Thoughts from the Sam Houston Game

To say the 2022 debut of the Texas Aggies was frustrating is an understatement.  The performance of some key units to the weather was not what everyone wanted.  I think it’s safe to say we wanted an impressive performance over an inferior opponent.  We didn’t even want dominant.  Just a sign this team was ready to compete for a College Football Playoff spot.

We didn’t get that on the field and the weather delay at half made it that much more frustrating. 

I left about an hour into the delay.  Things were looking bleak for a start so I headed back to Houston.  I made a 4-hour drive from Uvalde that morning where I had been dove hunting the previous couple of days.  I was tired and ready to head home.  I wanted my couch. 

I don’t think I missed a whole lot in the second half based on what I read and saw.

Defense:

I’m starting with the defense because they were by far the best unit on the field.  It wasn’t even close.  Sam is an inferior opponent but they’ve been pretty good at their level with an offense that can score points.  They did absolutely nothing against the Aggie defense.

I normally break down the units but since I’m only doing a half of football I’m going to talk about the whole defensive unit.

The thing I thought was the most impressive was the rotation of players.  D.J. Durkin played the vaunted true freshman and they did not disappoint.  I was having trouble keeping up with everyone because there was so much rotating going on.  It was clear they wanted to get as many people as possible real game experience to see what we have.

We seem to have plenty of talent.  It needs experience but the raw talent and numbers are clearly there.  That’s a great place to start when you’re talking about defense.

We ran a basic defense where we just mauled Sam’s offensive line with 4 guys and let everyone else fly around to the ball.  We didn’t need to do much because we had so much talent on the field.  I’m assuming we’ll get a little more complex so I’m fine with what we did defensively on Saturday.

From a participation standpoint Walter Nolen, Shemar Stewart, Lebbeus Overton, Denver Harris, and Anthony Lucas saw a significant amount of snaps.  These are all true freshman. 

All 5 of these guys were 5 star recruits.  It shouldn’t be any surprise they got the most snaps of the true freshman.  I thought they all looked impressive.  I thought Harris had some great moments as he looks like a difference making corner which we’ve been lacking.

Overton should be a senior in high school right now.  People forget he was in line to be the top recruit for 2023 but he re-classified.  Crazy that he’s on the field looking the part when he should be in high school.

As for the “older guys” I thought Fadil Diggs was the game’s MVP.  Dude seemed to be in on most of the plays and was all over the field.  He’s a redshirt sophomore so this is his third year in Aggieland.  Based on one game he looks ready to break out.

I thought our experienced safety duo of Demani Richardson and Antonio Johnson looked great.  They really look like two of the best safeties in the country.  Jardin Gilbert looked great as the other safety. 

Our corners really didn’t get tested thanks to the pressure from our defensive line.  Sam only completed 14 passes in 28 attempts for 98 yards.  A lot of those were just short little routes because their QB spent a lot of time running from pressure.

We were missing two experienced guys in Jaylon Jones and McKinnley Jackson.  Jaylon is a third year corner and McKinnley is a third year defensive tackle.  Both of those guys have next level talent but have played a little inconsistent over the last couple of years.  In prior years I’d say you DEFINITELY miss guys like that.  We didn’t really miss them at all.  That’s not really a knock on them but more of a testament to how much talent Jimbo and his staff have been stacking on defense.  It’s damn impressive.

Getting those two guys back will only make this defense better.

This defense has a long way to go as these young guys need to get more experience.  They’re going to play much more talented offenses than this one so we’ll have to get by on more than raw talent.  Raw talent is a great place to start when you’re talking about defenses though.

There’s going to be hiccups along the way but I think this will be a better defensive unit from last season simply because there’s more talent.  This is the level of talent you need to win national championships. 

I’m excited to see how this side of the ball develops.  Based on early returns we gonna defense like it’s the early 90s.

Offense:

Wide Receiver:

I’m going to start with the most impressive offensive unit on Saturday and it wasn’t even close.  I’ve been adamant the issue with our receiving units in Jimbo’s first four years was a talent issue.  We simply didn’t have the talent.

Based on a short sample set from a half of football we don’t have that issue anymore.

The biggest benefactor sems to be Ainias Smith as he turned 6 receptions on 9 targets into 164 yards with two touchdowns including a 63-yard touchdown.  Smith is back for his 4th season and I’m hoping this game isn’t an anomaly.  I don’t think it will be.  We finally have some talent to go with his talent.

As for the rest of the receiving unit Evan Stewart certainly showed why he was a 5 star recruit.  He “only” went for 57 yards on 5 receptions but he was a receiver getting separation and getting yards after the catch.  He looks like the real deal.  I haven’t seen a true freshman look like him since Christian Kirk.

Yulkeith Brown is a sophomore that had a beautiful touchdown catch and even more beautiful block to spring Ainias on his long touchdown catch.  Chris Marshall “quietly” had 4 catches for 41 yards and I thought he looked great.  He’s a true freshman and looks like he can contribute this season.

Chase Lane started at receiver but he didn’t do much only catching 2 balls for 25 yards.  I think Chase is going to get passed by Brown and Marshall.  Just proof it’s been a talent issue.

Jimbo ran four wide for a reason I’ll get to later but the most interesting thing was the long touchdown passes came from slot receivers.  It appeared they used deep crossing routes to confuse the safeties and corners and it worked.  It’s a hopeful sign we finally have both the awareness and ability to attack teams downfield with multiple receivers. 

That will pay huge dividends down the road if we can work out the issues with the other parts of our offense.  For the first time in five years I’m hopeful for production from Jimbo’s receiving unit.

Running Back:

Poor Devon Achane.  Poor.  Devon.  Achane.

The dude had nowhere to run but he kept plugging away. 

The reason is our next group.

Offensive Line:

The offensive line looked like garbage on Saturday.  They couldn’t get any push against an inferior opponent.  Most notably the left side of the line.  We lost time of possession in the first half against Sam Houston State.  That’s because our offensive line struggled to block Sam Houston State’s defense.

I’ll get to Haynes King and his issues but losing the time of possession battle in the first half is my biggest concern from this game.  Time of possession is generally the best indicator of who won in the trenches.  Not always but 9 out of 10 times I believe it’s the truest indicator of who pushed who around.  Offenses that stay on the field chew clock and defenses that get off the field don’t.

Based on the time of possession in the first half we didn’t push same around.  Our defense obviously did their job so that means our offensive line didn’t do it’s job. 

Trey Zuhn and Aki Ogunbiyi spent most of the first half confused by pretty basic twists and stunts.  Sam defenders were routinely disrupting runs to the left side of the line.

These two did better pass blocking than run blocking but they need to step up in a big way.  If these guys don’t develop we’re in big trouble.

Bryce Foster had been suspiciously limited during much of Fall Camp.  It came out late last week that he has/had mono.   This is actually decent news.  I was worried he dropped off talent wise or there was some nagging injury holding him back.  It’s not good in the short term but hopefully Foster can get back out there to starting at the center position.  Just his coming back will be a big boost to this line.

Matthew Wykoff started at center and did decent enough but had some issues with snaps.  That’s not uncommon for a center starting in their first few games.  I remember both Erik McCoy and Bryce Foster had issues with their snaps during their early starts.  Either way, let’s just get Foster back.

Layden Robinson was getting substituted for by Jordan Moko.  Apparently Robinson has a nagging injury but not serious.  Robinson is easily our best offensive lineman so we don’t need issues with him.  We don’t have much depth so we need Foster and Robinson to be healthy.

Fatheree had a penalty but I’m not worried about him.  He’s going to be fine so it looks we don’t have to worry about one guy on our offensive line.

If we get Foster back and get some development out of Zuhn and Ogunbiyi or Moko we should be fine.  This is the unit to watch the most in my mind.  If we have a line like 2019 this is an 8-4 football team even if we get improved quarterback decision making.  We need a 2020 offensive line if we truly want a shot at the College Football Playoff.

Hopefully we see a massive improvement against Appalachian State on Saturday.

Tight End:

This is probably a bigger issue than is getting discussed from Saturday.  Something happened to Max Wright where he wasn’t available to play.  He was on crutches with a leg brace on.  I know a lot of people aren’t high on Max Wright but the reality is he has more experience than anyone else at playing tight end in Jimbo’s offense.  I think he would have improved a lot of blocking issues when it came to the left side of the line.

Dametrius Crownover is a back up tackle and was wearing 89 on Saturday.  He’s a converted tight end but spent most of the spring and fall camp as a backup tackle.  He seemed lost at times blocking on Saturday.  Not sure what’s going on with Wright but my guess is Crownover was thrown into tight end duties at the last minute. 

You may not like Wright as a receiver but he’s our best blocking option as a tight end.  That’s been pretty critical for Jimbo to establish the running game.  That likely created some of the blocking issues.

It’ll be interesting to see what Jimbo does with the tight end position.  It’s been a key component of his passing game with Sternberger and Wydemeyer but that seems like it might not be necessary with our young receiving talent.

He’s got two great true freshman receiving talents in Donovan Green and Jake Johnson but we might not need to lean on them like he leaned on Sternberger and Wydermeyer.  Maybe these guys need to get their feet thrown to the fire to see if they can block.  If so, that could really help the left side of the offensive line.

No idea what Jimbo does with the tight end position based on what we saw on Saturday.  There’s some massive unknowns here with the receiving talent and lack of experience at this position.

It would be REALLY nice if one of Green or Johnson proves themselves as both an adequate blocker and receiver.  I think that will help a ton with the blocking issue we saw on Saturday but don’t know how capable of blockers those two are.

Quarterback:

This is clearly the most frustrating part of Saturday’s game.  This is Haynes King third year in Jimbo’s system.  I think I speak for everyone when I say we finally wanted to see some excitement from Haynes King.

We didn’t.

We simply saw more of what we’ve seen in his limited sample set.  He’s wildly inconsistent from a passing standpoint.  In addition, he doesn’t appear to be super elusive as a runner despite reports he’s one of the fastest guys on the team.  Just because he’s fast doesn’t mean he can allude defenders. 

Based on what I’ve seen I think Kellen Mond and Trevor Knight are better runners than King.  Knight for sure.  Mond wasn’t super elusive but he was pretty productive with his legs.  I haven’t seen that from King yet.  I think we can put to rest he’s the true dual threat quarterback he’s been made out to be.  He’s simply a guy with decent mobility that if he ever hits open field can run away from everyone.  Getting to open field appears to be a challenge though.

As for his passing in 5 career games King has 6 touchdown passes and 6 interceptions.  That’s not good.  He throws some great passes from time to time but then he throws some complete stinkers missing wide open guys along with struggling to see defenders throwing interceptions.  He also didn’t see a couple guys that were open choosing to throw to guys that were covered.  It’s a lot easier to complete passes to guys who aren’t covered.

Quarterbacks are going to miss passes from time to time but King threw two REALLY bad interceptions this game.  It really makes me question his decision making because he shouldn’t be throwing interceptions against an opponent like Sam.  In two starts he’s thrown 5 interceptions in 6 quarters of football against Kent State and Sam Houston State.  He also threw an interception in his debut against Bama.  The small sample set says he’s prone to throwing interceptions.

He must stop turning the ball over through the air.  There’s no reason for that.

He really reminds me of Kellen Mond prior to the 2020 Florida game where you can see all the tools but the decision making and consistency are in major question.  I defended Mond because I felt he was the best quarterback option for Jimbo’s offense.  There was nobody else on the roster.

I don’t feel that way with King.  Max Johnson and Conner Weigman have plenty of talent.  In Johnson’s case he has plenty of experience starting in the SEC.  If King is going to keep throwing interceptions there’s better options on the bench.

Jimbo has proven to be very stubborn with his quarterbacks.  He seems to pick a guy and stick with him through thick and thin.  Based on the snaps on Saturday it appears he’s fully prepared to ride King.  Max Johnson didn’t see snaps until the 4th quarter. 

I’m not feeling great about the Haynes King decision right now.  Maybe he turns the corner but he really doesn’t offer much from a running standpoint and he throws interceptions at a regular rate.  You can’t have your starting quarterback having a 1:1 ratio for touchdowns and interceptions.  2:1 really isn’t great either.  That just seems like the mark of a bad decision maker.

Max Johnson has a 4:1 ratio in SEC starts.  At some that ratio has to matter in who plays quarterback for the Aggies.

If Haynes is throwing 5-6 touchdowns a game I can handle a couple interceptions.  He’s not doing that so I have some real concerns.  A 1:1 or even 2:1 ratio isn’t going to cut it in the SEC.  That’s a sign of bad decision making.

You can’t have a bad decision maker at quarterback. 

We’ll see what King does against Appalachian State.  I think he should be on a short chain if he throws an interception.  If he throws 2 interceptions on Saturday he needs to be pulled and give Max Johnson some snaps.  You can’t consistently turn the ball over and expect to win in the SEC.

Hopefully Jimbo doesn’t have blinders on when it comes to Haynes King actual game performance. I don’t care what he looks like in practice.  Live bullets matter infinitely more than practice bullets.  King’s live bullets show he’s got issues when it comes to decision making.

Overall:

We have two main things we need to clean up in the left side of the line and interceptions.  If we get those two things cleaned up we’re going to be just fine. 

By fine I mean a 10-win team.  If not, we’ll be a 8-4 or even 7-5 win team. 

I don’t see us as a College Football Playoff team right now even with improvement to those two areas I mentioned.  It’s a big leap from 10 wins to the CFP and I just don’t think we have the experience and talent right now to get there.  I hope I’m wrong but I don’t see it.

Our defense is going to keep us in games.  However, at some point our offense has to exert it’s will on the ground and not give up passes to the defense.  You’re gonna lose football games if you can’t run and throw interceptions.  I don’t care how much talent you have.  You must run and protect the ball in the SEC if you want to win football games.

The good news is based on a half of football all those millions we spent on the 2022 recruiting class appear to be money well spent.

Jimbo might be stubborn when it comes to his quarterback decisions but he’s pretty astute at spending our booster’s NIL money.

For that we should be thankful even if it pisses off Nick Saban.

Let’s just hope there’s improvement on the field from Week 1 to Week 2.

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