Thoughts From the Florida Game

What a win for the Fightin’ Texas Aggies on Saturday.  What.  A. Win. 

I won’t say that’s a statement win just yet.  There are still 7 games left and the wheels could fall off of this season.  It’s certainly a game that will shut the Jimbo detractors up for at least a month.  Hopefully it does it for eternity where we look back at this game as the day Jimbo made the definitive statement the Aggies have officially arrived.

I’ve been saying this for a while – one of the most important things Jimbo can do to Make Aggie Football Great Again is make Kyle Field a true home field advantage.  Kevin Sumlin was terrible at it.  For whatever reason Sumlin seemed to win his big games on the road and completely spit the bit at Kyle Field.  If the Aggies are truly going to return to a perennial Top 10 team they must win at Kyle Field way more than they lose.  Kyle Field must be a definitive home field advantage.

Jimbo Fisher is now 7-2 in SEC games at Kyle Field.  The two losses are against Alabama and Auburn last season so they’re not terrible losses.  I like the trend so far and hope he can keep it up.  If I had to choose one of beating Bama in Tuscaloosa or Florida at Kyle I’d take beating Florida at Kyle all day long this season. 

I don’t think people understand the importance of making Kyle Field a true home field advantage.  Other than recruiting and developing talent it’s the most important thing Jimbo Fisher can do to sustain long term success as the Aggie head coach.

On Saturday it was a home field advantage without doubt.  Dan Mullen commented on it but it’s impressive in the era of COVID for Kyle Field to help decide the outcome of the game.  That’s a testament to not only the students but the way the team fought back.  The students feed off the team and vice versa.  If the team didn’t kept fighting against the Florida Gators then the students aren’t yelling as loud.  If the students aren’t yelling, the defense might not have a found the will to make a much needed stop on Florida’s final drive.  It’s a beneficial relationship that needs both giving it their all.  That was certainly on display Saturday.

Before I get to the specific units everyone needs to remember the Aggies weren’t even close to playing a perfect game.  They had some stupid penalties which could have ended Florida scoring drives.  Jimbo and his staff had coaching brain farts.  Our running backs put the ball on the ground a couple of times with one of those almost costing us the game.  We also got burned repeatedly through the air. 

Other than the late fumble I think Florida played almost a perfect game yet still lost.  That is thanks to the 12th Man, the talent on this team, and the resiliency by the coaching staff to keep pushing forward to a win.

This whole team can still improve which is a good sign.  They have yet to play their best game where the defense and offense are taking care of the opposition. 

Hopefully they’re still developing to that point.  There’s not a game on this schedule they can’t win.  They can also lose 2 to 3 games if they don’t stay focused.  Hopefully this team understands there’s still work to do and they haven’t yet arrived.

They’re close but they’re not there yet.

Let’s get to the units:

Offense:

I’m starting with the side that played almost a perfect game.  Take away the two fumbles and there’s not much more you can ask of this unit.  This is the offense Jimbo has been working towards and it finally clicked.  Hopefully it keeps clicking.

Offensive Line:

I’ve been the most critical of these guys over the last two seasons.  What they did on Saturday was nothing short of remarkable.  They ground down the Florida defense and imposed their will when it mattered most.  Florida might not be as talented as Alabama or Georgia defensively but they’re damn good.  They’ve got some legit talent in their Front 7 and the Aggie offensive line imposed their will.

I can’t say enough good things about these guys from Saturday.  They weren’t perfect but they were the key to this victory.  If we didn’t run the ball like we did on Saturday we never have a chance to win this game.  We ran the ball because the offensive line took care of the Florida front 7.  It was impressive.

From a pass blocking standpoint they gave Kellen enough time to throw.  They’re not dominant like the 2012 offensive line who gave Johnny time to make sammiches in the pocket but they gave Kellen a pocket he could step up in.  Kellen and this line were pretty in sync where he had a pocket and knew when he needed to step up to buy a little more time.  They worked well together on Saturday.

The unsung heroes of this line are the running backs and tight ends.  They’ve done a tremendous job in either picking up blitzes or chipping at the line of scrimmage before going into their routes.  They do a tremendous job of helping slow down the defensive pressure so the offensive line is not overwhelmed.  Everyone seems to know their assignments and can read the defense.  This has changed drastically how this unit is performing from last season.  Last season they were often lost on who and how to block.

I sure hope these guys can keep this up because I’d love nothing more than to eat a big plate of crow at the end of this season.  I’ll happily eat a little bit right now as I didn’t think they had Saturday’s game in them.  I’m very happy to be wrong about these guys so far.  Keep it up, fellas.

Kellen Mond:

This was the Kellen Mond Jimbo has been building.  Like the offensive line I’m shocked to see it and glad I’m wrong.  He played his best game in an Aggie uniform by far.  I don’t know if he can keep this up but maybe this is the confidence boost he’s been needing.

He was 25 for 35 for 338 yards with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.  That’s not perfect but it’s DAMN good.  We’ll take that stat line from Kellen Mond every damn game.  I don’t know if he can repeat this the rest of the season but I don’t know why he can’t either.

We’ll just have to see.

If I have one complaint it’s his lack of running ability.  He took off on a couple runs but didn’t gain many yards because he doesn’t have enough shake.  He’s got good straight line speed but he needs some space to get a couple strides going.  He’s certainly not an elusive runner which may explain his desire to stay in the pocket rather than take off.

If he can keep passing like he did on Saturday we won’t need his running ability.

Running Back:

Isaiah Spiller was a complete stud on Saturday.  You can’t say enough about this guy.  He rushed for 174 yards on 27 carries to average 6.4 yards per carry.  His longest run was for 23 yards so that means he was just grinding out yards finding holes and getting yards after contact.  He didn’t get most of his yards on a few long carries.  The dude was taking the rock and finding space and making defenders pay for contact.  He put the ball on the ground once early in the game but he tightened up when it mattered most.  It was a remarkable effort.

He didn’t have a signature run so his performance might not seem that impressive.  It was impressive.  He had a will and he just kept moving the ball forward.  I’m not sure how good he can be but we’re talking about a guy playing in his 16th game as a true sophomore.  He’s still young and seems to get better every game.  Keep on keeping on, Isaiah.

Early in the game I was a little frustrated at Jimbo for not using Ainias Smith more from a running standpoint.  Jimbo was right and I was wrong.  He leaned on Isaiah and it paid off.  There’s a reason I get paid nothing to write this blog and Jimbo pulls in a cool $7.5 million a year.  I’m fine with it.

If Spiller and the offensive line can repeat Saturday it’s going to do wonders for this team.

Wide Receiver:

Holy hell.  We finally completed not one but TWO deep balls to a wide receiver in SEC play.  For one game Jimbo showed us he knows how to use a receiver on a deep route. 

Caleb Chapman had the game of his young Aggie career catching 9 balls for 151 yards and 2 touchdowns.  He saved the best for last catching a beautiful 51-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 38 late in the fourth quarter.  Unfortunately, he tore is ACL on that play and is out for the rest of the season.  Hopefully there’s some guys on the roster that can pick up where Caleb left off. 

I don’t think it’s coincidence we had our best game on the ground in the same game we hit two deep balls.  Those two things work together causing a defense to defend the entire field.  It’s all a balancing act.

As for the other receivers they were pretty productive as well.  Jimbo really stuck with Chapman, Ainias, Wydermyer, and Chase Lane for the whole game.  There weren’t a lot of substitutions at receiver.

Each of those guys caught 4-5 balls for around 50 yards each.  That’s solid when you can equally spread out 3 guys for ~15 completions and 150 yards between them.  That keeps the defense having to defend the whole field and can’t key in on any single person.  It’s also a strong statement to Mond he was either reading the defense well or he was just spreading the ball around making plays to keep the defense honest.

I like what I’ve seen out of these guys.  I certainly like this unit better than last season’s unit but we need to keep developing.  We need someone to step up for Chapman in a big way.  Hopefully it’s time for Demas to finally step in and live up to his promise.  If it’s not Demas I hope it’s someone else.  We need the deep threat.

Overall:

I don’t see a reason why this offense can’t come close to replicating this performance every game.  They’ve actually done it all three games this season.  Against Florida they just didn’t make the mistakes they did against Vandy and Bama as it relates to turnovers and dropped passes.  It’s that simple.  Don’t make mistakes and this offense can win games for this team.

Defense:

This defense is much better than they showed on Saturday which gives me some hope.  Dan Mullen is an outstanding coach with an outstanding quarterback.  They had a great game plan for our defense.  They were really balanced and used a lot of mid level crossing routes and running backs out of the backfield to sustain drives.

It seemed we were pretty committed to shutting down the running game along with not letting Kyle Pitts beat us.  It was a sound strategy by Mike Elko but Dan Mullen utilized other weapons to keep drives going down the field.  I’m not sure we’ll see an offense better prepared for this defense for the rest of the season except when we play Ole Miss and Auburn.

We missed a lot of tackles on Saturday which his really unlike this defense.  I’m really hoping it was related to Dan Mullen’s scheme where our guys were just a tick slow diagnosing plays.  Tackling is physical but it’s also a little mental.  When you’ve diagnosed the play and in the right position it’s a lot easier to make tackles.

My biggest concern for this defense is not having a repeat of when we beat Tennessee at home in 2016.  They missed a ton of tackles in that game and had to be bailed out by the offense.  The John Chavis lead defenses never seemed to be the same after that game.  It’s not a big concern I have with Elko but it is something to be mindful of.  This team is capable of tackling better and they need to get back to it in coming games.

Defensive Line:

This unit is a little boring but I still believe they’re as solid as they come.  They’re still looking for that dominant playmaker but the way Leal and Clemons flash at times I have some hope.  Tyree Johnson is getting more playing time which I think is a good thing to keep guys fresher so they can flash

It would be nice for one of these guys to break out and start playing like Daylon Mack, Demontre Moore, Justin Madibuike, or even half of what Myles Garrett was.  We need someone who on a play can just decimate the offensive line and get a sack or big tackle for a loss.  I’m thinking DeMarvin Leal is the most likely as he’s still a true sophomore learning his role on this defense.  He’s just so versatile right now playing all over the defensive line.  Once the positions become second nature to him I think you’re going to start seeing this guy dominate offensive lines like those names I mentioned.

Now that we’re beyond Alabama and Florida I’m wondering if Donnell Harris starts getting some snaps to see if he has the raw pass rush talent most people seem to think he has.  If we can add true edge pressure in passing situations it’ll be a major boost for this defense and their struggles to get off the field on third downs.

This unit plays a little boring but make no mistake they’re the core of this defensive unit.  This unit allows Elko to focus on the other areas that need help.

Linebacker:

These guys are much like the defensive line.  They’re solid without being flashy and dominant.  Buddy Johnson lead the team in tackles which shouldn’t be a surprise.  Aaron Hansford has looked good as has Andre White Jr.  We certainly need to upgrade the overall talent with this unit but these guys are really serviceable for now.

If there’s one complaint it’s Buddy Johnson really struggles covering running backs out of the backfield.  Alabama was successful doing it and Florida continued it.  He’s not terrible at recognizing it but he’s just a step behind covering it because he’s built to be a run stopper and not cover running backs.  I think getting Erick Young back and not having a defense focused on defending Alabama’s receivers or a guy like Kyle Pitts will help Buddy.  If not, Buddy is going to continue to see situations where he’s responsible for a running back flaring out of the backfield which is a bad mis-match for us.

I’m curious if Antonio Doyle will start getting snaps like Donnell Harris.  He’s a true freshman as well with All SEC talent.  Hopefully he can add some depth and talent to the team this year as it’s still needed.

Secondary:

Dan Mullen doesn’t have the same weapons as Alabama but he does have an accurate quarterback who makes smart decisions.  Florida had 8 receivers catch 23 passes for 312 yards and 4 touchdowns.  We did a really good job limiting Kyle Pitts but I think it opened up Trask to just find the open guy which he did most of the game.

The worst performer of the day for this unit was Leon O’Neal.  For all the good things he did in the first two games he didn’t do it in this game.  He had two REALLY stupid personal fouls.  He also got picked on for three touchdowns.  One was to Kyle Pitts which isn’t a terrible thing to have happen but the other two it seemed like Florida knew they could fool O’Neal in coverage and took advantage.  He let his emotions get the best of him and that can’t happen.  Hopefully Jimbo and Elko can get him settled down and let him play to his talent.  We don’t need this guy regressing as he’s a key component of this defense if his head is screwed on correctly.

As for the rest of the secondary they were all equal offenders it seems.  Florida simply did a good job of flooding the secondary with a lot of crossing routes.  Since we can’t generate a pass rush Kyle Trask simply had time to find the guy our secondary wasn’t covering.  It’s not a huge knock on our defense but just more of a masterful job by Mullen and Trask attacking our secondary in a smart way.

Demani Richardson is still the heart and soul of this unit.  Jaylon Jones does seem to be getting better every game.  It’ll be nice to get Erick Young back at some point this season.  The talent is there to improve.

Overall:

I still believe in Mike Elko and this defensive unit.  I think we simply have seen them against a REALLY good offensive team in Alabama and a very good offensive mind and quarterback in Mullen and Trask.  This unit is going to get tested on Saturday against Mike Leach but I think they’ll be fine.  Leach got his surprise game against LSU and defenses have an idea of how to defend his Air Raid.  The team that scares me the most right now is Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss team as they’re putting up points against everyone they’ve played.

Let’s get past Mississippi State first and then we’ll let the rest of the season play out.  There’s still plenty of time to improve the young talent on this defense.

Looking Forward:

At this point I think this is a 7-3 football team at worst.  That’s a HUGE improvement from the first two games.

I don’t expect us to win out even though it’s possible.  We still play in the SEC and this is a pretty inexperienced team with a very inconsistent quarterback.  I really expect us to go 6-1 finishing up at 8-2.  That will likely put as the second-best team in the SEC West.  While I’d love to go 9-1, if you’d told me after the first two games we’d wind up 8-2 I would have asked how to nail that record down. I’m not going to get greedy from a record standpoint just yet.

This is a good football team.  We saw that on Saturday and have seen glimpses against Vandy and Bama.  We just don’t know how consistent they can be. 

We’ll just have to see how the season plays out.  It sure looks a lot different this week than it did this time last week.  Fine by me.

Make Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

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