Thoughts from the Arkie Game

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If you watched the game on Saturday you were fortunate enough to watch paid professionals fail miserably at their job for around 4 hours.  This includes the highest paid people in Kevin Sumlin and Bret Bielema down to the refs.  Fortunately for the Aggies, Bielema is a bigger moron than Sumlin.  As for the refs, in the end they kind of balanced out their terrible calls.  Kind of.   They were still pretty bad.  It wasn’t a pretty game to watch from a competence standpoint but from a sheer entertainment it was pretty good.

I’ve been telling you this Aggie football season is like the 2016 Presidential Election and Saturday was a perfect example of that.  The two candidates showed their incompetence time and time again and in this game the moderators also showed off their incompetence with repeated bad calls.  I wish I had the time to go back and log every dumb decision but I don’t have the time since nobody pays me for this.  Just know it was sheer incompetence.

To me the most glaring three examples were late in the game when Arkansas kicked directly to Christian Kirk and he promptly took it back to the house for the Aggie lead.  I mean they kicked it right to him.  After taking the lead to go up by 3 with three and a half minutes left and A&M with two timeouts Arkansas decides to sky kick just on the other side of midfield giving A&M a short field only needing a field goal to tie.  It was such a moronic call.

A&M then promptly drives down and sets up a game tying field goal but Kevin Sumlin then calls timeout with 8 seconds left.  In the end it didn’t matter but why Sumlin didn’t wait until 3 seconds left to call the timeout is beyond me.  That would have ensured the field goal attempt was the final play of the game.  Now, the odds of Arkansas returning the kick for a score are miniscule but anyone that’s watched football remembers the Music City Miracle and the Stanford/Cal game where strange things can happen on kick offs.  There was no need for that to even be an option as Sumlin should have just let the clock wind down to 3 seconds and call the timeout.  Good or bad the field goal would be the last play and Arkansas would only see the ball in overtime if it got there.  I think it just goes to show Sumlin is not fully aware of the entire game situation.

It’s still a win for A&M and six straight for Sumlin over Arkansas including yet another overtime “thriller.”  If this was going to be Sumlin’s last game against Arkansas it’s only fitting it went to overtime.  It may not be pretty but it sure was entertaining when all of the smoke settled.

Offense:

My main takeaway from this game is how inconsistent this offense still is.  Some of it is play calling but some of it is execution.  Kellen Mond was 14 of 27 passing which is the model of inconsistency in my mind.  50% isn’t bad but it’s not exactly great either.  He had some good passes but also had some stinkers along with guys dropping a couple passes they should have had.  He did enough to win the game so there’s something to be said for a true freshman that seems to be growing each week.  Still a long ways to go but needless to say Arkansas Kellen Mond is light years above UCLA Kellen Mond.  He’s going to face defenses a LOT better than this Arkansas defense so we’ll see how much further he can develop.

Something else on Mond is he’s not the running threat I thought he’d be.  I know he’s young but speed is speed.  Based on his long run against Arkansas on Saturday if you lined him up with Johnny and Trevor in a 100 yard dash he’d get smoked.  He really would.  He’s a decent runner but I don’t think he’s as strong a runner as Jalen Hurts was in his true freshman season last year.  I think Mond is the better passer than those guys not named Manziel but I thought he’d be faster based on what was said when he was recruited.  Just don’t expect him to have the long runs those guys have had.  It’s not who he is apparently.

For the rest of the offense I thought they looked decent but I don’t think the Arkie defense is that stellar.  50 points is 50 points but I don’t think there’s going to be any games left in the SEC where we score 50 points and with our defense we might need it.  We ran the ball decently but I didn’t think we were dominant by any stretch.  It certainly wasn’t as strong as we did against UCLA in the first half.  We got good push on most plays and had some really decent runs but I don’t feel we were blowing holes open like we could have.  This was not the dominant run effort we had last year against Arkansas and I was surprised by that.  If Mond hadn’t had some decent passes we walk out of JerryWorld losers no doubt.  Not dissing Ford or Trayveon at all as it wasn’t from lack of effort but I’ve seen better run games the last two years.

At receiver it was much like Mond where there were some good moments and some not so good moments for people who don’t have the last name of Kirk.  Kirk is a bonafide stud.  End of story.  Surprisingly Damion Ratley appears to be the second best receiver on the team right now.  He’s made some solid catches and this is a guy I didn’t trust to catch balls coming into the season.  The true freshmen are progressing but still inconsistent which is too be expected.  I think this Arkie defense is pretty bad and the receiving corps is going to find it much tougher sledding as we get through the rest of the SEC schedule.

The OLine looked decent except for the true freshman offensive line they ran out there twice which I believe resulted in negative 9 yards of offense and two punts.  Supposedly Sumlin’s justification was that he wanted to keep the starting offensive line fresh.  Um, do what?  Didn’t we hire the most awesome conditioning coach in the universe this offseason?  Did they really get that big of a rest considering the results?  This is a decision I don’t get at all.  It’s basically raising the white flag on two offensive possessions in a back and forth game.  I’m sure our defense loved seeing those guys go out there knowing the starting offensive line was getting some “rest.”  The defense got minimal rest with that unit in there.  Sumlin can’t allow that the rest of the way.  I swear he’s an idiot for touting conditioning all off season and then running a spare offensive line out there because the starters aren’t in good enough shape.  You can’t have it both ways, Kevin.

The other thing that really bothered me about this game was the backside defensive end was making a lot of plays during the game.  He’s the guy we’re supposed to be reading and what I noticed him doing quite a bit was crashing to Mond and not to the running back.  When Mond would see him coming directly at him Mond would leave the ball with the running back and then the defensive end would adjust and tackle the running back for no gain or a slight gain.  It didn’t always happen but it happened quite a bit where I’m now worried Arkie put on film a way to confuse our read game.  Now, this is also the reason Mond had his long run because Mond was able to get around him when he couldn’t hold contain from crashing but it was still a pretty effective move to basically crash to Mond so that he handed the ball off rather than hold.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens the rest of the way with this offense as I think Mond will continue to develop but I don’t think his ceiling is much more than what we saw here.  He’ll make some smarter decisions and likely get better passing but it’s not going to be what we’ve seen happen in the ULaLa game and continue in the Arkie game from an improvement standpoint.  He’s going to face tougher and tougher defenses and his development is going to slow quite a bit.

As for the rest of the offense I still believe this will be an offense that can’t continually sustains drives.  That’s just not how Mazzone is.  Case in point the continual deep ball on first down to open up a series where the ball wasn’t even close or the receiver had no separation.  There was no check down if the receiver was covered.  Just gun it down and hope for the best.  I believe there were at least 4 of those including the 4th quarter where I thought he should have just lined up and leaned on Arkansas.  Not once in that game do I think we really tried to lean on Arkansas and impose our will.  If Mazzone doesn’t think we can do it against Arkansas he’s not going to think we can do it against anyone else on our schedule.

Defense:

I officially got off the Chavis Train on Saturday.  Now, the train is at the station just stopped and I can still get back on but what I saw on Saturday really bothered me.  That wasn’t a great Arkansas offense and we continually let them back in the game.  It wasn’t just a couple of series.  We continually had chances to step up as a defense and we didn’t do it hence why we went to overtime.

What happened is very confusing to me.  It’s total inconsistency.  About 60 percent of the plays we’re a damn good defense.  I mean real good.  We had 6 sacks so we were bringing pressure which is great.  They also only converted 5 of 13 third downs which is also pretty good.  However, the other 40 percent of the plays we give up way too much.  While Sex Panther is an outstanding cologne for a date it’s not an outstanding strategy for a defense.  That’s an Anchorman movie reference if you’ve never seen it.  What’s even more maddening is it’s the same issues over and over again.  It just seems like feast or famine with this defense and teams exploit the same thing over and over again.

The most maddening thing is the failure to account for the running back flaring out of the backfield.  It’s not even a true wheel route.  A lot of times they’ll just release the back into the flats and nobody at all accounts for him.  The QB will spot him and dump him the ball and off he goes for a pretty decent gain.  They also used it to score a goal line touchdown.  This has been going on since the Tennessee game last year and at least once a game it bites us if not multiple times a game.  How we lose awareness of the running back when he’s not blocking is beyond me.  Yet it happens time and time again.

We gave up 451 yards to what I feel isn’t a very good Arkansas offense.  It was equally split so it’s not like they exploited us through the ground or air.  The just had a fairly consistent attack that leveraged weaknesses in our defense.  I really think it’s time for Sumlin to do an honest assessment of Chavis and give him more direction of what to do in the game.  Sumlin doesn’t like doing that especially to someone of Chavis’ caliber but from what I’ve seen since the Tennessee game he’s not always on his game.  He’s still really damn good most of the game but it’s clear offenses know when to pull out plays that our defense won’t be prepared for or exploit our aggressiveness.  Chavis is getting the better of offensive coordinators most of the time but when he’s not it’s pretty bad.  He hasn’t called a complete defensive game since his first season in my mind.

From an individual standpoint our safeties Watts and Pryor led the way in tackles.  Watts is a total stud and Pryor is playing great but it’s becoming a bit concerning when both of our safeties are our leading tacklers.  Behind them our corners of Myles Jones and Debione Renfro led the team in solo tackles.  That’s not a good thing when your secondary is 4 of the Top 5 tacklers.  I want the front 7 making more tackles than my secondary and especially my corners.  Credit to the corners for making lots of tackles on outside running plays where Arkansas was blocking our front 7 but you’d hope a linebacker has more tackles than a corner for a team that was running as much as Arkansas.  They attempted 45 runs and 27 passes so our corners were very involved in stopping the run.  It shouldn’t be that way.

Outside of the secondary I thought Tyrel Dodson had some nice stops at times but he also gets sucked in places where he shouldn’t be and gets taken out of plays.  Kingsley Keke and Landis Durham were our best defensive linemen by far and Durham looked really good at times with 2 sacks.  Durham has really impressed me this season.  Daylon Mack got credit for no tackles including not even having an assisted tackle.  That’s really bad.

If Arkansas can score 43 points on this defense I shudder to think what some of the more “explosive” offenses in the SEC can score on us.  By explosive I mean quarterbacks that can both run and pass.  Austin Allen isn’t a running quarterback at all but yet Arkansas was able to rush for 265 yards against us and this isn’t even close to one of Bielema’s best offensive lines.  In fact I’d say it’s his worst in the 5 years he’s been at Arkansas.

I don’t know if it’s a talent issue or a coaching issue but Chavis’ defenses have gotten progressively worse since he’s been in Aggieland.  I still want to believe in Chief and get back on the Chief Train but right now I think that train is broke down in the station and it’s not leaving anytime soon.  Well, other than at the end of the season which will make me sad as I’ll miss hearing from Chief.  I won’t eat until the prey is dead Chief.  I promise you that.

Special Teams:

Before I get to anything else on special teams the decision or lack of execution to kick to Christian Kirk was one of the bigger moronic decisions I’ve ever seen in a football game.  It reminded me of when R.C. kicked to Wes Welker with a 4th quarter lead and Welker ran it back.  Some people are just electric and you don’t give them a chance late in games when you’re holding a lead.  Thank you to whoever on Arkansas was responsible for kicking to Kirk.  The amazing thing on that return from what I’ve seen is there was no real blocking scheme to open up a real hole.  The other kick return guys did an outstanding job of just engaging everyone from Arkansas on that side of the field and Kirk found a seam and turned on his jets.  That play was 50% Arkansas brain fart, 10% Aggie return team blocking, and 40% Christian Kirk just using his God given ability.  The dude can fly.  Did you know that was Sumlin’s first kick return for a touchdown since he’s been at A&M?  That’s pretty unreal.

I’ve said it all year but our special teams don’t impress me as a unit.  There’s some fine individual players but as a unit I still don’t think the special teams is all that great.  LaCamera was 3-3 so that was solid.  Sure, they were shorter kicks but he did his job.  I think Tripucka had one short kick off his foot but for the most part he was his usual solid self.

The most frustrating part about the special teams in this game was the punt returns.  For the most part Arkansas was punting to Kirk but they did an outstanding job of getting solid coverage before Kirk caught the ball.  Kirk didn’t attempt a single punt return all day because Arkansas guys were running unblocked down the field.  Kirk either let the ball go or fair caught it.  He never returned a single ball because he couldn’t get to it with any space from an Arkansas defender.   7 times Arkansas punted and not once did we get any kind of return.  Their punter averaged 43.9 yards per kick and punted two over 50 yards so they were kicking to Kirk with space but their coverage was outstanding.  They were getting generous rolls when Kirk didn’t field them but they weren’t punting away from Kirk.

How we couldn’t get any blocking on punt returns is frustrating.  If I were Sumlin or Banks I would have loaded up 10 guys on the line and gone for a blocked punt while telling Kirk to fair catch it if he safely could.  We weren’t returning any kicks so might as well go for a jailbreak block to see what happens.  I haven’t seen us block a punt in I don’t know how long.

There were a few other special teams mishaps here and there as well.  We have some solid individuals on special teams but I still feel our special teams units under perform when it comes to all 11 players executing.  Christian Kirk isn’t running back kicks against every team this season.  Either way that was an awesome return and if an NFL scout was watching that just confirmed his next level speed.  He’s got it and thank goodness on Saturday he was wearing maroon.  If Kirk played for Alabama he’d likely be a Top 5 Heisman candidate right now.  He really is that good from a physical talent standpoint.  I just wished we were able to exploit that talent more.

Going Forward:

I still think this is a 7-5 team mainly because this team is so inconsistent.  There’s some potential to win 8 games but I don’t see it happening.   I think we beat South Carolina this weekend to get to 4 wins and then there’s the New Mexico game which will get us 5.  We’ll lose to Alabama which will put us at 5-2 with games against Florida, Mississippi St, Auburn, Ole Miss, and LSU.  I see us going 2-3 in that stretch but it’s really possible to go 3-2 if we get some consistency on offense or defense especially.  I don’t see 4-1 or 5-0 against those teams right now but could be wrong.  While there’s some promise the reality is still that we’re coming off a 50-43 overtime win against Arkansas.  If Bret Bielema has any real brain cells the Aggies lose that game.  Kevin Sumlin was able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat simply because Bret Bielema is a moron.  I mean it takes a special kind of moron to kick to Christian Kirk late in the 4th quarter when you’re trying to protect a lead.  Congratulations Bret.  You gave us Aggies hope.

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