Thoughts from the Arkansas Game

On a picturesque Halloween evening at Kyle Field the Aggies played a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks which help test which kind of Aggie fan you are.  If you’re a glass half full Aggie fan you saw an offense absolutely click and a defense that did plenty to beat Arkansas without worry.  If you’re a glass half empty Aggie fan you saw an offense with no explosive plays and a defense that appeared to struggle for most of the game.

I saw an Aggie team beat an opponent without worry that’s given us fits the last few seasons.  This is an Aggie team that can certainly improve but we’re beating teams in convincing fashion and not even playing a perfect game.  This is a damn good football team.  If you’re not happy with how this team played on Saturday night I can’t help you.  You really should quit watching.

Arkansas came into the game with a great game plan.  They wanted to take away Isaiah Spiller and run an offense that had some surprises hoping to pop a few plays for scores.  It’s exactly what I would have done if I was the Arkansas coaching staff.

It looked like it might work.  The Aggies stumbled after a nice run to start the game by Spiller.  Spiller got stuffed on the following play and the next thing you know the Aggies are punting after 4 plays.  Arkansas then gets the ball and drives 87 yards to go up 7-0.  At that point it was a little concerning the Aggies might not be ready for Arkansas.  The Aggies took the next possession and score tying the game.  The Aggies scored two more times to go up 21-7 and there was never really a concern the rest of the game.  The Aggies would lead 28-14 at half and then 42-17 after the third quarter.

I don’t like the final score of 42-31 as the defense allowed two scores while the offense scored none but the entire fourth quarter was spent making sure that lead didn’t get squandered.  You can complain all you want about the Aggies not putting Arkansas away but the reality is Arkansas was put away after 3 quarters.  Other than the first two possessions of the game the Aggies controlled everything after that.  Don’t let the score fool you the Aggies didn’t put Arkansas away.

This is the type of game that Jimbo loves to play.  Get the offense out in front and let the defense keep the opponent in check never giving up big plays.  There’s nothing wrong with that in the SEC.  Jimbo could have taken a chance to completely bury Arkansas but as it was he took the winning without much worry.  I’m okay with that.

Let’s talk about the units.

Offense:

Offensive Line:

I’m starting with what is now the heart and soul of this offense.  These guys are playing outstanding football right now.  I couldn’t be happier with what they’re doing.

It was clear Arkansas wasn’t going to let the Aggies run over them with Isaiah Spiller.  It didn’t matter.  The offensive did their job and did it well.  The running game wasn’t quite as dominant as it was against Florida and Mississippi State.  It was still REALLY good though.  The Aggies racked up 182 yards on the ground averaging 5.1 yards per carry.  In addition, Kellen Mond had time to throw and wasn’t sacked once.

I don’t know what else I can see about this group.  They’re just outstanding.  If they can keep this up the Aggies are going to run the table and likely find themselves in the College Football Playoff.  I’m dead serious about that.  When you have holes to run through and time to throw your offense will score points against anyone.  The offensive line is just doing outstanding work.

Kellen Mond:

This was Kellen Mond’s best game as an Aggie by far.  He was pretty solid against Florida but he was virtually perfect against Arkansas.  He was 21 of 26 for 260 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.  That’s a completion percentage of 81% and no interceptions.  That’s against a team that had 10 interceptions in 4 games prior to this contest.  They came into Kyle averaging 2.5 interceptions a game and left averaging 2 interceptions a game because Kellen Mond didn’t throw one.

Kellen was just outstanding all night putting balls where they needed to be.  Guys weren’t running wide open either.  There was certainly an element of guys getting separation but Kellen threw some beautiful balls.  His touchdown to Wydermyer was perfect.  Wydermyer certainly had the athletic ability over the Arkansas defender but Mond put the ball where only Wydermyer could get it.  He and Wydermyer are really developing a trust with each other.

In addition to being perfect through the air this was probably Kellen’s best game running the ball.  He only had 6 rushes for 32 yards but he didn’t hesitate when he saw opportunity.  He was just decisive all night through the air and on the ground.  It was refreshing to see him finally play like this the whole game.

While the offensive line is giving him time to throw Kellen appears to have a good timer in his head.  He understands at some point pressure will come so he’s not holding the ball too long waiting for the perfect pass.  He’s trusting the system and play design.  He and the offensive line appear to be working well together.  They understand the amount of time needed to get the ball off.  The offensive line deserves most of the credit for the lack of sacks this season but Kellen does deserve some credit as well.  He’s trusting the pocket and making decisions before pressure finds him.

I’ve seen too much of Kellen to believe this is the Kellen we’ll get the rest of the season.  I’m hoping he won’t fall too far from this place though.  Without a doubt based on five games it does look like Kellen has progressed.  We’ll just have to see where his valley is from here.

Running Backs:

Despite Arkansas committing to slowing him down, Isaiah Spiller had another solid game.  He rushed 21 times for 82 yards but they were hard earned.  He averaged 3.9 yards per carry.  His vision and cutting ability is really outstanding.  His ability to plant and cut makes defenders look silly. 

He’s a true sophomore who looks like a fourth-year senior carrying the ball in the SEC.  He’s just outstanding.  When you can grind out yards despite a defense keying on you it’s really impressive. 

I don’t know what else to say about this guy.  He’s doing for this team what Trayveon Williams did for the 2018 team.  With help from the offensive line he’s just putting this team on his back.

Ainias Smith doesn’t touch the ball much as a running back but he’s the perfect compliment to Spiller.  To use a boxing analogy Spiller is the big right punch the defense keeps looking for.  Smith is that little left-handed jab that doesn’t get thrown very often.  However, when it does it’s effective in surprising the defense.  Smith ran 3 times for 31 yards including a touchdown.  The way Jimbo has been using Spiller and Smith is perfect.

Devon Achane saw his first snaps against Mississippi State.  Against Arkansas he saw 4 carries and made the most of them.  He ripped off a 30-yard touchdown run that didn’t look all that spectacular but it was.  He just hit a hole and then ran straight ahead not letting a defender take him down.  He didn’t throw any major jukes or outrun anyone with his elite speed.  He just hit the hole and ran for paydirt.  Plain, simple, and effective. 

He’s looked good in two brief appearances.  He now has 60 yards on 8 carries for 7.5 yards a carry.  No need to rush him along but he’s offering some good depth.  Let’s hope we just give him 4 rushes a game as that’ll mean Spiller and Smith are healthy.  His time will come.

Wide Receivers:

I wouldn’t define the receiving corps on Saturday night as spectacular but they were certainly REALLY solid.  Wydermyer, Ainias, Chase Lane, and Hezekiah Jones all got fairly equal touches.  Wydermyer was the most dominant catching 6 balls for 92 yards and two touchdowns.  Ainias caught 6 balls for 67 yards and a score.  Chase Lane hauled in 3 balls for 50 yards while Hezekiah Jones caught 5 passes for 47 yards.  Hezekiah should have had 6 catches and at least 60 yards but he dropped an easy ball.  Hopefully he’s just working back from his injury and gets more comfortable catching the ball.

There’s no doubt we all want a dominant go to receiver but Jimbo’s system is working.  We averaged 10 yards per passing attempt on Saturday night.  That’s not 10 yards per completion but 10 yards per passing attempt.  I know we all want the deep ball/big play but if you can average 10 yards every time you throw the ball you don’t need the deep ball.  The defense was focused on shutting down the run and we made them pay through short and immediate routes.

We all want to see what Demond Demas can do but wins are more important.  Let’s not mess with a good thing.  What we have appears to be working.  No need to disrupt it to force the ball to someone who might not be ready.

Overall:

Jimbo seems to have a good feel for what his offense can do.  He also seems to be doing a good job of reading the opponent’s defense.  Against Florida and Mississippi State he just ground them down with the running game.  Against Arkansas he used a balanced attack against someone who was not going to let Spiller beat them.  That’s smart coaching.

He’s not going away from Spiller as he still got 21 carries.  He made sure Arkansas continued to key on him all night by giving him the ball just enough.

The offense appears to be playing with enough understanding and confidence to stay on track.  I don’t see any reason why they won’t.  I’m hoping this offense is like 2018 where they seemed to get a little bit better as the season wore on.

Defense:

I know some people are frustrated with what the defense did on Saturday night.  While there’s some things this defense needs to improve on I think what they’re doing is part of an overall strategy Jimbo has based on their talent.  This defense has two main areas of weakness – 1) Lack of a dominant pass rusher and 2) Inexperienced secondary.

I really think Jimbo and Elko are doing a really good job of understanding the opponent on both sides of the ball and developing a comprehensive game plan. 

Against Florida they ran a lot of base defense not looking to get burned.  Trask carved them up pretty good but they did just enough to win the game.  Against Mississippi state they dropped a lot of guys in coverage but used blitzes at the right time to make Mike Leach’s offense pretty much inept.

Against Arkansas they went back to mainly base defense to make sure they slowed Arkansas down while not giving up the big play.  Arkansas was coming off a bye week and have a pretty solid offensive coordinator in Kendall Briles.  Arkansas gave this defense a bunch of looks they hadn’t seen and tried to attack to some weak points.  Mainly attacking the perimeter with quick pitches. 

Feleipe Franks ran 12 times for 91 yards.  Some of those were designed runs but quite a few were runs were nobody was really open and he had space to run.  He never really burned us on the run despite picking up really good yardage.

I know some people don’t like bend but don’t break defenses but in today’s game of football it’s not a bad strategy at all.  LOTS of defenses are struggling against decent offenses across college football.

The two main statistics I look at by a defense are third down conversions and points surrendered. 

The Aggies were OUTSTANDING on third down conversions as Arkansas only converted 3 of 11 attempts.  That’s 27%.  For 3 quarters the defense only gave up 17 points.  That’s damn good work.

I don’t like the 14 points in the 4th quarter but the defense didn’t want to give up any quick scores where Arkansas felt they had a chance to get back in the game.  Thanks to their efforts through three quarters Arkansas never had a chance to win the game.  The defense deserves a lot of credit for keeping Arkansas out of this game.

There’s area this defense can get better but it’s pretty solid where it is right now.  It seems to be working really well with the offense.

A quick look at the units.

Defensive Line:

Much of the same here but I do want to point out two things:

  1. While they’re missing a true rush specialist they’re doing a pretty good job of applying pressure as a whole unit.  They’re not going to bring immediate pressure but they’re collapsing the pocket so the quarterback doesn’t have forever to throw.  Both Tyree Johnson and Michael Clemons are doing better of getting pressure in passing situations from the outside.  They’re no Myles Garrett but they’re doing a pretty solid job with the lack of blitzes Elko is shying away from.  The only downside is they’re creating running lanes for the quarterback but that’s for the linebackers and safeties to fill and clean up.
  2. DeMarvin Leal is a true leader.  At one point Jayden Peevy was in someone’s face after a play.  Leal coming back into the game from the sideline grabbed Peevy to get him out of the altercation.  The guy is a true sophomore telling a senior to clear his head and not do anything stupid.  It’s little things like this that help a team.  Leal’s physical play is outstanding but his mental game is really impressive for a guy that was playing high school ball two years ago.

Linebacker:

Kind of like the defensive line not much else to say other than Aaron Hansford has been impressive this year.  We don’t miss Anthony Hines one bit.  I think we improved with Hansford on the field.  Hansford is an amazing story of perseverance that every Aggie fan needs to appreciate.  He’s been big for this team.

Secondary:

Like the others where there’s not much to say other than a few items:

  1. Leon O’Neal is so frustrating to watch at times because he pulls some boneheaded moves.  For the most part his play is damn good.  It frustrates me he lets his head get to him at times but he’s playing good ball.  I assume his orange gloves were for Halloween but who knows.
  2. Demani Richardson is the unsung hero of this unit.  We’re in major trouble without him.
  3. Poor Myles Jones had to watch film on Sunday of him missing a Pick Six.  He had the perfect jump and the ball went through his hands.  Great read but you still must make the play.
  4. The targeting call on Antonio Johnson was total BS.  I’m one that is okay with a lot of targeting calls but Antonio didn’t drop his helmet or lower his shoulder.  The flag should have been picked up.  While I’m talking about Antonio it’s clear he’s going to get picked on since he’s a true freshman.  He’s going to have some growing pains but he’s showing some promise.

I think you’re going to see more teams pick on this unit.  It’s a smart play because it’s young and the weakest link of this defense.  We don’t have lock down corners, our safeties get confused in coverage, and we have no dominant pass rush.  However, this unit is light years better than the last two seasons under Jimbo.  It’s got some holes but they’re not nearly as big as they used to be.

Overall:

Until we find a true edge rusher and the young guys in the secondary get healthy and experience this defense isn’t going to be dominant.  I think Jimbo and Elko know that.  With the way the offense is working right now they need to keep doing what they’re doing.  We can win every game left on the schedule with this strategy.  Limit the big plays and get off on third downs.  This defense has shown they can do that under Elko and what they should continue to do.

I still like Elko and this unit all things considered.

Can the Aggies Run the Table:

As of right now the Aggies are playing better than anyone left on their schedule.  The games won’t be easy as there’s some talented teams as well as some road games.  Mond seems to struggle more on the road than at Kyle Field. 

Teams seem to just have bad games so I fully expect the Aggies to go 4-1 over the last five games.  They can absolutely go 5-0 but it’s going to take serious focus.

LSU and especially Auburn scare me the most.  LSU is still talented but they might be throwing in the towel on the season.  We get Auburn after they play Bama so that might work in our favor as well.  We need to get through the next 3 games before we worry about them.

I have no idea what to think on Ole Miss.  I feel like we’ll be able to pound them on the ground and limit their offense enough especially since it’s at Kyle Field.  We could blow them out.

Tennessee is sort of a toss up as they’re not a terrible team but they seem to be exposed. The Aggies are certainly the better team.  Luckily there won’t be 100,000 people in Neyland so that should help Mond.

South Carolina seems like the ultimate trap game to me.  The Aggies are coming off a convincing win, Muschamp isn’t a horrible coach, and they’re coming off a bye week.  The beat Auburn at home thanks to 3 interceptions by Bo Nix and Shi Smith is a pretty good receiver.  If we turn the ball over and Smith gets deep on us they can beat us.  The big issue with South Carolina is they gave up 225 rushing yards to Auburn and 283 rushing yards to LSU.

I think we’ll be fine against South Carolina.  I think Jimbo just leans on the rushing game not giving Mond a chance to turn the ball over through the air.  We can beat South Carolina if we’re focused and play like Jimbo has this team playing. We really just have to worry about getting by the next opponent above anything else. 

There’s no need to worry about what happens if the Aggies go 9-1.  Beat the next opponent and then the opponent after that.  If we get to 9-1 I like our chances to sneak into the College Football Playoff.  At  worst we’ll be the clear second best team in the SEC West if not the entire SEC looking at a major bowl game in Jimbo’s third season.

That indeed will be one of the last steps to Make Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

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