Thoughts from the South Carolina Game

Keith+Ford+South+Carolina+v+Texas+6zk2o_ZRhCSl

Before I get to anything on Saturday’s game I have to commend the 12th Man.  They were OUTSTANDING on Saturday night.  I wouldn’t call it the greatest performance ever but it was as solid as it comes considering the opponent.  Kyle Field was rocking and especially after the targeting call.  Kyle was buzzing most of the game but that targeting call turned Kyle into an all-out roar and one I think factored into the win.  If Fran was around every person in attendance would be receiving an MTXE t-shirt in the mail.  That’s Mental Toughness, Xtra (sic) Effort for those of you that have forgotten some of Fran’s greatest “motivation” tactics.  I still miss Fridays with Fran and Kim’s Corner.  Always nice to know what was going on with the coach and his wife since we weren’t winning.

This week’s write up is going to be shorter than normal because what happened on Saturday was what we’ve seen the last three games.  A8M came out lethargic and with no real plan or purpose.  Why that is I have no idea.  The 4th quarter has a lot of people excited for the rest of the season but let’s pump the brakes a tad.  We were down at half in a home game against a pretty pedestrian South Carolina team.  A South Carolina team that I’d say has a MUCH worse offense than Arkansas and slightly better defense.  There was NO reason to go into half down 10-7 but yet we did.

Coming out of half it was the same thing.  No sense of urgency and no real plan.  We punted on our first two possessions of the second half while SoCar scored on their first possession of the second half to go up by 10.  A&M kicked a field goal towards the end of the third quarter to make it a 7 point game but there was still no sense of urgency.  Kyle still had a decent buzz but there was no urgency or apparent desire to impose our will.

That seemed to all change early in the 4th quarter when Camron Buckley was ejected for targeting.  Per the letter of the rule the refs made the right call.  Buckley wasn’t intentionally targeting I don’t think but when you’re leading with your head towards higher up on a person and you make contact with their helmet you’re more than likely going to get called.  It’s a gray area for player safety but it’s the rule.  Ironically I think his ejection was the difference in the game as Kyle Field turned into an all-out roar and the A&M team all of a sudden had a sense of urgency and purpose.  Sad that it took that to get the team a sense of urgency but I really think that changed the game.  We scored two plays later to tie it up and then dominated the rest of the game but still only won by 7 so the final emotion everyone felt hides the reality of the game in my mind.

Offense:

For three quarters this offense looked really ho hum.  No real plan and no sense of urgency.  After three quarters at Kyle Field against a decent but not great SoCar defense we had 10 points.  TEN POINTS.  Against a decent team we’re not down just 7 in the 4th quarter and we don’t score 14 in the 4th quarter to win the game.  At least I don’t think.  The offense seems to respond to the defense’s effort and that needs to change at some point.  The offense needs to have its own urgency and plan.  The end result was fine with 24 points and a 7 point win but the complete game picture still creates cause for concern from an offensive standpoint.

Kellen Mond from a passing standpoint was fairly accurate completing 19 of 27 passes but he only passed for 159 yards so he wasn’t exactly lighting it up with deep balls.  A lot of smart passes from him which was good to see but despite the 70% completion rate I wouldn’t paint this as a dominant passing effort.  It almost seems SoCar played a solid defense to keep him contained through the air knowing where he would go but maybe I’m wrong.  Will Muschamp isn’t a great head coach but he’s still a pretty defensive guy so that SoCar defense kept Mond contained for the most part since we only scored 10 points through 3 quarters and no big passing plays through the whole game.  Our longest passes were for 26 and 21 yards with no other pass over 20 yards.

Mond did have an outstanding day running the ball rushing 15 times for 106 yards if you take away the sack.  That’s about 7 yards per rush and even more impressive was his longest run was only 19 yards so he was pretty consistent running the ball.  You’d like to see him break one for a long run like Johnny or Trevor but he doesn’t have their breakaway speed and was taking what the defense was giving it seemed.  Mond was pretty consistent running and only getting sacked once so it says he was making decent reads.  Not dominating but he’s still a true freshman playing behind an offensive line that isn’t exactly dominating either.

Keith Ford was our best back for the game rushing 12 times for 71 yards and two touchdowns.  He was great in the red zone scoring our final two touchdowns to put us up.  Trayveon seemed a little hesitant at times as I think he kept waiting for bigger holes to develop that never did.  He and Ford are different backs where Ford hits the hole immediately like a singles hitter just wanting to get on base.  Trayveon waits a little longer to see if something bigger develops as he likes to hit for extra bases and especially home runs.  They’re great complements to each other assuming Mazzone or Sumlin is using them based on how the game is being played.

In the 4th quarter for whatever reason we finally decided to pound the ball.  We ran 20 plays in the 4th quarter with 15 being runs and 5 being passes.  The passes were solid completions but I don’t think it’s a surprise we scored 14 points on back to back possessions down 7 because we decided to commit to the running game.  I get having balance so the defense doesn’t focus on stopping one aspect but at some point its okay to go with what seems to be the strength of this team which is running the ball.  We run the ball much better than we can pass and I still haven’t figured out why we’re so afraid to use the run game to set up the pass.  Had we committed to running against Arkansas and SoCar in the 1st quarter and all game I don’t think those are close games in the 4th quarter that we win by 7.  We beat UCLA as well if we keeping running the ball in the second half.

Receiver and offensive line was more of the same from the ULaLa and Arkansas games.  Pretty consistent play but not dominant.  The worse move was they once again went with a true freshman offensive line early in the 2nd quarter I believe.  They accounted for 2 incompletions and a sack.  I hope that grouping of offensive linemen never sees the field together again as they have accounted for three and outs the last three times they’ve seen the field.  We’d be better off kneeling three times and punting to let the clock run and minimize contact on our offensive players.  I don’t understand it at all.  We hear it’s for conditioning but if 1-2 series a game is supposed to pay off in November we’re in bigger trouble than we think.  We’re bringing them in when the game is in question and continually wasting a series with that grouping.  It’s maddening and at this point its insanity doing the same thing expecting different results.

I’m still not sure this offense takes a leap from what we’ve seen the last three games.  There’s promise but there’s still just so much inconsistency in the play calling and execution.  I’m not sure we see a dominant game from start to finish unless we commit to the run much earlier and stick with it.  I have a feeling against Bama we’re going to have to go away from the run as they shut it down and get ahead so we have to play catch up through the air.  Not sticking to the run against Bama won’t help us against Florida which I’ll get to in a little bit.

Defense:

Other than a few plays this was an outstanding defensive performance.  Without a doubt our best effort all season but make no mistake South Carolina might be the worst SEC offense we see all season.  I’m dead serious.  That was a REALLY bad South Carolina offense.  Every SEC team we play from here on out will be better than this one.  South Carolina was missing their starting right tackle and starting right guard.  In addition they were missing their best offensive player in wide receiver Deebo Samuel.  Jake Bentley is a decent quarterback but he’s no world beater for sure.  Ettlinger at LSU might be worse but he has a MUCH better supporting cast.

With that, the defense still deserves credit for playing 4 quarters of really good football.  We held SoCar to 256 yards and they had four plays that accounted for 131 yards.  That’s over 50% of their yards in four plays out of roughly 56 offensive plays.  So for 52 plays they averaged less than 2.5 yards per play.  That’s DAMN good.  Even if the SoCar offense isn’t all that great that’s a defense that stepped up and dominated when opportunity presented itself.  That’s way better than the Sex Panther defense I thought this group was.  93% of the time our defense worked every time.  Kudos to the unit as if they don’t step up and dominate those 52 plays there’s a good chance we lose this game.

As for individuals our defensive tackles took care of business like always.  They were excellent.  Their play allowed Alaka and Dodson to have outstanding games.  Alaka had the game of his life with 7 solo tackles and 2 assisted tackles including 2 sacks.  Dodson was our second leading tackler with 4 solos and 1 assisted.  That’s awesome when our linebackers are our leading tacklers as opposed to our defensive backs like last week.  Landis Durham continues to show up giving a presence at defensive end I didn’t think we’d have coming into the season.  He got two sacks which so he continues to bring pressure to the quarterback.  In total we had 7 sacks so even if that was the worst SEC offense we’ll see all season we took advantage and brought big time pressure.

No defensive back really stood out.  Kind of surprised we didn’t pick a pass off but that’s okay.  Bentley completed a little better than 50% which isn’t bad but pretty obvious we had decent coverage all game.  Other than the 45 yard touchdown which was a broken play we had solid coverage all night.  This wasn’t really a game for the defensive backs to stand out considering SoCar ran the ball 26 times and passed 30 times so they were balanced and got nothing on the ground.  I would have liked to have seen a lower yards per completion but this is an era of college football where teams are going to get yards through the air.  This was a game for the front seven to shine and they definitely did that.

I’m not back on the Chief Train yet but I am at the station wondering if he’s gonna get the thing chugging along again.  I know this goes against what I said earlier but at this point in seeing the defense I think he just needs to channel his inner Wade Phillips and dial up pressure after pressure.  If we give up big plays so be it.  I think this defense plays best with its ears pinned back.  Might as well pin them back and see what happens.  With Durham, Alaka, Dodson, Pryor, and even Jarret Johnson stepping up we might as well see what we can do.  It won’t matter against Bama but we don’t need to get dejected if Bama trucks us and get back to bringing the pressure when we roll into Gainesville.  We should pin our ears back against Bama but if we aren’t successful we shouldn’t change the approach.  Just know it’ll get easier against teams not named Bama.

Special Teams:

Once again nothing special here.  Kirk had a botched punt but other than that he never attempted a return.  He never had a chance to make a return so we’re not getting any return blocking at all.  I still contend we need to attempt a block just to keep their punt coverage team honest in staying home.  It looks like they’re releasing multiple guys down the field and we’re having problems blocking them.  For the last 14 punts we’ve had ZERO attempts at a return.

South Carolina had a couple decent kick returns against us so we didn’t execute on those two kickoffs.  We had one return were Christian Kirk took it out from the end zone and only got 10 yards so we started an offensive drive at the 10 yard line.  That’s not good.  Night and day from Arkansas.

I thought Tripucka had his worst game this season as he had a chance to pin SoCar inside their 20 yard line but instead kicked it into the end zone.  He did get the 3 punts inside the 20 but his specialty has always been his ability to pin an offense inside the 20.  He failed twice this game which isn’t terrible but we should really be perfect never kicking a punt into the end zone.  He was 60% pinning teams inside the 20.  Know what is also effective 60% of the time?  Sex Panther.  We don’t need our punter turning into a Ron Burgundy bit.  Just pin the opponent inside the 20.

Going Forward:

Despite what happened in the 4th quarter I expect Bama to truck us.  They’re flat out rolling right now.  They beat Florida State 24-7 to open up the season and then in their last two SEC games have won 59-0 and 66-3.  I know that’s Vandy and Ole Miss but let’s not kid ourselves we’re light years better than those teams.  We’re definitely better but those are ass kickings.  Bama is firing on all cylinders while we’re playing inconsistent football.  Nick Saban doesn’t have let down games and I expect them to throttle us 44-10.

They’ll get a least one defensive touchdown and one special teams touchdown I think.  Our defense will do an admirable job for a portion of the game but Bama will just wear us down.  Our offense will completely sputter other than a couple of drives.  I know anything can happen but this is Bama up against a lesser talented and less consistent A&M offense from last year.  We didn’t do so well last year when it was all said and done.  Our only chance is having a plan to give Keith Ford the ball at least 20 times this game.  If we don’t do that that tells me Sumlin and Mazzone can’t make honest assessments of our offense and opponents from film.  Normally I’d say you have to take to the air against Bama and play tempo but I don’t think we have the quarterback and receivers to do that.  Just pound Ford and see what happens.  Maybe our defense can hold and Ford can wear down the Bama defense.  Even if he doesn’t it’ll be good practice to practice a focused runing for the remaining games on the schedule.  Yes, I’m serious about using a Bama loss to benefit the rest of the season.  Challenge our offensive line against the best defensive front in college football.

After Bama the only other sure loss I see on the schedule right now is Auburn.  Malzahn appears to have that team rolling as well.  Anything can happen but that’s a talented Auburn team that seems to be playing up to its potential.  That puts our ceiling at 9-3 in my mind needing to get wins over Florida, Miss St, Ole Miss, and LSU.  Those all look like winnable games right now but I still feel we split those or at best go 3-1 which will put as at 8-4.

We’ll just have to see how we respond in Gainesville after Bama.  If we can squeeze a win in Florida which is entirely possible then 9-3 is a lot more possible.  Even though Florida doesn’t look like a great team that won’t be an easy game going on the road the week after Bama.  Both Mississippi schools look very beatable so I’d say 7-5 is our floor right now.

The wild card is obviously LSU because they look terrible right now.  I mean they just look terrible.  They still have plenty of time to get focused and that’s a talented team.  I FULLY expect Ed Orgeron to coach every practice shirtless from here on out threatening to whip every Tiger player’s ass that doesn’t give max effort.  I really do.  No more mumbling and eating gumbo during practice.  It’s Shirtless Ed threatening to whip the ass of every Tiger player that’s not focused on getting better.  I’m kind of hoping he might even coach shirtless but I don’t think the NCAA will allow that happen.  I’d love to see Ed Orgeron shirtless on the sidelines in a game.  I think the NCAA needs to rethink that rule about coaching attire.  College football needs Shirtless Ed.

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