Month: October 2018

Thoughts on the Mississippi State Game

A&MvMSU Line

We’ll get to some specifics of how it happened but on Saturday night in Starkville Jimbo Fisher got outcoached by Joe Moorhead.  At the same time, the Mississippi State Bulldogs outplayed the Texas Aggies.  Make no mistake about those two things.  The Aggies made mistakes because of the MSU game plan and how well the MSU players played.  MSU won this game while A&M lost it.

A LOT of credit has to go to Moorhead who realized the Aggies’ greatest two weaknesses and decided to attack them.  I’ve been saying all season the secondary and offensive line had major issues from a talent standpoint.  Despite that, a lot of coaches this season chose to run their team normally rather than attack where the Aggies are weak.  We saw this against Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina where they tried to have a balanced attack.  Those teams lost.

Moorhead apparently decided to do things differently and it paid off in a win for his team.  All night long MSU looked to apply pressure through the air on offense and at the line of scrimmage on defense.  Nick Fitzgerald only attempted 22 passes but he attacked the Aggie corners down the field.  Defensively MSU stacked the line of scrimmage giving the Aggie offense looks and pressure they couldn’t defend.  The Aggies had no answer for what MSU was doing simply because they don’t have the talent needed at those positions.

Before I get to any analysis I want to point out three groups of plays that did the Aggies in:

MSU First Possession – After the Aggies went three and out, MSU took the ball and drove down for a touchdown.  On that possession MSU had FOUR instances of 3rd and 6 or longer and converted all FOUR.  This was a defense that has been solid at getting off the field on 3rd downs all season.  On that drive they failed on four attempts including a 3rd and 12 that resulted in a touchdown.  This really set the tone as MSU would wind up converting some other crucial third downs.

3rd and 21 – This was the biggest killer.  The Ags had just clawed back to be down 14-13 and were about to force the MSU offense to go 3 and out.  All the momentum was about to swing in the Aggies favor.  They not only let MSU convert a 3rd and 21 but gave up an 84 yard pass to the Aggie 2 yard line.  Three plays later MSU would score and be up 21-13.  Still a one score game but it was a dagger to the chest we wouldn’t recover from.  They stop this play and the outcome of the game could be different.

Fitzgerald’s 76 Yard Touchdown Run – While the 3rd and 21 conversion was the dagger to the chest, this run by Fitzgerald twisted the dagger.  Any hope the Aggies had of coming back was squashed with this run.  Even if Fitzgerald doesn’t score MSU likely wins.  It was disheartening to see the Aggie defense give up a long run rather then get a stop and give our offense one last chance to tie things up and get it to overtime.  This run put the game away with a little over 2 minutes left on the clock.
If the defense holds on those three sets of plays this game looks totally different.  Football is about making plays so credit has to be given to MSU but if the Aggie defense holds on two third downs (opening series and 3rd and 21) the Aggies have a legit chance to win this game.  They didn’t though and that’s why MSU won.

Coaching:

This was a tale of two different head coaches in my mind.  I’ve already talked about Moorhead deciding to attack where the Aggies are weak.  His strengths are a running quarterback and solid defense that doesn’t necessarily have to apply pressure.  Moorhead felt he could attack the Aggie secondary through the air as well as attack the line of scrimmage applying pressure to the Aggie offensive line.  It worked and Moorhead got the win.

For Jimbo I feel he coached this game just as he had Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina.  That style worked in all of those games but it didn’t work here.  The only slight difference is other than Kentucky for a little bit we lead or were tied in those other games from start to finish.  I think Jimbo felt we were 1-2 plays away from gaining and holding the lead.  He wasn’t far off as we were never more than 7 points down until the 3rd and 21 happened.

Here’s how it played out.  We took advantage of Moorhead not punting on 4th down to go into half up 10-7.  I think Jimbo failed to make any major adjustments at half thinking this game would turn out like the previous three.  MSU took the opening possession of the second half for a score to go up 14-10.  The Aggies then clawed back with a field goal to make it 14-13.  The Aggies kick off and on the first play of that possession sack Fitzgerald for a 12 yard loss.  Fitzgerald then gains a single yard setting up that 3rd and 21.  Seems like the Aggies are about to gain momentum but that didn’t happen.  MSU goes down the 2 yard line which leads to a touchdown putting them up 21-13.  Up until that 3rd and 21 there was no reason for Jimbo to believe his defense would fail him.  But it did, and the Aggie team would pay the price getting a loss in what was a winnable game.

Even with that score to go up 21-13 the Aggies weren’t completely out of it.  They got the ball back with 7:33 left on the clock and down 8 points.  They promptly drove down to the MSU 10 yard line before the wheels came off.  On first and goal from the 10 they got a substitution infraction making it 1st and goal from the 15.  Mond is then sacked making it 2nd and goal from 23.  Mond hits a 12 yard play to make it 3rd and goal from the 11 but he’d miss his next pass and then throw an interception in the end zone on 4th down.  Two plays later Nick Fitzgerald would run 76 yards for a score putting MSU up 28-13 and any hopes of the Aggies winning were done.

What worked in the previous three games didn’t work for Jimbo against MSU.  That’s on him.  He thought he could withstand MSU’s attacks against his secondary and at the line of scrimmage against his offense.  He was wrong.  His team lost and he has to take the blame.

I get what he was thinking as he hasn’t had to play in a shootout in a meaningful SEC game until Saturday night.  His method of controlling the time of possession had worked because his defense and offense had always made enough plays to come out on the right side of the scoreboard.  We won the time of possession by 3 minutes on Saturday night but we lost by 15 points.  Time of possession doesn’t always equate to wins when you don’t make enough plays.

The most frustrating thing I can’t figure out from Saturday night is if Jimbo is to blame for the lack of response to MSU applying pressure at the line of scrimmage or if Mond was completely confused by it.  The best way to get a defense to back off excessive pressure at the line of scrimmage is to attack the middle of the field with hot routes.  We did that a few times but there was confusion most of the night on what to do.  It appeared Mond felt like he had more time than he did.  I don’t know if that was by design or a result of Mond being confused.

Based on Jimbo’s reaction on the sideline I believe it had a lot do with Mond.  In watching Jimbo through the years he has a face I like to call “Disappointed Dad” when an offensive series fails to result in something positive.  The quarterback comes to the sideline and Jimbo has his readers sitting on his nose.  He’ll start questioning his quarterback and roll his eyes when the quarterback gives his feedback on what he saw.  They’ll have a discussion but it’s clear Jimbo is disappointed in his quarterback’s decision making.  That happened quite a bit on Saturday night.  A lot more than it’s happened previously this season.  I really think Jimbo had hot routes/plays for Mond to jump on but he just wasn’t pulling the trigger.  Some of that might be on the receivers too which we’ll get to in a bit.

Either way it’s still on Jimbo to have plays his quarterback can execute when a defense is looking to apply pressure.  That wasn’t the case on Saturday night.  MSU made more plays to win that game than A&M did.  That starts with coaching.  Moorhead looked to apply pressure while Jimbo looked to withstand pressure.  Moorhead’s team executed his plan better than Jimbo’s team.  Moorhead got the better of Jimbo that night.

Offense:

Mond:

Poor Kellen Mond gets the brunt of criticism for this game from most fans I’ve seen and heard.  He’s certainly not without fault but do you realize he was 50% on completions on Saturday?  50% completion isn’t horrible by any stretch.  Do you realize the receivers dropped 10 balls on Saturday?  Do you realize Mond was sacked 3 times?  Do you realize Mond was officially hurried 10 other times?  Do you realize we didn’t score a touchdown in the Red Zone again?

It’s natural to blame the quarterback when a team loses but you can’t pin this loss solely on Kellen Mond.  He was under pressure all day long along with his receivers not getting open and dropping the ball when they were.  There’s no doubt Mond could have made better decisions due to the pressure (based on Jimbo’s Disappointed Dad face on the sidelines) but this was a failure on the entire offense.

Blame Kellen Mond all you want but if you do you’re ignorant.  There’s no better option at quarterback than Kellen Mond for this Aggie team.  Starkel would have got pounded too.  I still contend for guys not named Tua, Mond is as good as the next group of SEC quarterbacks.  He’s certainly no Feilepe Franks at Florida who is terrible.  Mond is MUCH better.  He’s in the same conversation as Jake Fromm, Drew Lock, and Jarret Stidham.  I never thought I’d say that this time last year but Kellen Mond is not a bad quarterback.  He’s a true sophomore.  He certainly can still develop but he’s playing behind a suspect offensive line and doesn’t have a single go to receiver to throw to.  Do you see a Mike Evans, Josh Reynolds, or Christian Kirk on this offense?  I sure don’t.

If you’re putting the blame for this loss on Mond’s shoulders you need to pay closer attention to the rest of the issues on offense.

Running Back:

MSU didn’t just stack the box with defenders all night.  They put guys in gaps all night.  They showed they weren’t going to get run on and we didn’t even try.  We only attempted 13 runs totaling 59 yards on the night.  This loss isn’t on our running backs from an attempts standpoint.

One issue I did see from Trayveon is his pass blocking is suspect.  He whiffed on a few guys blitzing during the night.  The difference between Trayveon playing in the NFL will be pass blocking.  There’s a whole lot of guys that play like him so if he wants to play at the next level he’s got to block better on blitzes.

Wide Receivers:

Other than Quartney Davis our receivers had a truly forgettable night.  They didn’t get open for the most part and when they did they dropped 10 passes.  Sternberger had the worst night compared to what he’s capable of.  It wasn’t even close to what he did against South Carolina.

There’s no go to receiver in this group.  There really isn’t.  I know we all hoped Kendrick Rogers would be that after what he did against Clemson but he’s really not that strong of a receiver.  He doesn’t run solid routes and he’s not great catching the ball on the run.  He excels when he’s stopped and looking back to the ball.  When his legs are still and he can focus on the ball he’s fine but if he’s moving downfield he doesn’t have the same hands.

This is not a horrible group by any stretch but they’ve got a long ways to go to be a dependable group.  There’s just too much inconsistency and there’s not a single receiver that commands a double team from a defense.  If there was a single dominant receiver this group probably looks different but there’s a talent deficiency right now.  Not as bad as other units on this team but it’s still missing at least one dominant playmaker.  See the guys I mentioned above like Evans, Reynolds, and Kirk.  Just one of those guys changes the dynamic of this receiving corps in a big way.

Offensive Line:

These guys had their hands full all night long with MSU stacking guys in gaps.  For whatever reason they didn’t know how to handle it.  They weren’t terrible as they gave Mond some time to throw but didn’t give him nearly enough.  They were able to slow down most of the MSU defenders but their biggest issue was they couldn’t anticipate what the stacked gaps meant so a defender would slip through quite often pressuring Mond.

We know this unit isn’t that talented but the confusion and mental mistakes 8 games into the season is frustrating.  I know everybody loves Jim Turner but there’s still issues with this line.  The lack of talent I’m fine with to a degree but the constant mental mistakes and confusion on what the defense is doing makes me wonder how good Turner really is.  He’s certainly a better offensive line coach when he has NFL caliber talent.  Every coach would be, but let’s tap the brakes on Turner being the greatest offensive line coach ever.  I question how great he really is.  Sometimes I wonder if he just does more yelling than actual coaching so everybody believes he’s a great coach because he sounds like it.  Offensive line is not about emotion.  It’s about technique and being extremely smart.  There’s PLENTY of room for this line to learn both.

I don’t think we’re going to see much improvement in this unit the rest of the season so be ready for inconsistencies in blocking and mental mistakes.  Let’s just hope the guys that are redshirted this year and committed show up to campus ready to contribute.

Defense:

I’m not going to spend a lot of time here as we all saw what happened.  Our secondary has been a glaring issue all season.  MSU just decided to attack it from the get go.  It worked as MSU played in front score wise most of the game.

Truthfully, I’m tired of writing about the defense as it’s the same thing week after week.  The defensive line along with Alaka and Dodson show up every week but our secondary is just so terrible.  Sure, the defensive line and linebackers gave up the 76 yard run they shouldn’t have but the game was realistically over at that point.  You take away that run and MSU rushed for 67 yards on 30 carries.  That’s basically 2 yards per carry which is outstanding.  Our defensive line and main linebackers played good enough for most of the game for the Aggies to win.

Our secondary on the other hand was the issue.  We know this.  Our corners aren’t shut down guys and if you’ve got a receiver that can get downfield you can challenge our secondary.  Our safeties are just as bad at covering.  They’re also terrible at defending at the run.  I’m not sure what happened to Derrick Tucker but he’s been REALLY bad all season.  I’m not sure he should even see the field the rest of the season.  We really miss Armani Watts in a bad way.  That guy would make this secondary infinitely better.

Much like our offensive line the secondary is what it is at this point in the season.  There’s not much hope for it to get any better this season.  We must hope the young guys not playing big minutes (Leon O’Neal I’m talking about you) and the committed guys are ready to contribute next year.  We simply don’t have the talent.

Special Teams:

Seth Small was 2 of 3 on field goals so at this point we must realize he’s probably going to miss a kick each game finishing somewhere between 50% and 80% depending on the number of chances he gets.  Braden Mann had an off day which makes perfect sense considering most of the team had an off day.  Rashaud Paul had a nice return we only turned into a field goal since our offense wasn’t able to capitalize it into a touchdown.  I like Paul as a returner.  He’s not Christian Kirk but he’s got pretty good awareness for where the ball is coming down and the punt coverage coming at him.

 

Looking Forward:

The most frustrating part about this game is we have no idea what we have with Jimbo Fisher.  We think we do but it’s ultimately decided solely by wins and losses.  We were on the verge of having a 2012 season but with much less talent.  8 games in we could still go anywhere from 6-6 to 9-3 which is a MAJOR swing.  Jimbo wins out getting 9 wins and nobody gives a damn about this MSU game.  He wins less than 8 and we’ll all look back at this game as the difference maker for the season.  It will be the game we coulda shoulda won but didn’t get it done.

Something tells me we repeat last year where we trade what we thought would be a win over Mississippi State for a win over someone else.  Last year it was Florida and this year I think it’s Auburn.  Sure, there’s a lot of hope in that statement as I sure as hell don’t want Jimbo finishing 7-5 his first season.  I really do think we can beat Auburn as they’re not as good as advertised coming into the season.  Much like Florida last season.  Auburn still has plenty of talent to beat A&M so don’t get confused on that.  This is a 50/50 game based on how both teams have played all season.

The Aggies played their worse game of the year in Starkville and still only lost by 15.  That’s not terrible.  I hope the loss wakes Jimbo up he needs to be a little more aggressive if his secondary is being attacked.  If Auburn is trying to establish the run then it’s okay to play how we played against Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina.  If Auburn comes out attacking our secondary and is successful Jimbo better be ready to instill a sense of urgency and respond.  He tried his normal method against MSU and it didn’t work.  I’m fine playing a little conservative if you’re up but if you’re behind and your secondary is being attacked the Aggies need to get it going not worrying about time of possession.  Attack their defense as well.

As for the other remaining games I’m still confident we beat Ole Miss and UAB.  LSU looks like a certain loss but we’ll probably match up better with them than MSU.  I don’t see Eddie O doing what Joe Moorhead did.  LSU wants to run the ball and play outstanding defense waiting for the opponent to make a mistake.  When that happens LSU will pounce and score points.  There’s still a chance for this Aggie team to beat LSU but we’ve got three more games to worry about before worrying about LSU.

I still believe Jimbo is the right guy to Make Aggie Football Great Again.  Unfortunately, we’re going to have to wait at least one more week to find out.  Believe it or not there’s still a chance at 10 wins on the season which would be remarkable.  Right now, I think our best realistic scenario is an 8-4 regular season adding a bowl win to finish up 9-4.  That will still be a REALLY good year for Jimbo.  We just have to get through Auburn first before we worry about anything else.

#MAFGA

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What’s Left for the Aggies

Jimbo Pointing at Ref

The Aggies are sitting at 5-2 with five official games left.  One of those games is against Alabama Birmingham so let’s just say the Aggies are 6-2 with four SEC games left.  Yes, I’m chalking up that game against UAB as a win.

The Aggies have Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss, and LSU left on their schedule.  Ironically enough all four of those teams played each other this past weekend.  I was able to watch bits and pieces and feel the Aggies can run the table if they play mistake free football.  I doubt that will happen and it’s more likely the Aggies go 3-1 in their final SEC games.  There’s a chance the Aggies go 2-2 as well.

These four games have always been set to be the biggest test of Jimbo’s first year as Aggie coach.  The reality of this season and schedule was the Aggies didn’t have the talent to beat Clemson or Alabama and had more talent to beat Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina.  That’s not to downplay those three teams but the reality is as a team Texas A&M has more talent.  Those were wins all along assuming the team played to its talent level.

So far, this season has played out exactly as one would expect.  Now is when we find out what kind of coach Jimbo Fisher really is.  He’s about to go up against teams with as much if not more talent than Texas A&M.  Ole Miss is not more talented but they have the best passing weapons of any team we have left on the schedule.  We know how bad our secondary is.  We should beat Ole Miss but they can absolutely beat us with how their team is built.

Let’s breakdown each game:

Mississippi State:

There’s a LOT of uncertainties in this game.  I don’t think anyone can quite tell what either team is at this point.  MSU spent a good portion of the season ranked in the Top 25 but now sits at 4-3 and outside the Top 25 after this past weekend’s loss to LSU.  They have wins over Stephen F. Austin, KSU, Louisiana Lafayette, and Auburn.  They have losses against Kentucky, Florida, and LSU.  In those three loses they’ve scored one touchdown.  One touchdown.  LSU has an outstanding defense but I wouldn’t rank UK and Florida’s defenses as stellar.  They’re certainly pretty good defenses but I think the Aggie defense is as good if not better than those two.

This team centers around Nick Fitzgerald on offense.  He reminds me of a Trevor Knight style quarterback.  He’s a suspect passer but he’s a great runner.  He’s got power, speed, and jukes.  Joe Moorhead is the new coach of MSU and runs the offense.  Moorhead likes to pass so Fitzgerald’s inability to pass and ability to run appears to be a mis-match.

Early in the season it was fine as MSU was able to win their first three games in convincing fashion including a win over KSU.  They then went to Kentucky and got pounded 28-7.  The following week came a 13-6 loss to Florida at home.  In that game MSU didn’t score a touchdown.  That’s a good Florida defense but not a great Florida defense.  After five games they were sitting at 5-2 but 1-2 against P5 opponents and 0-2 against SEC teams.

After they lost to Florida they took on Auburn and Moorhead seemed to get back to Fitzgerald’s strengths as he rushed more times than he passed.  Fitzgerald ripped off 197 yards on the ground and 2 touchdowns.  MSU won that game 23-9 which might say more about Auburn than it does MSU’s ability to win with Fitzgerald running.

Last week MSU went to LSU and it appeared MSU wanted to run Fitzgerald more like against Auburn.  Fitzgerald had some nice runs early on but MSU couldn’t find the end zone all game.  Fitzgerald threw some early interceptions that allowed LSU to get a comfortable lead where they basically sat on the ball.  Fitzgerald had a decent day running as he carried the ball 23 times for 140 yards.  Passing wise he was horrible throwing the ball 24 times with only 8 completions and 4 interceptions.  That’s a 33% completion percentage.  In watching the game LSU wasn’t even really jumping routes.  LSU either had good coverage or Fitzgerald didn’t see or didn’t care there was a defender where he was throwing the ball.  He was extremely lazy or ignorant throwing the ball.

Here’s a summary of Nick Fitzgerald statistically against Power 5 opponents this season:

Fitzgerald Stats

He’s 44% in completions, averages 105 yards a game, and has thrown 2 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.  That is HORRIBLE.  Even Trevor Knight wasn’t that bad.  He’s a decent runner averaging 123 yards a game but he only has 3 touchdowns in 5 games with 2 of those coming against Auburn.  This is not the kind of quarterback Joe Moorhead wants.

I think the Aggie defense shuts down the run with no issues.  The key is for the Aggie defensive line along with Dodson and Alaka to continue what they’ve been doing.  Maintain gap integrity and execute assignments.  Don’t try to do too much or improvise as a play is breaking down.  Let your assignment dictate if you’re the one making the play or not.  Don’t give Fitzgerald a seam to run as he can exploit it if he gets to the second level.

Even if Fitzgerald starts to pass I think the Aggie secondary will be just fine.  If the Aggie defense plays like they’ve played all year I don’t see MSU scoring more than 10 points against this defense.  If UK, UF, and LSU can hold them to single digits I expect the same from the Aggie defense.

Defensively the MSU front 7 is experienced and talented but they’re not better than Clemson or Alabama’s front 7.  The Aggies put up 26 and 23 points on those defenses so I expect more of the same here.  In fact, the Aggies have scored more than 20 points in every game all season.  I don’t see how this game is any different.

It won’t be pretty but I think Jimbo is going to do the same thing he’s done all season against opponents not named Clemson and Alabama.  He’s going to come out and chew up clock not trying to do too much on offense letting his defense do what they do.  I think this will be what we thought South Carolina was going to be.  We’ll be up 13-3 at half and then won’t make mistakes in the second half pulling away winning this game 27-10.  It’s entirely possible we hold MSU without a touchdown but I think Moorhead finds a way to break off a big pass play against our defense.

This feels a lot like 2012 when we walked into Starkville.  There were a lot of questions about those teams where the Aggies where ranked 16th coming off an Auburn beatdown and MSU was ranked 17th after a beatdown by Bama the week before.  They were on the downswing and A&M was on a slight upswing after pounding Auburn.  The Aggies won a convincing 38-13 game and we all know what happened after that.  This team won’t do what the 2012 team lighting up college football, but I think this will be a game where we look back and know Jimbo is for real.  It may not happen at the national level but those paying attention will see this game as A&M showing it’s truly different than the past 4 seasons.

Somehow A&M is the underdog in this game so feel free to take the points and wager your house, boat, vehicle and even loved ones.  Jimbo will make sure your money and/or loved ones return with more than you put up as collateral.  Assuming you want more loved ones than you have now.  If not, then just put up cash and personal property.

Auburn:

I have no clue what to make of Auburn.  They’re more talented than their record indicates but they’re just disjointed.  This is basically a normal Gus Malzahn team other than when he catches lightening in a bottle.  He’s only done that twice winning 10 games in 5 seasons.  At best he goes 9-3 this season but that would include wins over A&M, UGA, and Bama.  That ain’t happening.

I feel good about A&M’s chances in this game except for one thing – Jarret Stidham.  He’s not had the season everyone expected but he’s still a damn good passer and has some decent weapons.  If Auburn decides to attack the Aggie secondary and his receivers hold on to the ball they’ll beat the Aggies.  They’ll be coming off a bye week so they have plenty of time to work on the passing game before the Aggies get to town.

I put this game as a 55/45 chance of the Aggies winning right now.  If the Aggies do what I think they do against MSU and Auburn doesn’t/won’t/can’t attack the Aggie secondary then this is an Aggie win.  Trends favor the Aggies as Gus tends to have very average years after catching lightening in a bottle and ironically enough the road team has won every A&M/Auburn matchup since joining the SEC.  Coming into the season I had this as a loss but right now I’m leaning to an Aggie victory.

Ole Miss:

This matchup scares me ever so slightly because Ole Miss strengths are where we’re weakest.  They’ve got a solid quarterback and really good receivers.  They can attack the Aggie secondary.  Fortunately for the Aggies they’ve got a HORRIBLE defense and they’re bad in the red zone.  Don’t be shocked to see Ole Miss put up over 300 yards in the air.  The problem is they’ll run for less than 100 while scoring less than 20 if they even get that.

Meanwhile I expect the Aggie offense to roll up and down the field likely scoring more than 35 points.  This seems like an easy Aggie win.  However, there’s a slight chance it’s one of those bizarre games where Ole Miss hits some long passes for touchdowns so this game turns into a shootout.  I don’t think Jimbo and company will get sucked into something like that though.  Jimbo once came back down 28-6 in the 2016 season opener against Ole Miss to win 45-34.  He’s dealt with an early Ole Miss lead before and won.  Even if Ole Miss somehow gets up early on some fluke plays Jimbo will stay the course and exploit their terrible defense.  This seems like a certain Aggie win.

UAB:

Win.  Nothing more to say.  If we don’t it’s a BAD loss.

LSU:

Right now I think this is an Aggie loss.  Mainly I don’t want to drink the Aggie Kool-Aid just yet and there’s too much uncertainty for both teams.  Despite what others said coming into the season LSU is a really talented team and Ed Orgeron is not the idiot everyone thinks he is.  Turns out he’s a pretty decent coach with a pretty good staff.

The LSU defense is still extremely talented and Joe Burrow has moments where he can throw the ball.  What you can’t do against LSU is throw interceptions on your side of the field and let them establish the run.  I know that sounds obvious but you’d be shocked at the teams that allow them to do that.  Just ask Miami, Georgia, and MSU.  LSU plays a brand of football where they don’t make mistakes and force the other team to make mistakes where they’ll capitalize.  It’s simple but EXTREMELY effective when you have the talent that LSU has.

I think this is a VERY winnable game for the Aggies but it won’t be easy.  If Florida can beat LSU with Feleipe Franks at quarterback there’s no reason the Aggies can’t beat LSU with their defense and Mond at quarterback.  It’s just too early to predict this game right now.

I need to see what A&M does against MSU, Auburn, and Ole Miss when it comes to making mistakes.  Even if they win those games but make mistakes they’ll lose to LSU.  I also need to see what LSU does against Bama to make sure they’re the team I think they are.  They’ll likely lose to Bame by 20 points even in Baton Rouge.  I think Bama is that good and LSU is slightly worse than they’ve been in the past.  However, if LSU goes toe to toe with Bama then my outlook on this game completely changes.  I don’t see that happening though.  I just need 2 more weeks of Aggie and LSU football to get a more certain feel on this one

Overall:

There’s a REALLY good chance A&M and LSU march into Kyle Field at 9-2 hovering around the Top 10 (if not both Top 10)  which will make for an epic battle.  This is still not the 2012 team in terms of talent but it’s possible Jimbo pulls off an epic run finishing the season at 10-2.  The odds right now say he won’t but it’s very possible.

If he does there’s no doubt he’ll be well on his way to Making Aggie Football Great Again!

#MAFGA

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Thoughts on the South Carolina Game

Jace at SCThe good part about the Clemson game earlier this year is it showed A&M can play with an elite team.  The bad part about that Clemson game is it fooled a lot of people into thinking A&M could be an elite team this season.  Texas A&M is not currently an elite team and will not be this season.  As I said coming into this season the offensive line and secondary are major areas of concern.  Those two things keep getting proven out week after week.  They’ve not been a major liability yet but they’re still not even close to being on an elite level.

Those Aggie fans that are down on the way A&M is WINNING are missing HOW the Aggies are winning.  They’re mainly bitching about Mond and/or how the Aggies aren’t putting teams away.  I’ll get to Mond later but the reason the Aggies aren’t putting teams away is because this team has flaws.  Opponents are able to exploit those flaws to keep the game close.  At the same time, those bitching Aggie fans aren’t giving credit to a team that won’t quit fighting and hasn’t let the other team gain full momentum when they’re making a push.  Just when it looks like the other team might grab all of the momentum this Aggie team does something to make sure it doesn’t happen.  This trait needs to be recognized by Aggie fans.  This isn’t an immensely talented team but they’re taking care of business winning games they could have lost.

I didn’t get a chance to write up my thoughts on the Kenucky game.  I was in Cleveland for the Astros game but the Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina game have basically been the same game for the most part.  Sure, Kentucky took the early lead on A&M but they never really had a lot of momentum.  After all, Kentucky never ran a play on the Aggie side of the field in regulation.  The Aggies controlled things for most of the game against Kentucky.  Same thing with Arkansas and South Carolina.

What complaining Aggie fans are missing is how there’s a game plan developed for the strengths and weaknesses of both teams every week.  That game plan seems to be pretty spot on and when it’s not working adjustments are made.  It’s clear to me Jimbo Fisher and his staff know what they have in their Aggie offense, defense, and special teams.  They also appear pretty good at identifying the strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies of their opponents each week.  There’s a cohesive game plan each week to depend on the strengths and cover the weaknesses as much as possible.

These games might be boring or even concerning but this is an Aggie team that has a plan.  In the past we’d put up points but there was no rhyme or reason.  The Aggie offense would sputter on drives and then would hit a quick touch down.  The Aggie defense would bring pressure and get a sack but then would give up a big touchdown on more than one occasion.  It was just a hodge podge of offense, defense, and special teams.  There was no cohesive plan.  Just individual units going out and hopefully making more plays than the other team.

This team is different.  This staff and team have a cohesive plan to have more points at the end of four quarters.  It begins and ends with keeping the Aggie defense off the field.  Our defensive line and linebackers named Alaka and Dodson are as good as anyone’s in the country.  Our secondary is not.  The last thing we want to do is get in a shootout with another team.  This team is not built for that.  We can control the line of scrimmage so that’s what we want other teams to play into.  We want an opponent’s offense to try and establish something at the line of scrimmage rather than sling the ball around.

Our offensive line and running backs aren’t built to grind people into submission.  We don’t have major deep threats and even if we did our offensive line can’t hold up well enough to buy the needed time.  This is an offense that has some talent but it has to take short and intermediate yards based on what the defense gives them.  This offense has to be smart with the ball and slowly move up and down the field for a host of reasons.  This offense simply can’t dictate it’s will on an opposing defense.

With all of that, I think Jimbo is being very smart from a play calling standpoint.  He’s not sandbagging plays by any stretch but he’s calling fairly conservative plays based on what he truly feels the defense will give them.  Most of the time he’s been right.  When the offense needs to do something they’ve been able to do it for the most part.  When needed they’ve been able to move the ball up and down the field chewing clock and yards.  We could use some help in the Red Zone but the talent just isn’t there to pound the ball once we get there.  We’ve still got to methodically move the ball based on what the defense gives us.  For the most part this offense has done that.  There’s plenty of room for improvement but at least there’s a solid plan and understanding of what’s possible.  There’s been a lot of timely play calls this season on both sides of the ball.  It doesn’t appear plays are just being called with no reason for the opponent or momentum of the game.  This is a different team and staff from in the past.  There’s an actual legitimate game plan each week.

I would love to see A&M close out games stronger with no threat in the 4th quarter but I like what I see from this staff.  For the first time in a long time I see a coaching staff that has a solid feel for their team and the opponent.  With that feel they’re creating and calling a game plan that’s won games we might have lost in the past.  At the end of the day a win matters more than anything else.  Don’t get lost in the style of how we win.  Stay focused on the fact we’re actually winning win momentum is swinging against us.  That’s a great sign.

On to the South Carolina game…

Offense:

Kellen Mond:

I’m starting with Mond this week because I’m tired of Aggie fans bitching about his play.  Is he perfect?  Hell no.  Has he been good enough for the Aggies to have won every game except the two teams that have perennially been in the College Football Playoff?  YES!!!  Yes, he has.  If you think Kellen Mond is inadequate and needs to be benched either stop watching Aggie games or go watch highlights from 2017.  Kellen Mond is LIGHT YEARS better than last year and easily in the Top 25% of college quarterbacks.  He’s a true sophomore that continues to develop.  He has a suspect offensive line and a decent but not great receiving corps.  He has no Mike Evans, Ryan Swope, Josh Reynolds, or Christian Kirk.  He’s still out there making plays though.

On Saturday Mond was 25/37 for 353 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.  That’s a 68% completion percentage.  That’s a DAMN good day at the office for a quarterback in the SEC not named Tua.  He also had some nice runs to account for the challenges of our offensive line.

Can Mond improve as a quarterback?  He sure can and likely will as he gets more experience.  Does he need to be benched in favor of someone else?  HELL.  NO.  If you truly think Mond isn’t the best option for this Aggie team then you’re a football moron.  I don’t know a nicer way to put it.  You don’t know anything about football and the quarterback position.  Especially in the college game.  Kellen Mond is a true sophomore playing in a new system behind a suspect line and no true playmaker to throw to.  Kellen Mond is doing just fine as the Aggie quarterback.  If you don’t think so, go watch some Bob Ross videos on YouTube and learn to paint some nature scenes.  It would be a better use of your time than watching Aggie football as you’re watching something you don’t have a clue about.

Sorry about the rant but it’s just frustrating to hear and read people complaining about Kellen Mond’s performance.  He’s doing a damn good job all things considered.  There’s not a better option on this team at quarterback.  I promise you that.

Running Back:

I love Trayveon Williams as a running back but this wasn’t his game.  For most of this game South Carolina wasn’t going to let him get established.  Not including Kellen Mond runs we ran the ball 24 times to 37 passes.  That’s a slight variation from what we’ve done in previous games.  South Carolina stacked a lot of people in the box basically daring A&M to pass.  Luckily, Jimbo noticed that and rather than try and establish something that wasn’t there he let Mond run and throw.

When Williams did get the ball he was his usual self where he’d squirm for 3-4 yards along with a couple nice intermediate runs.  Most impressive was his carries on the final drive of the game.  His first three carries of the drive went for 4, 9, and 6 yards.  His next carry was for a loss of 3 yards but the next play was the 23 yard pass to Sternberger that got us into South Carolina territory.  Corbin had a couple nice rushes while Williams was out and then Williams came back in with 1st and goal from the 9.  Williams ripped off a 6 yard run to set up and 2nd and goal at the 3 and then took the next carry to pay dirt for a big touchdown.  That drive consumed 78 yards and 5:45 resulting in a rushing touchdown that basically put the game away.

Statistically it wasn’t one of A&M’s better rushing days but South Carolina didn’t want A&M to establish the running game.  However, when A&M needed it most they were able to put the ball on the ground and control the clock along with punching it in the end zone.  Had the defense held on South Carolina’s next possession it gives this game a totally different feel.  The running game did their part when they had to.

Offensive Line:

This will never be a dominant offensive line but against South Carolina they were pretty serviceable.  They were confused by a couple early blitzes but for the most past gave Mond enough time to throw the rest of the game.  Mond was sacked in the 1st quarter and then early in the 2nd quarter but wasn’t sacked after that.

Penalty wise I remember one holding call on a 19 yard run by Trayveon so that nullified that.  I don’t remember any false starts.  If your offensive line has one hold and no false starts you can’t really complain about that.

This line was a key part of the final touchdown drive helping Williams grind out yards including the precious 9 yards needed to score.  I would like to see this line be better in the Red Zone really imparting their will but I just don’t think there’s enough talent to do so.  Either way if they do what they did against South Carolina the rest of the way they’ll give us a chance against every defense left on the schedule.  It won’t be dominant but it’ll be good enough to help us win if every other unit does their job as well.  There’s still lots of room for improvement with this offensive line but I have to give them credit they’ve done a better job than I expected coming into this season.

Wide Receivers:

This unit was shorthanded this week with Ausbon and Kendrick Rogers being out.  Jalen Preston is still coming along slowly so that basically left Sternberger, Quartney Davis, Cam Buckley, and Hezekiah Jones to throw to.  Outside of Sternberger none of those guys are true playmakers.  Those 4 guys caught 22 balls for 340 yards so they had a damn nice day.  We all know Sternberger had a day catching 7 balls for 145 yards including a touchdown and taking defenders for a ride.  Don’t discount Quartney Davis’ effort catching 7 balls for 127 yards though.  Buckley and Jones also pitched in catching three balls each so they all contributed at some point.

Even shorthanded it’s great to see them step up as South Carolina was basically daring A&M to beat them through the air with their defensive alignment.  We still need some true playmakers in our receiving corps but I can’t say anything bad at all about the effort by these guys on Saturday.  When they were called upon they delivered.  That’s all you can ask for.

Defense:

Front 6:

Not a lot to say about these guys that I haven’t already said this season.  Against South Carolina it was more of the same.  South Carolina running backs rushed 14 times for 67 yards with a long run of 27 yards.  Their other long was 14 yards right before that run.  On back to back plays they got 41 yards that accounted for 60% of their rushing yards by a running back.  Other than those 2 runs they got about 2 yards a carry from their running backs.  That is solid.

If there’s one negative it’s that we only got one sack.  We did get 4 additional quarterback hurries so it’s not like we weren’t bringing some pressure.  Bentley likes to run so my guess is the plan for our front 6 was to not blow lane assignments to keep the running backs and quarterback contained so they didn’t break off any big plays.  For the most part we did that.

Would it be nice to get more pressure?  Sure, but these guys aren’t built for that.  They’re big bodies designed to consume blockers and space.  They do an excellent job.  Complaining about the lack of pressure kind of feels like complaining about Mond holding on to the ball too long.  What they’re doing is working so no need in really changing it.

Secondary:

As I’ve been saying all year this is our Achilles heel.  On Saturday it showed up in the second half.  In the first half Jake Bentley was 6 of 17 for 46 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.  That’s a 35% completion rate which is really bad.  That’s as good as the secondary has been all year I believe.

Charles Oliver made a great interception mid-way through the first quarter keeping South Carolina from getting points on the board.  That potential touchdown wasn’t the fault of the secondary giving up any passes.  It was set up due to a personal foul on the previous punt giving South Carolina the ball near mid-field.  The first two offensive plays were the runs of 41 yards.  Two plays later the personal foul on Renfro that got him ejected setting up South Carolina deep in the Red Zone.  There was South Carolina with 1st and goal at the 5.  Oliver made the play to bail out other mistakes by the defense and special teams.  Credit to him for making that play.

Statistically the first half looked pretty dominant for the secondary but there were some cracks in the dam that were exposed.  Most notably Bentley missed some passes where his receivers had Myles Jones burned pretty bad.  It’s pretty clear South Carolina took note of that going into the locker room.

The second half was a different story as Bentley went 11 of 18 for 177 yards and three touchdowns, two two-point conversions, and no interceptions.  That’s not really all that dominant from a percentage and yards standpoint but the three touchdowns and two-point conversions were killer.  One of the touchdowns was a 22 yarder and the other a 33 yarder.  The secondary had problems covering in what was a reasonably short field on both of those.  I don’t like giving up long scores but if a receiver makes a great play to break off a long score you just tip your hat.  When teams are scoring touchdowns on 22 and 33 yard passes your secondary either busted its coverage or just isn’t talented enough.  I think for the Aggie secondary it’s a little of both.  The coverage was somewhat busted and the defensive backs didn’t have the athleticism to make up for it.

We also had some big penalties along the way that hurt us including two targeting calls on Renfro and Wilson.  I think the call on Renfro was technically correct but the call on Wilson was a little suspect.  That call on Renfro brought in Myles Jones and he got picked on pretty bad.  He had a couple of big pass interference penalties along with just some bad coverage all the way around.  Charles Oliver looked decent on a lot of pass plays but he’s still not a dominant shut down corner.  The second half likely looks different with Renfro in there but I think South Carolina would have likely still completed 50% of their passes for 120ish yards and a couple touchdowns.

The safeties have become bigger question marks in my mind.  Derrick Tucker played early in the game and did something that caught my attention but I can’t remember what.  I believe he got burned on a pass play that Bentley also missed on.  Whatever it was he looked completely clueless about the play on the field which he’s been prone to do this season.  Looking at the stat sheet his name doesn’t show up for anything.  Donovan Wilson, Deshawn Capers-Smith, Keldrick Carper, and Leon O’Neal, Jr. all show up on the stat sheet.  Looks like Tucker got pulled early and didn’t see the field again.  Fine by me as I think he’s a big liability at this point.  He’s talented but he doesn’t know his position very well and has also has had issues tackling this season.

How you fix this secondary I don’t know.  At this point it’s clear Renfro and Oliver are our best cover guys.  I don’t think Clifford Chattman coming back changes that.  Renfro and Oliver are serviceable but they’re going to get burned here and there.  At safety I think you just keep rotating guys in and out.  Wilson isn’t the best in coverage but he’s a great third linebacker playing the run and short routes.  You just need to make sure he’s not in a position where he must cover someone beyond 15 yards.  He’s not good going backwards.  Capers-Smith while not extremely talented seems to know his assignments and does a good job tackling.  Like the rest of the secondary he’s going to be prone to lapses in coverage.  I would like to see Leon O’Neal get more playing time if it’s warranted.  His shirt is burned so might as well get him as much experience as is reasonable.  We going to need him in a big way next season.

Basically, this defense is what it is.  We’re great up front but suspect in the secondary.  If we can eliminate ALL penalties (including targeting) and limit the big touchdown plays this unit can help us win the rest of the games on the schedule.  You just have to assume against the rest of the SEC teams there’s a good chance we’ll give up 20 to 25 points if a team has any semblance of a passing attack.  That’s not great but it’s not horrible.  You can win games if you’re honest in your game plan each week looking to minimize the secondary exposure.  Just eliminate any chance of getting into a shootout.

Special Teams:

Mann oh Mann:

Brand Mann “only” averaged 52 yards on 4 punts but he hit 3 over 50 yards including a 67 yarder.  Obviously his best play was on the punt return where he created a fumble the Aggies recovered.  The dude’s legend just continues to grow.  I haven’t paid attention to every punter in college football this season but I can’t imagine someone out there better than him.

Seth Small:

Seth Small was 4 of 5 on field goals including his first one which was a 52 yarder.  He missed on his second field goal which was 42 yards but he then connected on his next 3.  Those were critical so good to see him respond when needed.  I know a lot of Aggies have been down on this kid but I’m hoping he’s finally right.  Remember this is a guy that was perfect in his debut in Tuscaloosa.  It could be MUCH worse than what he’s done so far as a true freshman.  Surely he only gets better with experience and confidence.

Returns:

Nothing of any real substance here as Corbin and Paul had a couple decent returns trying to make something happen.  Probably the best thing about our kick teams were limiting Deebo Samuel on his two returns.  He’s an incredibly explosive player and he got to the 20 once and the 12 the other time.  He did nothing on the two kick offs he tried to make something happen.  Nice job but our kick off coverage team.  Our punt coverage was a bit suspect but thanks to Mann oh Mann lowering the boom it didn’t hurt us.

 

Looking Forward:

I still can’t move the needle from my 8-4 prediction before the season started.  So far I’ve nailed every game.  I truly believe in what Jimbo is doing but the secondary and offensive line is leaving little room for error.  I love the 6:00 pm start in Starkville as I think that works in our favor.  The 11:00 am starts in Starkville have been trouble for us.  I think we stand a good chance to win that game but it won’t be easy.  It’ll be tougher than our last three games so we can’t make mistakes.

Auburn sure looks like a possible win after the last two weeks but never under-estimate Gus Malzahn backed up against the wall.  If he comes out slinging the ball looking to test our secondary it could be tough.  They have a pretty solid defense that will be tough to score on.  I think the Tennessee win actually works against A&M.  We don’t want a desperate Auburn team.  It’s not a great Auburn team but neither is A&M.  That’s a 50/50 game right now to me even with how Auburn has looked of late.  Gus may wake up looking to throw that sucker 50 times on us.

Ole Miss should be a win but we could get into a shootout with them.  If that’s the case it’s not the easy win it looks to be.  They have talent at receiver and QB.  If their line can buy their receivers enough time to get downfield their QB can hit them.  I don’t think it happens and A&M wins but it’s a matchup problem for us to a degree.

UAB should be a win so no concerns there.

LSU just beat an elite Georgia team so if you’d pick A&M over LSU right now you’re a damn fool.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again it fascinates me how every season after a “bad loss” everyone wants to write off LSU as a bad team.  They’re as loaded as any team in the country outside of Alabama.  On any given day they can beat any team in the country and even give Bama a scare.  I do think A&M can beat LSU so it’s not impossible but that will not be an easy win by any stretch.  There’s a legit possibility there’s two 9-2 teams looking for their 10th win in their final game.  If you don’t think LSU will be up for that wanting their 10th win you don’t follow college football very closely.

I think we’re in a good position to go 8-4 and with some good breaks wind up at 9-3.  If we finish 9-3 and then win a bowl game to get 10 wins we’ll be well on our way to Make Aggie Football Great Again.  It’s looking very possible at this point.  It may not be as pretty or convincing as you want but it’ll be a remarkable job by the players and coaches.

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Thoughts from the Arkansas Game

2018 Arkansas Defense

The four quarters the Aggies played against Arkansas was extremely confusing.  It was confusing because the Aggie were extremely inconsistent.  If you think back through the whole game the final 7-point win wasn’t nearly as close as it felt.  The main problem from a fan’s standpoint is everyone kept expecting the Aggies to put Arkansas away and never did.  It felt like Arkansas was gaining momentum but they never could capitalize.  At the end of the day the Aggies held the lead from start to finish.  Arkansas was never in a position to seriously tie the game either.  A&M was more dominant than the 7-point win indicates.

Based on how both teams had played coming into the game it’s reasonable to have expected the Aggies to win in convincing fashion.  Couple that with the fact A&M returned the opening kick for a touchdown, held Arkansas to a three and out, and then scored on their first offensive possession to be up 14-0 not even halfway through the first quarter and it compounds those expectations.  That’s not how the game played out though.

A&M played an extremely inconsistent game and Arkansas never quit.  A&M had some untimely penalties, key drops, Mond threw a very bad interception in the first half, and Seth Small missed a couple of key field goals that could have kept momentum in A&M’s favor.  Because that happened Arkansas was able to hang around with a chance to tie the game late in the 4th quarter.  It doesn’t mean Arkansas every really had a chance to win this game.

The good news is the Aggies played a game with a lot of mental mistakes and were still able to control the game for the most part.  The bad news is the Aggies played a game with a lot of mental mistakes and had they played a better opponent they lose that game.  It shows that despite some positives against Clemson and Alabama the Aggies still have a lot of work to do.

Still, a win is a win so you’ll take this.  I think the old regime would have let this game get to overtime or even lose.  This Aggie regime and team found enough plays to make sure the game was never truly in question.  When looking at the score don’t forget while the Aggies never put Arkansas away they never let them fully get up off the mat.  A&M controlled the game from start to finish despite making a lot of mistakes.

Offense:

Kellen Mond:

I’ll start with Kellen Mond because most folks are wondering what happened with him.  What’s funny is if this is 2017 Kellen Mond we all just shrug our shoulders and say, “Yep, that’s Kellen Mond.”  In 2018 we raise our hands and say, “What was going on with Mond?”  That’s how much Mond has lifted the bar on himself in one season.  Mond was 17 for 26 for 201 yards with 0 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.  One of those interceptions was a bad throw intended for Sternberger and the other one was a bad decision where he didn’t see someone sitting under the receiver.  He still completed 65% of his passes with two big drops by Ausbon in the first quarter.  If Ausbon catches those two balls then Mond is a 73% passer on the day.  Completion wise Mond didn’t have a terrible day.

Decision wise Mond didn’t have a great day at all.  He was hesitant to throw it seemed like.  I don’t know if it was by design but he wasn’t really active in the pocket.  He stood in the pocket way more than he has all season.  We didn’t have any rollouts or bootlegs for the most part.  Mond didn’t step up much in the pocket either like he did mostly against Clemson.  There was some pressure up the middle thanks to Arkansas blitzes but Mond was way more statuesque than any game this season.  I really thought Jimbo would move Mond around a lot more in the second half trying to make things happen.  That didn’t happen.

Mond seemed confused by the look the Arkansas secondary was giving him most of the game.  He wasn’t real decisive at all on his passes.  There were certainly times he let the ball fly early but for the most part he was slow in making his reads.  His most decisive series was the last one of the first half.  On the A&M 26 with 1:45 left to go in the half he hit Hezekiah Jones on 3 straight passes around 10 yards each and then hit Sternberger for 13 yards.  He then threw 2 more passes to Jones but missed them.  In 6 consecutive passes he targeted Jones 5 times with quick reads.  A part of this was because Arkansas was playing back to not give up a big play but Mond was definitely decisive on that drive.

All in all I don’t think Mond was as terrible as Aggie fans made it out to be.  I think Mond has raised the bar so high fans were expecting a 400 yard 3 touchdown game through the air.  I think some credit must go to Arkansas and John Chavis in confusing Mond and the lack of adjustment by Jimbo and staff.  Not saying Chavis outcoached Jimbo as the proof is on the scoreboard but I think Arkansas anticipated a lot of what A&M planned on doing and that created enough confusion where Mond was slow to make plays.

Running Back:

I love Trayveon Williams but he just seems like a mis-match for this offensive line and scheme.  He’s still an outstanding back so don’t get me wrong but he’s not a between the tackles runner.  This reminds me of when Sumlin and Spav had Tra Carson.  They wanted Carson to run outside the tackles when Carson was built to run between the tackles.  Too bad we can’t flip Tra and Trayveon as they’re better suited for different schemes.

Trayveon wound up with 152 yards and 2 TDs on 29 carries.  His effort was incredible.  The problem with Trayveon is he can’t break tackles at the second level when he runs through the middle of the line.  I’ll get to why in a bit but if the dude had a little more weight to him he’d be a complete stud.  As it is he’s a solid back but he’s a guy that needs space to make things happen.  Either way I’m not going to complain about his effort when he racked up 152 yards and 2 scores on 29 carries.  That’s a heck of a day for any running back.

Corbin got a few snaps on the third series so I think it’s pretty clear he’s the new back up to Trayveon.  I’m good with it as he’s looked good the times he’s been in there.  I’ll talk about his kickoff return in a bit.

Wide Receivers:

I’m not sure what happened to the receiving corps on Saturday but they were largely non-existent.  Mond was slow to let the ball go but the receivers weren’t getting open.  We lost Ausbon in the first quarter so that didn’t help.  Still, the receivers weren’t getting open at all.  Camron Buckley was by far the best receiver on the day catching 5 passes for 72 yards followed by Sternberger who caught 4 passes for 51 yards.  Hezekiah Jones was the only other receiver that caught multiple passes catching 4 passes for 33 yards with 3 of those coming on one series.

Mond tried to hit Kendrick Rogers deep a couple of times but missed.  The first time Rogers had his arm held down and got a pass interference call.  The second time they just couldn’t connect with some solid defense on Rogers.  There just wasn’t anything that really stood out in the passing game.  Credit to the Arkansas defense for putting a coverage out there that didn’t allow for much opportunity through the air.

The loss of Ausbon seems like a major loss but I don’t know if it is.  He’s an outstanding receiver but up until this point his talent has been largely untapped.  He’s certainly not the contributor Christian Kirk was through his first two seasons at this point.  The Aggies are still looking for a go to receiver in this group as there has been no one to emerge through five games.  With the injury to Ausbon I think the coaching staff needs to strongly consider burning the redshirt of Jalen Preston if that was the plan.  I don’t think Preston will be a contributor like Kirk in his first season but he has the physical tools.  We might as well expose him to SEC football and see what he has.

Offensive Line:

The offensive line as a unit actually played a pretty good game on Saturday.  They were able to get Trayveon 3-4 yards on most carries and gave Mond enough time to pass picking up blitzes by Arkansas.  It wasn’t a dominant effort by any stretch but it was certainly serviceable and not the weakness of what took place on the field.  I would consider this their best game this season.  The downside in this game is they had some bad penalties that cost the Aggies momentum.

The main problem to this unit is they don’t do a very good job of blocking at the second level.  This offensive line is pretty good at engaging the defensive line at the line of scrimmage.  However, when they go to the second level looking for linebackers and safeties to block they’re not that great.  This is why Trayveon isn’t able to bust off big runs up the middle.  I’m glad they’re able to get Trayveon holes at the line on scrimmage but when they release to take on linebackers they usually whiff.  To me this is just a sign of pure lack of athleticism.  These guys just aren’t that talented.

When this line gets 2 steps from the line of scrimmage they’re lost on who and how to block.  I’ve seen this occur with the tight ends and fullbacks as well.  You’ll see these guys pull or release into the second level and they’re just lost on who to block.  I saw Cullen Gillaspia lead block for Trayveon and not hit anyone.  He’s the fullback and just walked into the second level passing up guys to hit.  By the time Trayveon was tackled Gillaspia hadn’t hit anyone.  That’s really bad.  It’s not just Gillaspia either.  I saw Trevor Wood do the same along with a couple linemen on other plays.

Most offensive line coaches will get frustrated when you miss an assignment.  Most offensive line coaches get really upset when you fail to hit someone.  I don’t think there’s an offensive line coach that will get truly upset if you’re trying to block someone.  I’m seeing a lot of these Aggie blockers hit the second level and not even blocking a linebacker or safety coming for our running back.  I think it goes back to they’re just not that athletic and that needs to change through recruiting.

This offensive line should could use a guy like Aldo DeLaGarza who could bench press Buicks and karate kick Bruce Lee.  That’s your message board LOL for the week.

Coaching/Game Planning:

As much as the players appear to be at fault for this game I think the coaching staff deserves just as much blame.  I didn’t see any wrinkles in this game like I saw against Clemson and Alabama.  The staff certainly schemed against Arkansas specifically.  I don’t want to say they just ran out a junior high game plan but there wasn’t really anything we hadn’t seen from this offense so far this year.  The Chavis lead defense seemed well prepared for much of what the Aggie offense was trying to do.

It speaks well the Aggie offense was still able to roll up over 400 yards of offense so it’s not like the offense was completely stagnant.  If Seth Small makes his two missed field goals and Mond doesn’t throw his second interception which could have set up a fifth field goal or even touchdown this looks like a completely different game with 6 to 13 more potential points.  Still not as dominant as we would have liked but it would have been more comfortable.

I don’t think Jimbo was sand bagging or afraid to show too much but what we did is what we’ve done on offense all season.  Maybe because the game was never really in question Jimbo wanted to see how his offense could do without any wrinkles.  The reality is we did move the ball but had some costly mistakes in penalties, interceptions, and missed field goals that greatly affected the final score.  I’d rather see 400 yards of offense with mistakes but controlled the game as opposed to 400 yards with a furious comeback.

It’s clear this offense still has work to do so we’ll see if the players and coaching staff are up to the challenge.

Defense:

Before I get into unit breakdowns let’s be clear that without the defensive effort on Saturday the Aggies likely lose this game.  It’s possible the offense would have tried some different things to score more points but the Aggie defense was the part of the team that controlled this game.  Arkansas had 248 yards of total offense in this game.  That’s a damn fine defensive effort even if Arkansas appears to be a weak conference opponent.  They practically shut down the running game with 55 total yards on 26 attempts.  This certainly wasn’t old school Wrecking Crew defense but this was a REALLY dominant effort by the defense.  The Aggie Defense stepped up in a big way and deserve a TON of credit for this win.

Defensive Line:

Words can’t even describe what the defensive line did in this game.  They weren’t dominant from a pressure standpoint but their gap discipline was unreal.  They never let Arkansas get outside and forced everything in the middle.  Along the way Landis Durham, Kingsley Keke, Justin Madubuike, and Daylon Mack accounted for five sacks.  That’s pretty damn impressive when you spread out five sacks across your starting front four.  Daylon Mack also contributed an additional tackle for a loss along with a quarterback hurry.  This was no doubt Daylon’s best game statistically but he’s been giving this effort all year.  It’s taken him 4 years but he appears to finally be the player we always thought he’d be.

As for the other guys they just did their normal thing.  It honestly doesn’t look dominant because they’re so good at executing their assignments and letting the ball come to them naturally to make a play.  They’re not just trying to be disruptive and make plays individually.  I really feel all four guys are working their assignments knowing someone will make the play if the ball comes in their direction.  Can’t say enough about those four guys in this game.

I saw quite a few backups in there at times   Bobby Brown looked to have gotten quite a few snaps.  The starters are the meat of this unit but there’s some quality backups giving them relief.  I don’t think there’s any doubt the defensive line is the strongest unit of this entire team.  This is a different game without the effort by the defensive line.

Linebackers:

Obviously we all know about Tyrel Dodson thanks to Jimbo grabbing his facemask.  Personally I wished it wouldn’t have happened because the optics don’t look good.  However, I don’t think it’s as bad as people barking for attention are making it out to be.  Dodson was stirred up and Jimbo was trying to focus him away from what was going on.  He didn’t want Dodson getting ejected.

As a player I don’t think most Aggie fans realize Tyrel Dodson is a special player.  He’s really in the mold of Dat Nguyen and Von Miller from a talent standpoint.  It just hasn’t shown up in stats and highlights.  If he played at Alabama he’d be an all SEC Linebacker.  There’s no doubt in my mind.  The dude is extremely talented and he’s definitely going to play on Sundays.  I wish he’d get more attention for his efforts but the guy goes hard every play.  He’s great and cleaning up what the defensive line doesn’t take care of it.  He’s going to take on a blocker so someone else can make a play if that’s his assignment.  He just does his job extremely well.

Otara Alaka got all the statics in this game with 3 solo tackles and 4 assists.  I’m not trying to take anything away from Alaka as he too plays with great heart.  The more I watch Dodson I realize how much he truly means to this defense.  He’s a stud.  He and Alaka are a formidable pair right behind the Aggie defensive line.

Secondary:

I’m shocked Chad Morris didn’t attack the Aggie secondary more than he did.  Their quarterback ran 5 times not including his sacks.  Of those 5 I didn’t count how many were designed runs and how many were flushes but it seems like 2-3 were designed runs.  Counting sacks as passes then Arkansas attempted 21 runs and 32 passes on the Aggie defense.  That’s a 40/60 mix so it did favor the pass but they didn’t do that until late in the second half.  For most of the first three quarters they were balanced running and passing the ball.  I would have lined up empty back at least 20 times and tested the Aggie secondary.  Maybe it wouldn’t have worked but if I was Morris I definitely would have tried passing rather than worrying about establishing the run against the Aggie defensive line.  He didn’t so I personally believe the Aggies benefited from his decision to try and stay balanced.

It’s a little tough to truly grade out this Aggie secondary as Arkansas passed 27 times with 14 completions.  That’s a little better than 50% completion.  They totaled 193 yards through the air with one touchdown and one interception.

Statistically that’s not a bad day for the Aggie secondary.  Watching the game though it felt like the Aggie secondary just wasn’t really tested by Arkansas and when they were they gave up some plays they shouldn’t have.  Most notably the two consecutive passes in the 4th quarter that totaled 53 yards with the second resulting in a touchdown that made the game 17-24.  That was right after the drive where A&M had scored to go up 24-10.  It was deflating to watch the Aggie secondary give up two big pass plays in a row letting Arkansas get within 7 points with enough time to get the ball back.

In the end Donovan Wilson made a big interception on Arkansas’ last drive to seal the victory.  Credit to Wilson for making that play.  In years past that drive likely results in a touchdown where A&M and Arkansas go to overtime yet again.  We’ve been fine in overtime in this series since joining the SEC but thanks to Wilson there was no need to see if we’d be fine yet again.

Of the 14 Arkansas completions 5 of those went for more than 15 yards.  That’s a little over 33% going for good chunks of yardage.  I just can’t get over the feeling this secondary will be prone to big pass plays for the rest of the year.  If an offensive coordinator can get his line to buy enough time where he can flood the secondary with receivers I feel like our secondary will struggle to cover everyone.  Despite a completion percentage around 50% and the big interception, the 5 pass plays over 15 yards still gives me concern when it comes to this secondary.  I can’t help but wonder what this game looks like if our defensive line didn’t get their 5 sacks and 2 quarterback hurries.  Until they prove me wrong this secondary is going to concern me for the rest of this season.

Special Teams:

We’ll start with the obvious which was the opening kick return by Corbin.  It was beautiful as he caught the ball and headed upfield.  When he saw a hole develop he accelerated to it and then turned on the jets getting outside where he was able to outrun everyone to the endzone.  He had great blocking but make no mistake his speed made the difference.  There were some guys who had angles and made it close but Corbin clearly has enough speed to take it to the house.  If I’m not mistaken they didn’t kick it Corbin’s way the rest of the game.  I guess Brett Bielema called Chad Morris to let him know it’s not wise to kick off to certain guys in this game.

Braden Mann was his usual awesome self punting 4 times with an average of 48.8 yards.  That includes a long of 65 where he almost angled it out of bounds inside the five but instead it went in for a touchback.  That was his first punt and it was amazing.  I’ve never seen someone try and angle a kick out of bounds that distance but he almost pulled it off.  His two punts in the third quarter went for 50 yards and were fielded inside the 10 including one downed at the one-yard line.  That was key in keeping Arkansas’ offense pinned and not letting them get any real momentum.  His shortest punt which killed his average was his last one where he only kicked it 31 yards to the Arkansas 26 and it was fair caught.  I think the point of that kick was to make sure Arkansas couldn’t return it as he was punting from A&M’s 43 yard line.  Without that kick he would have averaged almost 55 yards a kick including those two pinned inside the ten.  This dude is a flat out weapon.

I’ve heard some people claim Roshauud Paul isn’t a good punt returner.  I actually like him a lot.  Sure, he hasn’t made any special punt returns but I like how he fields the ball.  He seems really aware of the punt coverage and if it’s possible to get yards.  I haven’t seen him make a mistake when calling or not calling for a fair catch and he’s caught some balls in heavy traffic.  If you don’t have a Christian Kirk or Dante Hall give me a guy that’s smart in catching the ball.  The last thing you need is a guy trying to be a punt return hero and giving up the ball.  That will change the momentum of a game in a hurry.

Obviously the worst part of special teams was Seth Small.  The true freshman who looked so good in Tuscaloosa looked pretty bad at JerryWorld.  He was 1 for 3 missing two VERY makeable kicks of 36 and 33 yards.  One was right before half that would have given the Aggies a nice 20-7 lead.  The worst was in the 4th quarter he hit the upright with the Aggies only leading 17-10.  The Aggies had a nice 5-minute drive and making that kick would have kept momentum squarely in A&M’s direction.  As it was it hit the uprights and the Arkansas bench and fans exploded feeling they had a legit chance to win the game.  The Aggie offense and defense ultimately kept Arkansas at bay but it would have been nice if Small could have helped kill their belief they had a chance to win.  I guess we’ll wait another week to see if we have an automatic kicker like the kid that showed up in Tuscaloosa.  We sure need someone like that.

Overall:

While there’s a lot to not like about this game the reality is the Aggies controlled a game at a neutral sight at 11:00 am after the Alabama game.  I would have liked to have seen a more convincing score but the Aggies controlled that game from start to finish.  There’s a lot of mistakes and play to clean up but anytime you’re that inconsistent and make that many mistakes in an SEC game you should be happy to get the win.  Not happy with the effort and execution but happy to get the win without a doubt.

 

Going Forward:

I’m still leaving my season prediction at 8-4.  Kentucky and South Carolina won’t be easy games but I like our chances against them.  Getting Kentucky for a night game at Kyle is a huge help for us.  South Carolina doesn’t look as good as I originally thought but that’s still going to be a tough road game.  The 2:30 start definitely helps us in my mind.  Ole Miss still looks extremely beatable and Mississippi State looks more and more beatable.  I just hope that game isn’t at 11:00 a.m. in Starkville.  Would be nice to have the Aggies ranked squarely in the Top 25 coming off a bye week so we can get a night kick for that game.  Get those 4 wins coupled with UAB and we’re at 8-4 headed to a decent bowl game.

I really think Auburn is beatable but Stidham against our secondary scares the living daylights out of me right now.  As for LSU let’s get to November and see more games before we worry about breaking that SEC drought.

That Arkansas game certainly didn’t alleviate any concerns but it’s a nice win no matter how it looked.  I’ve got the Make Aggie Football Great Again Kool-Aid powder ready and just waiting on Jimbo and the boys to give me the water so I can get to mixing.  I guess Jimbo is still figuring out the right quantity of water so it tastes just right!

#MAFGA

 

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