2018 Wasn’t Like It Used To Be

Jimbo with team on Sidelines

On the surface, an 8-4 regular season record in Jimbo’s first season doesn’t look much different than Kevin Sumlin’s final five seasons.  In those five seasons Kevin Sumlin had the following regular season records: 8-4, 7-5, 8-4, 8-4, and 7-5.  Strictly on wins and losses, which is the ultimate metric, Jimbo Fisher doesn’t seem that different of a coach.

When you dig a little deeper, Jimbo’s 8-4 record in his first season looks MUCH different than Kevin Sumlin’s tenure.  Jimbo still has a long way to go to get A&M into the national championship picture but I’ll take his 8-4 over Sumlin’s 8-4 any day of the week.

A lot of Aggies will look at 8-4 and feel we should have been 9-3 or even 10-2 with wins over at least Auburn and maybe Clemson or Mississippi State.  The reality is we’re just as close to 6-6 as we are to 10-2.  We could have EASILY lost to Kentucky and LSU.  Those were both OT games where we came out on the right side.  Hell, we could have been 5-7 had we not overcome key turnovers against Ole Miss.  In the end I do think our 8-4 record is a true indication where this program is under Jimbo after his first year.  It’s a good record in the toughest division of college football but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Let’s look at how Jimbo’s 8-4 is different than Sumlin’s 8-4.

Why 2018 Wasn’t Like It Used Be:

Kyle Field Matters Again:

While it’s only one season it’s nice to have only one loss at Kyle Field.  Especially when it’s a 2-point loss to the second best team in college football.  Alabama was on the road, but the Aggies held their own at Kyle Field this season against some good teams.  This includes the overtime wins over Kentucky and LSU.  Even the Ole Miss game was a bigger win that it appeared.  I’m not certain under Sumlin we win the games against Kentucky, Ole Miss, and LSU the way the flow of the game was.  In each of those games the Aggies had to overcome key turnovers and didn’t give up.  I think we certainly lose one of those games under Sumlin.

We talk about Kyle Field being a home field advantage but under Sumlin it didn’t really seem to matter.  He didn’t just lose games at Kyle Field.  We routinely got our ass kicked at Kyle Field under Sumlin.  It wasn’t just Alabama either.  Every SEC West team at one point throttled our ass at Kyle Field.  Ole Miss, Auburn, Mississippi State, and LSU all kicked the shit of the Aggies at one point during Sumlin’s tenure.  All but Mississippi State have multiple wins against Sumlin at Kyle Field.  That’s right, Ole Miss won multiple times at Kyle Field with Sumlin running the show.  That was inexcusable.

Maybe things change with Jimbo where he loses at Kyle like Sumlin but the first step to Make Aggie Football Great Again is winning games at Kyle Field.  It’s that simple.  During that run from 1985 to 1995 the Aggies lost 5 games at Kyle Field.  That’s right.  In 11 seasons the Aggies lost FIVE games at Kyle field.  The record during that time at Kyle Field was 63-5-1.  That’s a 91% winning percentage.

You must make Kyle Field a tough place to play as an opponent.  Jimbo took care of that in his first season.  Let’s hope it continues.

Ironically enough in Sumlin’s best season where we went 10-2 the two losses were at Kyle Field.  They were against REALLY tough teams and were REALLY close games but for whatever reason Sumlin couldn’t make Kyle Field an advantage in his six seasons as head coach.  You have to leverage 100,000 people including 30,000 screaming students on the opponent’s side of the field.  If you can’t do that you’ll never be successful as head coach of Texas A&M.

Undefeated at Kyle in SEC Games:

Building on the first point but it needs to be noted for the first time ever the Aggies were undefeated in SEC play at Kyle Field.  I think we kind of took those wins for granted because everyone harps on the Miss. St. and Auburn losses.  Don’t discount how important it is to win every SEC game at Kyle.  This was a MAJOR step and I hope like hell it holds.  I can’t state this enough – You can’t lose games at Kyle Field.  It’s too much of a home field advantage to not leverage.

3-1 in November:

Going all the way back to the Dennis Franchione years and even R.C. Slocum’s final years the Aggies had a bad habit of going flat in November.  Every coach suffered from this other than Sherman in 2010 and Sumlin in 2012.  Those were anomalies.

Here’s the breakdown of total wins and losses for previous Aggie coaches in November games:

R.C.’s Final Three Seasons: 2-8
Dennis Franchione: 4-12
Mike Sherman: 7-9
Kevin Sumlin: 13-11

Sherman went 4-0 in 2010 but other than that he was 1-3 in November games each season or 3-9 outside of 2010.  Sumlin had the 4-0 November in 2012 which boosts his November record but he also got a major boost due to the SEC schedule where a non-conference team played at Kyle in November.  Take away the 2012 season and that non-conference game for each season and Sumlin is 4-11 in SEC November games.  Since 2000 the Aggies haven’t played well in November except for two seasons.

Maybe 2018 is anomaly for the Aggies as well.  Hopefully it’s the start of something new.  Either way don’t under estimate the Aggies having a winning record in November.

A Win over LSU:

We’ll find out in a couple more years but the win over LSU feels like it could be the second most important win since joining the SEC.  No doubt until we win a Division Championship the 2012 Alabama will always be the biggest SEC win.  That win got us a Heisman Trophy and national attention.

Since Jimbo got here I’ve said the biggest step we’ll take is replacing LSU as the second-best team in the West.  No doubt replacing Bama as the best team in the SEC is the ultimate goal but in order to get there we have to prove we’re consistently the second-best team in the SEC West.  We finally beat that team that’s been entrenched as the second-best team in the SEC West.  That’s a good start to the ultimate goal of being the best in the SEC.  We just need to beat LSU consistently now.

2nd in the SEC West:

Building on that last point, for the 2018 season we are in fact the second-best team in the SEC West.  We tied with LSU in overall SEC record.  Since we have the head to head win we can claim second in the SEC West.  This is the first time we’ve ever been able to claim second in the SEC West.  In 2012 we shared the same SEC record as LSU but they beat us head to head so they got to claim second place.

A win over LSU is key but coupling it with a good enough record to claim second in the SEC West is even bigger.  That’s a great body of work in SEC play and this needs to be our new baseline going forward.  Expectations don’t go below here.

Margin of Defeat:

Other than the Alabama game where the Aggies lost by 22 the Aggies held their own in every game.  Note that was the smallest margin of defeat for an Alabama regular season game.  The Miss. St. lost was the next largest margin at 15 points but the Aggies where within a score the entire game until Nick Fitzgerald’s late touchdown run.  The other losses were by 2 to Clemson and 4 to Auburn.

I think this is one of the hardest things for Aggies to understand in how Jimbo coaches.  I know the offense and Kellen Mond struggled at times, but the reality is the Aggies were in every game until the final whistle except for Alabama and Miss. St.  That’s a MARKED improvement from Kevin Sumlin where it wasn’t uncommon to get our ass kicked by at least one more team other than Alabama every season.  By getting our ass kicked I mean you could leave the game or turn off the television at some point in the 4th quarter with no concern of missing an Aggie comeback.  Other than Alabama this season you can’t say that about the other 11 games.  Even after Fitzgerald scored his long TD run to go up by 15 the Aggies had 2 minutes to score a TD and get an onside kick.  Against Clemson we were looking to tie the game with a 2-point conversion with less than a minute left.  As big of a collapse as Auburn was we still had one final play to try and win as time expired.

To be competitive in every game this season other than Alabama was also a big step.

Reduction in Blown Leads:

Blowing massive and numerous leads in 2011 got Mike Sherman fired.  Blowing a massive lead to UCLA in 2017 ultimately got Kevin Sumlin fired.  In addition, Sumlin had plenty of other games where blew a 14-point lead to lose or to have to pull out in overtime.  Arkansas, UCLA, and Tennessee all come to mind.

The worst blown lead by Jimbo was a 10-point lead to Auburn with around 5 minutes in the 4th quarter.  Auburn was able to score 14 unanswered points in the 4th quarter to win 28-24.

I certainly don’t like the outcome of the Auburn game but if that was our worst blown lead then I do see this as a minor step.  It’s one thing to get beat but it’s a completely different thing to have a game in hand only to give it to the opponent.  That happened once in 2018.  It happened a LOT under Sumlin.

Time of Possession:

Despite what Kevin Sumlin and Mike Leach say, time of possession in a football game is important.  It’s even more important to a guy like Jimbo Fisher who has a complete game plan.  When you hold the ball longer than your opponent it allows you to control the game more how you want it.

Time of possession is predicated on two things more than anything:

  • The defense getting off the field on third downs.
  • The offense being able to string drives together to get first downs limiting three and outs.

The Aggies winning time of possession while going 8-4 says they did those two things pretty well.  What hurt the Aggies this season was the big plays against their secondary.  With more talent in their secondary the Aggies easily win 1 or 2 more games this season.  Hell, they might have won 11 games as long plays against Clemson, Miss. St., and Auburn were the reason the Aggies lost.

I’ve said it all season that I think Armani Watts is worth one more win and Christian Kirk is likely worth another.  Glad to see Jimbo control the possession clock but he just needs more playmakers to translate that time of possession into more wins.

Comprehensive Game Plan:

It was pretty clear to me Jimbo had a good feeling going into each game the strengths and weaknesses of his team and the opponent.  It didn’t always work out like he wanted but essentially being in every game with 2 minutes left indicates a coach who game planned pretty well.  It feels like Jimbo watched film of both teams on all sides of the ball and knew what the overall game plan should be.  It wasn’t simply let the coordinators do their jobs and see what happens.  He understood how it all fit together from every aspect of the game.

The biggest indicator of this to me was when Jimbo called timeout in the Ole Miss game halfway through the fourth quarter.  The Aggies were up 24-21 and Ole Miss had 4th and 2 from the 5-yard line.  It looked like an easy field goal.  Jimbo frantically called a timeout to keep the ball from being snapped.  Apparently Jimbo or someone on his staff picked up on a potential fake.  It certainly wasn’t to ice the kicker as a time out for that situation is too valuable.

If Jimbo isn’t paying attention to the entire game or isn’t aware of Ole Miss’ special teams tendencies he may not have called the timeout.  That could have swung momentum.

Jimbo’s press conferences also indicate he’s very aware of what happened in the game.  He can speak to the entire game citing specific plays right after it’s over.  There’s no generic coach speak.  He speaks to key moments of every game right after it happens.  He was paying attention to the whole game.

Jimbo is a solid offensive coach but when I watched the Aggie team this year it was pretty clear to me Jimbo had an entire plan to win the game.  It didn’t always work.  It was much more enjoyable to watch someone executing an entire plan rather than someone hoping random selections on a play sheet will produce more points than the opponent.

New Bowl Destination:

In the previous four seasons the Aggies have gone to bowl games in Memphis, Nashville, Houston, and Charlotte.  Nothing against those places as they’re great cities but nobody dreams of playing in those cities for a bowl game.  Especially when it’s not even close to New Year’s Day.  Two of those were even games that started early in the day which tells you how they rank in the grand scheme of bowl games.  ESPN doesn’t air the most intriguing bowl games when the sun is just peaking.

The Aggies lost the last three bowl games to Louisville, Kansas St, and Wake Forest.  Louisville was Lamar Jackson’s coming out party but the Aggies still could have won that game.  I’m sorry, but there’s no excuse for Texas A&M to lose to Kansas St. and Wake Forest in a mid-tier bowl game.  None.  Somehow it happened in back to back years.  That’s bad coaching.

Kevin Sumlin took the Aggies to the Cotton Bowl in his first season which was a major feat but it was a slow and steady decline from there.

In Jimbo’s first season he’s got the Aggies in Florida on New Year’s Eve.  I was hoping for the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day but it could be MUCH worse than playing in Florida on New Year’s Eve.  Crazy to think if we beat Auburn we’re probably in a New Year’s Six Bowl but at the same time had we lost to LSU we’d been in Memphis or Nashville more than likely.  Like I said earlier, 8-4 feels about right for the season.  Starting off the Jimbo Era in Florida on New Year’s Eve is certainly MUCH different than what we’ve experienced in the last four seasons.

Let’s hope Jimbo gets a win over the Wolfpack of NC State to keep the momentum going.

 

Overall Feelings for 2018:

Obviously I’m pretty pleased how things turned out.  In March I established what I felt would be 8 conservative steps for Jimbo to take as head coach of A&M.  Right now he’s slightly ahead of those steps because we’re sitting second in the SEC West after one season.  He got us 8 wins and it looks like there’s no issue closing on a Top 10 class in 2019.  It’s looking like Top 5 but Top 10 for sure.  2nd in the SEC West and a Top 5 recruiting class for his first year is really solid.

If you want some more off season reading here’s the link to what I wrote back in March and those steps:

https://rcwouldhavegonefor2.com/2018/03/27/expectations-for-jimbo-fisher/

Quick Look Ahead to 2019:

I think this team will be better in 2019.  It’ll be young with talent but overall it should be more talented.  I’m not quite sure what that means in terms of wins though.  After all, wins and losses is the only metric that matters in the end.

In my original steps I felt Jimbo needed to win 10 regular season games in 2019.  That is going to be EXTREMELY difficult due to playing Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia in addition to LSU.  Now I think just getting one win more in 2019 will be fine.  If Jimbo can pull off 9-3 in his second year with that schedule it’ll be a really damn good season.

I’ve always thought 2020 would be the year when A&M should take that big step to national prominence.  I don’t think the youth on the team and the schedule will allow us to take that big step to national prominence in 2019.  That’s okay because that’s all part of the building process.  Aggies may just have to be patient one more year before realizing for certain things ain’t gonna be like they used to be.

I’ll leave you one final thing for the 2019 schedule – In 2017 Auburn won the SEC West with almost the EXACT same schedule.  They played at Clemson the second game of the year and then played Georgia as part of their SEC East schedule.  Auburn was able to pull off 10-2 and win the SEC West so it’s not impossible.

We shall see if the Aggies can do the same.

First, we need a win over N.C. State to reverse the losing momentum in bowl games.  It’s small steps to Make Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

 

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