Thoughts on U.L.M. and Alabama

Alabama Texas A&M NCAA Football

I chose not to go to the game last weekend as I had a customer event at noon on Sunday.  Don’t worry, Good Ags sat in my seats.  Had it been a Power 5 school I would have made it in a heartbeat but I took Saturday easy so Sunday was easy as well.  I did watch the game on TV along with a lot of other games.

I won’t do my normal breakdown of offensive and defensive positions because it was ULM and there’s more important things to talk about.  Mainly Bama and some other things about the SEC.

Louisiana Monroe:

Negatives:

I’ll start with the negatives here.  Obviously we got off to a slow start in this game.  That’s kind of to be expected being the third game sandwiched between Clemson and Bama.  Doesn’t make it right but it’s reality.  Kind of seems like we thought we could show up and have our way with ULM but that wasn’t the case.  At least not in the first half.  The team was mostly uninspired and not executing well.

Coming into the season I said our biggest weakness on defense was the secondary.  It really showed in the first half on Saturday night.  In the second quarter they gave up passes of 44, 34, and 36 yards.  This was against ULM.  That’s not good.  The 34 and 36 yarders were back to back which allowed ULM to get a touchdown.  Wilson and Tucker at safety are our most talented and experienced guys but they’re not playing good football.  Our corners struggle to cover for an extended period so if a team can buy time their receivers can likely get open against our cornerbacks.  I’ve said we need to be prepared to give up big pass plays but I didn’t expect that repeatedly against ULM.  It sure happened though.

Our other weakness coming into this season is our offensive line.  They didn’t look good at all in the first half.  Just like Northwestern St. it was pretty clear we wanted to establish the run.  Trayveon had a couple nice runs around 20 yards each but we never got him sprung for anything really long or consistently long.  Seems like he was always running in some kind of traffic.  You would hope our offensive line could blow up some big holes against ULM for him to use his speed and wiggle for some consistent long runs.  Pass blocking was suspect too as Kellen seemed to be a little rushed and took off a few times when I think he would have rather passed.  We also gave up a sack in the first half as well.  It wasn’t a terrible effort by our offensive line but it wasn’t even close to dominating which is what you would have like to have seen.

We had five holding penalties against ULM.  That’s pathetic.  As an offensive line you can control holding penalties.  One or two is allowable but five against ULM is inexcusable.  That’s just lack of focus and preparation.  If it’s pure talent related we’re in bigger trouble than I thought.  We’re not in that big of trouble so I’m just exaggerating but five holding penalties against ULM is damn embarrassing for this offensive line.  Yes, the tight end is an offensive lineman as they go through the same blocking drills the offensive lineman do.  Tight ends know better than to hold.

We still went in with a 24-10 lead at half time but you hope for better considering the opponent.

Positives:

The most positive thing about that game was the effort in the second half.  It was clear the team and staff weren’t happy with a 24-10 lead against a much inferior opponent.  They seemed to come out more focused and executed better in the second half.  The offense stalled on the first possession of the second half but then a quick 3 and out by the defense.  The offense then took the ball 54 yards for a touchdown.  They followed that up with a field goal and then a touchdown before completely giving away to the second stringers for the most part.  A holding penalty caused the offense to likely trade a touchdown for that field goal but most of that drive was impressive with 9 plays covering 61 yards and eating 3:36 of clock.  Penalties will cost you.

The other positive thing was Kellen Mond.  The dude showed this is his team.  He may be in his third game of his second season but he knows he’s a leader.  This is a great sign as everyone will rally behind a quarterback that wants to lead them.  That’s just how football works.  When your quarterback is willing to lead and can back it up with results on the field a team is always better off.  Mond still has some development to do but this guy is completely different from the Mond of last year.  Jimbo has done wonders with this kid.  We all scratched our heads a little when Mond was named the starter prior to the season but three games in it’s clear Jimbo knew what he was doing.

Overall:

I would have certainly liked to have seen a stronger showing to start the game but the effort in the second half makes me feel good.  I have a feeling teams in the past wouldn’t have put their foot down in the second half and let more of the same continue over from the first half.  It would have been easy to blame a Clemson hangover or Alabama look ahead but the coaching staff and players didn’t let it happen.  That’s a good sign overall.

Alabama:

The Aggies are a 27-point underdog to Alabama.  That sounds like a lot of points but if you’ve watched both teams play this season it sounds about right.  This Alabama offense is unlike any Alabama offense you’ve seen under Nick Saban.  The Alabama defense is, well, the Alabama defense.  I have a feeling Alabama is going to exploit our two weaknesses which are our secondary and offensive line.  If we cover 27 points in Tuscaloosa that will be a serious moral victory.  This game could get out of hand in Bama’s favor.  I don’t expect a 59-0 beat down but a 35 to 40 point difference wouldn’t shock me.  If we can’t move the ball and Tua lights up our secondary it won’t take much to see that kind of point differential.  Ask Louisville and Ole Miss.

I do think the Aggies can keep the game close but they’re going to have to go against conventional wisdom.  For whatever reason teams like to play Alabama conservative trying to establish the run and not bringing pressure defensively.  I think the whole mindset of that game plan is to run as much clock as possible on offense and keep the Alabama offense in front of you from a defensive standpoint.  The problem with this is unless you’re LSU you can’t establish the run on offense.  It’s not possible.  On defense if you don’t bring pressure then Alabama will pick you apart on methodical drives with the occasional big play of 40 yards or so.  Next thing you know you look up and you’re down by 21 headed into half.

In order to beat Alabama you have to do two things:

  1. Bring pressure defensively to slow down the run and force them to pass before they want to.
  2. Offensively you have to get the ball to receivers in space with plays they haven’t seen before. You can’t run the ball against them and if you think your read and react Run Pass Options will work against Bama think again.  They can defend the run and RPOs in their sleep.

For number one above this seems scary as hell because if you don’t get to the Bama quarterback he can burn you.  Here’s the deal – you’re not getting to Tua or Hurts with normal pressure.  Their offensive line will handle whatever defense you throw at them.  Tua or Hurts will sit back and wait for a play to develop.  Tua will either burn you with his arm and legs or Hurts will burn you with his legs.  In order to slow down Bama’s offense you better have a big package of blitzes that you’ve never shown before.  Go look at Wade Phillips’ designed blitzes and employ as many of those as you can.  Even if you do it’s likely a long shot as you probably don’t have the athletes to execute them.  You might as well try though.  You need an edge rushing linebacker like Von Miller you can line up all over the line of scrimmage and bring pressure from the outside.  Even a Myles Garrett isn’t a huge help against Bama if you’re going to line him up on a tackle.  I don’t know if the Aggies have a guy that can bring pressure from the outside linebacker position but if do they better be ready to turn him loose.

That must be done to force Bama to throw before they want to.  If not, they’ll eat you alive waiting for something to develop.  The other thing you obviously must do is slow down the run and keep containment with their quarterbacks.  Both Tua and Hurts can run and if they get into space they’ll burn you.  The Aggie defense needs to bring pressure but it has to be containing those guys from getting outside.  It’s a tall order but it’s the only way.  Pressure and contain.  You sit back defensively and you’ll get run over.

Offensively we don’ have the offensive line and running back to establish any kind of running game against Bama.  I love Tray Williams as a running back but he’s not designed to run between the tackles against Bama.  He’s fine being in the game but I would keep him split out and never behind or near Mond.  For Williams to have any kind of effect on the game he’s going to have to get the ball in some kind of space or on well timed screens.  I’m fine giving him the ball between the tackles a few times early on or even later to see what happens but if we run the ball between the tackles with Tray Williams more than 5 times we’ll lose.

My ideal offensive set would be two tight ends and two receivers split evenly about 50% of the time.  Give Bama the same look but have multiple variations of plays where Bama can’t really read who’s likely getting the ball.  Have Tray lined up in multiple spots so he’s the wildcard on what’s going on.  With this set you can run Mond and most importantly get your tight ends involved between blocking and running routes.  It’s amazing what can happen with a good tight end and quarterback that can read how aggressive a defense is playing.  A good chip block and release is an amazing tool that doesn’t get used a lot anymore.  It seems boring but it’s usually effective.  I think the Aggies have a couple tight ends that can execute this.

On occasion you can run bunch formations with the wide receivers and tight ends that can hopefully spring one guy free.  The key is have a few different looks but don’t become predictable based on what you’re doing before you ever snap the ball.  The Bama defense is way too talented and smart.  They know the play you’re running if you’ve run it before.  You must show them something they’ve never seen the entire game.  Trying to run between the tackles or running the same systematic offense will just make Nick Saban smile.  His defense can defend those things in their sleep.

I put the Aggies wining at about 15%.  Mond will have to have the game of his life which is entirely possible but the defense will have to step up which is my major question.  We don’t have the secondary or guys that can apply a lot of pressure so I think Bama keeps rolling.  If we keep them under 50 and score more than 20 that’s going to be a major win for Jimbo.  This team just isn’t ready to compete with Alabama just yet.  Believe it or not losing by less than 27 points will be an encouraging showing.

Rest of the Season/Other Games:

Season Prediction Update:

After watching LSU and Auburn on Saturday I’m leaving my prediction at 8-4.  I think it’s possible we beat one of those teams but they’re both damn good football teams.  They’re still more talented than A&M as a whole team.  I can see us winning one of LSU and Auburn but losing to South Carolina or Mississippi State.  8-4 just still feels right based on what I’ve seen.  Hell, it’s entirely possible we go 6-6 this season due to our issues on the offensive line and secondary.  I don’t think that will happen though.  I think Jimbo will get us to 8-4 which will be solid considering our issues and this schedule.

Speaking of schedules how about that 2019 Aggie Football schedule?  I’ve said all along 2020 would be the Aggies year and seeing that schedule for next season confirms it even more.  Welcome to the SEC West and big boy football.

Auburn/LSU – This was exactly the game these teams have had the last 2 years.  Close game for four quarters and the team that makes the play at the end wins.  Why people expected this game to be different surprised me.  Everybody wants to write these two programs off for some reason.  They both have tremendous talent on defense with sporadic offenses.  When you have a stout defense you’re going to win more than you lose.

A lot of people don’t think highly of Coach O and Malzahn but I think they’re really good coaches.  They’re not elite level coaches but at their current program they’re easily in the Top 25% of coaches in college football if not in the Top 10%.  Outside of Malzahn’s first season where he caught lightening in a bottle with fluke wins over Georgia and Bama along with a questionable win over A&M he’s exactly who he is.  He’s going to win 8-10 games a year and pull off some upsets.  He’s not Nick Saban but who is?  Worst thing he ever did was play for the national title in his first season as head coach and win a national championship as the offensive coordinator.  That’s not really who he is but it doesn’t mean he’s an overrated coach.  Auburn could do much worse than Gus Malzahn.

As for Eddie O he seems to have grown as a head coach since Ole Miss.  He was pretty solid in his interim gig at USC and hasn’t been bad at LSU at all.  Take away the Troy loss last season and he’s been REALLY respectable in his tenure at LSU.  He’s not Nick Saban either but he’s like Les Miles which ain’t bad.  I swear critics blow up one or two losses writing someone off rather than looking at their full body of work.  The full body of work by Malzahn and Eddie O at their current school is not bad at all.  I don’t see that changing anytime soon so expect Top 15 programs that can beat anyone as long as they’re head coach.  They may not win a national title but that list of coaches is short.

OU/ISU – Speaking of underrated coaches, one day Matt Campbell at ISU is going to get a gig at a big-time program.  Every program that has hired a head coach not named Jimbo Fisher since December of 2017 will wonder why they didn’t hire him.  He took a back up quarterback and moved the ball on OU never giving up.  OU has another juggernaut at offense but ISU exposed their passing defense.  ISU might go 7-5 this season but Matt Campbell is a stud head coach.  The dude just knows how to coach football.  As for OU they’ll probably run the table this season.  Odds say they’ll lose a game somewhere but I think they’re a lock for the CFP at this point.  They’re not being talked about from a playoff standpoint right now but their path to the CFP is the easiest of anyone in college football.

Michigan/Notre Dame – Both of these teams won their games but I expected bigger margins based on their opponents and playing at home.  Maybe their game on Week 1 wasn’t the marquee matchup some people thought it was.  I thought Notre Dame was better than how they played Vandy in South Bend.

Bama/Ole Miss – Ole Miss scored on their first offensive possession and then didn’t score again.  Bama then scored 49 points in the first half.  Ole Miss doesn’t have a defense but I’m telling you this Bama offense is unlike anything we’ve seen in the past.  Get ready for Saturday, Ags.

USC/Texas – This game was U.G.L.Y.  It’s amazing USC won the Rose Bowl two years ago and won the Pac 12 last season.  This isn’t even close to the same team.  I know they lost Darnold but that was just one guy.  Make no mistake this is a great win for Texas but I don’t think it’s a measuring stick at all.  There’s a good chance Texas reels off 8 or 9 wins this season but they still have some major talent and coaching issues.  They can certainly improve from here but that game against USC shows there’s still more questions than answers.

OhSU/TCU – TCU is one of the best coached teams in the country but this game shows they don’t have the elite talent to be a consistent major player in college football.  I love Gary Patterson as a coach but until he starts getting 4 and 5 star talent on campus TCU will be a second tier program at best.  Without some major luck I don’t see Gary Patterson ever playing for or winning a national championship.  He’ll beat a lot of teams in his time at TCU but I don’t think TCU is a nationally elite program.  At some point you have to have the big horses.

As for OhSU they’re now in the same boat as OU.  Their path to the CFP seems clear as well.  Based on the way the B10 looks all they must do is get by Penn State and they’ll roll into the CFP.  They’ll trip up a game but they’ll be 12-1 with a Big 10 Conference Championship I have a feeling.  They’re a good football team in a down conference.  Now they get their memory challenged head coach back which made me throw up in my mouth.

If I had to predict the CFP based on what games I’ve seen and paths to get there I’m predicting Bama, Clemson, OU, and OhSU all with 12-1 records and conference titles.  The CFP will have an easy choice as that Auburn win over Washington in Week 1 will keep them out of the playoff discussion.

I’ll even go so far as to pick each team’s one loss:

Clemson – South Carolina
Alabama – LSU
Oklahoma – West Virginia (which they’ll then turn around and beat them in the title game to win the conference)
OhSU – Maryland

Same old teams as always which is boring but it’s all about coaching in college football.  You either have a great coach or you don’t.

#MAFGA

 

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