Thoughts from the Games and Arkie Look

MAFGA at Rose Bowl

We are now 3 games through what I still feel is Kevin Sumlin’s Farewell Tour.  After the second half of Saturday I’m not entirely sure it’s his Farewell Tour like I was coming into the season and especially after the UCLA and Nicholls St games.  If I were a betting man I’d still wager on a 7-5 season but what I saw in the second half of the ULaLa game made me pause my certainty.  Couple what happened in the second half and watching the Saturday games of the SEC teams left on our schedule this could be a 10 win team.  I put that at about 5% but if that team that showed up in the second half of the ULaLa game continues to show up and even better progresses they can possibly beat every team left on the schedule not named Alabama.  I truly believe that.  Will it happen?  I truly doubt that.

Based on Sumlin’s tenure there is no way this team consistently puts together 16 halves of football against the remaining teams not named Alabama.  We have a sample set of six halves so far and there’s been 2 really good halves and 4 absolute stinkers.  I don’t think the light went off for the rest of the season but if Sumlin wants to keep his job the light is dim and flickering.  I don’t think Sumlin has the ability to figure out the power source and wiring to light it up and keep it lit for 14 halves of football to save is job.  14 halves because he needs at least 9 wins to guarantee his job for next season so he needs 7 more wins.  He’s going to have some stinkers along the way so I don’t see how he wins 7 more but we’ll see.

This is still the guy that had an AMAZING first half against UCLA and then a COLOSSAL collapse in the second half followed by a full game nail biter against Nicholls State.  He then followed up that performance by trailing ULaLa 21-14 at half before absolutely blowing the doors off ULaLa in the second half to win walking away.  We’ll find out this weekend how much this team has really progressed and if Sumlin has any chance of keeping his job.

Let’s take a look at the various components of the units for where we are:

Offense:

Had the second half of ULaLa not happened I would have really thought this team had a best case scenario of going 6-6 right now.  What I saw in the first half of the ULaLa game and then especially in the second half gives me some real pause as to what’s going on.  Kellen Mond looked really solid at the QB position.  Even in the first half he looked really poised in the pocket and made some really solid throws.  Especially the deep ball to Ratley in the first half.  That was a beautiful ball.  Mond threw for over 300 yards which even against ULaLa is no small feat.  Prior to that game Mond looked like absolute garbage.  He really did.  He couldn’t throw a ball to save his life.  Maybe he just calmed down.  That ULaLa game could be Mond’s coming out party like Johnny Football in the 2012 SMU game or it could be like Kenny Trill against Arkansas in 2014 where it never got any better than that.  I think it’ll be somewhere in between because Mond is a true freshman and showed solid progression but it wasn’t a breakout performance like Johnny against SMU.  I think the rest of the way Mond’s going to have some solid games and then some stinkers which is why I still contend this is a 7-5 team.  Either way I think this is no doubt Mond’s team going forward unless he just really struggles.  If he struggles we’re hosed because I do think Mond has highest ceiling of any QB on the roster including a healthy Starkel.

For the rest of the offense the running backs have been the saving grace of this team.  They demolished UCLA in the first half and then didn’t get a real opportunity against UCLA in the second half.  They rushed for over 300 yards against UCLA despite barely seeing the ball in the second half which is just insane.  It really is.  They rushed for almost 200 yards against Nicholls St and the efforts of Kendall Bussey is likely the reason we won that game.  They rushed for over 200 yards against ULaLa which allowed Mond to have some success passing as ULaLa was doing what they could to shut down the run.  The running backs are no doubt the strength of this team as Bussey and Kibodi have stepped up with Williams and Ford banged up.  We’ve got some real talent at running back.

I have no clue what’s going on with the offensive line.  There’s so much shuffling I can’t keep up.  They flat out dominated in the first half of the UCLA game but then fell off big time.  I don’t know if it was because of the shuffling or defenses figured out how to attack each lineman.  It seems like the shuffling is over with McCoy back at center even though his snap issues continue.  Maybe they keep shuffling but headed into SEC play they better set what they think is their best 5 guys and let them work as a unit.  The strength of an offensive line is trusting the guy next to you to make the same reads as you so there’s no major whiffs.  That only happens with repeated work together to establish familiarity.  Jim Turner of all people should know this.

At receiver this crew other than Christian Kirk looked like warmed over death before ULaLa.  They couldn’t get separation and if a ball came near them or even hit their hands they couldn’t catch it.  However, against ULaLa these guys started catching balls.  I think they’re going to be extremely inconsistent in SEC play but it was good to see them actually catching balls against a team even if it was a non Power 5 conference team.  Seems like there’s a lot of young talent but we’ll find out how much as we enter SEC play.

I still don’t trust Mazzone against great defensive coordinators which is part of why I’m leaving my prediction at 7-5 and for now.  There’s going to be stretches during games where our offense does nothing.  It’s just the way it is with Mazzone.  However, I did see some promise in the second half against ULaLa to make me think we’ll split our SEC games at 4-4 as there will be enough offensive firepower to win half of those SEC games but it’ll be inconsistent to not win enough to save Sumlin’s job.

Defense:

Defensively this squad has been the exact opposite of the offensive having played 4 great halves of football and 2 stinkers.  I remember sitting in the first half of the UCLA game thinking John Chavis was a damn genius.  I mean we were taking it to UCLA and Josh Rosen with pressure all over the place.  Then the second half happened which I don’t need to re-hash.  Despite the fact it was Nicholls St they actually played pretty damn good football most of the game but just had some brain farts in the passing game.  Same thing in the first half of the ULaLa game but played lights out in the second half against ULaLa shutting them out.

What I see is a John Chavis defense that is going to focus on shutting down the run and bring pressure because that’s what he likes to do and I’m okay with that for the most part.  The problem is we’re going to give up a big play here and there as we miss a coverage assignment or one of our guys just gets beat one on one.  It’s a defensive scheme that rather than give up yardage during the entire game the defense is going to look to shut down an offense knowing they could have some busted plays for big yards and likely touchdowns.  In this day and age offenses are going to get yards and scores so you just hope a defense steps up when it has to.  They didn’t do that against UCLA obviously but did do it against ULaLa in the second half.  This also leads me to believe the defense will have some stinker games and some solid games.  Kevin Sumlin just better hope they’re lined up with his offense having good games.

The defensive line has been tremendous.  We knew the defensive tackles were going to be good but the defensive ends have been way more impressive than I could have ever imagined.  They did a tremendous job against Rosen in the first half and then have shut down the run against Nicholls St and ULaLa which honestly was not the strength of Hall and Garrett last season as they tried to tee off on quarterbacks.  It seems these defensive ends are playing to their strengths rather than be something they’re not in pressure defensive ends.

Linebacker play has been really solid for the most part.  Having talent and experience in Alaka and Dodson is nice with them leading the way.  Anthony Hines showed some promise against ULaLa so maybe he keeps developing.  It looks like Larry Pryor is going to play that Safety/Linebacker position Chavis likes and looked tremendous against UCLA and ULaLa.  He’s probably been the biggest surprise so far.  Maybe he’s playing the true strong safety position as I haven’t been paying attention to where he lines up but I know the dude is making plays on the field.

Losing Donavan Wilson was big especially with the way Pryor has been playing as having Watts, Wilson, and Pryor would be pretty damn devastating.  Capers-Smith has stepped in for Wilson it appears and hasn’t been horrible other than letting the interception go through his hands at UCLA but we won’t talk about that.  Armani Watts has been Armani Watts.  He’s going to play on Sundays.  The dude loves to play football and knows where the ball is going.

Our corners of Priest Willis and Myles Jones have looked pretty good.  Similar to Pryor I haven’t counted specifically who’s lining up where on each play.  I just think those two guys have looked the best in coverage with Charles Oliver doing okay.  They’re not perfect but they’ve been on the good side of coverage a lot more than they haven’t.  Myles Jones is a true freshman and showing lots of promise.  Nick Harvey may never see the field again and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

All in all this defense has looked better than I thought they would.  I expected a fall off like from 2012 to 2013 and that hasn’t happened yet.  We also haven’t seen this defense against SEC teams but we’re about to see that.  In my mind the jury is still out on Chavis as he has some brain farts but in my mind he has this defense playing above talent and my expectations.  Not perfect but this looks like a decent enough unit right now.

Special Teams:

I think our Special Teams has really been below average.  They’re not terrible but they do little things here and there that make me wonder how focused they really are on Special Teams as opposed to just an afterthought.  I think there’s been at least 2 kick offs out of bounds.  One is excusable depending on situation but at least 2 in 3 games boggles my mind.  I think it’s actually been 3 which makes it even worse.  It tells me teams are looking for it and if they see the angle is steep then let it go out of bounds.  Heady play by opponent’s special teams on our lack of execution.  I’m not even sure why we’re doing it if we can’t execute it.

Tripucka has done an excellent job with long punts and pinning punts.  He’s definitely the bright spot on special teams.  LaCamera has been pretty solid with 5-7.  Ironically enough had he been healthy enough to kick the final field goal attempt against UCLA we might have won but that’s the breaks.

The worst thing I’ve seen on special teams was the called fake field goal against ULaLa.  I don’t like exposing wrinkles against “inferior” opponents.  Every kick block team is coached to look for fakes.  Or at least they should be.  I don’t like putting that stuff on film when it’s not needed.  Even worse we couldn’t even execute it against ULaLa.  That was terrible.

I have faith in the individuals of Kirk, Tripucka, and LaCamera but as a whole unit I don’t see the Special Teams doing anything special to win games but maybe I’ll be wrong.

 

We’re about to find out what’s going on with this team starting this Saturday as we enter SEC play.  Based on what I’ve seen in our games and our opponent’s games I think we beat Arkansas and South Carolina and then lose to Alabama and Florida although Florida is VERY beatable.  For right now though I’m going to put it as a loss as I think the Florida defense will shut our offense down and they’ll win with defense and special teams while our defense holds their offense to a couple of field goals.  It’ll be an ugly offensive game for sure.  If we split those games that will put us at 4-3 with remaining SEC games against Miss St, Auburn, Ole Miss, and LSU.  We’ll have a gimme with New Mexico which is 5 wins so Sumlin would need to do better than split those final four SEC games to potentially save his job.  Sweeping those would save his job and 3-1 might save it depending on how they look.  I’ll leave my prediction at 7-5 for now but let’s worry about Arkansas first.

 

Arkansas:

Although Arkansas has played us close since going back to JerryWorld (yes, even last year was close until mid-way through the 3rd) I think we win again this year for the following reasons:

  • Arkie looked TERRIBLE at home against a solid but not great TCU team. I mean they looked bad.
  • Bret Bielema is a bigger moron than Kevin Sumlin at game planning and in game coaching.
  • Arkansas is a worse team than last year.
  • Our defense has looked good for the most part.
  • Mond’s passing gives me hope we can keep Arkie from solely focusing on our running game.
  • Having played at 11:00 a.m. last week will help A&M.

In my mind unless we come out totally unprepared Austin Allen will have to channel his inner Josh Rosen to beat us completing passes like crazy over the middle and hitting his running backs flaring out of the backfield.  Austin Allen is a damn fine quarterback but I don’t think he has the offensive line and skill position guys to score a lot of points on our defense like Rosen.  At least the defense I’ve seen this season.

If I’m Bielema I use the entire bye week going back and watching film of A&M since the Tennessee game and installing offensive plays that worked against us.  That’s basically using the middle of the field  in the passing game as well as using running backs out of the backfield to take advantage of our aggressiveness.  You can bust those for big yards if you have the patience to set them up.  Instead though, I think Bielema will run his traditional offense of wanting to establish the run to set up the pass and it won’t be effective.  We’ll have more talent on defense than they have on offense and we’ll be prepared for it.  At least that’s the way I see it on that side of the ball.

On offense I think Mazzone’s traditional read based offense will be fine as we have more talent on offense than they do on defense.  If I’m Arkansas I definitely come out looking to stop the run and make Mond pass to see if the second half of last week’s game was a fluke.  If Mond can pass we’ll win this game walking away I think.  If Mond can pass they’ll have to adjust to defend the pass which will open up our running game or they’ll choose to dare Mond to continue to pass which he’ll do.  If Mond can’t pass then A&M could be in trouble but I think Mond has made a quick adjustment to the college game.  I think he’ll be fine against defenses where A&M has more talent on offense.  I definitely think Arkie’s defense is worse than last year’s defense.

I think we’ll see A&M up at half like 17-10 and I think the final score will be 30-16 in favor of the Aggies.  If that happens it’ll look great on the scoreboard but I’m not sure how much that will tell us because I do think Arkie is that bad.  If we do lose to Arkie look out as we could go 0-4 against Arkie, SoCar, Bama, and Florida.  If that happens I don’t think Sumlin will survive the bye week but I don’t see that happening.  I think he beats Arkie this weekend making us wait a few weeks longer to figure out his true fate.

I believe it’s his Farewell Tour but you never know for sure until the Fat Lady comes out on stage.

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