Thoughts on the Auburn Game

Mond vs Auburn

That loss to Auburn on Saturday was a serious deflation to the 2018 Aggie football season.  Nobody liked the lost to Mississippi State but the reality is they’re a good team that beat us from the get go.  Against Auburn it looked like everything for the 2018 season was going to get right back on track.  Then the Aggies fell apart.

Losing a game like that spans a ton of emotions.  Right after the game you’re upset and disappointed.  The next day you feel the sky is falling and Aggie football can’t get any worse.  Monday comes around and you start looking forward to the next game against Ole Miss and hopefully getting back on the good side of the win and loss column.  By the time you’ve read this you’ve forgotten all about the Auburn game for the most part.  Being a devoted sports fan is truly a span of emotions most of the time.

The reality of Saturday’s game against Auburn is this Aggie team is not as bad as some Aggie fans make it out to be.  It’s also not as good as we’d hoped from earlier in the season where we came close to upsetting Clemson and played Alabama closer than anyone in the country this season.  That’s right.  The Aggies have the closest margin of victory against the two best teams in the country.  I know.  I can go stick my moral victory where the sun doesn’t shine because we’ve lost the last two weeks and that’s what matters most right now.

The truth is this Aggie team is somewhere between the “moral victories” against Clemson and Alabama and the disgusting defeats against Mississippi State and Auburn.

Before I get to the Auburn unit analysis I want to point out a few things:

  • If Gus Malzahn had followed Joe Moorhead’s game plan there’s a chance Auburn wins this game the same way Mississippi State did where A&M never chokes away a victory. We don’t know that for sure but I was shocked Auburn didn’t come out firing through the air.  They wanted to establish the run and the Aggies flat out denied it.  Maybe Gus wanted to try and establish the run to keep our safeties’ eyes toward the line of scrimmage which worked a couple of times.  Their first touchdown on the reverse pass was based on their trying to establish the run.  Maybe Gus was afraid Stidham would throw it away like he did against LSU.  No telling the reason but I was surprised Gus didn’t attack our secondary like MSU did from the get go.  The outcome could have been a totally different where there was no lead to blow with 2 minutes left.
  • We all have our opinions but I don’t think this team is as talented as last season’s. I believe if this team had Armani Watts and Christian Kirk we would have beat one of Mississippi State or Auburn if not both.  I sure don’t see anyone in our secondary or receiving corps that is close to their level of talent.  Our defensive line and linebackers are certainly better than last year, but I think that’s more scheme and coaching along with being a season older.  Our offensive line and running backs are basically the same as last year.  I really feel our secondary isn’t even close to what we had last year with Watts and our receiving corps doesn’t have on playmaker like Kirk.  Maybe you feel this team is as talented as last year but even if that’s the case last year’s Aggie team got humiliated at Kyle Field in back to back weeks against these two teams.  We got beat 35-14 against MSU and 42-27 against Auburn.  At Kyle.  This season on the road we lost 28-13 and 28-24 to the same teams.  I know “moral victories” suck but the reality there is some progress using similar measuring sticks from 2017 to 2018.
  • This Aggie team flat out collapsed in the final minutes against Auburn. Here’s the sequence of events:
    • With 2:19 left on the clock and Auburn having just used their second timeout Kellen Mond flat out misses Quartney Davis on a wide receiver screen on 3rd and 15. Mond totally misses Davis high when Davis is wide open.  Davis doesn’t likely get a first down but at worst Mond completing that pass would have forced Auburn to use their final timeout.  Auburn would get the ball back with around 2:00 on the clock and no timeouts.
    • Mann then punts the ball 41 yards to the Auburn 14. He kicks it near the right sideline.  The Auburn returner doesn’t fair catch.  The Aggie gunner is in position to bring him down but doesn’t make a play on the returner.  He completely lets him go with no contact.  The rest of the Aggie team for whatever reason is nowhere near the returner.  Several of them are actually on the other side of the field.  Let me repeat that – the rest of the Aggie coverage team is NOWHERE NEAR the catching the ball.  Auburn had two guys back and the punt coverage team bit on the guy who wasn’t getting the ball pretending he was about to field it.    Three Aggie defenders run to where the ball isn’t.   The Auburn punt returner who is not challenged by the initial Aggie defender heads up field 28 yards where he’s brought down by Braden Mann.  That’s right, the freaking punter makes the stop when the returner was pinned to the sideline but the Aggie punt team had NO clue where the damn ball was going and let the returner go.  Great job by Auburn to fool the Aggie special teams.  Auburn now has the ball at their 42 with a little over two minutes left and one timeout.  They should be pinned inside the 20 if not the 10 with less than 2:00 left and no timeouts.

If you want to see the punt click here.  Watch it several times and start/stop to break it down and see how this was a colossal failure by our punt unit.  If they tackle the punt returner at the 14 the outcome could have been totally different I think.  Momentum wouldn’t have swung Auburn’s direction like it did after the punt return.  I set it to the Mond/Quartney Davis play so you know just how maddening and crucial these plays were in Auburn’s comeback – https://youtu.be/IlEMg2cGkCk?t=757

  • They say bad things come in threes so with the offense and special teams already on the board for bad plays the defense got involved on the next play. With our defense playing back Stidham throws a one-yard crossing route.  That’s right, a one-yard crossing route.  With no Aggie defender around the Auburn receiver heads up field where he weaves and runs into Charles Oliver at the Aggie 40-yard line.  In addition to him running into Oliver there are two other Aggie defenders within 2 yards of the ball carried and a fourth Aggie defender closing in 3 yards away.  Somehow the Auburn ball carrier spins away from all FOUR Aggie defenders and keeps running.  He winds up getting pushed out of bounds at the 11 yard line.  That’s a 47 yard gain on a 1 yard pass when he was nailed dead to rights 18 yards from the line of scrimmage.  Auburn would then put the ball in the air and score an 11 yard touchdown on the next play.
  • As if that weren’t enough the Aggies get the ball back with 1:35 and one timeout on their own 16 yard line. Not ideal, but enough time to drive down and potentially get a hail mary to try and win.
  • The Aggies get two quick plays to get to their 44 yard line.
  • On the next play Mond misses a pass to Hezekia Jones but it doesn’t matter because Quartney Davis is illegally downfield. Let’s back it up 5 yards and try again, Ags.
  • On the following play we have a screen set up for Trayveon but the unblocked defender bats the ball away.
  • Mond is then rushed where he’s basically sacked but squirms for a two yard gain. This sets up a 4th down so we take our final timeout.
  • Mond then hits Kendrick Rogers for 10 yards across midfield and a 1st
  • Mond then hits Quartney Davis on a roll out running for his life for 10 yards down to the 39 yard line and out of bounds. So, we’re at the Auburn 39 yard line with a stopped clock and 23 seconds left.  This is doable, Ags.  One problem – Davis had stepped out of bounds making him ineligible for the catch.    No play.
  • On the next play Mond is running for his life again and throws the ball away. Another problem – holding by Carson Green so back across midfield to the Aggie 41 and 12 seconds left.  One step forward and two steps back.
  • We essentially have one hail mary left. Auburn rushes 2 guys against our 5 offensive linemen and get pressure on Mond where he as to roll out and heave it downfield.  The ball is intercepted out of bounds.  After a review it’s deemed there’s one second on the clock so the Ags get one final shot.
  • This time Auburn sends three guys and gets pressure on Mond and he’s sacked for a loss of 9 yards as the time expires.   Three Auburn guys against five Aggie guys and Mond gets sacked 9 yards deep.

I know that’s a lot to read but in 2:19 of football with a 3 point lead and around midfield the Aggies have a comedy of errors on the offense, special teams, defense, and offense again.  Auburn definitely took the victory but the Aggies did nothing to stop them in the final 2:19 of the game.  I mean nothing.  That’s on the players and coaches equally.  It’s mind boggling how a team sitting on a win just completely botches so many consecutive plays.  Maybe Auburn still wins but if Mond hits Davis on the screen not even getting a first down we force their final timeout.  If our gunner stops their punt returner at the 14 he doesn’t get a free 28 yards.  Then if Charles Oliver makes the stop at our 40 maybe they hold Auburn to just a field goal sending it to overtime rather than a loss.

In the end you have to make plays but those three consecutive plays are totally maddening.  Just a lack of focus and execution by the staff and players.  They played almost 58 minutes of winning football but brain locked in the final 2 minutes and lost the game.  Football is 60 minutes and when you don’t play all those 60 minutes you stand a chance to lose.  Coffee is for closers and the Aggie football program doesn’t deserve any coffee after Auburn.

Overall:

Defense:

We all know about the issues with the secondary.  We can’t cover.  What’s interesting is our guys are not completely out of position but they can’t play the ball because they’re using every ounce of athleticism just to keep up with the offensive player.  Their lack of ability to play the ball even though they’re on the receiver shows the athleticism is just lacking.  Time and time again receivers have gone up to make plays against our defensive backs.  Unfortunately, even though our defenders are on the receiver they’re just not athletic enough to make a play on the ball.

The defensive line and linebackers were outstanding against the run.  Auburn running backs had 41 yards on 18 carries.  That’s outstanding.

Not much else to say about the defense.  We’re the best in the nation against the run.  Against the pass, well, we can see it with our own eyes.  It’s bad, Ags.

Offense:

The majority of this is going to be about Kellen Mond since he’s the focal point of every Aggie’s thoughts on why we’re losing.  Before we get to Mond I want to point out the following:

  • This offensive line is MUCH better at run blocking than pass blocking. The performance of this offensive line is deceptive because they’re pretty decent at blocking forward.  When they must slow someone down in the passing game they’re terrible at technique and assignments.  I think most of this is talent but if you’re watching the offensive line these guys leave a lot to be desired when it comes to pass blocking.  Mond may hold the ball too long but his offensive line is not helping him when it comes to giving him time and space.  He’s constantly trying to feel out pressure.
  • Trayveon Williams was a stud against Auburn. Jashaun Corbin gets better every day.  Those guys are proving to be a really good 1-2 punch against most defenses.
  • Our receiving corps is not that good. All of our receivers not named Kendrick Rogers are listed at 6’2” or shorter.  I think that’s being a bit generous as I don’t think many of these guys are over 6’.  They certainly don’t play tall at all.  They don’t go out and fight for the football.  In addition, none of them are true burners with break away speed or a knack for finding the open area on the field.  I know we’re missing Ausbon but he has yet to blossom.  Rogers is the tallest but I’m telling you he’s not a strong route runner and unless his legs are still and he’s turned back for the ball he’s not a consistent receiver.  If you want to see what I’m talking about watch that highlight film of the Auburn game above.  Watch the number of catches their guys make where they go up and get the ball.  We don’t have anyone in the receiving corps that plays above a defenders helmet other than Kendrick Rogers.  Sure, some of it is Mond isn’t making those passes but I don’t see our receivers going up and fighting for the ball on a regular basis.  Right now I wouldn’t put a single receiver on this team above any of these guys from past teams – Mike Evans, Josh Reynolds, Christian Kirk, Ryan Swope, Uzoma Nwachuku, Malcome Kennedy, Jeff Fuller, and Receiver Ryan Tannehill.  I’d take any of those guys from the past 10 years over anyone on the roster right now.  Hell, 2017 Damion Ratley might be better than anyone on the roster right now.  These guys have talent but they have a LONG ways to go to develop into a solid receiving corps.  I just don’t see it right now.

Kellen Mond:

Let’s talk about everybody’s favorite scapegoat.  Before I do I think it’s obvious no matter what anyone thinks Jimbo is sticking with Mond.  I think there’s some reasons for that.  The first is that physically Kellen Mond is fine.  His mechanics are pretty sound and he’s got mobility.  He made some plays in the Auburn game nobody else on this roster can make.  As crazy as it seems Mond was 50% passing against Auburn.  That’s not terrible.  You remember the bad throws and decisions but you forget the good throws.  He had one play where he was rolling right and then threw left hitting Sternberger on a backside drag for 42 yards.  Nobody else on this roster can make that throw.  It was really an amazing throw.  He also had some other good passes.

He’s not without fault though because his greatest issue is 100% mental.  If the play is not there he doesn’t know what to do.  He’s also slow to diagnose the play at the line.  He’s at odds with Jimbo which you can see as he comes off the field.  Jimbo is questioning his decision making and he doesn’t have an answer.  Couple his uncertainty with a line that can’t pass block and receivers that struggle to get open and fight for the ball making this offense a damn mess right now.  It’s on everyone.

Kellen Mond is basically a student that has the ability but is utterly confused on what is going on.  He understands some of what Jimbo wants him to do but not all of it.  He’s not helping himself as he’s lost confidence.  He appears afraid to make a mistake and that’s causing him to make mistakes.

It’s easy to point to Mond’s mistakes for the last two losses but I think he’s playing within what Jimbo is wanting him to do.  He’s not without fault but he’s not total garbage either.  He’s just utterly confused on what’s going on at times.  He definitely makes bad decisions at times with the ball.  At times he makes pretty good decisions and plays as well.  It’s good and bad with Mond right now.

I think it’s clear Jimbo sees something and is hoping that if he can get over his mental hurdles then he’s going to take off.  It’s basically the same thing with how people perform in their first year on the job as opposed to their second and third year.  Maybe Mond never advances from here.  I have no clue, but I understand what Jimbo sees and what his long term plan is.  Jimbo is sacrificing a little for this season hoping Mond turns into a veteran signal caller by his senior year.  No doubt Jimbo wants to win now but I think he’s also having some patience to see if he can develop Mond.  He’s the guy on his roster that fits his system the best.  Remember, Jimbo is the guy that got Deondre Francois to 10 wins a couple of seasons ago.

As for Starkel I get he’s everybody’s darling because he’s the back up.  That’s always the case.  Starkel might be a better decision maker but I don’t think he’d fare any better behind a line that can’t pass block and receivers that struggle to get open.

He was 2-5 as a starter and 1-3 in the SEC last year.  He also never beat a ranked team and I feel he was playing in a system better suited for him.  Quick reads and throws are his thing.  Sure, he got hurt against UCLA so maybe the outcome of his 2017 stats change but I’m not sure it would other than the outcome of that UCLA game.  Overall, he wasn’t that bad as he completed 60% of his passes but he did throw 6 interceptions to 14 touchdowns.  He was better against non-conference opponents as he was a 65% passer in those games as opposed to 55% in SEC games.  The big contrast was his TD/Int ratio which was 8/1 in non-conference and 6/5 in conference games.  He certainly had his challenges in SEC games last year.  It’s possible that carries over from last season but it’s also possible he improves under Jimbo.  Nobody knows that but for some reason Jimbo believes Mond is the better option.

I’d be fine if Jimbo put Starkel in but I don’t think we’d see overall improvement.  We might see a quick lift but I think defenses would learn to play Starkel with a lot of pressure.  They’d basically copy what Mississippi State did stacking gaps along the line and challenging our receivers at the snap so they couldn’t get into their routes.  They would probably apply pressure to Starkel and we’d see sack after sack I think or bad throws leading to interceptions.  Maybe not.  No way to know that but there are indications Starkel wouldn’t have time or open receivers.  It’s infinitely better for a quarterback when they both.

If you want a one sentence summary of all of everything it’s this – Jimbo makes $7.5 million a year to coach football because he has a lot of skins on the wall and right now he believes Kellen Mond is his best option to win football games.

It really boils down to that.  Maybe Jimbo is a complete moron and doesn’t know what he’s doing.  Maybe the people that don’t get paid to coach football know more than he does.  It’s entirely possible.  I’m certainly not going to say I’m right in that Mond is the better option right now than Starkel.  I do firmly believe that Mond is not as bad as some Aggie fans make him out to be.  We did come back against Clemson, put points up against Alabama, and currently sit at 3-3 in conference with wins over Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina.

Mond certainly needs to improve but so does the entire talent on this team other than defensive line and starting linebackers.  Maybe Mond gets there.  Maybe he doesn’t.  You can gnash your teeth all day about Mond taking snaps but I don’t think it’s going to do any good.  There’s a different style of football being played from the past and it may take a little time to get where it needs to be.  After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Yes, I went there.

At least we’re not getting our asses kicked like we have in so many games the last 4 years.  I do see that as improvement.

Looking Forward:

Right now I can’t look past Ole Miss.  I feel like coming back to Kyle and with their defense this is just what we need.  I think we’ll put the ball on the ground and keep their receivers in front of us for the most part.  Keep their offense in the red zone instead of the end zone as their red zone offense is worse than the Aggies.  We’ll get a win against Ole Miss and UAB so we’ll be sitting at 7-4 with LSU coming to town.  If Jimbo can somehow pull off the upset against LSU which is entirely possible we’d be looking at an 8-4 season with SERIOUS momentum heading into our bowl game.

I think right now EVERY Aggie fan would trade losses against MSU and Auburn for a win against LSU.  It’s an absolute long shot but football is a crazy game.  Let’s see Jimbo’s first year body of work before we decide he’s not the guy to Make Aggie Football Great Again.  I still think he is.

#MAFGA

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