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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