bama in that regard.  It’s why I don’t think this is a playoff caliber team.  I do think it’s a borderline Top 10 team because we can hit the big plays but we need more consistency from our offense to sustain drives to truly be an elite level team.   This is a really good football team but it’s not elite mainly because our offense can’t sustain consistent drives.  That’s on Mazzone.

Special Teams:

Man what a cluster this whole day was.  My theory on special teams is unless you truly practice it or are fully dedicated to it like Frank Beamer used to be then it just shouldn’t be noticeable.  That wasn’t the case for us on Saturday.  We all know about the missed potential game winning kick but there was PLENTY of other issues during the game.  Tripucka shanked 3 punts and all in the second half I think.  He had some nice points but midway through the game he just seemed to hit a funk where he didn’t connect cleanly on 3 or maybe even 4 punts.  He did pin 6 punts inside the 20 so he’s actually really good at that but he can’t be shanking balls.  Braden Mann who is our kickoff specialist kicked a ball out of bounds in the 4th quarter.  It wound up not hurting us as I don’t think Tennessee scored on that possession but he can’t be kicking the balls out of bounds.  He just can’t.  Boom it out of the back of the end zone and be done.  The 12th Man did make an awesome hit on a kickoff to cause a fumble we recovered so that was solid.  According to the stat sheet on 12th Man.com we didn’t return one punt or kickoff which I guess is right but Tennessee punted 6 times so I guess we just fair caught each one that didn’t get downed or go in the end zone.

My take on our special teams right now is we’re not going to win any games with special teams so we need to make sure we don’t lose any games because of special teams.  No shanked punts, no kickoffs out of bounds, or mis-handling of the ball.  I do have to give LaCamera credit as he was perfect with extra points and after missing the 38 yarder to win the game he hit the 34 yarder to tie the game and send it to the second overtime.  It’s good to see a kid put a major miss behind him and come back with confidence.  Still, hit the field goals in regulation and let’s avoid overtime all together!

 

Make no mistake that was a damn fine win on Saturday.  Any of the Aggie teams in the last 3 years would have lost that game.  There’s no doubt in my mind.  That win puts as at 9 wins minimum and I think we actually win 10 games splitting one of the Ole Miss or LSU game.  It’s possible we win both of those but I still need to see more of each of those teams to figure out who they are.  It’s possible we go into Bama and win that game but we’re going to need lots of help or Trevor to channel the Trevor that beat Bama in the Sugar Bowl.  In fact now that I think about it I’d love for Sumlin to tell Mazzone to roll the dice and create some plays we haven’t ran all season.  We have two weeks to prepare and nothing would excite me more than to see us come out with stuff Bama hasn’t seen all season.  It’s what I wanted Spav to do last year which he clearly didn’t.

I might do a more in depth analysis of us vs Bama next week after watching Bama and Tennessee this weekend.  It really couldn’t set up any better for us to have a common opponent take on Bama while we take the week off.  Ole Miss put up 43 on Bama and Arkansas put up 30 on them so they’re not invincible.    Bama scored 48 and 49 points in those games but our defense is clearly better than those teams.  I’m not saying we beat Bama but if Sumlin, Mazzone, and Knight realize we’re essentially playing with house money we stand a real chance.

As it is let’s just enjoy this victory over Tennessee and being 6-0 for the first time since 1994.  We’ll worry about Bama next week.  Oh and if there was a Gameday curse we finally got the sucker off our back!  Good job Ags!

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