Thoughts From The Auburn Game

That Auburn loss on Saturday was not at the hand of any single Aggie player.  Some players aren’t without fault but that loss on Saturday was at the hands of Jimbo Fisher and his staff.  Auburn marched into Kyle Field and punched the Aggies in the nose starting on the first possession and continued the whole game.  While Gus Malzahn can be a little schizophrenic as a head coach he flat out owned Jimbo on Saturday.

Gus and his staff perfectly diagnosed every A&M weakness from last season and especially this season creating a perfect plan of attack.  Jimbo and Mike Elko made no real adjustments and continued to run their standard offense and defense through the whole game.  Jimbo and Elko foolishly believed their normal plan of attack could overcome the point deficit throughout the game.  They were wrong.  Texas A&M truly never stood a chance in that game because Auburn diagnosed and schemed to attack the entire Aggie team before the game even started.

Jimbo and Elko made some slight adjustments but they seemed shocked for the most part by what Auburn was doing.  It’s like they refused to admit to what was happening on the field and kept their original plan of attack in hopes it might work.  They had no Plan B.  It was stick to the same method they’ve used for the last 16 games.  Their plan never stood a chance.  Gus and his staff watched the first three games of the season and knew exactly where to attack.  Gus attacked those weaknesses and Jimbo never shifted gears.

This was basically Clemson 2.0 but worse.  Auburn is a solid team but they’re not as good as Clemson.  To make it worse Auburn walked into Kyle Field and controlled the game from the first possession.  This was a VERY winnable game for A&M but one coaching staff owned the other.  It sure wasn’t the A&M coaching staff as Gus Malzahn walked into Kyle Field and pulled Jimbo’s pants down.

So What’s the Issue With This Team?:

Coming into this season I didn’t think we’d experience a similar situation to the 2012 and 2013 season where one team was dramatically different than the previous year’s team.  I was wrong.  I remember watching the 2013 Alabama game with Bama marching up and down the field against our defense.  My seatmate asked if we were that much worse on defense.  At that moment it hit me.  From that 2012 defense we lost Damontre Moore, Spencer Nealy, Sean Porter, and Jonathan Stewart.  Those guys were huge leaders and performers for the 2012 defense.  We also lost Dustin Harris and Steven Terrell who turned out to be bigger contributors than we realized.  That 2013 defense was much different than the 2012 defense.  Hence the reason we went from 10-2 to 8-4 with basically the same offense.

It hit me during the Auburn game the 2019 offense has suffered a similar fate.  This offense is completely different without Erik McCoy, Trayveon Williams, and Jace Sternberger.  Those three guys really are the difference in what you’re seeing on the field.  In two games against Power 5 opponents we haven’t scored a touchdown in the first three quarters.  We’ve scored 3 touchdowns in the 4th quarter when the game was over.  That’s the only time we’ve scored touchdowns this season against quality opponents.  This offense has been completely inept in the first three quarters of the Clemson and Auburn game.

I never thought those three guys would that much to this team but it’s clear to me it’s a bigger issue than I ever imagined coming into this season.  McCoy anchored the offensive line and is now starting in New Orleans.  Trayveon set the single season rushing record and got drafted by the Bengals.  Jace outpaced every receiver on the team by a large margin and got drafted by the Packers.

Jimbo is still running the same exact offense but the production isn’t anywhere near what we saw last season.  Those three guys completely made the offense go last season and now they’re gone.  Except for Jhamon Ausbon there’s not one player on offense that comes close to matching the contributions those three made last season as individuals.  Put all three together and it’s a MAJOR loss when it comes to the productivity of this offense.

I don’t think we beat Clemson with those guys but I do think we could have beaten Auburn with them.  It sure as hell would have been a lot more competitive for both of those games.

I was wrong about replacing those guys.  They’re the difference between last season and this season so far.  Those three guys are the difference in what you’re seeing on the field.

Let’s get to the game itself:

Offense:

Kellen Mond:

As usual if you think Kellen Mond lost that game then I can’t help you as a fan.  You’re like the person that blames the President for everything you think is wrong with anything.  The overall issues you’re seeing go way beyond one position and player.

Before I say anything else I believe quarterback is the best offensive unit we have right now.  I’ll cover the other units next but if you truly look at the contributions of the offensive line, running backs, receivers, and quarterback I truly believe quarterback is the strongest performer of those units.  Jhamon Ausbon is the only offensive player I think you could potentially argue provides as much production as Mond right now.  You can certainly argue that’s like having the best grade in remedial math but my point is the offensive issues go way beyond Kellen Mond.  Kellen is seriously one of the strongest pieces of our offensive puzzle right now.  To think otherwise is foolish in my mind.

Kellen Mond could certainly improve as a quarterback but he had a fine enough day on Saturday.  He was 31 of 49 for 335 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.  I get statistics don’t tell the whole story but when you complete 63% of your passes for over 300 yards and no interceptions that’s not a terrible day.  It’s not even close to a terrible day.

I’m beginning to think Jimbo is part of the issues when it comes to Kellen.  I think it’s Jimbo that’s not lighting any urgency under Kellen.  Kellen took the same approach down against Auburn as he did against Clemson.  If Jimbo was pissed about the pace and not pressing the defense between snaps I would think that would have been corrected down against Auburn.  As it was Kellen keeps doing the same thing between snaps.  I could be wrong but I’m beginning to think Kellen is just following orders.  I believe Kellen is letting the play clock click down because that’s what Jimbo wants.  If not, Jimbo needs to jump his ass and it’s on Jimbo to fix that.

Kellen could do a better job of knowing when to run and pass but I go back to believing that’s influence by Jimbo.  Kellen seems reluctant to run when there’s space.  He also has no interest in attacking deep when the defense jumps offsides and there’s a free play.  We have no deep plays.  We never take shots deep down the field so maybe that’s why Kellen doesn’t try and go deep on free plays.  He’s running the same methodical offense Jimbo wants him to run looking for a high percentage pass and not take any chances.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you Kellen can take over and win games.  That’s not Mond but Mond can only do so much as his supporting cast will allow.  His supporting cast is pretty damn bad right now.  Couple that with what appears to be Jimbo’s preferred method of running his offense and I don’t think Kellen is nearly as bad as the perception is.

Maybe Mond is not the kind of quarterback to win a national title.  With all the issues we have on offense it really doesn’t matter.  Johnny Manziel couldn’t win a national title or even the SEC West with the pieces on this team right not.  I’m pretty sure this team is still 2-2 with Johnny under center.

Gnash your teeth all you want over Kellen Mond.  Kellen Mond could certainly do things differently but Saturday was a glaring example for how the ineptitude of this offense goes well beyond the performance of Kellen Mond.

Offensive Line:

This offensive line is hot garbage.  I don’t know what else to say.  They’re terrible.  Signs of them not being very good have been there from the start.  We couldn’t establish the line of scrimmage against Texas State and we’re getting destroyed by formidable opponents.  In that Texas State game it took the offense three tries to score on a run from the 1 yard line.  I was hoping that was anomaly but we now know it’s a reality.

This offensive line just can’t get any push.  Not against Texas State or anyone else.  On Saturday our running backs carried the ball 12 times for a net of 30 yards.  That’s 2.5 yards per carry.  That’s not great by any stretch.  If you dig deeper you realize 35 yards came on two carries.  Kibodi had a 22 yard carry on a 3rd and 30 where the defense was playing back and then Spiller’s 13 yard carry where he fumbled on the first play of the second half.

That’s right.  We basically had two carries that accounted for all our yards by our running backs.  Take away those two carries and our running backs carried 10 times for a net of NEGATIVE 5 yards.  TEN CARRIES FOR NEGATIVE FIVE YARDS!!!!!  That is hot garbage.  I don’t know any other way to describe that.  Anytime you rush for negative net yards on 10 of 12 carries you got destroyed at the line of scrimmage.

From a pass protection standpoint Mond was sacked three times and officially hurried 7 other times.  You can say Mond holds on to the ball too long but if you watched that game you know Mond didn’t have time to throw for most of the game.

Auburn has one of the best defensive lines in the country but our offensive line didn’t put up any kind of fight all day.  They just got destroyed all damn day.  If you can’t establish the line of scrimmage you’re going to struggle to win games.  This offensive line can’t even put up a fight at the line of scrimmage.  They just get whipped.

What’s even worse is the mental errors.  It’s one thing to get beat physically but this crew routinely false starts.  We know about the false starts in Clemson but this unit had two false starts AT HOME against Auburn.  The worst was the false start by Dan Moore on 3rd and goal at the 1 in the fourth quarter.  We were down by 18 and really needed a touchdown.  We probably weren’t going to score on a run from the one-yard line but the offensive line doesn’t need to false start changing the dynamic of the play calling.  3rd and goal at the one at least gives us a chance at a nice play action or deception.  3rd and goal from the 6 gives the defense a serious advantage as they can pull back and play zone clogging up throwing lanes.  If you can’t help yourself then damn sure don’t hurt yourself.

This offensive line isn’t good enough to have ANY mental errors.  Especially at the goal line.

How this gets fixed I have no idea.  It’s really a talent issue more than anything else.  Where Mike Sherman left Sumlin an offensive line of 1st round draft picks Sumlin didn’t leave Jimbo anyone that could even make the third team All SEC team.

I’ve expressed my concerns with Dan Moore and really think its time to move Kenyon Green out to left tackle.  We haven’t seen the backups get meaningful snaps this season but I think its time to get guys like Luke Matthews and Tank Jenkins some meaningful playing time.  Anybody else that has potential to be a starting offensive lineman should see playing time as well.  We’re now staring down a 7-5 season so we might as well take some chances on getting key players some playing time for the future.

This is far and away the worst unit on the offense right now.  Talent is really the only way to fix it.  Until this offensive line becomes more talented this whole offense is hosed.

Wide Receivers:

Other than Jhamon Ausbon this whole receiving corps isn’t much better than the offensive line.  Ausbon has played with amazing heart this whole season.  I can’t question that guy at all.

The rest of his group drops way too many balls they should catch and don’t get separation from the defender.  Quartney Davis is probably the next best receiver but he’s inconsistent dropping balls and even getting open at times.  Kendrick Rogers is behind him and he’s wildly inconsistent.  I’ve been saying since last season that Rogers is only good if he’s not moving downfield and just looking back for the ball.  He’s not good at running routes or catching the ball while running.  That’s a bad combination for a receiver.

Ainias Smith shows some promise but he’s only recently got minimal playing time.  I’m totally fine if Smith starts taking playing time away from anyone not named Ausbon.

This unit still doesn’t have a touchdown catch over 40 yards against quality opponents.  I know a lot of that is the design of Jimbo’s offense but there is no deep threat in this group.  None at all.  Defenses know this so they rarely play back deep.  They just basically must defend a box 20 yards from the line of scrimmage.  The opposing secondary doesn’t have to worry about defending anyone behind them.

Caleb Chapman has been talked about having that deep ball potential but he’s rarely seen the field.  He was targeted once against Auburn and didn’t even know to look for the football.  He’s got a LONG ways to go if he’s going to be that deep threat.

My favorite moments from the game for this group was both Quartney Davis and Kendrick Rogers staring down the defender after a catch when they had dropped the ball their previous target.  I know it’s a bit tacky on my behalf but if you’re out there regularly dropping passes you shouldn’t be staring anyone down when you do catch one.  Just catch the damn ball and go back to the huddle.

Until this unit not named Ausbon stops dropping balls they should catch and gets yards after the catch I’m going to have serious questions.  I get Mond had a bad day against Clemson but I really thought Mond threw plenty of catchable balls on Saturday against Auburn.  This unit simply must become more productive if the Aggie offense has any hope.

Running Back:

I’m not sure why Kibodi got the start but I don’t think he’s anywhere close to having the ability of Isiah Spiller.  For whatever reason he appeared to have pulled up on a potential touchdown pass when he was open on a wheel route.  Maybe he just didn’t have the speed to get there and he knew it.  Either way he’s not a threat at all with or without the ball.

I know Spiller’s fumble basically killed any chance the Aggies had of coming back but he’s the more talented back.  I think he needs to be our main back going forward.  There’s a reason why Kibodi has been buried on the depth chart for most of his time at A&M.  He just not that good.

None of it really matters if the offensive line can’t create holes to run through but we’re lacking big time at running back when it comes to overall depth and talent.

If Jimbo thinks he can establish the running game between the tackles this season he needs to think otherwise.  What was a unit of major strength last season with Trayveon and Corbin is now a unit of major weakness with little depth and talent coupled with a suspect offensive line.

I get we can’t completely abandon it but trying to run 20 times between the tackles would be a MAJOR mistake unless it’s all about keeping a game close.

Defense:

I’m not sure where to begin with this defense.  I’m not going to do a unit by unit breakdown like I normally do and just talk about the whole defense together.

What has seemed like a unit of major strength under Mike Elko got exposed on Saturday thanks to Gus Malzahn.

This unit was really Jekyll and Hyde on Saturday.  They had some series where they were flat dominating but then they had way too many series where this defense bit on mis-direction or simply didn’t seal the edge on quick tosses.

Auburn ran for 193 yards on 42 carries for an average of 4.6 yards.  That’s damn solid.  They had the long touchdown run of 57 yards but for the most part they were methodical and attacked the strength of this defense coming into this game which was stopping the run.  Gus realized you can’t really run between the tackles on this defense but you can still attack this defense on the ground.  Auburn just used a complete mix of mis-direction, solid reads, and quick tosses to stretch and confuse the Aggie defense.

It was a beautiful coaching clinic by Gus Malzahn on running the ball if you’re a football fan.  I just hate he did it against the Aggies.  I believe Gus knew there was a bunch of young Aggie defenders beyond the front four that he could confuse for a good portion of the game.  It worked beautifully.

They only passed 20 times for 100 yards so they weren’t even using the pass to help the run.  Just a few passes here and there to remind the defense they would throw the ball.  They simply committed to run all game long and the Aggie defense struggled to shut it down when it mattered.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom by the Aggie defense.  For much of the game this defense did more than enough for the Aggies to win the game.  The offense was just stuck in neutral for the majority of the game so the Aggie team never had the chance to win.  We’ve gotten so spoiled by this defense under Elko we think this was a bad defensive effort when it wasn’t terrible.

Auburn only converted 4 of 12 chances on third down so the defense was its usually stingy self on third downs.  That’s what’s so frustrating.  The defense could get off the field for the most part but Auburn lured them into mistakes when it mattered most.  Genius coaching.

I do wonder what this defense would like protecting a lead against a quality opponent.  Auburn held a major advantage spending most of the game being up by two scores.  Auburn never had to worry about needing a true freshman playing quarterback in his first SEC game on the road to make plays through the air.  Because of that, Auburn spent the entire game just needling the Aggie defense with a wide combination of runs.

I believe what Gus identified more than anything was an inexperienced secondary and linebackers he could work out of position by making bad reads.  He was spot on.  For as talented as they are physically Anthony Hines and Leon O’Neal found themselves out of position to make plays on a lot of runs.  The second touchdown where the Auburn tight end simply released with no one paying attention to him is a great example.  Somebody completely blew coverage as the tight end was wide open in the end zone for an easy pass and catch.

Once Auburn got up 14-0 this game was effectively over.  Gus felt no pressure and just continued needling this defense with the run and the occasional pass.  With no answer from the offense the defense couldn’t do anything.

If I do have one major complaint about players it’s Anthony Hines and Leon O’Neal.  Right now, these guys have more physical ability than they do mental ability.  I think both of these guys feel they have the physical ability to make plays but they need to learn sooner than later the mental ability matters more than physical ability.  Especially at the positions they’re playing.  It’s all about anticipating and reading.  I’m certainly not going to pin this loss on those two guys but they certainly could have made plays on the first two scoring drives limiting Auburn to field goals or not even scoring on the first drive at all.

Elko certainly has a lot of work to do with the youth on this team.  He must get their football IQ up to match their physical ability.  It’s rare when a defense plays mistake free football but there’s a lot of mental errors happening with the youth on this team that needs to get corrected.

I still have faith in this defense.  The offense certainly isn’t helping this team win games.  I think this defense would look much better if the opposing offense felt a little pressure to score points.  As it’s been with Clemson and Auburn they got up early and were able to sit on a lead in both games.  All the defense could do was try and slow down a methodical plan of attack against them.  That’s really tough to do.

I’m not happy with the defensive performance on Saturday but it’s still the strength of this team by far.

Special Teams:

Braden Mann:

Braden struggled on his first punt.  His first punt went 54 yards per the stat sheet but he actually didn’t hit it right as it didn’t have any height.  It was a low trajectory and got a great bounce but there was no coverage and Auburn returned it 30 yards to the Aggie 46.  Auburn then used that short field to score their second touchdown.

After that he was his usual self.  He averaged 56 yards on the day with a long of 68 yards.  He was phenomenal after that first punt.

The best part of his day was when he had to punt three times on one series.  Each punt got better where his final punt went 68 yards to the Auburn 1-yard line.  It was an amazing punt.  I could watch those three punts on a loop all day.  All Mann should do is send those three punts to NFL GMs to ensure he’s drafted.  That’s all they’ll need to see.

The best part was the punt returner kept looking to the sideline asking where he should be lined up.  Mann is such a weapon the Auburn returner couldn’t figure out where to line up without help.  Mann is that good.

Seth Small:

Seth was 2 for 4 hitting a 33 and 23 yarder.  He missed a 47 and 52 yarder.  In my book he must make those.  If those are too far for him to make then send Caden Davis out there for anything over 45.  Seth still needs to get more consistent in my book.

Roshaud Paul:

He was fine returning punts all day but he finally did what I said he never does.  He muffed a punt late in the 4th quarter.  Luckily we recovered it.  Paul can’t do that.  If he’s not going to be an electric returner then he needs to protect the ball on EVERY punt return.  Hopefully he never does that again.

 

Going Forward:

Jimbo has a major decision to make for the rest of the season.  A 10-win season after a bowl game seems all but impossible now.  It was a stretch coming into the season but it’s all but gone now.  This team has major holes.  A 9-4 season would be amazing as it would mean pulling a victory over Bama, Georgia, or LSU along with a bowl win.  I know there’s a lot of football to play but I don’t see wins over any of those teams anymore.  This Mississippi schools and South Carolina are now wins in question.

We’re staring down a 7-5 season with a trip to a crappy bowl game at best.  If Jimbo doesn’t make any changes then 7-5 might even be a stretch.  While other teams might not be as talented as Clemson and Auburn they’ve shown the blueprint on how to beat Texas A&M.

It’s simple as there’s two things you need to do:

  • Defensively don’t worry about defending more than 20 yards in a box from the line of scrimmage. Mix in various blitzes along the way.
  • Offensively attack the edges rather than try and establish the run between the tackles.

If I’m an opposing coach I’m going to make sure my team does both of those things well.  That’s the blueprint.

Jimbo’s methodical game plan of controlling the time of possession is not going to work going forward.  It worked last year to a degree but he’s missing some key personnel from his offense.  McCoy, Trayveon, and Sternberger are gone.  Even with those guys his game plan didn’t work against Clemson, Bama, Mississippi State, and Auburn last season.   There’s no one even close to their talent on the offensive side of the ball this season.  Thinking the same type of game plan will be the same or better this season is foolish.

I believe its time to work in the youth and see if Kellen and this offense can push pace.  Winning time of possession is great in keeping games close but it’s time to see if the Aggies can win on the scoreboard.  Screw moral victories.  Make a real effort to win games.

I know Jimbo can look back at the Auburn game and say if that 57-yard touchdown on the opening possession doesn’t happen along with Isiah Spiller’s fumble then the Aggies likely win that game.  That’s a reasonable argument but the reality is the Aggies lost and never really stood a chance.  The Aggies got DESTROYED on the offensive line of scrimmage and the Auburn offense exposed the Aggie defense’s biggest issue.  This team has major holes that need to be fixed or compensated for.

He can keep running the same offense out there but it’s not going to work.  It doesn’t need a major overhaul but it certainly needs some wrinkles.  Defenses know what’s coming at this point.  There’s a reason it took until the 4th quarter for the Aggie offense to score touchdowns against Clemson and Auburn.  Even then it was way too little and way too late both times.

We’ve got Arkansas and then a week off before Alabama.  Arkansas looks terrible but if we’re not careful they can absolutely beat us.  They’ll be hungry and if they follow the Clemson and Auburn blueprint they can absolutely hang with the Aggies and possibly even beat us.  I thought Auburn would be our test but the reality is we weren’t ready for Auburn.

I can’t believe I’m saying this but Arkansas is actually going to be a test for us.  Does Jimbo stick to the same script he’s used since he got here or does he try some new things?  We can absolutely beat Arkansas with the standard Jimbo game plan but we will get DESTROYED by Alabama and struggle to win 7 games this season.  He needs to use Arkansas to do things a little differently.

I still believe in Jimbo as our head coach.  However, starting with Arkansas he needs to admit there’s some serious deficiencies on this Aggie team and begin to correct them.  How he does it I don’t care but something must change.

We’re talking about the man who’s catch phrase last season was, “It ain’t gonna be like it used to be” and this season has been, “If you don’t bite as a puppy you won’t bite as a dog.”  Well, its time to make some changes so it ain’t like it used to be and we start biting.

If not, it’s going to be a much longer road to Make Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

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