Thoughts from the Mississippi State Game

I’d like to congratulate Jimbo Fisher on his first “Kevin Sumlin Loss” where he completely botched a win into a loss.  There was no reason to lose to Mississippi State at Kyle Field on Saturday night.  In my last piece I analyzed Jimbo’s losses in his time at A&M.  Prior to this game I really felt the 2019 Auburn loss and the 2021 Arkansas loss were the only two losses that were solely on coaching.  I am okay with those losses to a degree because Gus Malzahn is a gambler and Sam Pittman and Arkansas simply wanted that game more than the Aggies and staff.  Jimbo has done a really good job winning the games he should have.

Mississippi State was COMPLETELY different.  Mike Leach has Mississippi State in a decent place but they’re still a long way behind where Texas A&M is right now.  Jimbo wasn’t prepared for what Mississippi State could do.  We trailed pretty much the whole game.  Jimbo and his staff couldn’t figure out how to get the lead so we basically played from behind the whole game.  That hasn’t been a good recipe so far this season.

Jimbo thought he could come out and grind Mississippi State into the ground and sneak out with a win.  There was a point I thought it was going to happen.  Kyle Field was ABSOLUTELY rocking and the team couldn’t take advantage.  The atmosphere was electric so you certainly can’t blame it on the fans.

In the end Jimbo couldn’t pull off another one of his patented wins where we sneak it out by the smallest of margins.  In this business all that matters is wins and losses.  We’ve lost some games we could have won.  That hurts.

I think the biggest issue is A&M can’t build a lead and do what Jimbo wants to do.  Jimbo isn’t doing well playing from behind.  Sure, he’s got a quarterback who has deer in the headlights but great coaches figure out a way to get these wins.  Jimbo keeps hoping his offense will break a big score and his defense will hold.  It did almost happen on Saturday night but almost doesn’t count.  We lost.  We didn’t run out of time.  We lost.

In my mind we lost the worst game of Jimbo’s career.  A very winnable game at Kyle Field we figured out how to lose.  That’s what Kevin Sumlin did here.  I’m not saying Jimbo is Kevin Sumlin but every good coach figures out a way to win the winnable games at Kyle Field.  Those should be gimme games in a very tough SEC West.  You must have those wins.  Kyle Field against less talented opponents has to mean something.  You can’t give those games away.  That’s what Jimbo did on Saturday night and he’s put a disappointing season further down the rails.

I have no idea if this is a trend we need to be worried about or Jimbo and his crew are going to get it corrected.  It’s all certainly fixable.  We just have to wait and see.

Let’s get to a quick analysis for the play on the field.

Offense:

Quarterback:

I’ll start with the most obvious issue.  I hate to bag on a college kid but the fact is Calzada is in his 3rd season at A&M.  I get he’s the backup but even capable backups progress when they finally get snaps.  They may have a little rust but that gets knocked off quickly and they start progressing.

That’s not happening with Calzada at all.  I had some hope coming out of the Colorado game that 4th quarter Calzada would be what we’d get going forward.  8 quarters into SEC play and 4th quarter Colorado Calzada is nowhere to be found.  Nowhere at all.

The moment looks to big for him and he’s wildly erratic.  Something that struck me in this game were his slides.  On a couple scrambles he slid WAY before any contact and basically gave up getting any yards.  He was clearly shying away from contact.

There’s a theory Jimbo told him to do that to make sure he didn’t get hurt.  We don’t have a backup.  If true Jimbo should be fired.  I get being cautious but if Jimbo told him to make sure he doesn’t get hurt it’s the stupidest thing ever.  You have a quarterback who is obviously unsure of himself and you just introduced another element to his brain in avoiding injury.

I have no idea why he slid like he did.  All I know is his slides are further proof this is a kid that’s really uncertain of what he needs to be doing on the field.  If he’s completing passes and doing those slides that’s fine but he’s not.  He’s all over the place on the field.  He’s got the physical talent but maybe the mental football ability is just not there.

A couple of other things as we see more of Calzada.  It’s clear there was never a quarterback competition between King and Calzada.  If there was we’re in bigger trouble than we think.  I said in my pre-season blog King was the obvious choice for the starting position based on Jimbo’s actions last season.  Think about this – In our second game of the season against the best team in the country a true freshman took the second team snaps over the guy who is supposed to be just as talented with an extra season on the team.  For the rest of the season that true freshman continued getting the second team snaps over the kid with one more season under his belt. 

At this point I think that says more about Calzada than King.  Calzada just isn’t developing to his talent.  He’s had more opportunity to grab the starting job from King but it’s clear he hasn’t.

Here’s the other thing – There’s not an Aggie fan alive that wouldn’t take Kellen Mond over Zach Calzada right now.  Ouch.

Let’s just hope he can get us two more wins before King comes back.  Make no mistake this is King’s team the second he’s able to take a live snap with contact.

Offensive Line:

We had a new combination of people on the offensive line on Saturday.  We had Jahmir Johnson at left tackle, Kenyon Green at left guard, Bryce Foster at center, Layden Robinson at right guard, and Rueben Fatheree at right tackle.  I think it’s our best collection of talent even if two guys are true freshman.  Personally, I hope this is the unit we use going forward.  If this unit can stay healthy and get some time together I think we can finally get the offensive line to gel.  The talent is definitely there.

I thought these guys did okay on Saturday night.  Maybe the best we’ve seen so far this season.  We ripped off some decent runs and Calzada had time to throw most of the night.

Mississippi State isn’t a vaunted defense but they’re not terrible.

Let’s hope these five guys stick and get some cohesion.  Beyond getting King back this will be the biggest difference maker once we get past Bama for salvaging the season.  These five guys will be the most crucial for salvaging the season.

Running Backs:

Spiller ran 16 times for 107 yards and Achane ran 8 times for 76 yards.  That’s an average per carry of 6.3 yards and 8.6 yards respectively.  That’s with the defense keying on them.  That’s damn good and highly underrated since we’re losing games.  These two guys are flat out producing with Spiller leading the way.  He’s really the best back in the country nobody is talking about.

I get you can’t run the ball every down but I really do think we need to use the run even more to set up the pass rather than just try and be balanced.  Run.  The.  Damn.  Ball.

The running backs are the only saving grace of this offense right now.

Wide Receiver:

We attempted 20 passes and completed 12 of them for 135 yards.  That’s a 60% completion rate and over 10 yards a pass.  Statistically that’s not terrible.

Eyeball wise it’s terrible.  This whole unit looks out of sorts.  These guys just aren’t a threat.  Wydermyer sure looks like he misses Mond in a major way.  Ainias can’t quite break anything open.  The other guys just kind of catch some passes here and there.  Nobody you can consistently count on.

I know we’ve got some guys hurt but I’m not sure they’d make a difference.  This unit just has some bad mojo right now and I’m not sure why.

Baylor Cupp has been suited up since Kent State but we haven’t seen him in a game.  He’s supposed to be a matchup nightmare.  He’s simply Bigfoot at his point.  A lot of talk but nobody’s seen him.

I don’t know what else to say about these guys.  I know the quarterbacking isn’t great but these guys don’t appear to be helping the quarterback at all.

Defense:

I can’t believe I have to write this but in my mind Mike Elko and his crew cost us the game on Saturday night.  Mainly more Mike Elko than the players.  I love Mike Elko but he botched the game on Saturday night.  I’m devastated.

I was okay with the 3 man defensive line if we’d brought more pressure with our linebackers and secondary via disguised blitzes.  We didn’t do that.  We simply tried to get to the QB with a 3 man front and it didn’t work.

I don’t know why Elko continued to sit back and let Mike Leach pick apart our guys in space where they busted off a few long passes here and there.  He should have been disguising pressure bringing at least one person on every play from the second level and occasionally two or even three just to keep the quarterback from getting comfortable.  We didn’t and Will Rogers got comfortable and completely picked us apart.

We got 3 sacks but we never got consistent pressure at all.  Mike Leach’s QB doesn’t need much time in the pocket and he got all the time he needed pretty much all night.

Will Rogers completed 46 of 59 passes.  That’s a 78% completion rate.  That’s basically completing 4 out of every 5 passes against our supposed elite level defense.  They threw just shy of 60 passes.  Major league starters don’t even throw that may times in some games anymore.  That’s a lot of damn passes.

Mississippi State passed for 408 yards on us.  408.  They had 5 different receivers catch passes over 20 yards on us.  You know how you catch passes over 20 yards?  One of two ways – 1) No pressure on the QB or 2) busted tackles.  Both occurred on Saturday night.

Makai Polk destroyed us all night catching 13 balls for 126 yards.  You ever heard the name Makai Polk before Saturday night?  I hadn’t.  How we couldn’t shut that guy down is beyond me.  He had twice as many receptions as any other Mississippi State receiver.  Mississippi State was either keying on him all night or we completely forgot about him.  At some point you must shut down the hot receiver.  We didn’t do that.

I’m not doing a unit analysis because the whole defense had issues thanks mainly to the scheme. The strength of this team is our defensive line.  I get we don’t have a perceived pass rushing threat like a Von Miller or Myles Garrett.  We’ve got a pretty good corps of people though that can destroy an offensive line with 4 people.

When it was apparent Will Rogers was comfortable making completion after completion changes were warranted and necessary.  Elko didn’t do that.  He’s been so good in his four seasons at A&M of making in game adjustments and he didn’t do that in this game.  I just don’t understand it.  He dominated Mississippi State last season and apparently completely forgot how he did it.  He brought pressure so their quarterback couldn’t get comfortable last season.  How did he forget how to do that?

Our weakest unit is our linebacking crew and Elko left them all alone to get picked apart.  Leach just flooded the mid-level and Rogers had time to find the open man.  That’s the Mike Leach system so you can’t let him do that.

I just don’t understand why someone with a headset didn’t ask why we weren’t trying to apply more pressure.  This wasn’t the 2019 LSU team with Joe Burrow and that receiving group.  This was Will Rogers and a host of receivers that likely never see the NFL.  Apply some damn pressure.  Elko had a complete vapor lock in his brain.

Credit to Leach and the Mississippi State team.  They took what A&M gave them and executed it flawlessly.  I just tend to think we’re a MUCH better defense than what happened on Saturday night.  Especially with the atmosphere at Kyle Field for a night game.

Maybe we’re not that good of a defense.  Maybe Mississippi State just exposed us completely for who we are on defense.  If so, oh boy…

Looking Forward:

I personally still hold out hope for this season.  I say that simply because we could be 5-0 right now.  I’m not saying should be.  We got beat by teams that wanted it more and executed it better than we did.  We got beat in these last two games plain and simple.  Tip our hat because they beat us.  I’m not denying that.

However, different decisions by the coaching staff and a little better execution by the players and we’re 5-0 ranked number 3 in the country with Bama coming to town.  We’re not nearly as far from that as it seems.  I’ll fully admit we’re also not far from 2-3 with zero wins over FBS programs.  That’s the part of football most people forget.  It’s always a few plays that swing most games.  All about coaching and execution.

Our mistakes are completely fixable.  They really are.  It’s not a team devoid of talent.  Well, not everywhere…

We’re 3-2 and no longer ranked in the Top 25 with Bama coming to town.  There is exactly ZERO chance of us beating Bama.  It’s not in Jimbo Fisher to figure out a game plan to beat Bama.  We simply don’t have the talent at quarterback, receiver, and linebacker to beat a team like Bama right now.  The offensive line is in question but I think we’re finally on the right path.

My hope is this season winds up turning out like the 2010 season where we hit a first half snag going 3-3 and then go on a tear ripping off 6 wins to get to 9-3 on the season.  I honestly believe that to be possible.  There’s enough talent on this team and every game after Bama is winnable.

I’m not saying we win those games as it’ll be up to the coaches and players.  I don’t look at our schedule post Bama like in 2019 where you saw games we just couldn’t compete in.  We can absolutely compete and win the remaining games on our schedule after Lord Saban goes 25-0 against his assistants this coming weekend.  Hopefully there’s a run like we had in 2020 that just comes a few games later than we ever imagined it needed to.

I think what’s going to happen against Bama is Jimbo is going to try and establish the run which I’m okay with.  It’s going to be an ugly game as our offense will look anemic.  Well, it is anemic. However, if our offensive line can do some good against the Bama defense at times then every defense the rest of the way won’t old a candle to the Bama defense.  I’m hoping we can use this game as the point where our offensive line finally learned to play together even if it doesn’t exactly show up on the field.

At this point I don’t want Jimbo to even try and beat Bama.  No crazy wrinkles or anything like that.  Let’s just go out and play fundamental mistake free football our normal way.  Even if it’s against the best team in the country we should treat it like a glorified scrimmage where your single goal is to execute assignments and not worry about the score.  For once this season play a complete game of football even if it means getting beat.

Learning to play mistake free football against the best team in the country could pay major dividends the rest of the season.  It sucks this is our reality but we’re here.  Let’s not let the season slip away as there’s still a lot to salvage.

To the Fightin’ Texas Aggie football team I say this – The spread is 17.5 at some books, fellas.  Let’s go out there and show the country we can cover it!  I’ll take a damn moral victory this week!  BTHO 17.5!

Someone tell the Yell Leaders we’re making a slight modification to one of the yells on Saturday.  BTHO 17.5!

If you’re going to the game make sure you tailgate appropriately.  If you’re watching at a bar make sure you have a designated driver or an Uber account.  If you’re watching at home make sure you’re somewhere comfortable so you can just pass out and get some good rest.

Copious amounts of alcohol are going to be needed for this game.  Don’t say I didn’t warn ya’…

BTHO 17.5!

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