Thoughts From the Florida Game

Keke at Florida

Before I get into the write up of the game I have a couple of housekeeping items.  First, The Swamp reminded me of a blue and orange Kyle Field before renovations.  It’s a big stadium but kind of piecemealed together with lots of concrete.  Sure, one of their end zones is what we copied ours from but the rest of the stadium reminded me of old Kyle.  Cramped concourses and limited bathroom facilities for 90,000 people with no frills at all.  While there are some things I wish they’d done differently at New Kyle the more I visit other stadiums the more thankful I am for New Kyle.  In addition to the physical structure it reminded me of Old Kyle in their fans knew when to get loud on defense.  A lot of other places can be loud but it’s this constant roar most of the game.  At The Swamp there were definite moments when the fans knew when to get loud when our offense was on the field.  Definitely a good football experience.

As for their fans other than the jerkwad that ripped the rea r wiper off my rent car they were very hospitable.  All very pleasant and I never heard anything bad said to us.  They were all very polite.  As for the ripped off wiper, the guy at the rent car return was REALLY confused when I explained what happened.  I handed him all the parts that were still there including the spring to hold it all in place that was screwed up.  He didn’t even say anything about The Association sticker on the window he was so confused by what happened.  He charged me 18 bucks and some change and off I went.

My other personal favorite moment from the game was coming back from the bathroom at halftime I had an Aggie fan ask me what my MAFGA hat and shirt meant.  I looked at her confused like someone had ripped a wiper off my rent car and said, “It’s mostly a joke.”  She looked at me and said, “Okay, but what does it mean?”  I said, “It means we suck and need to get better” and walked off.  I wasn’t sure what else to say because it’s five simple words that couldn’t be clearer – Make Aggie Football Great Again.  I don’t know how to say it any clearer.

As for the game it was a definite tale of two halves.  We looked like crap in the first half.  The defense looked somewhat respectable but the offense was wretched.  In the second half the defense cranked it up to another level and the offense finally moved the ball enough to let Mond score a touchdown in addition to three clutch kicks by LaCamera.  The way things are looking Kevin Sumlin is going to owe John Chavis and LaCamera new cars for Christmas.  Those two guys are single handedly saving his job.  Kellen Mond might deserve a big fruit basket which I’ll get to in a little bit.

Normally I start with the offense first on my team analysis but not this week.  That’s for a reason.

Defense:

Dear Chief – I’m sorry.  I’m so very sorry.  I’m back on the Chief Train and I’m sorry for ever getting off.  I’m not going to say you’re perfect but these last three weeks reminded me of how much you mean to me.  I missed that snot slinging defense but it looks like you have them back.  I’m fully buckled in so let’s take this Chief Train to wherever it is you want to go assuming the snot keeps getting slung.  I’m on board for the rest of the season.

In all seriousness another valiant effort by the defense on Saturday night.  While it’s not without fault as they gave up over 200 yards to a suspect Florida offense in the first half.  The defense took The Swamp singing Tom Petty’s Won’t Back Down to start the 4th quarter to heart.  If you were there you know what I’m talking about.  The offense was struggling to keep the ball moving which left the defense on the field way more than they should have but the defense never quit fighting.  The best example was on Franks’ long “scramble” in the 3rd quarter.  While plenty of Aggie defenders missed tacking him Kingsley Keke stayed focused on made the tackle 79 yards down the field.  Keke is our defensive tackle which means he ran over 79 yards to make sure Franks stayed out of the endzone.  That’s pure heart.  Lots of guys would have quit.

As for the entire unit I have to start with the “Front 6” which is whoever is playing the four down linemen along with Alaka/Dodson.  We rotate the down linemen so much it’s an unheralded effort for everyone doing their job for the rest of the defense to make plays.  As it should be in a game like this Alaka and Dodson lead tackles with 12 and 11 respectively.  Keke came in at third with 8.  Alaka had a solo sack and Dodson was in on one himself.  Right now these 6 “guys” are the MVP of the entire team.  You can’t say enough about how these guys are playing and have been playing since after the Arkansas game.  Crazy to think this is the same defense that gave up 43 points to Arkansas.  Not sure it stays like this but with the effort they’re giving it sure looks like this defense can stay at this level.

Looking at the rest of the stat sheet it’s pretty clear it was a team defensive effort.  After Keke’s 8 tackles we had 10 defenders credited with each individual having between 3 and 6 tackles.  That’s a nice spread and to me tells me we had lots of guys on defense making plays at times.  Outside of the long run by Franks I can’t recall too many mis-plays by the defense.  Seems like assignment football where everyone is doing what they should be doing.  In addition to having 13 guys with at least 3 tackles the defense had 5 sacks and Florida only converted 4 of 15 third downs.  Those are outstanding stats even if Florida is not a potent offense.  The defense stepped up and did what they needed to do when they needed to do it.

Had the offense been able to sustain more drives or even put more points on the board in the first half this might have been an even more impressive performance.  I believe at half Florida had around 100 more yards of total offense and 8-10 more minutes of offensive possession.  The Aggie offense certainly didn’t do the defense any favors in the first half.  Even with that the defense came out in the second half and simply applied more pressure and basically shut the Florida offense down except for one play.  I don’t care how bad the Florida offense is as the Aggie defense was on the road in a tight game and didn’t back down as Tom Petty would say.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens as this defense won’t see any true high powered offenses the rest of the way.  Auburn might be the toughest but LSU may have cracked their offensive code this weekend.  The way this defense has played since the second half of South Carolina there’s no doubt in my mind they’re playing well enough for A&M to win every game if the offense can produce points.

Offense:

As good as the defense was the offense was the opposite.  They looked like crap in the first half.  They only mustered 3 points against a pretty good Florida defense but they had no identity and no clue of what they wanted to do.  It was just random ass plays that never got anything going and no plan of where to attack anything on the Florida defense.  Even in the second half they didn’t look much better other than Mond finally making some plays with his legs.

It’s no secret I’m no fan of Noel Mazzone as an offensive coordinator.  He continues to prove to me he’s just a play picker and never has a plan to attack.  He never seems to attack any part of the defense, string plays together with some plan, or use plays to set up other plays.  It’s just some random ass plays in hopes they work.  Against good defenses like Florida they rarely work and it showed all night.

The offensive line was playing with a couple of backups but the unit was pretty wretched all night.  There’s no doubt this is the weakest link of the team right now.  I’m a big fan of Jim Turner but what I’m seeing right now is making me question his worth.  I know there’s some youth on the line as we were missing a couple of guys so I guess you could say it’s partially on Sumlin and not totally on Turner.  Either way this line is not working as a unit at all.  Koda Martin and Erik McCoy are far and away the best two guys on the line and then everyone else doesn’t do much.

If you want proof look at the running game against Florida.  They’re a good defense but we ran Trayveon and Ford 19 times for a total of 40 yards.  That’s a little over 2 yards per carry.  Their longest runs were 6 and 4 yards.  That’s terrible.  Absolutely terrible as we all know Trayveon and Ford are MUCH more talented than that.  So who’s to blame?  Our offensive line is the key to how many games we win the rest of the way.  There will be some defenses we can run on but these guys are going to have to step up and work as a unit if we’re to win out.  If not we stand a strong chance of losing to Auburn and LSU as they’ve got defenses that can challenge this offensive line.

At receiver it was more of the same and actually had an oddity.  Kirk had by far his worst game of maybe his career dropping I believe 3 easy passes.  He had one catch for 40 yards and then another for 4 yards.  That’s it.  2 catches for 44 yards.  He dropped some sure passes for much bigger gains.  Damion Ratley had a better game catching 2 passes for 72 yards.  Props to Ratley as he keeps showing up as the clear Number 2 receiver behind Kirk.  The worst part about this receiving corps and Mazzone is the continual call for fade routes in the red zone.  It’s maddening because there’s no separation from the defender at all but yet Mazzone keeps calling for the route even though it’s not likely a high probability of completion.  I don’t even think Mazzone is using it to set something else up or keep a defense honest.  I think he really feels it’s a play with a high percentage of scoring a touchdown even though nothing we’ve shown in games say it is.  It’s like he thinks we still have Josh Reynolds on the team.

Then there’s Kellen Mond.  I can’t decide how I feel about him.  He’s a true freshman that’s poised for the most part but his passing this game left a LOT to be desired.  Some of it is receivers dropping the ball or not getting separation but he threw some bad passes.  He was 8 of 24 for 180 yards.  I’ll take the 180 yards against the Florida defense if we had established the run better but we didn’t.  We needed the pass against Florida and Mond was not completing passes.  Our longest pass was 42 yards and we averaged 22.5 yards per completion.  Based on those numbers and what I saw if a receiver wasn’t wide open due to busted coverage we didn’t complete many passes.  It’s great taking advantage of busted coverage but at some point you have to dictate your passing game no matter the coverage.  I wouldn’t say Mond is truly not developing as a passer but it’s not just on him.  The line and receivers aren’t helping him.  Still, he could certainly be developing better.

What Mond has been nails at is making plays when it matters most with his legs.  His ability to escape and run is part of the difference in wins against Arkansas and Florida.  Likely against South Carolina too.  I honestly think if Starkel hadn’t gotten hurt we’d be 3-4 right now and Sumlin CLEARLY fired.  It’s hard for me to determine that because there’s so many variables but what Mond has done late in games with his legs and poise is impressive.  It’s like Tim Tebow with the Broncos when they went to the playoffs.  Tebow would look like crap for 3 quarter but his defense would keep him in the games and he’d make some plays in the 4th quarter to win it.  What matters is how you finish and if you win.  Right now Mond is making plays when it matters most late in the game.  I’ll take that over someone that fades when it matters most.  Mond has a LONG ways to go as a quarterback but his moxie is clear.  Kid loves to play and doesn’t back down at any point.  He actually gets better when it matters most.  There’s a long ways to go in Mond’s development but his intangibles are really solid right now.  There’s a good chance we’re 3-4

without his legs so Sumlin owes him a fruit basket.

Based on our offensive line I tend to believe this is going to be the state of our offense the rest of the way.  We won’t dominate anyone and we won’t continually sustain drives.  With our defense though I think we’ll hang around and continue to make plays in the 4th and win more than we lose the rest of the way.  If I’m a defense I only rush four guys the rest of the way and spy Mond so his legs don’t beat me.  We’ll see what happens but outside of Mond’s legs and Kirk’s ability when he’s not dropping balls there’s not a whole lot of positives from this offense.  If it weren’t for Chief’s defense in the last three games we dogging this offense really bad and calling for Sumlin’s head.  As it is we focus on the positives of this offense.  Funny how winning changes perspective.

One more thing from the game that was COMPLETELY frustrating was the “TD pass” to the tight end.  We FINALLY use the tight end in the red zone and he scores a touchdown.  We executed it perfectly but Kirk was lined up incorrectly.  That’s inexcusable.  As a receiver you have to know the play and if you’re supposed to be lined up on the line or off the line.  That was a poor mistake by Kirk.  Even worse though Mazzone totally went away from that play even though we executed it perfectly.  He got gun shy thinking it was a pure surprise play and never called it again from best I can tell.  I would have called the same play with a different option for Mond if the tight end was covered.  Make them stop a play that works.  That’s what the great offensive coordinators do.  They figure out a play that works and call it until the defense stops it.  They don’t get scared to call it again like Mazzone does.  I don’t get why we’ve just seen it once this season.  It’s a great play assuming Kirk lines up right.

Special Teams:

Daniel LaCamera is the man.  Dude was 4 for 4 on the road with every kick being crucial.  His first two field goals were 46 and 43 yards.  In The Swamp those are tough kicks.  His third kick was for 25 yards in the 4th quarter and his final kick with the game on the line was 32 yards which is no gimmie in college football.  LaCamera has been perfect this year for field goals under 50 yards.  He’s one hell of a weapon and a key reason we’re 5-2 and not 3-4 as well.  He’s been big this year.

As for the rest of the special teams they were pretty solid.  Tripucka averaged almost 50 yards per punt with half his punts being over 50 yards.  He didn’t have any stinkers from what I remember and in a defensive battle that’s huge.

We didn’t return any kickoffs and Kirk returned 3 punts.  On his first two he got around 10 yards each so not terrible but he saved his best for last.  He got 43 yards on his final punt return which was HUGE setting up LaCamera’s final field goal.  I’m not sure if we’re sand bagging or we got lucky but Kirk has had some big returns in special teams when it was needed most.  It’s just kind of frustrating we can’t do anything during the game.

Maybe Jeff Banks knows what he’s doing but the final punt to Kirk was more returnable than execution in my mind.  Florida’s punter didn’t kick it very high or far and Kirk was able to get to it with space.  To Kirk and the special team’s credit there was a wall set up and Kirk knew to run to it.  It was well executed on everyone’s part but that’s 1 out of 8 punts.  I don’t think it’s sand bagging and more luck than anything.

I say this because if you watch the blocking by the punt return team it’s pretty bad.  They don’t hold the punt team at the line at all and the opponent’s punt team will release on the snap.  They’ll have 3-4 guys heading straight down the field which is why Kirk fair catches so much.  It’s not just the punt gunners getting down the field.  It’s 2 other guys heading straight up the field.

We’ve got some great individual talent on special teams but as far as all 11 guys executing as a unit I think it can be much improved.  Our goal really should be to have Frank Beamer or Alabama like special teams play.  It’s a crucial component of every game and especially when you have a great defense and mediocre offense.  If it wasn’t for Kirk’s raw talent returning kicks we likely lose to Arkansas and Florida and be 3-4.  Glad we have the talent because for much of the game the units aren’t doing much.

Going Forward:

Unless Sumlin just falls apart like he’s done in the past this is EASILY an 8-4 team.  We’ll beat New Mexico and the Mississippi schools.  At least we should with the effort we’ve given the last three games.  That leaves Auburn and LSU which I think we can split if not win both.  I just don’t know if we’ll get enough consistency to run the table the rest of the way beating both of those teams.  I think the defense will be there because they’re truly playing as a unit and not relying on individual stars like we might have done last year.  This defense is playing like they have something to prove.  All 11 guys on the field are playing smash mouth defense.

If Sumlin wins 9 he’s clearly safe.  I’m not sure he’s still the long term answer to win a national championship but you can’t fire a guy that wins 9 games with this team.  It’s a remarkable effort.  If he goes 8-4 with losses to Auburn and LSU you have some serious thinking to do because we’ll be fourth in the West yet again.  Despite the effort and youth of this team wins still matter more than anything.  I don’t know the appetite for those making the decisions but at 8-4 with losses to Auburn and LSU there will be some serious debate.

You never know what the final 4 SEC games can bring.  While we could have easily beaten UCLA we could have easily lost to Arkansas and Florida if not for a late special teams return by Kirk and key kicks by LaCamera to win those games late.  The point is there’s no givens for this team over their last 4 SEC teams game.  Anything can happen in those 4 games just like last season.

If Sumlin does survive I think he has to get rid of Mazzone even if we go 10-2.  Defense and individual efforts on special teams will be the main reason why we have that record.  I know a lot of people are concerned about replacing another offensive coordinator but think about this – great teams lose their coordinators ALL the time.

Nick Saban is now on his 6th coordinator in his 11th season at Alabama.  That’s less than 2 years per each.  Yes, Steve Sarkisian counts only serving one game but its proof offensive coordinators change.  Saban had Major Applewhite for one season and then had Jim McElwain for four season which was his longest tenured guy.  Doug Nussmeier then took over and only had the job for two seasons.  Saban ran him off after the second season after they lost the last two games of the season to Auburn and Oklahoma.  Yes, Nick Saban ran off his second year coordinator after an 11-2 season.  Dead serious.  The great ones are always striving to be great over being content.

He then brought in a guy that NOBODY would have thought about hiring in Lane Kiffin.  At the time he hired Kiffin he knew he would be a 2-3 year hire but still hired him anyway because he’s an outstanding offensive coordinator.  He hired Steve Sarkisian last season knowing he’d likely be the replacement for Kiffin.  Sarkisian was the OC for one game but then took the OC job with the Atlanta Falcons.  Saban went and hired a guy from New England who’s proven to be pretty strong so far this season.

The point is great coordinators move on for the most part.  You want someone coming after your coordinators or something is wrong.  Someone like Chief is an anomaly for the most part.  Content and complacent with your staff is not a good place to be as a head coach if you truly strive for greatness.  If Sumlin gets to 8 wins I’m fine keeping him provided he’ll go get a great offensive coordinator.  He has to go get someone great.  Hell, I’d go hire Mike Sherman as my offensive coordinator.  I wasn’t a fan of him as a head coach but his offensive design and play calling is just fine.  Sumlin will need to do something out of the box in my mind to take a leap from where we are.  It starts with getting a really solid offensive coordinator because Mazzone is not the answer.  He’s just not.

I’m fine with Sumlin staying with 8 wins as he will have earned it as this season was on the verge of collapse after UCLA.  However, there are still major holes in this team and he really needs to fix them going forward or it’ll just be more of the same.  If there are no changes we’ll just be wondering if he can get to enough wins to keep his job every season.  I want out of that cycle and I hope he would too.  At some point there has to be a clear direction to Make Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

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