Thoughts From the Arkansas Game

Well kids, another week, another Jimbo Special.  It wasn’t pretty and it looked bleak at times but Jimbo pulled out another victory like only he can.  Get just enough offense and pray the defense can hold on.  It worked thanks to Jerry Jones’ super tall field goal uprights.  I have no clue what the call would have been had that ball sailed over the uprights but I don’t care.  A win is a win.

Every year I go to the Arkansas game wishing it was a home and home instead of at JerryWorld.  Nothing against JerryWorld as it’s a wonderful stadium but I just feel college games should be played on college campuses.  However, I leave JerryWorld after an entertaining game with an Aggie victory and wonder if we should just leave well enough alone.

I can’t recall another series like this where it’s been a decade of bizarre games and plays.  Somehow, the Aggies have come out on top most of the time.  We’ve certainly got our share of breaks in JerryWorld.  I’m not complaining one bit.

A win is a win.

Ainias Smith:

Before I get going on the game I have to give a shout out to Ainias Smith.  As most of you know he suffered a broken bone in his leg and will miss the remainder of the season.  I feel horrible for the kid.  He came back for his senior year hoping to prove more on the field only to have this happen.  It’s a horrible literal and figurative break.

For four seasons he’s been the one constant of Jimbo’s offense.  Jimbo has plugged in and played parts with a lot of people that never developed.  Ainias was the one constant every season the last four years.  Obviously there’s Spiller and Achane but for three plus seasons Ainias carried a pretty anemic passing attack.

I wish we could have seen what Ainias could have done with more offensive threats around him.  He was the receiver that defenses keyed on and he still made play after play.

I don’t know what his future holds but I wish him the best.  Get well my man.  You’ve served and represented A&M well in every regard.

Coaching/Mental Mistakes:

There’s a lot to take away from this game but the coaching and mental mistakes are the most mind boggling to me.

We had 9 penalties for 65 yards.  Well prepared players get fewer penalties.  You’re going to have mistakes here and there but 9 penalties is unacceptable.  It really does start with coaching.

Jimbo placed some blame on the players after the game but the reality is it starts with him.  Penalties happen because a player is not prepared or motivated.  That starts with the head coach.  Smart and prepared football teams don’t get 9 penalties at key moments of the game.

The most glaring penalty was the delay of game after receiving the ball from the kickoff.  That’s THE LAST PLACE you should ever get a delay of game.  I have no clue how that happens and that’s squarely on Jimbo.  The other team scores and you know you’re getting the ball.  You have PLENTY of time to prepare your offense and have the play called.  The Aggies didn’t.

The only way that happens is complete indecisiveness by the coach or confusion by the players.  Either way that’s on the coach for not having the play or players ready.  This is squarely on Jimbo’s shoulders.

The other massive mental mistake wasn’t even a penalty.  It was the failed extra point after the amazing defense fumble return.  That also failed because of coaching.  Extra points in college are a free point.  It should be muscle memory.

For some reason the Aggie extra point team was hesitant to snap the ball and everything was out sync.  The snapper, holder, and kicker weren’t aligned.  What exactly happened I don’t know but it’s on coaching because something was off. 

There’s no reason for this because it should be repetition.  The second Demani Richardson crossed the goal line the coaching staff should have been yelling “EXTRA POINT TEAM!  EXTRA POINT TEAM!” 

I’m not kidding.  It’s that basic.  The whole focus of the coaching staff should have been getting the 11 guys out there to kick the extra point.  It didn’t look like that was the case because we waited so long to snap the ball.  That doesn’t happen to a well-prepared football team.  A well prepared and coached team trots out there, lines up, snaps the ball, and nails the extra point.

A team that’s not well prepared is a failure of the coaching staff.  That was a free point and we botched it because we weren’t prepared.  That’s on coaching.

The other concerning coaching decision and execution was at the end of the first half.  Thanks to an Arkansas penalty we got the ball down to the Arkansas 42 with a few seconds left.  We tried a pass that was incomplete to Moose Muhammad leaving us with 4 seconds on the 42-yard line.

Jimbo runs a kicker out there to attempt a 59-yard field goal.  I couldn’t see but I’m guessing it was Caden Davis.  Davis has enough leg to make that distance.  Accuracy is in question but he has the leg to get the ball through the uprights that far out.

I don’t have a problem with that decision because I felt like it was the best opportunity to get points.  Sure, it could get blocked and returned but Davis has enough leg to get it up.  Apparently Jimbo felt it was worth the try at that moment.

Before we snap the ball Arkansas calls a timeout.  After the timeout Jimbo trots his offense out there where we fall on our face in a botched hail mary attempt.  Max didn’t even heave it down field.  He got pressured and just kind of threw it away.  It was completely botched.

Based on what I’d seen so far in that game I had ZERO confidence in a hail mary.  Max wasn’t going to get enough time to throw a ball 50 yards downfield to our receivers.  Nothing in that game up until that moment told me that was a good idea.

At least Davis has the leg to make a 59-yarder if he hits it right.  Maybe it even gives him some confidence.

Here’s my biggest problem with that sequence – What did Jimbo see in that stack of papers in his hand during that timeout he didn’t see once the pass was incomplete to Moose?  Did he find the sheet with the hail mary play so he could show his offense?  Did he find a picture of Auburn and the Kick Six against Alabama?

What changed during that timeout to switch to a play that seemed like a low percentage based on what we’d seen in the game so far?

There’s other examples during the game but those are the three most obvious to me.  When we have the ball there is ZERO sense to do what I call “Urgently Execute”.  There’s a whole lot of standing and looking around trying to decide what to do while the play clock just ticks away.

George Patton once said, “A violent plan executed today is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”  Someone needs to post this in Jimbo’s office.

I like Jimbo as a head coach.  I do have my concerns that being head coach and playcaller are too big for him.  I’m afraid these are more examples.


I’m starting with the defense again because these guys won the game for us.  I know a lot of people are disappointed with our defense but they held Arkansas to 21 points.  That’s a damn fine accomplishment.

Arkansas is a damn good offense in their third year of Kendall Briles.  Yes, Art’s son.  The dude knows how to coach an offense.  Unless you’re the 2020 Georgia team you’re not shutting this offense out.

Arkansas is going to score points.  K.J. Jefferson runs the system perfectly and I wouldn’t be surprised if 21 points is the lowest amount of points Arkansas scores all season.

The Aggie defense slowed down the Arkansas offense just enough to win that game.  Would I like a more dominant effort?  Sure.  I’ll take holding Arkansas’ offense to 21 points all day long because that gives your team a chance to win.

The 3-Man Front:

I’ve seen a lot of griping about A&M’s 3-man front.  Perceptionally I don’t like it because the defensive line should be the strength of our defense.  We should be able to run 4 guys out there and just destroy the opponent’s offensive line.

Unfortunately, that’s not really the case and can be used against you in an Arkansas type offense.

Arkansas’ offense is meant to read the defense and exploit gaps and holes.  With a quarterback like K.J. Jefferson and running back like Rocket Sanders it works well.  Those guys generally crank out the yards. 

It’s not a power rushing attack but more of a patient running attack looking for gaps and seams to get to the next level where they can really chew up yards.

I believe Durkin’s reason for running the 3-man front was to see if he could consume the offensive line with 3 defensive lineman and then have the linebackers and safeties fill the gaps that are created.

I think it worked because we held Arkansas to their least amount of yards all season and Antonio Johnson, Chris Russell, and Jardin Gilbert lead the teams in tackles.  That’s two safeties and a linebacker which leads me to believe those guys were constantly sticking their nose in those gaps.

The last thing you want is to have Jefferson and Sanders hitting the second level where there’s no safety or linebacker.  That’s how Arkansas’ offense will destroy you.  The Aggie defense wouldn’t let them do that as they held Jefferson and Sanders to their combined lowest total of rushing yards against any team this season.

I think Durkin wisely made sure he had plenty of safeties and linebackers in the second level so Jeffeson and Sanders didn’t rip off long runs.  It wasn’t perfect but it worked pretty well for the most part.

Do I wish the Aggie defense could have definitively shut down the Arkansas rushing attack with a four-man front?  Absolutely.  However, I’m not going to gripe too much if the end results are an Aggie victory.

Now, I do have a concern if Durkin trots out the 3-man front against Mike Leach on Saturday.  You have to apply pressure to the Mississippi State quarterback or he’ll tear you apart.  He’s not really a threat to run so I’m not as worried about those little gaps.  If the 3-man front was for one game to slow down the Arkansas rushing duo of Jefferson and Sanders then I’m good with it.

Defensive Line:

I talked about 3-man front already but regardless of Durkin’s reason the defensive line did what they were asked to do.  For the much of the night they occupied the 5 Arkansas lineman allowing other defenders to make plays.

The defensive line won’t get any of the individual glory but they’re the guys that made that defense really work on Saturday night.

There were some pretty obvious holding calls that didn’t get called but these guys never relented all night long.  They just lined up and took on the Arkansas offensive line.

This will likely be one of the best offensive lines they face all season so I think it’s a very promising sign for the rest of the season.

Linebacker and Safety Play:

I touched on it briefly talking about the 3-man front but I thought our linebacker and safety play was pretty damn solid this game.  The Arkansas offense loves to exploit linebackers and safeties out of position and for most of the game our guys were where they needed to be.

We all know about the abilities of Antonio Johnson and Demani Richardson but Jardin Gilbert is really playing some good football.  Chris Russell, Jr. played the best game of his career at a time we needed it most.  I’ve been a little concerned with him as he’s been out of position some in the first three games but he stepped up in a big way against Arkansas.

Bryce Anderson again showed he’s likely to be something special.  It looked like he went out with an injury so I hope he’s okay and bounces back for this week.

The defensive line is the heart and soul of this team even with a 3-man front but the linebacker and safety units are proving to be nice complimentary units.


The entire secondary seemed like a swarm of defenders all night.  They had one massive brain fart on the 56-yard touchdown pass.  Other than that I thought they played really well.  That one pass counted for 33% of Arkansas’ total passing yards.  If that play never happens then Arkansas has a total of 115 passing yards and 14 points.

Arkansas doesn’t have the best receivers but we’ve seen plenty of Aggies games where marginal receivers got the better of us.  I feel good about this unit when it comes to covering.  It’s not going to be without errors from time to time but I do like the depth and talent Jimbo has assembled with this group.


Devon Achane:

I talked about Ainias and I don’t want to take anything away from him but Devon Achane once again proved he’s the hands down MVP of the 2022 Aggie Football team.  It’s not even close.

What he did on Saturday night was overshadowed by so many things such as the fumble return and the “Oink Boink.”  If Devon Achane doesn’t suit up for the Aggies those aren’t even discussion points.  We’re just talking about Arkansas beating the Aggies in back-to-back seasons.

Achane was without the doubt the heart and soul of this offense on Saturday night.  The dude averaged 8.4 yards per carry on 19 carries.  For a team that sputters offensively that is an insane amount of yards per carry.  He’s the only real threat to the defense and they still can’t bottle him up.

While that yards per carry is impressive this is the most impressive stat for Devon Achane – Out of 60 total offensive snaps for the Aggies he was in on 58 of them.  58 of 60 offensive snaps!!!!

After his 63 yard run he didn’t even come off the field.  He just lined up and took the next two snaps for runs of 5 and 10 yards.  No timeout or anything.  Just hauls ass for 63 yard, hands the ball to the official, and lines up for two more carries for 15 yards.

How many running backs in football do you know that rip off a 63-yard run and don’t come out of the game?  Jimbo just lined Achane up and handed the ball to him two more times for 15 more yards and a first down.  THAT IS INSANE.

Everybody is talking about our missed field goal against App State, Miami’s botched punt return, and the Arkansas plays.  None of those things are being discussed if there’s no Devon Achane.  If Devon Achane is not on this team we might be 1-3 and I’m not kidding.  He’s not the sole reason we’re 3-1 as the defense has played well but without Devon Achance there’s no offense to get a few more points than the defense has allowed.

We all know about his elite level speed but the more he touches the ball I’m amazed at how elusive he is.  It’s not flashy either.  He’s just so damn smooth that he has great vision and ability to cut and then that homerun gear if he gets free.

He is special special and I don’t think most football fans including Aggies realize just how special he is because he looks so effortless in what he does.

Max Johnson:

While Achane is carrying this team Max Johnson has made sure there’s no additional burdens for Achane to carry these last two games.

Max Johnson has not been great by any stretch of the imagination but he’s done exactly what he’s needed to against Miami and Arkansas.  He hasn’t made any massive mistakes and has allowed others around him to make plays.

The best play to showcase this was the touchdown pass to Evan Stewart.  Arkansas’s defensive strategy this year has been very clear – we don’t trust our secondary but we’re not going to give you enough time to test them if we can help it.  Arkansas blitzes like crazy and did all night against A&M.

On that touchdown pass to Stewart Arkansas didn’t disguise the fact they were going to force Max Johnson to throw before he wanted to.  We had an empty back set and Arkansas lined up six guys on the offensive line.  No tight ends.  That’s a math of six defenders to five blockers.  What that means is at least one guy is going to break through and apply immediate pressure to the quarterback.

Max recognized this.  On the snap two Arkansas guys broke free and ran immediately for Max.  Max waits as long as he can and calmly lofts the ball in the air towards Evan Stewart who was able to turn around and make a play for a touchdown.

It was the only play to make.  Max recognized before the snap and after the snap while calmy executing it.  It looks like a lucky pass but if you go back and watch the play it was the perfect call executed perfectly.  That was a big game changer.

The featured image of this post is the photo of Max throwing that ball to Evan Stewart.  Max has two defenders barreling down on him and he releases as perfect of a throw as he can.  It’s actually a very impressive play on Max’s part.  Great job by Stewart looking back to get the ball but a lot of QBs would have scrambled rather put the ball in a spot for their receiver to make the play.

In addition to that play Max had to deal with bad snaps all night long and calmly corralled them while looking to make plays down the field.

Statistically he didn’t do anything impressive as he was barely a 50% passer for 151 yards against one of the worst secondaries in football.

I don’t necessarily like getting excited about a game manager at quarterback but perspective is a funny thing.  I think the only quarterback in the Jimbo era that would have beaten Arkansas on Saturday night was 2020 Kellen Mond.  2018 Kellen, 2019 Kellen, Haynes King, and Zach Calzada lose that game.

Sometimes it’s not what you do at quarterback it’s what you don’t do.  Max didn’t do anything to put the Aggies in a worse position than what they already were from a scheme and talent standpoint.

Max is never going to be Johnny Manziel or even Trevor Knight.  His pocket awareness is pretty good though and he avoids trouble well for a guy his size and without blazing speed.  More than anything as trouble is coming he’s already assessed what’s going on downfield and acts accordingly.  That’s a big key for what you want in a quarterback.

Max isn’t going to be the reason we win football games but considering the 14 games before he took over I’m gaining some confidence he won’t be the reason we lose football games either.

Offensive Line:

This is a tough one for me to assess.

On one hand the offensive line finally did enough to spring Achane.  In addition Arkansas was bringing pressure the entire game.  These guys had their work cut out for them.

On the other hand we didn’t do anything in our first four possessions.  We also didn’t score a point when we really needed points on our only fourth quarter possession that mattered.  We did miss a field goal on that possession but 53 yards from the Arkansas 36 is hardly a chip shot.  We needed to be deeper in Arkansas territory on that drive.

The offense needed to do more on that possession and they didn’t.

During the second and third quarter this offensive line did take the fight to a tough Arkansas defensive front.  They deserve major props for that.  Maybe they would have responded on the final drive if Arkansas made that final kick.  We don’t know and quite frankly I’m glad we didn’t have to find out.  I’ll take the win from the “Oink Doink”.

I hold out some hope maybe this is like the 2020 Florida game where the offensive line finally found some level of identity.

I’ve complained about Jimbo’s decision making in this game but he along with the offensive line deserve massive credit for realizing and executing the run game as the only real hope of moving the ball.  Achane is special but this offensive line executed the play calling to spring him to make some amazing plays.

Now that we seem to be settled on the five guys going forward I’d like to think this unit can only improve and not regress.  Especially as Bryce Foster gets stronger.

We’ll find out more against Mississippi State but it was great to see this unit finally give Arkansas a fight after not doing anything at all for four possessions in the first quarter.

Wide Receiver:

Ugh.  This is where I have to remind everyone that Ainias Smith is out for the year and there’s no clear replacement.

I have no clue what to think with this group.  There’s some flash with Evan Stewart and Donovan Green for sure.

Those two guys lead the team in receptions with 3 each and totaled 86 yards.  Green had 50 yards and Stewart had 36. 

That’s a pretty pitiful showing against one of the worst secondaries in the country.  At least statistically. 

They didn’t light it up but they did make a couple very tough catches at key moments.  Great to see them step up and make plays in moments you need it most.  They are true freshman adjusting to the college game.

I’m disappointed Jimbo didn’t run more hot routes trying to get the ball to these guys in some space to see what they can do.  I think Jimbo realized he had a hot hand in Achane and decided to ride it which I have no problems with.  Jimbo failed to ride the hot hand in a couple games last year and it cost us victories.

Like the offensive line this group is kind of hard to judge because Arkansas wasn’t going to give us time to pass.  I also believe Jimbo didn’t have as much confidence in his passing game as he did his run game.

Unfortunately, I also have to bring up Moose Muhammed who probably contributed to the lackluster performance of this group more than anyone else.  Moose played about as terrible of a game as a receiver can play.  He had 3 penalties but most importantly he dropped a certain touchdown pass where he was wide open.  He completely botched the catch not being in proper position and then kind of jumping where the ball bounced off his hand.

A competent receiver positions himself where he runs under that ball in stride and cruises to the end zone.  It’s the route and pass every receiver dreams of where it’s an easy six points.  The moment was too big for Moose and he botched it. 

We wound up getting a field goal on that drive so it wasn’t a 7 point swing but it was a 4 point swing.  I believe if Moose catches that ball it completely changes the outlook of the game.  I certainly don’t think the “Oink Boink” happens.  Arkansas wouldn’t have been kicking at that moment because it would have been a six point game if Moose caught that ball like he should have.

Like the offensive line we’ll see what happens against Mississippi State this weekend.  Evan Stewart was targeted 7 times against Arkansas so it’s pretty clear it’s in the works for him to be an integral part of our passing game.

I’m not worried about Stewart and I feel confident about Green with him getting more experience.  I’m also hopeful Yulkeith Brown and Chris Marshall can develop as they get more experience.

Paint me optimistic that Max, the line, and the young receivers can develop a serviceable passing game as the season wears on.

Looking Forward:

Since the App State loss I’ve said we’ve got to really take one game at a time.  There was a legit chance we were staring down a 1-5 record.  As it stands we won’t be worse than 3-3 going into our bye which seems like a massive accomplishment.

I’m hopeful we can get by Mississippi State so the worst case going into our bye is a 4-2 record.  That would be remarkable considering how we looked in the first two games.

Mississippi State won’t be easy at all.  Just like we somehow have Arkansas’ number Mississippi State has ours.

We are 3-5 against Mississippi State since 2014.  That’s our first year without Johnny.  We’ve won one game in Starkville in that time and that was the 2020 team in Mike Leach’s first year there.

It goes without saying that Starkville is not our favorite place to play.

This will be a tough game because the Mississippi State defense is better than people think.  We all know what Leach can do offensively but Durkin does have some success against him.  Durkin slowed Leach down last season when Ole Miss beat Mississippi State in Starkville.

As I write this Mississippi State is favored by 3.5.  Vegas doesn’t always get these lines correct but they’re generally a better guide than anything else.

This won’t be an easy game and Jimbo has his work cut out for him.

Let’s just hope he plans to urgently execute on Saturday rather than sift through his stack of papers looking for the perfect play or a good diagram to show his team.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s