Thoughts from the Games

This was all on Coach Sumlin

This was all on Coach Sumlin

I didn’t get a chance to write up my thoughts on the Bama game due to traveling back from the game and then taking Spring Break the week after.  I had started on a write up for both the Bama and New Mexico St. game last week but the World Series got in the way and I never finished.  My apologies.  You get what you pay for…

As for the loss against MSU that starts at the top with Coach Sumlin.  This team was not prepared and focused at all.  They kicked off to us and we knocked the ball around on the ground before picking it up.  It was a 6 yard return to the 9 yard line.  Lack of focus by Keith Ford.  We then punted on our first offensive possession after only one first down with two incompletions.  Their first play was a 72 yard touchdown that mimicked what South Carolina did against us.  Lack of focus by the entire defense.  They kick off to us and we boot the ball around on the ground returning it 5 yards to the 13.  Lack of focus by Justin Evans.  We then go three and out with an incompletion on 3rd down.  Lack of focus.  If it hadn’t been for a GREAT play by Nick Harvey intercepting the ball in the end zone then MSU would have scored on their first three possessions while we would have punted on our first three possessions.  No offense to MSU but Texas A&M was the more talented team on the field and they simply whipped our ass on the first three possessions because they were focused and wanted it more.  Plain and simple.  That’s on our head coach.

Kevin Sumlin did not have this Aggie team ready.  While Clemson, Michigan, Washington, Ohio State, and Louisville beat their conference opponents by 40 points or more the Texas Aggies got beat by Mississippi State.  That’s right, 40 points or more.  Every other team in contention for the College Football Playoff not named Bama or Texas A&M flat out throttled their opponent making a statement they flat out belonged.  Kevin Sumlin took his team to Starkville like it was a family vacation with some football mixed in.  Nobody on that field wanted to be there and that starts at the top.  Basically what Kevin Sumlin did was walk up to every Aggie fan and took off their maroon colored glasses.  He then dropped them on the ground and stomped on them with his foot.  The $5 million dollar man thought his team and his staff were good enough to sleep walk through this game.  He was wrong.  Dead wrong.

I didn’t think this would be a loss due to the proverbial “trap game” but I can’t say I was totally shocked as some signs have been there since the South Carolina game.  I truly thought this team and staff was different but in the end this is the same thing that’s plagued Sumlin the last 4 years.  Everything is too predictable and there’s no sense of urgency from the staff.  Sumlin just assumes what worked for the first half will work for the second half.  I really don’t think he truly watches film to see if teams are picking up tendencies on both sides of the ball.  It’s clear the opposing staffs are finding those tendencies and weaknesses.  Sumlin is pretty damn good at the first half but he’s TERRIBLE at the second half.  I mean flat out terrible.  He’s got two games to correct that as both Ole Miss and LSU can beat us if MSU can.

Offense:

This is what I wrote last week before the World Series got in the way:

Against New Mexico St. Mazzone ran some wrinkles with new formations and plays we haven’t seen but we weren’t crisp with them at all.  It seemed early on we were trying to work the ball to Speedy but it didn’t do much.  We had a nice deep post route by Reynolds but that play probably doesn’t work against a top defense like Bama or LSU. 

All in all I’m not sure what Mazzone is trying to do at this point.  He didn’t do wrinkles against Bama but then had his biggest bag of them all year against New Mexico St.  Did he realize after the Bama game the offense had become too predictable?  Did he not think he needed wrinkles against Bama and when he watched the film the light just came on?  I have no clue what’s in his head right now.  I’m a bit worried about him going forward.  I don’t think he’s Spav 2.0 but I do think he’s been too reliant on the zone read for most of the season and his play creation hasn’t impressed me so far.  We’ve struggled on offense against Tennessee, Bama, and for the most part New Mexico St.  Is the magic we had against Auburn and Arkansas in the second half of those games gone? 

I’ve also said it all season we haven’t been able to string drives together at all this season.  That’s the part that scares me the most for the rest of the season is our offense has become too predictable and reliant upon the zone read.  For us to go 11-1 and win our bowl game Mazzone needs to get a little creative and most importantly have the offense execute on that creativity.

I promise I wrote that last week and never published it.  I wouldn’t have expected a loss to MSU even writing that but to see our offense continue to struggle trying to run the same plays is not surprising at all.  It’s crystal clear defenses have figured out our tendencies and know how to attack them.  I know we lost Knight but even before he went out he was only 5 of 14 and all five of those completions came on one series.  The definition of inconsistent.  Knight had some decent runs but both Ford and Williams combined had 19 carries for 61 yards with neither guy having a carry over 9 yards.  No offense to MSU’s defense but you expect MUCH better from those two considering what they’ve been able to do against other defenses.  What’s interesting is most of those yards came on first downs as on 3rd and short we rarely converted as MSU stuffed us.  No doubt MSU figured out our running patterns on 3rd down and attacked.  Predictable offense is the only explanation.

The most frustrating thing to me in this game was the use Ford and Trayveon.  We started out with Ford which I was fine with but we kept trying to get him around the corner and he’s not designed like that.  It reminded me a lot of Spav trying to get Carson around the corner.  Ford is a North and South runner and we were running stretch plays with him.  We brought in Trayveon on the 4th series which I agreed with as I felt we needed more of him because he’s a big play threat but they basically shut him down.  It was clear it wasn’t a running back issue and it was all about MSU had figured out our running scheme and shut it down.  After the half I felt Trayveon should have been used between the 20s and then use Ford in the red zone.  Trayveon had a nice 9 yard run around the edge in the red zone but on 2nd and 1 at the 5 yard line he was stuffed.  At that point I would have subbed out Ford and told Mazzone he’s calling two running plays there.  Instead Mazzone calls a roll out for Hubenak and he got sacked for a four yard loss.  We then missed the field goal.  I know Sumlin doesn’t like butting in on his coordinators but in the red zone in situations like that I think the head coach needs to give some guidance on what he wants.  We were down 28-14 after our defense forced a three and out on MSU’s opening second half possession.  I absolutely would have run the ball twice to see if I could gain all of the momentum in that game.  Instead we go with an inexperienced QB rolling out and get a sack.  I wouldn’t have put my backup QB in that situation with a guy like Ford and 2 downs to get 1 yard on the 5 yard line.  Really reminded me of the Mizzou game 2 years ago when we left Brandon Williams in rather than put in Tra Carson on the goal line.  I just think in key situations like that a head coach has to step in and make some calls on his own.  Especially when a coordinated appears to need some guidance.

As for Mazzone the thing that scared me the most from this game is until he had to do something different he tried to call the exact same game as if Trevor was in there.  No offense to Hubes but he doesn’t have the athleticism of Knight to run the zone read.  Hubenak is a quick read vertical passer.  He’s the exact opposite of Knight in many regards.  But yet there was Mazzone calling running plays for Hubenak.  On Hubenak’s first series there was a 3rd and 7 and a QB draw was called.  Hubes got 6 yards as he doesn’t have the athleticism of Knight and the MSU defense crashed hard on him before he got the first down.  It was a great call for Knight as Knight would have scorched them  but a questionable call for Hubes.  Case in point Hubes had 7 runs for 2 yards and Knight had 5 runs for 54 yards.  That’s a huge difference.  Some of those might have been sacks or pressure runs but Hubenak did have a couple of zone reads I believe.  It wasn’t until we were forced to pass did Mazzone let Hubes throw vertical.  When we did that Hubes actually had some decent passes and got us back in the game.

As for receiver Kirk and Reynolds were tremendous.  In fact without those two being future NFL guys this teams has it’s doors blown off.  So basically two guys carried this offense to a “respectable” score if you eliminate it was between the supposed #4 team in the country who had only lost to Bama and a 2 win MSU team that didn’t have an SEC win to their name.  The worst showing by a receiver in my book was once again Speedy Noil who somehow caught a first down pass but inexplicably looked away and happened to look back right before the ball got to him past the stick.  The dude just doesn’t have focus.  Amazing talent but no focus.  What the hell he was doing looking away I haven’t a clue.  Speedy wound up with 3 catches for 36 yards which is decent but I still say Tabuyo should be in for Speedy at this point.  RSJ is someone Hubes should have been targeting but he caught zero balls all day.  It’s just kind of maddening how it appears Mazzone doesn’t understand his personnel against that week’s defense and just randomly calls plays based on his system.

Mazzone is not Spav but he’s not far off at this point.  Unless things change dramatically over the two final SEC games I’m not sure we’ll ever win big with Mazzone at the helm of our offense.  He’s a system guy based on the zone read with no creativity.  I hear Mazzone has a three year contract so there’s no way he doesn’t come back next season but Sumlin really needs to do an objective review of how things were handled this season.  Maybe Kiffin will have a play calling camp he can attend next summer.  At worst go hire Sarkisian away from Saban to be a consultant for Mazzone.  I just don’t have a great feeling about Mazzone right now.  This could be Sumlin’s Les Miles situation where Les could never objectively evaluate Cam Cameron’s offensive ability.

Defense:

While the defense gets the brunt of the complaints for this game for good reason I have to say one thing – outside of the drive where MSU scored to go up 35-21 the defense played well enough in the second half for this team to win.  The defense held MSU scoreless on their first 5 possessions of the second half.  Sure one was a missed field goal and there was an interception in the end zone but for 5 possessions the defense kept MSU off the board in the second half.  Our offense was playing with ZERO urgency or wrinkles in the second half and our defense had made some adjustments to shut down an MSU team that had scored 28 points on them in the first half.  It was a crappy performance as a whole but I have to give the defense credit for putting forth a valiant effort in the second half until the back breaking drive by MSU when they went up 35-21.  Even after we scored to take the game to 35-28 but missed the onside kick the defense held on a three and out to force MSU to punt.  Outside of that 74 yard drive the defense only gave up 122 yards on the other 6 possessions in the second half.  The overall performance was bad but I feel like the defense makes adjustments when they need to.  But the 14 play drive that gained 73 yards and burned 7:34 was a back breaker so the defense didn’t respond when it needed to most.  That was the drive after we had closed the score 28-21 and there was 10 minutes left in the 4th quarter.  At the end of that drive the score was 35-21 and there was only 3 minutes left.  Sorry defense but that’s the definition of not responding.  A great half was erased by that single drive.  Couple that with the 28 points in the first half and there’s really no positives.

The worst part about this defense was no doubt the failure by the defensive ends not named Hall or Myles failing to keep containment on the zone read and crashing inside only to see the QB pull the ball and run around the end.  It’s maddening how the backup ends can’t realize they’re being exposed to the zone read and shouldn’t crash down.  When you’re a defensive end and you’re not getting blocked something is up.  You’re being set up.  Hold your damn ground.  Time and time again our defensive ends crash down which means the QB pulls it and heads around the end.  This has been happening since South Carolina.  Terry Price needs to get that cleaned up THIS WEEK as there’s NO EXCUSE for that repeatedly happening.

In addition to our defensive ends blowing the zone read our linebackers are running themselves out of position.  This looks like last year but amazingly we haven’t had any injuries so there’s no excuse for the starters regressing.  There’s not one linebacker I feel good about right now.  I thought Washington was taking that step to be a really solid linebacker but that’s not the case right now.  None of these linebackers inspire any confidence and that’s on Chavis.  He needs to get that cleaned up.

Our defensive tackles seemed to be out of position as well.  They’re definitely not playing as well as they were early in the season.  It seems as if offensive coordinators have figured out how our defensive tackles like to attack and let them go that way while they scheme to that.  It’s a novel concept for an offensive coordinator to do that.  The defensive tackles were supposed to be a real strength of this defense and right now it’s not happening.

The secondary played decent.  Evans and Watts led the team in tackles which honestly I’m not too wild about considering how much teams are running on us.  I know they’re a strength but you don’t really want safeties leading the team in tackling.  Our corners came in 3rd and 4th with tackles which is even worse.  They were getting picked on and MSU’s QB had some really great passes but they only completed 18 passes which is the total tackles Harvey and Capers-Smith had so that means they were having to make tackles on running plays.  MSU rushed the ball 58 times and our starting corners and safeties lead the team in tackles.  That.  Ain’t.  Good.  Our linebackers and defensive ends should be leading the team in tackles when there’s 58 rushing attempts and 18 completions.  Speaking of tackling I don’t know what’s happened but this defense was REALLY good at tackling through the Arkansas game but that’s gone now.  I’d heard that for the Tennessee game there was a focus on getting turnovers as opposed to wrapping up and bringing down the ball carrier but that needs to change right now for sure.  This defense needs to get back to the basics of tackling as they’re gonna need it against LSU for sure.

As for pass defense as bad as Nick Harvey has been against the pass in the Arkansas game he’s really improved during the season.  He’s not a shutdown corner but he’s playing MUCH better.  Priest Willis was out for this game and they picked on Capers-Smith quite a bit.  I actually thought the pass coverage was pretty decent as a whole.  So as tackling has regressed I think our pass coverage has improved.  There’s a positive.  I’d rather have outstanding tackling though.

As a whole this defense needs to get back to the basics of tackling and I think that will fix a lot of the issues.  The backup defensive ends need to stay home and keep contain.  I know Chavis loves to blitz and fill the gaps with his linebackers but I’m thinking against some running teams he either needs to change up his blitz scheme or leave linebackers at home more.  I think offensive coordinators have picked up on his blitz scheme and running their guys where they know the defenders won’t be.  There’s no excuse for MSU rushing 58 times for 365 yards which is a 6.3 yard per carry.  Take away Fitzgerald’s 74 yard run to start the game and they still averaged over 5 yards per carry.  Considering outside of Myles Garrett being hurt there’s no excuse for the defensive line and linebackers to give up those yards.  Chief needs to get this corrected pronto as we’re about to face two teams in Ole Miss and LSU that are going to try and replicate what teams have done against us on the ground.  I have faith Chief can get it done but let’s see it first.

Special Teams:

According to the athletic department website Jeff Banks is our special teams and tight ends coach.  Based on what I’ve seen of our special teams and tight ends I’m honestly not sure if he does anything.  If it wasn’t for Christian Kirk’s straight athleticism this special teams unit would be ATROCIOUS.  Outside of Kirk I can’t think of anything redeeming about our special teams.  Not a damn one.  Can you?  Our punter is WILDLY inconsistent and our place kicker isn’t much better.  Do these guys just work on their own and go out when the situation dictates?  Does Banks even know their name or does he just holler “PUNTER” and “KICKER” when the situation arises?

I’ve already talked about the booting the ball around on the first two kickoffs but there was another moment when our upback caught the ball out of bounds around the 20.  Thank goodness he was out of bounds but he was damn close to being in bounds.  I can’t think of a single reason he should have attempted to catch that ball.  I swear he caught that ball completely clueless of where he was and the ramifications of if he caught that ball in bounds.  I say that because against Tennessee I think we had one of our guys pick up a kick off that was about to go out of bounds and returned it.  There’s no excuse for that.

I had ZERO faith we would get the onside kick.  I mean none.  And sure enough it was an ordinary run of the mill onside kick.  Our kicker kicked it too deep and we had no shot of recovering it even with MSU muffing it and putting it on the ground.  I don’t think that was by design.  I think our special teams just suck that much and there’s ZERO focus on them.  None.  We’re just going through the motions on special teams because the rules of the game require it.

When MSU had to punt the ball after the onside kick failed it looked like we had a return set up.  They were kicking the ball from our 44 yard line.  There was 35 seconds left and we had no timeouts.  I love Kirk but there was virtually ZERO chance he returns the ball in that situation because of how sort the field was.  So there we are with 35 seconds left and being punted to on a short field with no time outs and we have a return set up.  A FREAKING return set up.  Fine if you want to leave Kirk back there but line up the other 10 guys and go for a freaking jail break in hopes of blocking it.  Does Sumlin even watch football games?  Did he not see the Michigan and Michigan State game last year where a jail break blocked punt was Michigan State’s saving grace for making the playoffs?  That boggled my mind we had a damn return on rather than an all-out jail break to block the punt.  How could he not see our only hope to win that game was a blocked punt and hopefully a return.  Do we even have an all-out jail break block attempt in the playbook?  I’m not totally familiar with all the college rules but I think that’s allowed.

I still don’t like Evans and Ford returning kicks.  Love the toughness those guys bring on the field in their regular positions but they don’t have the burst and top end speed to break one to the house.  It’s just not going to happen with either of those guys so why are they back there?  Does Banks think the kick return blocking is so bad he wants “bruisers” returning the kicks?  I haven’t the foggiest what Banks thinks but I know our special teams is horrible and WAY more likely to cost us a game than win one for us except for Christian Kirk’s natural talent.  And Banks only other job is to coach tight ends so it’s not like that’s a distraction for special teams.  I mean our tight ends don’t do anything either so what does Banks do all day?  Who knows but Sumlin needs to show him the bricks at the end of this season in my mind.  Based on what we’ve seen in his tenure he brings NOTHING to the table.  I mean nothing at all.  Hit the bricks kid.

 

As for what happens the rest of the season I don’t know.  With Kelly out for Ole Miss I’d like to think we win that game which will put as at 9-3 at worst.  Sumlin survives that without a doubt.  At this point I don’t see how this team beats LSU unless changes are made.  It’s the same feeling I had going into last year’s bowl game.  If Sumlin isn’t willing to make some pretty dramatic changes we’re going to get beat by LSU and wind up 9-3 and 3rd or 4th in the West.  I’d LOVE for us to go 10-2 and win our bowl game.  It’s entirely possible but I’m not sure Sumlin has that in him.  He had 11-1 in front of him and let Mississippi State derail that right away.  At worst we could have been 11-1 and playing the B12 Champ or their runner up in the Sugar Bowl.  Even better we could have been in the College Football Playoff.  I suppose at 10-2 we could still make the Sugar Bowl but it sure as hell won’t feel the same thanks to this loss.  However, with enough time an 11-2 record with a Sugar Bowl victory will make us forget all about this loss so that’s what I’m hoping for.

I’d love to know how Sumlin was after that game.  I’m sure he was his “cool” normal self but he should have been absolutely pissed off.  I would have pulled a Jimmy Johnson and said nobody talks on the plane home and if anyone did they’re running gasers.  I’m not kidding.  Okay, maybe I am because honestly Sumlin should have had these guys ready so he’s the one that shouldn’t have said a damn thing on the flight home.  Something has to change in Sumlin and quick.  Some say the loss is okay because Sumlin is ahead of schedule and this team is doing better than most predicted.  I’m sorry but how does a “schedule” apply to Sumlin in his fifth year and who are “most” of these people?  We were 7-1 and ranked 4th in the College Football Playoff.  We had a REALLY strong chance of winning out and likely would have stayed in the College Football Playoff as someone is likely going to lose had A&M won out cementing our spot.  That’s all that matters.  Kevin Sumlin had everything in front of him and he spit the bit.  He didn’t see this coming and let Dan Mullen clown him.  Credit to Mississippi State as they absolutely earned that win.  Kevin Sumlin should totally have avoided that though.  This is all on Kevin Sumlin.

We need the season to play out but if we go 8-4 losing to Ole Miss and LSU at home I’d strongly consider firing Sumlin.  That will be the 4th year in a row he collapsed as a coach down the stretch.  It would be a tough pill to fire him based on where we were at one point this season but it’s been that way the previous three seasons under his watch.  We just collapsed a little later than normal but the trend is obvious.  Eat the $15 million and go get someone else like Les Miles, Tom Herman, or Chad Morris.  8-4 in the style it happened yet again is just not acceptable.  The data points will be too many to truly indicate Sumlin is anything but that kind of coach.  Sure, he could catch lightening in the bottle one season but it’ll be pretty rare.  I’ve said all along next year is going to be worse than this year so this is the season we needed to make it happen.  If Sumlin spit the bit for the 4th time in 5 years I don’t really want to see it a 5th year in a row.  It’s a little too early to say that but I don’t think anyone is going to feel good closing out our season losing our last 4 SEC games and that what will happen if he can’t beat one of Ole Miss or LSU.  That’s gonna be a bitter taste just like Mike Sherman’s last year.

I really hope Sumlin wins on Saturday and keeps winning as I don’t really want to replace him.  He has his work cut out for him with Knight out for the regular season but he gets paid the big bucks to figure out how to win.  With Kelly out for Ole Miss we could and should absolutely beat them.  We’ll worry about anything beyond Saturday next week.

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