Game Review

Thoughts on the Alabama Game

Mond Alabama Getting tackled

Where I saw the Clemson game as validation of something different in our coaching staff this Alabama game was certainly a moral victory.  Moral victories aren’t good but they’re better than a straight beatdown where there’s no positives.  We held Bama below 50 points, scored more than 20 points, and covered the 27 point spread.  I don’t like moral victories but that was a moral victory.  For a lot of fans that haven’t seen Bama play this year they didn’t realize the Alabama offense is a different beast with Tua Tagovailoa as quarterback.  My comparison is Saban has had a nice V6 Honda Accord at quarterback since he got to Bama and got a Ferrari this season.  This Bama offense is different than anything he’s had before.  There’s a reason Vegas put a 27-point spread on this game.  They weren’t far off.

I don’t know that A&M beats a Jalen Hurts quarterbacked offense but there’s no doubt in my mind A&M would lose that game by less than 2 touchdowns and likely single digits.  Tua is that much of a difference maker for the Bama offense.  It’s likely Bama loses a game this season but in my mind this is the best Bama team Nick Saban has coached.  When you see that 45-23 score just know this is a different Bama offense than you’ve ever seen.

Overall I like what I saw in this game from a relative talent standpoint.  Bama is loaded with talent and the Aggies have holes.  Bama exposed those holes in a major way but the Aggie players and coaching staff never quit.  This could have been a similar game to 59-0 but the players and coaching staff weren’t going to let that happen.  A lot of teams would have quit after giving up an interception on their first offensive possession and then giving up a touchdown on the first play by the opposing offense.  When you’re on the road in Tuscaloosa and Bama gets an interception and then scores on their first play to go up 7-0 in less than a minute that can be REALLY demoralizing.  This Aggie team didn’t quit though.  Credit the Aggie players and coaches for that.  If an Aggie fan tells you they didn’t have thoughts of 59-0 dancing through their head check to see if their nose is growing.  Luckily this is a different Aggie team than in the past.

I still believe while not as talented as teams in the past few years this is a better Aggie football team than the last few years.  I like what I see on the field even if I don’t like what I see on the scoreboard and stat sheet.  I’ve said since Jimbo got here that 2020 would be the season where the Aggies finally push through to the elite teams of college football.  There’s no doubt Jimbo is trying to win today but there’s holes he can’t plug until his recruiting classes get on campus and get some experience.  This could have been a blowout but it didn’t happen.  Don’t discount what could have been when you see that 45-23 score.

Offense:

Offensive Line:

I’m starting with the worst part of the offense for the game.  I’ve consistently said this is the weakest part of the offense by far.  Saturday that showed up.  Mond was sacked 7 times as the offensive line continually whiffed at slowing down Bama defenders.  It was partially due to talent deficiencies but it was also due to blown assignments.  Those talent deficiencies might have lead to the mental issues but either way the offensive line was exposed for needing serious help from a talent standpoint.  We just don’t have the talent we need at offensive line to compete as an elite team.  They do have their moments where they can create plays thanks to the play design but for the most part this line struggles against more athletic defensive lines.

Tray Williams is not a bruiser running back but there was nothing between the tackles at all.  They weren’t getting blown back on running plays but they weren’t getting any push or creating holes to run through.  I suppose creating a stalemate on running plays against the Bama defense is a positive thing but that’s got to get better.  The offensive line has got to get backwards movement if they’re not going to create holes.

From a pass blocking standpoint they were pretty bad continually blowing assignments when Bama blitzed.  I’m afraid Bama just gave teams a blueprint on how to slow down our offense with blitzes.  I don’t recall Clemson blitzing like Bama did.  Bama had great success running blitzes against our offensive line so I expect to see more of that from defensive opponents going forward.  Our offensive line must get that cleaned up or Mond is not going to have a lot of time to throw.  Sure, Bama has superior talent but there were plays where our offensive line couldn’t read the blitz at all.  That is really disappointing.

If we need to shuffle our offensive line personnel to get experience for the future I’m fine with it.  I’m not saying this line is a steaming pile of junk as they do execute some plays well but this offensive line has issues.  A&M won’t be dominant until their offensive line is dominant.  Like getting a truckload of Coors from Texarkana to Atlanta we’ve got a long ways to get there.

Skill Positions:

We knew it was going to be tough sledding for Tray Williams coming into this game and it was.  He carried the ball 8 times for 32 yards.  He had two nice runs outside but other than those two runs there wasn’t anything there for him.  That’s not his fault as he’s not designed to run behind our offensive line against that Bama defense.  Just a total mis-match.  At least we didn’t continually run between the tackles and just tested it from time to time.

At receiver no one dominated at all.  The unit had some nice catches but were wildly inconsistent getting open and catching balls.  Kendrick Rogers is looking like Mond’s safety blanket but they failed to connect on a couple passes where the ball should have been thrown better or Rogers should have caught it.  This unit isn’t wildly talented but they seem to be a little more disciplined than receiving corps of the past.

Against teams not named Alabama I think there’s enough weapons here to move the ball through the air with more work.  Getting 263 yards through the air using 9 receivers against Alabama is a decent sign even with their mistakes.  I’m happy with the development I’m seeing here.  It’s shorter on talent than we’ve had the past few years but they seem to have some promise as a complete unit.  We’ll see if they keep developing as there’s definitely work to do but they seem up to the task.  At least they did make a few plays rather than be completely afraid of a team like Bama.  I think a lot of that has to do with the next part of our offense.

Kellen Mond:

I can’t say enough about Kellen Mond on Saturday.  He’s the reason this team didn’t quit.  He threw 2 interceptions and had some missed passes but it wasn’t from lack of effort.  The dude was under pressure all day long and never backed down from the best team in the country.  He used his head, arm, and legs all game long.

I can’t believe this is the same Kellen Mond from last season.  It’s completely night and day.  The dude keeps developing every game and it bodes well for Aggie Football over the next few years.  In 2020 Kellen Mond will be a senior and I think he’ll be the key reason A&M breaks through to the elite level of college football.  He’s not as talented as a Tua but he’s young and pretty complete right now on decision making.  He just needs more experience executing plays so it becomes second nature.  I don’t see any reason why he won’t continue to get better.  I’m pleasantly shocked at what I’ve seen from Kellen Mond through 4 games this season.  Maybe one day we’ll send Kevin Sumlin a flower bouquet for recruiting Mond over Jarret Stidham.  We’ll just need to make sure we get his address correct because there’s no telling where Sumlin will be at the end of 2020.  Yes, Kevin Sumlin ineptitude jokes are still fun.  He cost us millions so I’m going to keep making them.

Play Design/Calling:

My favorite part of the game was the play design and execution at times.  Any good offensive coach will have 5-10 plays a game that give the defense a different look either before snap or post snap.  Sometimes both.  This is the result of watching film and designing plays that look to exploit a matchup or counter reads a defense tends to make.  We haven’t seen that in the past because we’ve had offenses that keep the same design and try to react to the opposing defense.  Defenses tend to figure those out over time.

We did it some against Clemson and continued it against Bama.  My favorite play from a design, call, and execution standpoint was the pitch out to Tray Williams on 3rd down in the middle of the second quarter.  It was 3rd and 3 on the Bama 34.  We gave Bama a look we hadn’t shown before with our receivers stacked on the right side.  Tray was to the left of Mond.  On the snap Mond did a quick pitch to Tray.  Tray had a linebacker on him who he was able to avoid (barely) and got outside for a 16 yard gain to the Bama 18.  Everything about that play was beautiful.  I mean just beautiful from a design, timing, and execution standpoint.  That is not something you would have seen with Aggie offensive coordinators since 2013.

There were some other plays but that was the best example where it’s clear we have an offensive staff that is adjusting and scheming to each week’s opponent.  The best thing you can do as an offense is have the defense worried about plays they’ve never seen.  When a defensive staff has to worry about plays they’ve never seen you have a strong advantage.  I absolutely love the fact it appears Jimbo and the offensive staff really study film and design plays each week that look to take advantage of the defense.  When you become predictable as an offense you get beat.  Through 4 games Jimbo is showing his offense will adapt each week.  It’s so refreshing to see.

Overall:

Despite the issues with our offensive line and lack of a power back I like what I see from this offense.  It’s certainly not as powerful as I would like it to be but I feel the staff is getting the most out of what they can from the talent at their disposal.  This is an offense that appears to be able to put up at least 20 points in every game from here on out.  It’s also designed to chew up time of possession which is a big key for our defense.  We once again won time of possession on Saturday which is a bigger factor than most people think.

Defense:

Front Seven:

I can’t say enough about the defensive line and linebackers.  They weren’t dominant by any stretch but they held their own against a powerful Alabama offense.  Alabama’s running backs got 106 yards on 21 carries.  That’s about 5 yards a carry.  Half of those yards were on 2 carries.  Take away those two runs and that’s a respectable 2.7 yards a carry for the other 19 carries by Bama running backs.  Not many teams in the country can do what the Aggie Front 7 did.  Alabama is going to run the ball and they’re going to rip off long runs against you unless you’re Georgia.  Even with Tua at quarterback Alabama is still going to attempt to establish the run to wear down defenses.  The Aggie defense did all they could against one of the best running teams in the country.  You might not have thought it was a dominant effort by our Front 7 against the run, but it was as good as it gets for a team not named Georgia.

The Front 7 didn’t get any sacks but this defense isn’t really equipped to get sacks.  Especially against Tua.  We have no edge rushers and that’s what you need against a guy like Tua.  What we did was collapse the pocket as much as possible causing Tua to throw before he wanted for the most part.  Tua torched us through the air but it wasn’t because our front 7 wasn’t completely getting to him.  In my mind our Front 7 did everything they could.  Alabama tried to establish the run and really couldn’t but did carve us up where we’re weak.  Kudos to the Aggie Front 7 for holding their own against a powerful Alabama offense.

The Secondary:

The Aggie secondary was terrible on Saturday.  There is NOTHING positive to take from it in my book.  We couldn’t cover and we couldn’t tackle.  Coming into the season I thought our safeties would be serviceable but our corners would really struggle.  So far this season the entire secondary has struggled.

I thought Derrick Tucker and Donavan Wilson would be decent but the reality is they’re not the same player when they’re not playing next to Armani Watts and Justin Evans.  Watts and Evans really helped covered up Tucker and Wilson’s issues.  For you Aggie fans that can remember back to 2011 this is basically like Garrick Williams at linebacker when he lost Cody Hodges.  Williams had all the talent in the world to play linebacker but he was lost without the direction of Hodges.

Time and time again on Saturday the secondary was struggling in coverage and tackling.  While the Front 7 was looking like a legit SEC defense the secondary was looking like a Pop Warner team.  They seemed confused by routes and didn’t like wrapping up on tackles.  They’re not disciplined at all.  They’re short on talent other than Tucker for the most part.

If you’re an offensive coordinator that has watched the Aggie defense through 4 games there’s no doubt you’re going to look to light it up through the air.  There’s no point in trying to establish the run against A&M if Bama and Clemson struggled.  The Aggies should be ready for offenses that want to exploit their secondary.  A somewhat competent head coach and offensive coordinator should realize the Aggies can be passed on.

How to fix it other than to repeatedly work on tackling drills I’m not really sure.  Outside of Leon O’Neal I don’t think you have the talent in the younger guys from a coverage standpoint.  I do think it’s okay to get O’Neal more playing time now.  Sure, he struggled against Bama but he’s a true freshman being thrown to the wolves.  Hopefully his struggles on Saturday drive him to be a contributor in year one.  I don’t think he could do much worse than Tucker and Wilson at this point.  I know Carper (safety) and Chattman (corner) are supposed to be coming back but I don’t think they’re the answers either.  Maybe they can improve on what’s out there now but until the 2019 signing class gets on campus and seasoned our secondary is going to be vulnerable without much hope for improving.

Michael Clemons coming back might help some as he and Durham can team up to provide more pressure in passing situations.  It’s just without true pass rushing pressure from the edge this secondary is going to be prone to big plays.  We simply have a talent issue in the secondary and no Von Miller or Myles Garrett to mask it.

Overall:

It’s amazing how different the Front 7 and secondary can be.  The Front 7 I’d put up against any team in the country.  We’ve now slowed down the running games of Bama and Clemson.  Other than LSU we won’t see a team on the schedule the rest of the way that has a true power running attack like Bama.  The defensive staff has their work cut out for them in trying to improve this secondary so we’ll see how good this staff is.  Even if they started just wrapping up that would be a major improvement as you could basically play bend but don’t break football.  Getting to red zone situations would help as you’ve got less area to cover and your Front 7 has shown they can hold their own against anyone in the country.  We’ve got Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina coming up to find out if we can have some improvement.

Special Teams:

A lot of Aggies were worried about losing Jeff Banks.  As you saw on Saturday unless your name is Frank Beamer the quality of the players matter way more than the special teams coach.  The Aggie special teams were better than Bama’s.  We’re fine without Jeff Banks.  Braden Mann is an absolute weapon.  I mean absolute WEAPON.  He had 5 punts and averaged 60.8 yards.  That is insane.  He’s a junior so he’s been on the roster for two years.  Why he hasn’t been punting until this year I have no idea.  I know Shane Tripucka was pretty good the last two years but what Mann is doing this year is unbelievable.  He’s flipping the field and that’s a huge weapon to have.

Seth Small filled in for the injured Daniel LaCamera and was remarkable going 3 for 3 on field goals.  He hit on a 52 yarder along with a 32 and 25 yarder.  He’s a true freshman so to be perfect in your first game in Tuscaloosa with a 52 yarder being your first attempt bodes well.  I suppose you give LaCamera his job back when he’s healthy but he better be on a short leash if you have a guy that can boot 50+ yards with no fear against Alabama.  Having him as your backup is a serious luxury to have.

There was one minor issue on special teams and it was the return early in the game by Jaylen Waddle.  Whoever was running down didn’t flare out to keep contain on Waddle.  Waddle is a guy we recruited and has absolute jets.  As a special teamer on punt coverage you have to keep contain if you’re alone.  You let a guy like that get around you and he’ll burn you like he did.  We got bailed out by a block in the back but that was a big mistake not keeping contain on a guy with Waddle’s speed.  With Mann booming punts, getting downfield and keeping contain is going to be crucial to limit return yards.

 

Looking Forward:

I think Jimbo can mask our offensive line issues enough to get us to 8 wins.  He’s scored 20 plus points against two great defenses so it seems we’ll be able to move the ball and score points the rest of the way.  I don’t think we’ll have any games where our offense completely goes in the tank like we’ve had in the past.  We have two more really good defenses on the schedule in Auburn and LSU.  They’ll test our offense.  Auburn struggles to run the ball and LSU struggles to pass the ball although LSU has looked better throwing than in years past.  I like to think we can get one win of Auburn and LSU to get us to 9 wins.  I’m not sure which is more likely at this point though.

The key is we’ve got some tough games on the schedule that don’t look like tough games.  Jimbo has to win those.  Kentucky has an all-world running back so it’ll be interesting to see if we can slow him down with our Front 7.  South Carolina hasn’t looked as good as I expected but that’s a road game so it could be a challenge.  Mississippi State was shut down by Kentucky so why can’t the Aggies do the same?  However, if that’s an 11:00 a.m. game in StarkVegas then all bets are off.  The Aggies haven’t won in StarkVegas when we kicked at 11:00 a.m.  Let’s hope for a night game there.

Right now I have to think Arkansas, Ole Miss, and UAB are sure wins.  We’ll find out this weekend when we head to JerryWorld.  That’s been a back and forth contest in the past but I think with our respective new coaching staffs that’s finally a game the Aggies control from start to finish.  I’m hoping for a 35-10 type showing.

It’s entirely possible this team wins out but we’ve got a LOT of work to do to get there.  If we can get through Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina in convincing fashion from start to finish then I’ll feel like we have a real chance.  I’m ready to make some maroon Kool-Aid and start serving it around.  I’ve got the water and jug ready.  I just need Jimbo to give me the powder over the next three weeks so I can start mixing.

#MAFGA

 

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Thoughts on U.L.M. and Alabama

Alabama Texas A&M NCAA Football

I chose not to go to the game last weekend as I had a customer event at noon on Sunday.  Don’t worry, Good Ags sat in my seats.  Had it been a Power 5 school I would have made it in a heartbeat but I took Saturday easy so Sunday was easy as well.  I did watch the game on TV along with a lot of other games.

I won’t do my normal breakdown of offensive and defensive positions because it was ULM and there’s more important things to talk about.  Mainly Bama and some other things about the SEC.

Louisiana Monroe:

Negatives:

I’ll start with the negatives here.  Obviously we got off to a slow start in this game.  That’s kind of to be expected being the third game sandwiched between Clemson and Bama.  Doesn’t make it right but it’s reality.  Kind of seems like we thought we could show up and have our way with ULM but that wasn’t the case.  At least not in the first half.  The team was mostly uninspired and not executing well.

Coming into the season I said our biggest weakness on defense was the secondary.  It really showed in the first half on Saturday night.  In the second quarter they gave up passes of 44, 34, and 36 yards.  This was against ULM.  That’s not good.  The 34 and 36 yarders were back to back which allowed ULM to get a touchdown.  Wilson and Tucker at safety are our most talented and experienced guys but they’re not playing good football.  Our corners struggle to cover for an extended period so if a team can buy time their receivers can likely get open against our cornerbacks.  I’ve said we need to be prepared to give up big pass plays but I didn’t expect that repeatedly against ULM.  It sure happened though.

Our other weakness coming into this season is our offensive line.  They didn’t look good at all in the first half.  Just like Northwestern St. it was pretty clear we wanted to establish the run.  Trayveon had a couple nice runs around 20 yards each but we never got him sprung for anything really long or consistently long.  Seems like he was always running in some kind of traffic.  You would hope our offensive line could blow up some big holes against ULM for him to use his speed and wiggle for some consistent long runs.  Pass blocking was suspect too as Kellen seemed to be a little rushed and took off a few times when I think he would have rather passed.  We also gave up a sack in the first half as well.  It wasn’t a terrible effort by our offensive line but it wasn’t even close to dominating which is what you would have like to have seen.

We had five holding penalties against ULM.  That’s pathetic.  As an offensive line you can control holding penalties.  One or two is allowable but five against ULM is inexcusable.  That’s just lack of focus and preparation.  If it’s pure talent related we’re in bigger trouble than I thought.  We’re not in that big of trouble so I’m just exaggerating but five holding penalties against ULM is damn embarrassing for this offensive line.  Yes, the tight end is an offensive lineman as they go through the same blocking drills the offensive lineman do.  Tight ends know better than to hold.

We still went in with a 24-10 lead at half time but you hope for better considering the opponent.

Positives:

The most positive thing about that game was the effort in the second half.  It was clear the team and staff weren’t happy with a 24-10 lead against a much inferior opponent.  They seemed to come out more focused and executed better in the second half.  The offense stalled on the first possession of the second half but then a quick 3 and out by the defense.  The offense then took the ball 54 yards for a touchdown.  They followed that up with a field goal and then a touchdown before completely giving away to the second stringers for the most part.  A holding penalty caused the offense to likely trade a touchdown for that field goal but most of that drive was impressive with 9 plays covering 61 yards and eating 3:36 of clock.  Penalties will cost you.

The other positive thing was Kellen Mond.  The dude showed this is his team.  He may be in his third game of his second season but he knows he’s a leader.  This is a great sign as everyone will rally behind a quarterback that wants to lead them.  That’s just how football works.  When your quarterback is willing to lead and can back it up with results on the field a team is always better off.  Mond still has some development to do but this guy is completely different from the Mond of last year.  Jimbo has done wonders with this kid.  We all scratched our heads a little when Mond was named the starter prior to the season but three games in it’s clear Jimbo knew what he was doing.

Overall:

I would have certainly liked to have seen a stronger showing to start the game but the effort in the second half makes me feel good.  I have a feeling teams in the past wouldn’t have put their foot down in the second half and let more of the same continue over from the first half.  It would have been easy to blame a Clemson hangover or Alabama look ahead but the coaching staff and players didn’t let it happen.  That’s a good sign overall.

Alabama:

The Aggies are a 27-point underdog to Alabama.  That sounds like a lot of points but if you’ve watched both teams play this season it sounds about right.  This Alabama offense is unlike any Alabama offense you’ve seen under Nick Saban.  The Alabama defense is, well, the Alabama defense.  I have a feeling Alabama is going to exploit our two weaknesses which are our secondary and offensive line.  If we cover 27 points in Tuscaloosa that will be a serious moral victory.  This game could get out of hand in Bama’s favor.  I don’t expect a 59-0 beat down but a 35 to 40 point difference wouldn’t shock me.  If we can’t move the ball and Tua lights up our secondary it won’t take much to see that kind of point differential.  Ask Louisville and Ole Miss.

I do think the Aggies can keep the game close but they’re going to have to go against conventional wisdom.  For whatever reason teams like to play Alabama conservative trying to establish the run and not bringing pressure defensively.  I think the whole mindset of that game plan is to run as much clock as possible on offense and keep the Alabama offense in front of you from a defensive standpoint.  The problem with this is unless you’re LSU you can’t establish the run on offense.  It’s not possible.  On defense if you don’t bring pressure then Alabama will pick you apart on methodical drives with the occasional big play of 40 yards or so.  Next thing you know you look up and you’re down by 21 headed into half.

In order to beat Alabama you have to do two things:

  1. Bring pressure defensively to slow down the run and force them to pass before they want to.
  2. Offensively you have to get the ball to receivers in space with plays they haven’t seen before. You can’t run the ball against them and if you think your read and react Run Pass Options will work against Bama think again.  They can defend the run and RPOs in their sleep.

For number one above this seems scary as hell because if you don’t get to the Bama quarterback he can burn you.  Here’s the deal – you’re not getting to Tua or Hurts with normal pressure.  Their offensive line will handle whatever defense you throw at them.  Tua or Hurts will sit back and wait for a play to develop.  Tua will either burn you with his arm and legs or Hurts will burn you with his legs.  In order to slow down Bama’s offense you better have a big package of blitzes that you’ve never shown before.  Go look at Wade Phillips’ designed blitzes and employ as many of those as you can.  Even if you do it’s likely a long shot as you probably don’t have the athletes to execute them.  You might as well try though.  You need an edge rushing linebacker like Von Miller you can line up all over the line of scrimmage and bring pressure from the outside.  Even a Myles Garrett isn’t a huge help against Bama if you’re going to line him up on a tackle.  I don’t know if the Aggies have a guy that can bring pressure from the outside linebacker position but if do they better be ready to turn him loose.

That must be done to force Bama to throw before they want to.  If not, they’ll eat you alive waiting for something to develop.  The other thing you obviously must do is slow down the run and keep containment with their quarterbacks.  Both Tua and Hurts can run and if they get into space they’ll burn you.  The Aggie defense needs to bring pressure but it has to be containing those guys from getting outside.  It’s a tall order but it’s the only way.  Pressure and contain.  You sit back defensively and you’ll get run over.

Offensively we don’ have the offensive line and running back to establish any kind of running game against Bama.  I love Tray Williams as a running back but he’s not designed to run between the tackles against Bama.  He’s fine being in the game but I would keep him split out and never behind or near Mond.  For Williams to have any kind of effect on the game he’s going to have to get the ball in some kind of space or on well timed screens.  I’m fine giving him the ball between the tackles a few times early on or even later to see what happens but if we run the ball between the tackles with Tray Williams more than 5 times we’ll lose.

My ideal offensive set would be two tight ends and two receivers split evenly about 50% of the time.  Give Bama the same look but have multiple variations of plays where Bama can’t really read who’s likely getting the ball.  Have Tray lined up in multiple spots so he’s the wildcard on what’s going on.  With this set you can run Mond and most importantly get your tight ends involved between blocking and running routes.  It’s amazing what can happen with a good tight end and quarterback that can read how aggressive a defense is playing.  A good chip block and release is an amazing tool that doesn’t get used a lot anymore.  It seems boring but it’s usually effective.  I think the Aggies have a couple tight ends that can execute this.

On occasion you can run bunch formations with the wide receivers and tight ends that can hopefully spring one guy free.  The key is have a few different looks but don’t become predictable based on what you’re doing before you ever snap the ball.  The Bama defense is way too talented and smart.  They know the play you’re running if you’ve run it before.  You must show them something they’ve never seen the entire game.  Trying to run between the tackles or running the same systematic offense will just make Nick Saban smile.  His defense can defend those things in their sleep.

I put the Aggies wining at about 15%.  Mond will have to have the game of his life which is entirely possible but the defense will have to step up which is my major question.  We don’t have the secondary or guys that can apply a lot of pressure so I think Bama keeps rolling.  If we keep them under 50 and score more than 20 that’s going to be a major win for Jimbo.  This team just isn’t ready to compete with Alabama just yet.  Believe it or not losing by less than 27 points will be an encouraging showing.

Rest of the Season/Other Games:

Season Prediction Update:

After watching LSU and Auburn on Saturday I’m leaving my prediction at 8-4.  I think it’s possible we beat one of those teams but they’re both damn good football teams.  They’re still more talented than A&M as a whole team.  I can see us winning one of LSU and Auburn but losing to South Carolina or Mississippi State.  8-4 just still feels right based on what I’ve seen.  Hell, it’s entirely possible we go 6-6 this season due to our issues on the offensive line and secondary.  I don’t think that will happen though.  I think Jimbo will get us to 8-4 which will be solid considering our issues and this schedule.

Speaking of schedules how about that 2019 Aggie Football schedule?  I’ve said all along 2020 would be the Aggies year and seeing that schedule for next season confirms it even more.  Welcome to the SEC West and big boy football.

Auburn/LSU – This was exactly the game these teams have had the last 2 years.  Close game for four quarters and the team that makes the play at the end wins.  Why people expected this game to be different surprised me.  Everybody wants to write these two programs off for some reason.  They both have tremendous talent on defense with sporadic offenses.  When you have a stout defense you’re going to win more than you lose.

A lot of people don’t think highly of Coach O and Malzahn but I think they’re really good coaches.  They’re not elite level coaches but at their current program they’re easily in the Top 25% of coaches in college football if not in the Top 10%.  Outside of Malzahn’s first season where he caught lightening in a bottle with fluke wins over Georgia and Bama along with a questionable win over A&M he’s exactly who he is.  He’s going to win 8-10 games a year and pull off some upsets.  He’s not Nick Saban but who is?  Worst thing he ever did was play for the national title in his first season as head coach and win a national championship as the offensive coordinator.  That’s not really who he is but it doesn’t mean he’s an overrated coach.  Auburn could do much worse than Gus Malzahn.

As for Eddie O he seems to have grown as a head coach since Ole Miss.  He was pretty solid in his interim gig at USC and hasn’t been bad at LSU at all.  Take away the Troy loss last season and he’s been REALLY respectable in his tenure at LSU.  He’s not Nick Saban either but he’s like Les Miles which ain’t bad.  I swear critics blow up one or two losses writing someone off rather than looking at their full body of work.  The full body of work by Malzahn and Eddie O at their current school is not bad at all.  I don’t see that changing anytime soon so expect Top 15 programs that can beat anyone as long as they’re head coach.  They may not win a national title but that list of coaches is short.

OU/ISU – Speaking of underrated coaches, one day Matt Campbell at ISU is going to get a gig at a big-time program.  Every program that has hired a head coach not named Jimbo Fisher since December of 2017 will wonder why they didn’t hire him.  He took a back up quarterback and moved the ball on OU never giving up.  OU has another juggernaut at offense but ISU exposed their passing defense.  ISU might go 7-5 this season but Matt Campbell is a stud head coach.  The dude just knows how to coach football.  As for OU they’ll probably run the table this season.  Odds say they’ll lose a game somewhere but I think they’re a lock for the CFP at this point.  They’re not being talked about from a playoff standpoint right now but their path to the CFP is the easiest of anyone in college football.

Michigan/Notre Dame – Both of these teams won their games but I expected bigger margins based on their opponents and playing at home.  Maybe their game on Week 1 wasn’t the marquee matchup some people thought it was.  I thought Notre Dame was better than how they played Vandy in South Bend.

Bama/Ole Miss – Ole Miss scored on their first offensive possession and then didn’t score again.  Bama then scored 49 points in the first half.  Ole Miss doesn’t have a defense but I’m telling you this Bama offense is unlike anything we’ve seen in the past.  Get ready for Saturday, Ags.

USC/Texas – This game was U.G.L.Y.  It’s amazing USC won the Rose Bowl two years ago and won the Pac 12 last season.  This isn’t even close to the same team.  I know they lost Darnold but that was just one guy.  Make no mistake this is a great win for Texas but I don’t think it’s a measuring stick at all.  There’s a good chance Texas reels off 8 or 9 wins this season but they still have some major talent and coaching issues.  They can certainly improve from here but that game against USC shows there’s still more questions than answers.

OhSU/TCU – TCU is one of the best coached teams in the country but this game shows they don’t have the elite talent to be a consistent major player in college football.  I love Gary Patterson as a coach but until he starts getting 4 and 5 star talent on campus TCU will be a second tier program at best.  Without some major luck I don’t see Gary Patterson ever playing for or winning a national championship.  He’ll beat a lot of teams in his time at TCU but I don’t think TCU is a nationally elite program.  At some point you have to have the big horses.

As for OhSU they’re now in the same boat as OU.  Their path to the CFP seems clear as well.  Based on the way the B10 looks all they must do is get by Penn State and they’ll roll into the CFP.  They’ll trip up a game but they’ll be 12-1 with a Big 10 Conference Championship I have a feeling.  They’re a good football team in a down conference.  Now they get their memory challenged head coach back which made me throw up in my mouth.

If I had to predict the CFP based on what games I’ve seen and paths to get there I’m predicting Bama, Clemson, OU, and OhSU all with 12-1 records and conference titles.  The CFP will have an easy choice as that Auburn win over Washington in Week 1 will keep them out of the playoff discussion.

I’ll even go so far as to pick each team’s one loss:

Clemson – South Carolina
Alabama – LSU
Oklahoma – West Virginia (which they’ll then turn around and beat them in the title game to win the conference)
OhSU – Maryland

Same old teams as always which is boring but it’s all about coaching in college football.  You either have a great coach or you don’t.

#MAFGA

 

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Thoughts From The Clemson Game

NCAAF 2018 Texas A&M vs Clemson Sept 8

It’s kind of hard to define what happened at Kyle Field on Saturday night.  It certainly wasn’t a win on the scoreboard and it really didn’t feel like a moral victory either.  Sure, the Aggies never quit but the fact of the matter is they ran out of time 2 points shy of Clemson.  It was a loss.  For me, the definition of what happened was validation.  Validation this era of Aggie football is going to be different.  Validation the Aggies finally got the right coach and staff.  Validation we have a team that will learn how to win big.  Validation that Kyle Field is one of the best venues for college football anywhere in the world.  Validation we’re on our way to Make Aggie Football Great Again.

Coming into this season I wasn’t too worried about wins and losses.  If Jimbo gets us to at least 8 wins the long-term plan would be on track.  I don’t want the fool’s gold of 2012 where we had an amazing season but that was just it.  One season.  Nothing more.  I want Jimbo’s first year to be about a different look for Aggie football.  What we saw on Saturday sure makes it look like things will be different this time.  I saw a team that never quit but most importantly I saw a coaching staff that schemed to have a chance to beat a more talented team.  That Clemson team on Saturday night was more talented than A&M which is the difference for why Clemson won.  Coaching and execution had the Aggie team looking for a two-point conversion at the end of the game to send it overtime.  The Aggies fell short but there’s a LOT of positives to take away from this game.

For the first time since Alabama in 2013 something happened at Kyle Field.  The stadium fed off the team.  No doubt there were plenty of moments where the team fed off the fans, but this Aggie team didn’t quit.  If they didn’t believe in themselves Kyle Field would have been deflated.  The 64-yard touchdown pass to go up 14-3 had a lot of Aggie fans wondering if it was more of the same from the last 4 years.  Even worse was when the Aggies went down 21-6 late in the third quarter.  You could feel the excitement escaping from Kyle Field like we’d felt so many times in recent memory.  The excitement didn’t escape though.  The Aggie team fought back and Kyle Field roared back to life.  Man did it roar back to life.  For the final quarter of football the team and the stadium were willing each other to a win.  The 12th Man had been waiting on this moment.  The team was leading the way back and the 12th Man was ready to follow.

Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.  I don’t see any reason why it’s not.  That was a team that learned to fight and most importantly learned it can compete with the best college football has to offer.  Maybe it’s a blip but this feels different.  This was coaching and playing.  This was a staff devising plays against a great team and players executing believing they’d come back.  No quit.  Just a clock that ran out of time.

Before I get to the breakdowns of units and players I can’t say enough about what Jimbo and the staff did on Saturday night.  They took a less talented team and went to the final second against the #2 team in the country.  Maybe Clemson isn’t the second-best team in the country but there’s no doubt they’re a Top 5 team.  That’s the best college football has to offer.  Defensively we held our own for most of the game other than a few big plays.  Offensively the play design and execution was something I hadn’t seen since 2012.  Our offensive staff had a very good idea of what Clemson was capable of and schemed against them.  What happened in the second half wasn’t luck.  It was awareness and preparation.  It was confidence too.  Coaches leading players and players following because they believed.  It sure feels like validation Aggie Football finally got it right when it came to hiring a coach.

Offense:

Kellen Mond:

This was no doubt a team effort but Kellen Mond deserves MAJOR props for what he did on Saturday night.  At the end of last year I wondered if Mond would ever see another snap at Texas A&M.  He seemed destined to transfer like some other Aggie quarterbacks that lost their job.  Turns out we all forgot Kellen was a highly recruited 4 star quarterback and coaching really matters.  If you don’t believe me ask Kahlil Tate in Arizona how his Heisman chances are looking after his first two games.  Ask Deondre Francois at Florida State if he misses Jimbo.

I never expected Mond to have the game he did.  Statistically he was 23/40 for 430 yards with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.  That’s a damn fine game considering he’s a true sophomore still getting his feel in a new system.  What impressed me most was not anything that shows up in the statistics.  What impressed me most was his awareness and confidence.  I’ll get to the receivers and line in a little bit as they deserve major props as well but Kellen Mond made some damn big throws in that game.  Anyone that says his receivers bailed him out didn’t really watch that game.  Mond let the ball fly and gave his receivers a chance to make big plays.  Don’t underestimate Mond’s willingness to let the ball go and throw passes in a game like that.

Mond has the ability to run but unlike some quarterbacks with the ability to run Mond did it as a last resort.  He used his legs to avoid pressure and buy time but he kept his eyes down the field looking to make a pass.  A lot of young guys would have tucked the ball and ran for what they could get against that Clemson defense.  Not Mond.  He hung behind the line of scrimmage for as long as he could hoping something would develop downfield and when he saw it he let the ball go.

The most impressive play of the game and defines what I’m talking about was the pass to Quartney Davis to make it a 28-20 game.  Clemson brought a linebacker blitz from the outside.  Kellen IMMEDIATELY notices it and prepares for it.  He times his spin out to the left perfectly to avoid the pressure but is still running for his life.  They key here is he never drops his hands below his waist and is looking to get his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage.  He’s running for his life but he’s still looking to make a throw.  He had a lot of green in front of him.  The easy play would have been to get the 5-15 yards by tucking the ball.  He was looking to make a play with his arm rather than his legs though.  He doesn’t have the speed of Johnny or Kyler Murray but he did have the athleticism and most importantly the awareness to make a BIG play.

Here’s the play.  Watch this thing over and over if you want.  Start and stop it during the play to process everything.  He picks up the blitz right away.  He waits to bail.  He spins at the right depth away from the defender.  He’s looking downfield.  His hands never drop below his waist and always has both hands on the ball.  He’s squaring his shoulders.  He sees Davis going back to an open spot.  He releases the ball right when he’s getting hit.  As Dave South once eloquently said, “He got a touchdown.”  That was a well-coached and confident quarterback that knew his limitations.  That wasn’t all luck.  I guarantee you Jimbo ran that play back and forth 10 times on Sunday in film telling Kellen what a great play it was.  And it was great.

I couldn’t get the video to embed at the right spot but fast forward to about the 2:02 mark and watch the play.  You can also click the link below it which will take you right to the play.  Sorry my Internetting is lacking where I can’t get the YouTubes and WordPress to sync up right.  You get what you pay for.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=napBx4gMovI&feature=youtu.be&t=122

It was a total team effort but Kellen deserves major props.  This is his team and he owned it on Saturday night.  I’m sure there will be some hiccups along the way but this isn’t last year’s Kellen Mond at all.  This is a well-coached quarterback with some great natural talent.  If you want to know why Kellen Mond won the quarterback battle go back and watch that play again.  The perfect combination of awareness, poise, and athleticism.

Wide Receivers:

Um, Kendrick Rogers, where have you been?  Right behind the effort of Kellen Mond is no doubt Kendrick Rogers.  I NEVER expected to see the production we saw out of that guy on Saturday night.  He caught 7 balls just outjumping Clemson defenders.  His two touchdown catches were beautiful with athleticism and concentration.  I had no idea he had that ability but I sure hope this is more than a one game deal from him.  He has the size and athleticism so there’s no reason to think there’s not more there from him.  7 catches for 120 yards and two pretty damn amazing touchdown catches sure doesn’t seem like a fluke.  Next to Mond he’s no doubt the offensive MVP.

Outside of Rogers the rest of the receiving corps was solid.  Buckley, Ausbon, Sternberger, Trayveon, and Davis all had key catches at time.  That was really the difference in the game as Clemson couldn’t shut down the whole receiving corps.  Mond made Clemson pay by finding and hitting the open guys.  The receivers did their job but catching the ball and getting yards after reception.

Through 2 games this receiving corps looks completely different than last year.  They seem more aware and ready for the ball looking to make a play.  Last week they were blocking really well in the ground game and this week they were going after balls.  This doesn’t seem like a receiving corps that’s waiting on the play or ball to find them like last season.  They want to go make the play.  This only helps Mond when he knows if he puts the ball up his guys are going to fight for it.  It’s only one game but this receiving corps looks MUCH deeper than I ever imagined.  And what’s crazy is we have some true freshman on the bench that likely won’t see the field based on what we saw Saturday night.  I’m totally okay with that.

Offensive Line:

I have to put them at third on this list but the offensive line was tremendous on Saturday night all things considered.  We really couldn’t establish the ground game for the most part.  We only gained 57 yards on the ground other than Mond’s runs.  I’m really surprised by this as I expected our ground attack to do better than our pass blocking.  That wasn’t the case but the offensive line did a fine job for what was there.

Kellen didn’t have a ton of time to throw but thanks to the offensive line he had enough time to throw all night for the most part.  Coaching also helped here as Jimbo and Dickey started moving Kellen around as well as started using Trayveon Williams out of the backfield.  The few times we ran screens they were well timed and well executed.  Mond was sacked three times but that was all in the first half I think.  They adjusted in the second half nicely giving Mond enough time to throw the ball.  Great job by the coaches and offensive line.

Probably the biggest compliment to pay this offensive line is you completely forgot they were playing the best defensive line in college football.  They still have some room to develop since we got stuffed on short yardage situations a couple of times.  I’m not complaining though as last year’s line would have been embarrassed.  This unit is still growing but they held their own against the best defensive line in college football for most of the night.

Running Game:

It seemed pretty clear Clemson’s goal coming into this game was to shut down the run.  That’s what they did with their defensive line.  Trayveon only averaged 1.8 yards per rush.  He’s not built for this type of defensive line because he needs to get to the second level to use his speed and wiggle.  This isn’t on Trayveon because the matchup never really favored us here.  Our offensive line couldn’t get him to the second level.  Great job by Jimbo and Staff recognizing it wasn’t there for the most part and adapting.  The Aggies never truly went away from the run so Clemson always had to think about it, but it was clear we weren’t running our way to yards and scores against that line.  They’re just too good.

Tray Williams is a great back but we did miss having someone like a Keith Ford or Tra Carson that could pound the ball a little more between the tackles.  It likely wouldn’t have made too much of a difference but we do miss that threat.  Just not much you can do against a defensive line where all four of their guys will be drafted in the first two rounds.  Just admit your deficiencies and try something else which Jimbo did and it worked for the most part.

Defense:

Defensive Line:

I thought the defensive line played really well.  147 yards on the ground isn’t ideal but Clemson has a very mobile quarterback.  That makes it hard to key in on the running back.  We didn’t give up any long touchdown runs.  We kept Travis Etienne corralled for the most part other than one 28-yard scamper.  He’s a very underrated back as if he gets to the second level he can flat out burn you.  Elko did a good job moving people in and out.  Kingsley Keke had his usual good game along with Landis Durham.  It didn’t show up on the stat sheet but Daylon Mack had a couple plays where he was completely disruptive blowing the center and guard off their blocks.  I don’t know if it’s scheme or want but it’s amazing how Mack can be so dominating at times and then get blocked other times.  I’m sure it’s a little of both.  Justin Madubuike really showed up in this game bringing pressure all game long.  He spent a lot of time in the backfield getting a sack and a quarterback hurry.  He’s only a sophomore but he seems like he keeps developing better and better every game.  Our defensive line isn’t as good Clemson’s defensive line but there’s no doubt this is a solid unit.  They just show up every game and do their job.

Linebacker:

Thanks to our defensive line Dodson and Alaka were freed up to make plays.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Not sure what else what to write here as these guys did their job plain and simple.  Dodson is probably the most underrated linebacker in the SEC and maybe even the country.  He led the team in solo tackles and even had a nice pass break up on the wide receiver reverse pass to their quarterback.  Was hoping he would come down with it but it was pretty good awareness.  He knocked the ball away so there was no chance of a completion.  Saw Anthony Hines in there a couple of times late in the game but don’t recall him doing much.  We still need to add some depth here but Dodson and Alaka just show up every week and clean up what the defensive line doesn’t take care of.  I’m totally okay with that as that’s how the front 7 is supposed to work.

Seems Donovan Wilson is kind of our third linebacker as Elko technically runs a 4-2-5.  This makes the third linebacker and safety situational.  Wilson fits in with Dodson and Alaka.  He may not seem all that dominant, but Wilson is as dependable as they get.  Whatever comes their way Dodson, Alaka, and Wilson are going to handle.  We could be MUCH worse than these three guys manning the middle of the play.

Secondary:

Coming into the season the position that concerned me the most beyond the offensive line was our cornerbacks.  I don’t think we have amazing talent at corner.  Certainly not upper level college football talent.  That showed up on Saturday night as we gave up two long 64 yard passes with one being for a touchdown.  We also gave up another 50 yard pass which set up a touchdown.  That’s 178 yards through the air on three plays which is over half their passing offense.  That’s too much.  I get giving up a big play here and there but our cornerback coverage is definitely the weakest part of our defense by far.  Clemson knew it and attacked it on several occasions.

I feel good about our chances against the run but if we’re going up against an offense that has strong deep threats and a quarterback that can get it to them we’re going t be susceptible to the deep ball.  We just don’t have the talent at corner to compete with great deep threats.  Along with depth at linebacker we must get more talented corners on campus and get them up to speed.  This won’t be the last time you see an opponent get a long touchdown against us.  It’s our Achilles heel and it’ll continue to get tested until we prove we can slow it down.

Safety wise the guys not named Donavan Wilson did okay.  I like Derrick Tucker’s long-term potential but he still makes some goofs from time to time.  Deshawn Capers-Smith doesn’t have Tucker’s talent but he doesn’t make the mistakes Tucker does.  We’ve got a lot of young talent at the safety position so we’ll be fine long term, but this really feels like a transition year from having Evans, Watts, and Wilson roaming the secondary like we’ve had the last few years.

 

Overall:

Clemson was 4 of 13 on third down conversions and failed on their only 4th down attempt.  They also held the ball for only 26 minutes.  Those two stats are all because of our front 7 doing what they do.  All in all this defense is starting to remind me of the 2012 unit but with a worse secondary.  It’s a really good unit with the front 7.  Much better than most people realize.  So far Elko looks to be an upgrade over Chavis as the front 7 is more fundamentally sound.  It doesn’t seem as prone to the goofs the Chavis defense would have at times and especially late in games.  We’re just going to give up big pass plays from time to time so get used to that.  At least against the teams that have fast receivers and quarterbacks with big enough arms.

Special Teams:

Obviously we know about LaCamera with his miss and block.  Obviously that makes Clemson feel like 2012 Florida and LSU.  Not sure it’ll come to that where we’re looking back at a missed field goal away from a potential national championship but I’m fine if so.  That will be a much better season than most expected.  He still hit two 40 yarders so he’s not terrible.  Kickers are going to miss so you’re better off being in a position where you don’t rely on them.  Even Alabama had a kicker a while back that routinely missed field goals which drove Saban wild.

No doubt the special teamer of the game was Braden Mann.  I can’t recall seeing a punter just driving a ball with no trajectory like he was.  He was knocking it low and deep all night.  I don’t know if he was doing it by design but it was working perfectly.  The way he was hitting it wouldn’t allow the return guy to set up underneath it so he was having to chase it like a center fielder on a deep line drive.  Clemson only had 9 yards of punt returns so whatever it was needs to keep happening.  Anytime you have a punter averaging 55 yards a punt and hits a 73 yarder with 9 return yards you’re doing something right.  Mann was tremendous.

On returns we didn’t really have anything spectacular but I thought Roshauud Paul did a nice job of knowing when to fair catch and return.  He had two returns off 14 and 11 yards which isn’t that long but shows he appears to have pretty good awareness.  Last thing you want on a punt return is to try and make a return when nothing is there.  That’s how fumbles happen.  If you don’t feel there’s anything to be gained get your arm up and call for the fair catch.  Make the catch and move on down the road.  Fumbled punts can really turn the momentum.  I like Paul’s apparent awareness in fielding punts.

 

Going Forward:

It’s hard not to like what happened at Kyle Field on Saturday night even though the Aggies are now 1-1 on the season.  Alabama is in two weeks and that’s the biggest test of the season.  Based on what I’ve seen this season Alabama is a better football team than Clemson.  The Aggies have to get through Louisiana Monroe this weekend but I don’t see that being an issue.  At least I hope not.

Right now I’m leaving my season prediction at 8-4.  The SEC West is still looking strong with Mississippi State being better than I originally thought.  South Carolina might be a little worse but that Georgia game could be a wake up call for them.  Arkansas looks like an easier game and Ole Miss apparently has all offense and no defense.  LSU is still so far away it’s hard to predict that one.  Kentucky doesn’t look like the easy win either after they beat Florida in Gainesville.  Still a lot of football to be played only 2 games in.  I want to make sure that Clemson game wasn’t a blip before I chug all of my maroon Kool-Aid.  What I had on Saturday night sure tasted good though.

I will say after Saturday night this team might be closer to the 2012 team than I originally thought.  That team that played at Kyle Field can beat anybody left on their schedule not named Alabama.  I think there’s at least one more loss in there but I feel much better about Auburn and LSU right now than I did coming into the season.  Let’s see what we look like against Alabama and then we can figure out what could happen the rest of the way.  I said a realistic dream season was going 9-3 winning the bowl game finishing at 10-3.  That seems really possible right now.

If we play the rest of the season like we played Clemson there’s no doubt we’ll Make Aggie Football Great Again well ahead of schedule.

#MAFGA

 

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Thoughts on the Ole Miss Game

2017 Ole Miss

This week’s thoughts are going to be pretty short because the Ole Miss game was more of the same as we’ve seen all season.  Even with Nick Starkel starting his first game of the year against a P5 team since UCLA it was much of the same.  I will say that had Kellen Mond started the game we likely lose.  Ole Miss committed to shut down the run and luckily Starkel was able to complete passes.  If we don’t have a passing game then we lose that game without a doubt.

Before I get to my analysis the craziest thing about the game was the first 7 possessions by each team were mirror images.  When Ole Miss scored A&M scored.  When Ole Miss punted A&M punted.  When Ole Miss turned the ball over A&M turned the ball over.  Pretty crazy first 14 possessions for the game.

Now to my quick analysis of the game.

Offense:

We scored 31 points but only 21 of those were by the offense.  All of those in the first half.  The defense was responsible for 7 of those points and LaCamera was responsible for the other 3.  Outside of responding to what Ole Miss was doing in the first half this offense didn’t do much at all.  Every chance we had to really respond and take the lead or even start pulling away we didn’t do anything.  It was completely frustrating seeing us get the ball with a chance to take the lead or pull away and couldn’t do anything.

I believe coming into this game Ole Miss was 125th against the run in the country.  That’s out of 129 teams.  That’s not good as they’ve given up around 5.5 yards every carry.  What did A&M do to exploit that?  Not a damn thing.  A&M running backs rushed 38 times for 133 yards.  That’s 3.5 yards per carry which isn’t terrible.  Take away Keith Ford’s 43 yard run and we rushed 37 times for 90 yards.  That’s 2.43 yards per carry.  Against the 125th ranked run defense in the country that’s terrible.  Three yards a carry less than their average.   That’s maddening we couldn’t exploit that.

Even worse is Trayveon Williams carried the ball 26 times for 75 yards.  That’s averaging 2.9 yards a carry but the worst part is his longest run was 6 yards.  Trayveon got the ball 26 times and the longest run he could muster was 6 yards.  26 chances and his longest run was 6 yards.  Trayveon’s longest run was what Ole Miss gives up on average every run coming into the game.  Let that sink in.  Trayveon is a home run hitting running back so that’s all on our offensive line.  On 26 carries not once could they open up a hole big enough for Traveon to bust off a run longer than 6 yards.  That’s terrible.  It seems it was just basic running schemes off the left guard or right guard.  It was great to see us commit to the run in the second half but it’s disconcerting that we couldn’t actually establish a running game against a TERRIBLE run defense.

I know our offensive line is terrible but it’s more frustrating that our offense can’t scheme any home run plays for two really good backs.  Especially against a team that’s struggled against the run.  We couldn’t really do anything in the running game other than what a high school team can do.  I don’t get it.  It appeared to be basic zone blocking and nothing more.  I’m fine with zone blocking but when you can’t establish it against a terrible run defense you better have something else in your back pocket to try.  We had nothing other than keep handing off and crossing the fingers hoping a big play happens.

We also still had issues with snaps.  I don’t know how many there were but I believe I counted around 5 during the game.  There was a crucial one being on the last drive where we were trying to punch it in to the end zone to put the game away.  It completely stalled out a potential goal line score.  Erik McCoy is our best offensive lineman by far but I have no clue why he can’t clean up his snaps.  I don’t get it at all.

Starkel was 19 of 32 for 272 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception.  That’s less than 50% so he wasn’t exactly lighting it up but it was a solid enough performance.  It was definitely good enough to win and I don’t think Mond would have done the same.  We might have had a better running game with Mond but it wouldn’t have been dominating at all.  Mond wouldn’t have been the difference in establishing a running game but just more likely he would have busted off a couple longer runs.  I still think we lose with Mond though.  Starkel helped us win that game but the defense in the second half was the reason we won the game.  Not the offense.

From a receiving standpoint Damion Ratley had probably the best game of his career.  He was outstanding catching 5 balls for 111 yards and a touchdown.  He had two big catches on our first two offensive possessions when we had to respond to Ole Miss scores.  He’s had his ups and downs this season but he’s been tremendous at times.  Kirk had his normal productive game catching 5 balls for 77 yards.  Jhamon Ausbon had probably his best game of the season catching 4 balls for 61 yards.  Outside of those three there wasn’t much else in the passing game.

Let’s get to some nitpicking.  There was an extremely frustrating moment in the first half.  It looked like we were setting up a trick play or some kind of play to our tight end.  We wind up false starting as the tight end streaked down the field before the snap.  That’s completely a high school team move.  We’re about to call a play with a wrinkle and our offense got ancy completely screwing it up.  Similar to what happened in the Florida game.  It just reeks of being unprepared and not disciplined.

From a coaching standpoint on offense Kevin Sumlin showed what appears to be continued complete unawareness of urgency.  Ole Miss is lining up to kick a 28 yard field goal tied 21-21 with 28 seconds left in the half.  The clock isn’t rolling because there was an incomplete pass so there’s no need to call a timeout by A&M.  We call a timeout so I guess Sumlin thought he was icing the kicker.  Um, you can’t ice a kicker on a 28 yard field goal.  That’s 8 yards longer than an extra point.  There’s no icing a 28 yard attempt.  I’m not sure what Sumlin was thinking with that timeout.  I really don’t.  By the time the kick went through the uprights there was 24 seconds left in the half.  That’s not a lot of time but you can move the ball with 24 seconds and two timeouts to set up a field goal and try to tie the game going in at half time.  Those two timeouts would allow you to attack the middle of the field rather than just the sidelines.

What happens when Ole Miss kicks off?  They kick the ball short to Trayveon and he bobbles it before taking off.  Seems like a lack of focus or urgency by him but he actually got to the 32 yard line with 17 seconds left.  Not a lot of time but decent position and you have one timeout.  Go for the middle of the field, call the timeout, and go for a hail mary.  What do we do?  We run the ball.  Trayveon runs to the sideline for a 2 yard gain stopping the clock.  We then rush it up the middle for 6 yards and let time expire.  I don’t get it.  If you have no intention of calling the timeout you have why not kneel it?

If you don’t want to take a chance on a pass why not call the timeout and run the ball again on a draw or screen in case you happen to break a long run?  It’s not likely but if you’re going to try and run twice why not try a third time?  It’s just mind boggling what Sumlin is thinking in those situations.  He doesn’t have ANY sense of urgency or awareness.  I’d been fine if he just kneeled it.  Why expose your running back to two additional hits along with your other players if you have no interest in scoring?  I just don’t get Sumlin’s end of the half play and clock management.  I don’t think he honestly knows either.

Another situation was at the end of the game we’re up by 4 with 2 minutes left on the 1 yard line.  It’s 4th down and Sumlin decides to kick the field goal.  It’s a chip shot which would put us up by 7 but we now have to kick off to Ole Miss with a little less than 2 minutes left.  Ole Miss has no timeouts left and would have to score a touchdown.  Sumlin decided rather than attempt a 4th and goal from the 1 yard line he’d rather go up by 7 and kick off to Ole Miss.  If we score the game is over.  No way Ole Miss can score 11 points with less than 2 minutes and no timeouts.  If we don’t make it then Ole Miss has to drive 99 yards for a touchdown with 2 minutes and no timeouts because a field goal won’t be enough.  I would think a head coach would know the probabilities of a team scoring from a kickoff in under 2 minutes or driving 99 yards in 2 minutes.  I can’t help but think driving the 99 yards with 2 minutes and no timeouts to be much less likely.

To make matters worse I think our kickoff specialist who can kick it out of the back of the end zone was hurt as LaCamera was handling kick offs.  LaCamera is a great field goal kicker but doesn’t have Braden Mann’s leg on kick offs.  We don’t even have our best kick off guy which would seems more reason to go for the touchdown to put it away or set up a 99 yard drive.

LaCamera kicks off to their 15 and they return it to their 34 yard line so they’re set up pretty well.  Ole Miss has three incompletes which ended their series before it could ever get going so we wound up just fine.  Sumlin’s decision there just reeks of a coach not confident in his offense and not knowing the likely percentages of a team scoring with 2 minutes and no timeouts either having to go 99 yards or receiving a kickoff that’s returnable.  It turned out fine but I would love to know if Sumlin knows the related probabilities in those two scenarios.  I would think a coach would have some clue.  Maybe Sumlin knows the probabilities and that was the basis for his decision but I highly doubt it.

He just seems to have ZERO sense of urgency or awareness for what’s going on for all facets of the game when it comes to making decisions.  It appears he just decides in a vacuum of actual football probabilities and awareness for his team.

Defense:

We’ll talk about the first half briefly.  We all saw what happened.  It’s confusing how we gave up over 300 yards in the first half but only 66 in the second half.  It’s tremendous we did it because it saved the game for A&M but the difference in the halves is amazing.  From my standpoint there was no sense of urgency coming out to play the first half.  There were TONS of missed tackles it seemed.  There was no swarming to the ball and the defense just seemed to be going through the motions.  Ole Miss wasn’t known as a running team coming into the game but they ran all over us in the first half.  Defending the run with our front 6 has been a strength of this team for most of the season.  It was terrible for a half against a team not known for running the ball.  I didn’t understand it as it was happening and still don’t for the most part.

The second half was completely different as our defense shut down the Ole Miss offense.  They held Ole Miss scoreless and only allowed 66 yards in the second half for their 8 possessions.  That’s domination.  Amazing adjustments by Chavis at half so the defense deserves major credit for the win.  Without them stepping up in the second half we lose that game.  I don’t even really know what else to write because it’s so dysfunctional where the same players can get rolled in the first half and then dominate the second.  You got me but credit to the Aggie defense for stepping up when it mattered most.

And of course the key play of the second half was the pick six by Derrick Tucker.  That was the only time the Aggies saw the end zone in the second half because our offense stunk it up in the second half.  Just an uncanny game with two completely different halves of football.  You got me.

Special Teams:

More of the same here where lots of inconsistency from various units but there was one star and that was Shane Tripucka.  He punted 8 times for 368 yards which is a 46 yard average.  Most importantly he pinned 5 of those kicks inside the 20 yard line.  I thought he was outstanding all night.

Other than Tripucka nobody really stood out to me from a special teams standpoint.

Going Forward:

I don’t think this game changes anything with Sumlin.  Even if he beats LSU I think he’s gone.  I don’t think he’ll beat LSU though as if Ole Miss can shut down our offense for a half then LSU can shut us down the whole game.  I think LSU has enough talent on offense to score more points than our offense will score.  At 7-5 Sumlin will be done with no question.

Even with a win over LSU I don’t think Sumlin survives 8-4 because I think the relationship of Sumlin and A&M is done.  I think both parties will agree to move on.  With UCLA opening up I wouldn’t be shocked to see Sumlin take that job.  It seems to suit him a lot more.  Bright lights and not the same sense of urgency A&M has to win it all.  Sumlin can survive a LONG time winning 8 and 9 wins a season at UCLA.  I think he’ll go there and we’ll be off the hook for a good portion of his buyout.

As for Sumlin’s replacement I’m now all in on Jimbo Fisher.  He’s kind of a jerk but he can flat out coach.  It won’t be cheap but he’ll do better than Sumlin and there’s a good chance he’ll make A&M the second best team in the SEC West.  Plus, it’s a major shot that Texas A&M is serious about winning big time college football.  Attracting Jimbo Fisher IMMEDIATELY changes the perception of Texas A&M from a national standpoint.  It’ll prove that A&M is interested in being more than the sleepy college football program that perpetually underachieves relative to its resources.  It’s a hire that says Texas A&M is now a Top 10 job in the country like it should be.  Maybe Fisher won’t be successful but his track record says otherwise.

If we don’t get Fisher then I say give Chad Morris a chance assuming he keeps John Chavis and his defensive staff.  Either way we have to act quickly with an early signing period this year.

Thoughts from the Auburn Game

Auburn v Texas A&M

There is no doubt in my mind Kevin Sumlin sealed his fate on Saturday losing to Auburn.  He’s done at Texas A&M as head coach.  I suppose that officially makes him a spec home builder if the news is true he’s in the middle of building a new house in College Station.  I don’t think he’ll ever live in it.  He might want to leave the flooring and countertops for the eventual buyer.  Even if he wins the last three games he’ll still be 8-4 and that’s not going to cut it.  I think the decision to move on from Kevin Sumlin has been made and A&M is doing their due diligence for its next head coach.  What that due diligence is I have no idea but I hope it’s a serious search considering a major budget and plenty of names.

Two moments from that game signal to me Sumlin is done.  At the end of the first half we got the ball back with 1:36 left in the game.  Auburn had just scored on a quick drive capped by a 53 yard touchdown pass that put Auburn ahead 14-13 heading into half.  Auburn was getting the ball coming out of half so they were set up well.  We had the ball at the 20 yard line and Auburn had two time outs.  Starkel had lit a fire under the offense and had been moving the ball.  What does Sumlin do?  He runs the ball three times which burned about a minute off the clock thanks to Auburn’s two timeouts.  There was NO sense of urgency by the A&M offense and no desire to run a two minute drill to see if they could make something happen.  None at all.

A&M lines up for the punt and what happens?  Auburn who had taken two timeouts playing aggressively sends their punt return team for a block and gets through.  They block the punt into the end zone for a touchdown and a 21-13 lead heading into half and getting the ball.  That was the moment I knew Sumlin was officially done.  He had no sense of urgency and got owned by a coach who did have a sense of urgency.  I don’t know if we were lined up in max protect but we should have been.  That was a failure by both Sumlin and Jeff Banks to not have their punt protection and punter prepared for that situation.  Auburn took advantage of Sumlin not being aggressive by being aggressive themselves.

The other moment in the game that told me Sumlin was done coaching was late in the fourth quarter.  We had shown some signs of life offensively but the defense had given up too many points.  With a little over 5 minutes left Auburn scored to go up 42-20 which is a pretty steep hill but in college football it’s not insurmountable.  In fact it happens way more than it should.  It’s still a three score game but it’s not impossible.  If you feel you’re coaching for your job you should coach with some serious urgency.  Kevin Sumlin clearly wasn’t doing that.

After Auburn goes up 42-20 Trayveon Williams returns the kickoff to the Auburn 28 with a little over 5 minutes left.  A&M has two timeouts left with 5 minutes left.  We should have had 3 timeouts but had to use one because we tried to punt with 12 people on the field which is another story.  It’s a longshot but three scores in 5 minutes on their 28 yardline is technically doable with good clock management, play calling, and some luck which is not uncommon in college football.  So what happens is we get to the Auburn 11 yard line thanks to a pass interference call with a little over 4 minutes left.  4 minutes and two timeouts left on the opponent’s 11 yard line needing 3 scores.  Not likely but with the some breaks you can make it happen.

We call back to back run plays in that situation.  Seriously.  We’re on the 11 yard line needing to conserve as much time a possible and we call two run plays.  Two run plays.  Unreal.  We got a gain of six yards and a loss of 3 yards.  We ran the ball twice needing to conserve the clock.  I couldn’t believe it.  At that moment I realized Kevin Sumlin is just totally clueless when it comes to game situations or he just doesn’t care.  I think it’s a combination of both.  He’s just not a great head coach.  Completely unaware of what’s needed in certain situations.

We did wind up scoring there but burned a minute off the clock we didn’t need to.  If we score with a little under 4 minutes left and two timeouts you can at least make a decision on the kickoff to kick deep or onside kick.  Sure, you probably onside kick but at least you have an extra minute and there is some element of surprise.  As it is you burned a minute and everybody in the stadium knew an onside kick is coming so there’s no element of a surprise.  We failed the onside kick and that moment sealed any chance of coming back.  The odds of scoring 22 points in 4 minutes is not likely but it is possible with some breaks.  As it was Kevin Sumlin had ZERO interest in finding out if we could get a few lucky breaks.  No sense of urgency or care on his behalf.  And because of that he’ll be gone after LSU unless he pulls a Jim McElwain saying something stupid that forces A&M’s hand.  I don’t think he’s that dumb but you never know.

It’s also ironic that Jarret Stidham is part of the final nail in Sumlin’s coffin.  Kevin Sumlin twice had the opportunity to recruit Stidham but passed the first time in order to get Kyler Murray.  We saw how that turned out.  He also had the chance to recruit him in the 2017 February class but passed on him for Mond along with Hezekiah Jones and Jhamon Ausbon.  Evidently they were a package deal and Sumlin was scared signing Stidham would scare off all three.  Mond got pulled in the first half on Saturday while neither Jones or Ausbon caught a ball.  Meanwhile Stidham went 20 for 27 throwing for 268 yards and 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.  Basically Sumlin not signing Stidham can be seen as a direct reason Sumlin will no longer be the head coach at Texas A&M when this season is done.  Another reason Sumlin needs to go.  He didn’t recruit quarterback with a sense of urgency in the off season.  He had nobody with any experience under center and passed on Stidham for fear it would scare off people who likely wouldn’t contribute this season.  Once again Sumlin is just unaware of his current situation and doing things to immediately right the ship.  I said at the time he would regret not signing Stidham and Saturday proved that to be right.

For the rest of my normal thoughts I’m going to keep it short.  It’s basically the same from the Mississippi State game.  I want to keep it short because with it clear Sumlin is gone I want to start looking at potential candidates in more detail.  Big rumor is Jimbo Fisher is our top target because we think he’s attainable.  I want to spend my time digging under the hood of Fisher and get that written up.

Offense:

This was basically the same thing as the Mississippi State game other than the change at quarterback.  Before I get to that change I’m just going to say the line looked slightly better with Starkel in there because defenses know they have to respect the pass with him as QB.  With Mond they were just loading the box and destroying our line.  At receiver it was more of the same except Damion Ratley caught balls and had a great catch and run for a 62 yard touchdown.  Outside of that he caught 3 balls for 20 yards so not explosive on the other catches.  Kirk caught 8 balls for 62 yards with a long of 29 yards so he didn’t exactly light it up either.  Trayveon caught a beautiful shovel pass for 41 yards but other than that not much in the passing game.  Receivers still don’t seem to be getting or separation unless it’s just busted coverage.

The running game was definitely improved with Starkel under center as the defense backed off the line of scrimmage to respect the pass it seems.  Keith Ford and Trayveon Williams combined for 29 carries totaling 151 yards.  That’s a little over 5 yards a carry and most of that came with Starkel in.  The longest run was 40 yards by Traveon.  Ford and Williams were chewing off good runs which we definitely didn’t see against Mississippi State.  Pretty clear having to respect the passing game helped our running game.

As for Starkel he was 11 for 22 for 184 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions.  That’s not outstanding but it’s the best outing we’ve seen all year from a quarterback against a respectable defense.  He had the 62 yard pass to Ratley so that was a big play that accounted for 33% of the yards but Starkel did a nice job passing the ball considering the play calls and lack of receivers getting open.  Barring an injury this is Starkel’s job the rest of the season and heading into next year no matter who the new coach is.  He’s just a better passer and its clear Mond has a ways to go from a passing standpoint.  The one big difference I saw between Starkel and Mond in the game is that Starkel played with a sense of urgency.  He was begging for the play to get everyone lined up.  I never saw that from Mond.  I think it’s completely a confidence and comfort thing.  Starkel appears more confident and comfortable taking snaps at the college level.  Starkel also seems to make much quicker decisions in the passing game.

One thing I’d love to see happen but it won’t is eliminate the red zone fade route.  I don’t know that it’s worked all year but I can count at least a dozen times we’ve tried that and it hasn’t been close to a completion.  It’s like Mazzone thinks we have Mike Evans or Josh Reynolds who can go up and get the ball.  We don’t have anyone like that and the ball hasn’t even been close to a completion if we did have someone that could go get it.  Sumlin needs to go rip that page out of Mazzone’s play sheet but let’s face it those two don’t care anymore.  They both know they’re gone so we’ll see it a few more times this season.  I can’t wait.

Defense:

Defensively this felt just like the Misissippi State game for the most part.  The defense played well enough in the first half save for one play.  That was the 53 yard pass with under 2 minutes left where they just got isolated coverage with their fastest receiver against our backup corner because our best cover guy wasn’t playing.  The Auburn receiver got separation from our corner and Stidham hit him in stride for a touchdown.  Great coaching isolating talent on lesser talent and great job by Stidham hitting the guy in stride.  Other than that I thought our defense played just fine in the first half despite our offensive issues until Starkel came in.

The second half was pretty bad as the defense held Auburn to a three and out on their first possession of the half but it went downhill quickly after that.  Our offense responded to the defense starting the second half with a three and out by also going three and out giving the ball right back to Auburn.  Auburn would then score on their next two possessions making the game 35-13.  The game was over halfway through the third quarter for the most part.  The back breaker was when Auburn got the ball on their own 4 yard line and took the ball 96 yards the other way on 14 plays burning 8:17 of the clock.  They ran the ball 11 times and passed only 3.  That’s pretty demoralizing for the defense .  There’s no way to defend a defense that gives up a drive like that.  If they can hold them there it could have been a 35-27 game at one point.  Ifs and buts though don’t get anyone anywhere though.

Individually the two best performances for me were Tyrel Dodson who has turned into an absolute beast.  The dude is legit.  Anthony Hines was the other who had his best game of the year.  Armani Watts had his solid game as well.  The front four looked solid most of the game other than that demoralizing drive in the 4th quarter.

All in all they played great in the first half but the second half was a different story.  Time of possession wasn’t too far off at 35:44 to 24:16 but I do think there’s an element of always playing defense from behind that becomes a mental battle.  Defenses want to be aggressive knowing they’re playing for something and that’s just happening with our offense.  It would be interesting to see what would happen if our offense could actually get a lead or swing time of possession in their favor.  This defense has not been great the last two games.  They have looked really solid in the first half but faded in the second half when the offense wasn’t doing anything.  Hard to blame them.  Despite all of that I still contend our “Front 6” has looked really solid for most of the season with a few hiccups here and there.

I’m still on the Chief Train mainly because I think the offense is not giving this defense any chance to shine.

Special Teams:

Talk about a Jekyll and Hyde game.  Two blocked field goal attempts and a great kick return by Trayveon Williams.  But we had the blocked punt where we should have been in max protect fully expecting a jailhouse break trying to block the punt.  Auburn executed it perfectly and we weren’t ready for it.  The timeout in the third quarter because we were trying to punt with 12 guys was maddening.  After we got the personnel straightened out we punt the ball off the up back.  Like I’ve said all season this special teams unit isn’t spectacular for the most part other than some big individual contributors.  I know Jeff Banks gets lots of love but I personally think the guy is just average.  Just too much inconsistency and bone headed plays like we saw on Saturday.

Going Forward:

Sumlin is done and he knows it.  He’ll coach out the season and be done after LSU.  I expect us to go 2-1 finishing 7-5 but it could be worse.  This team could just collapse going down the stretch.  I don’t think that will happen as I think there’s enough young leadership.   Starkel and Dodson on their respective sides of the ball won’t let that happen I don’t think.  7-5 will be a disappointment but it’ll get us to a bowl game which we should accept as you always want the extra practice and experience.
Make Aggie Football Great Again!

Thoughts from the Mizzou Game

I’ve held off writing my review of the Mizzou game because I wanted to get away from it emotionally and try to figure out where the blame existed.  After thinking about it, I think the blame can be placed equally at the feet of the coaching staff and the players.  Once again, we had a double digit point lead at half and once again we choked it away.  At least we had a chance with overtime but we choked that away even winning the coin toss in OT.

I think the coaching staff did a bad job making adjustments to what Mizzou was doing and the players didn’t quite execute as well as they should have.  The lack of execution resulted in dropped passes, turnovers, false starts, and allowing Mizzou to shred the defense due to the lack of wrapping up and bringing Mizzou guys down by the initial defender making contact.  Now, I’m not in the locker room at half, on the sidelines, or in the booth to know exactly what adjustments are made but it’s pretty clear Sherm and Co. don’t really anticipate adjustments and continue to run their game plan because it obviously worked in the first half.  It’s pretty clear the other team often makes adjustments and we fail to react because the first half went so well.  You’ll see those adjustments by the opponent and lack of adjustments by us in this piece.

I read somewhere this week that in Sherm’s almost four years of coaching he’s only come back in 2 games we were down at half and that was Colorado in 2008 and Baylor last year.  We all remember Baylor last year and I honestly don’t remember Colorado in 2008 but that was Sherm’s first year and we had CU at home and they were pretty bad.  I remember winning but I missed the game thanks to a sick dog and it not being on TV.  That means I relied on Dave South.  No wonder I don’t remember.  Whatever, but that’s a pretty interesting stat that he’s only ever had two comebacks after half considering he’s 2 games above .500 in his tenure at A&M.  That tells me he’s not a second half coach because in just this season alone he has lost more games where he’s lead at half than he’s come back from his entire career at A&M.  At barely above .500 I’d say he’s had just as many chances to come back as he’s had to blow I’d guess.  Without doing further research I’d wager there’s at least 2-3 if not more games he’s blown after half as I know we choked OSU last year and seem to remember blowing Colorado in 2009 in Boulder.  I think it’s safe to say Sherm is not a second half coach.  I’ll get to more Sherm later when I opine on what to do with him.

Before I get to the unit performances let me just say I do think our defense played well enough to win.  Mike Sherman is an offensive coach and he prides himself on having an offensive unit that can move the ball.  DeRuyter is a solid defensive mind but all of the playmakers are on the offensive side of the ball.  If you don’t believe me just look at the number of defensive linemen we’ve moved to the defensive side of the ball after they couldn’t crack the offensive two deep.  I firmly believe it’s the offense’s job to score more points than the defense gives up.  Basically the reverse of the R.C. years where it was the defense’s job to allow 1 less point than the offense scored.  There’s nothing wrong with it but when you have a coach that focuses on one side of the ball that’s what happens.  Perfectly fine but the unit you focus on must perform better than the other team or you’ll lose.  We ain’t the Wrecking Crew so it’s up to the Gulf Coast Offense to get it done.  Oh, it would also help if special teams helped out from time to time.

OFFENSE:

I’m not really sure where to begin on the offensive side of the ball.  We moved the ball but we shot ourselves in the foot too many times to win the game.  Turnovers and stalled drives simply killed us.  You look at this unit and it has all the talent in the world to be a VERY high powered offense to the tune of a Top 10 team.  However, it’s just not working week in and week out.  Some of it on playcalling and some of it on execution by players.

Before I talk about individual units there’s one thing I want to point out that I tracked to start the game and went back and reviewed the play chart to write this.  During the game I noted that in both initial series to start the game the play call was pass, run, pass.  In each of the series the initial pass was incomplete giving us second and 10.  On those two initial series we went three and out.  For the remaining series in the half each initial play was a run and we scored on each of these four other series.  Now, in the first half there were 1st and 10s within the series that we passed on first down but the point being that when we start a series running the ball we scored.  Not a coincidence because I think Sherm has shown if he stalls on the first play with an incomplete pass he’s running the ball which puts us in another 3rd down passing situation to which the DC is a better position to call a play to defend a pass.

Now here’s where it gets good.  In the second half we had two series go three and out without a first down.  Care to guess the first play?  That’s right!  A pass.  EVERY time against Mizzou when we started a series with a pass, we went three and out.  EVERY TIME!  Four times we started a series with a pass and we DID NOT move the chains.  Now, to defend Sherm somewhat, each of the series where we went three and out in the second half did have a false start so we needed 15 yards for a first down instead of 10 but I don’t think it’s pure coincidence that every series we started with a pass resulted in a three and out.  Ironically enough, EVERY series we started with a run at MINIMUM resulted in at least one first down to move the chains.  More time off the clock and more rest for your defense.

We had 5 other series in the second half where we started with a run.  The end result of those 5 respective series were a fumble by Swope, “pass out” where we passed on first down within the series and couldn’t get the first down on two more tries, interception (which I’ll get to later), field goal, and fumble by Tanny due to pass pressure.  Three of those stalled drives where on player execution in my mind, one field goal, and one set of play calling on first down that didn’t result in a first down.

Do you see a trend?  Our play calling in this game was WAY more effective when we ran the ball the first play of a series.  I’m perfectly fine with passing on first down within a series but I bet this turn of events is pretty similar in most of our games.  WHEN WE GET THE BALL FOR WHATEVER REASON RUN THE DAMN BALL ON THE FIRST PLAY!!!  To me, this gives our kick ass offensive line a chance to fire off on the defense let ting them take notice we can exert our will.  I think it also gives a DC a little more to think about because all of a sudden it’s not 2nd and 10.  Maybe it’s not this simple but the drive chart in this game REALLY bears it out.  Look, if your kids fail to execute then that’s on them to a certain degree but don’t let play calling put you in a deeper hole.

Another trend I noticed in looking at the play charts is that we only ran the ball on 3rd and 2 or shorter outside of goal line situations.  We had a 3rd and 2 on the goal line and that’s where we ran the play action where Tanny hit Lamothe.  Great play call but when we’re not in goal line we ran the ball 4 times on 3rd down only getting stopped once when Cyrus couldn’t convert a 3rd and 1.  Each of those situations was less than 2 yards to a first down.  Christine converted two and Tanny converted the other.  Anything longer than 3rd and 2 we passed each time.  Not necessarily bad but a trend.  And a trend that cost us because on the interception by Tannehill.  We had 3rd and 5 and Christine was in the game.  He had backside help with the tackle and went over and “brother-in-lawed” the defensive end as the tackle released him outside thinking Christine was there to help.  Christine was technically there to help but he didn’t put up much of a fight and the defensive end got to Tanny’s arm or hand resulting in an errant throw which got picked.  Christine has gotten better at pass blocking but he still needs help as he brain farts from time to time.

Something tells me that we have a trend of passing on 3rd and 3 or longer and especially on 3rd and 5 or longer.  If this is the case, either get Cyrus in there to pass block or release Christine to the flat or down the field so both the tackle and Tanny don’t rely on him on the backside.  Let him be an outlet but DO NOT rely on him to block in 3rd down passing situations.  Like I said, if I picked this up in this drive chart I bet it holds true throughout the season.  Christine being in the backfield is not fooling anyone it’s a run by any stretch.  If this trend is true then get your best personnel in there to handle it on 3rd down if you want the back to block.  There’s no more crucial down on any drive than a third down.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  I’m fine with Christine pass blocking on non-third downs because there should be an element of surprise that it could be a run but for the love of all things holy don’t let him in the backfield when we know we’re going to pass on 3rd down.   To me that interception is half on coaching and half on execution.  Sure, it’s possible Christine could have made the block but he’s shown to be iffy on pass protection so don’t put him in there on obvious third down passing situations.  It’s that simple.

As for units some looked good and some looked bad.  I thought Tanny had a decent game.  He was 35 of 53 passing so he completed about 2/3rds of his passes.  The incompletions  seemed to be equally split between drops and bad passes.  If I have one bad thing to say about Tanny it’s that he locks into Swope WAY too much.  Now, I don’t blame him to a certain degree because Swope is head and shoulders our best receiver right now but sometimes Swope is not open and other times he misses a guy running down the field wide open.  Playing QB is hard as hell.  If you don’t believe me go play QB in a flag football game with at least 7 guys on each side.  It’s hard as hell to read the entire field with 7 guys with no pressure so I have to imagine it’s infinitely harder with 4 more guys and people trying to knock the snot out of you.  With that though I think he’d really improve his game if he’d scan the field more.

In the second half I continually saw him lock into Swope on 3rd downs from the moment the ball was snapped.  On SEVEN of NINE third down passing situations in the second half he went Swopes way with a potential for a completed pass.  One of the others was a first down to Malcome Kennedy and the other was the interception but I’d wager money it was intended for Swope.  Four of those resulted in a first down including the fumble by Swope.  Two were incompletions and one was a completion on 3rd and 15 that was two yards short of the chain.  Look, I love Swope and converting 4 of 7 ain’t bad but defenses are going to start taking your binky away and you better be ready.  If I’m Bob Stoops and Brent Venables, Ryan Swope is getting pressed at the line of scrimmage on 3rd downs this Saturday.  Tanny’s binky might not be there.  Now, in Tanny’s defense the rest of this receiving corps is suspect so I don’t necessarily blame him but it’s something he and Sherm need to talk about and adjust.  All in all Tanny is doing as good of a job considering the play calling and suspect receiving corps.

The offensive line looked dominant as always save for the five false starts which I just don’t get.  How in the world can a line that’s been so solid brain lock so many times in one game at home?  I don’t get it.  I just don’t and make no mistake it hurt us on Saturday.  Four were by guards and one by Joeckel.  The thing I don’t get is that Brian Thomas had the first one and immediately got pulled for Ogbuehi.  I’m perfectly fine with that as you’ve got competition for the guard spots right now so you want incentive to not screw up.  When Thomas came off the field he was REALLY upset.  He ran off the field and stood by himself for a play where he was visibly upset.  Now, I don’t know if he was upset at himself for making the mistake or because the coaches pulled him but he was clearly upset.  What confuses me is that Jarvis had a false start and he didn’t get pulled and then Thomas’ replacement in Ogbuehi had two false starts himself but didn’t get pulled.  Now, I don’t pretend to know what goes on in practice so not sure if Thomas was on thin ice to begin with at the starting spot but just find it odd that his replacement made two of the same mistakes and didn’t get pulled.

I’m all for offensive line brain farts (false starts and holds) resulting in severe sanctions.  I played offensive line/tight end in high school and we had one rule – More than two penalties by anyone and the entire offensive line paid for it.  What we had to do was drive the blocking sleds backwards for 30 seconds and enough reps until our coach felt we learned our lesson.  You think those things suck driving them forward try doing a backward bear crawl driving it.  We had to do it after our first game and needless to say we never did it again all season long.  We did get close one time as the guy I split time with at tight end false started twice in the first quarter.  Our coach grabbed me and hollered, “Get your ass in there and don’t let the other guy back in there the rest of the game!”  After the series I went to other guy and told him coach didn’t want him in the rest of the game and his response was, “I don’t plan on going back in because we’re not doing back backs due to me.  It’s all on you, bro.”  Of course he was half joking but I sure as hell didn’t screw up the rest of the game and luckily no one else did either.  What sucked was on the post game high school TV show in my hometown of Victoria our coach went on air and talked about the game.  He talked about what great tight end play we had that night and mentioned the other guy’s name.  I always thought that coach was an asshole and that confirmed it.  Anyway, enough of my stories but I hope Sherm and Turner know what they’re doing punishing one guy for a mistake and not the others.  I’m perfectly fine not punishing Lewis , Matthews, and Joeckel because their backups aren’t on the same level but if there’s a competition at guard then be fair to everyone.

The one thing that did impress me about the line was other than the CMike brain fart, they made awesome pockets all day long.  My favorite was when Joeckel and Matthews ran their defender into each other behind Tannehill.  It was beautiful to watch our two tackles just create the perfect pocket and take their defender right where they wanted them to go which was into each other behind our QB who barely stepped up.  It doesn’t get better than that.  The other thing I love watching is seeing Matthews pull and get to the second level.  To see a guy that big move that well is just breathtaking if you love offensive line play and you should.  If this is not the best offensive line in the country next year I want to see who is.  Despite the brain farts this unit performed at a high level as always.

As for running backs they did what they usually do.  Christine got the lion’s share and would have likely gotten more had he not gotten hurt on the interception return but Cyrus didn’t look bad.  I really do wonder if Cyrus would have scored when he got horse collared but it’s hard to say.  Where Christine has two speeds which are fast and a little bit faster, Cyrus has about six gears he has to go through to get to top speed and he was going through most of them when he was horse collared.  It looked like he was about to hit his full stride and no one had an angle on him but they might have been able to cut him off.  Hard to say.  Had he scored, the game might have been a win for us but you just never know.  I do like that Sherm recognizes Christine brings a little more to the table even though Cyrus is a senior.  God just blessed Christine a little more for a between the tackle runner and there’s no shame in that for Cyrus.

Now the bad part – The Receiving Corps.  I have no idea what the hell is wrong with this unit other than Swope.  I don’t even know where to start but I think I’ll start with Fuller.  What the hell is wrong with this guy I have no idea.  I really don’t.  His routes are less than stellar and he dropped 4-5 passes he has to catch if he wants to be drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL draft.  Sherm says he’s hurt and he’s a rep guy but that’s complete BS.  Even if you can’t run routes due to an injury you can still work on catching the ball.  For great receivers, catching a pass becomes second nature.  It really does.  The ONLY reason for a great receiver to drop a well thrown ball is because you have self doubt in your mind when it comes your way.  THE ONLY REASON.  You can get reps catching a ball even if you can’t run.  I just don’t understand how he used to be so sure handed but is dropping balls left and right all season.  His route running is suspect and his 12 yard comeback route is no longer surprising anyone.  DBs are right on his hip even if the ball is there and he catches it.  Even catching it though seems like a 50/50 proposition right now.  He can’t go deep and he and Swope even got crossed up on a route in the second half.  Someone wasn’t disciplined on their route and I’d wager it was Fuller but it obviously could have been Swope.  I just don’t get it.  If he’s playing through pain then that’s great but is it hurting the team?  Is a 60% Fuller better than our other options?  I don’t know but something is not right.  It’s clear defenses aren’t respecting him as much as they used to as DBs aren’t afraid to stick on his hip.

EZ has looked decent but he’s not a playmaker.  There’s not one receiver on this team that can stretch a defense.  I don’t know if that’s by design because Tanny is weak with the deep ball or if the talent isn’t there.  I mean seriously, if you’re a defensive coach preparing for this receiving corps is there one receiver that you worry about other than Swope?  It’s why I don’t get the five wide receiver set.  Who stands out in that set other than Swope?  As a defensive coach do you really worry about scheming for multiple guys?  Hell no.  I just run my base coverage whether it be zone or man and let the chips fall where they may.  There’s no real receiving threat on this team to scare a safety deep or not do press coverage on the line.  We don’t run any draws to cheat LBs and safeties and we run play action very rarely and when we do it’s usually a quick pass to the tight end or someone within 10 yards.  The next time we run a play action on second and within 5 for a deep ball will be the first time since I think the SMU game.  I just don’t get why we go 5 wide with no back and utilize the element of surprise with our running backs since we don’t have 3 receivers that scare a secondary.  Why put 2 more out there and take the threat of your best part of the offense in your running game off the field?  Maybe I’m wrong but I’d love to see the completion percentage and average yards of gain on the five wide set.  It can’t be good.  I’ve only seen it effective against Baylor and it’s becoming more and more apparent that Baylor’s defense might be the worst in the Big 12.

The other thing I haven’t seen this receiving corps do well is block.  I think they’re the main reason why we haven’t continually busted long runs or plays this season.  Do these guys even block or just run around the field?  It seems the five wide set would be perfect for some down field blocking but I don’t think they even do that.  Just seems the whole receiving corps is lacking big time in all facets of the game including catching, route running, and downfield blocking.  Watch OU’s receivers this weekend.  If they’re not catching the ball you can bet your ass they’re engaging a defender until the whistle.  I’ve never seen better prepared receivers than OU’s.  They’re all talented but they do all facets of the receiving game really well and that’s not just because they’re talented.  It’s because they work at it.  I really do think this unit has dropped off big time since Cromwell left.

I did think the tight ends looked really good in the first half but we seemed to go away from them in the second half.  Why I don’t know but Hicks didn’t see a pass thrown his way in the second half after catching 2 passes for 47 yards with each pass going for more than 22 yards each in the first half.  Maybe it wasn’t there in the second half but if it wasn’t surely there was something else there because that means Mizzou adjusted to take that seam route away.  My point is that there should RARELY be a situation where we don’t have a running back in the backfield and a tight end lined up outside the tackle.  It just seems we’re more productive in that base set than anything else.  I get the numbers spreading the field with five guys but you have to trust your offensive line to be better than what this receiving corps is showing right now.

Something I’d like to see more out of this offense is straight runs up the middle.  It seems we really focus on the zone blocking looking to stretch out the defense and make the one cut and get up the field.  I get the zone blocking scheme but I would think this offensive line is good enough to handle straight drive blocking and zone blocking.  It seems the defense begins to anticipate the gaps in the second half and shoots defenders eliminating those gaps when we try and stretch those defenses out as wide as we can.

So what does all this mean?  I’m not really sure.  We can move the ball when we start with runs but we tend to stall out due to execution errors.  When evenly matched teams match up they’re usually won due to special teams and/or turnovers.  On Saturday we lost the game due to turnovers by our offense.  Some of that is on Sherm and some of that is on the players.  Ironically it was the passing game and not the running game that produced those 3 turnovers.  Sure, one was on a running back’s suspect blocking but it was a pass none the less.

This offense is good enough to score points on anyone including Bama and LSU (probably not good enough to beat but look better than most teams they play) but Sherm just needs to recognize the weaknesses and adjust accordingly going forward.  I also think he needs to save some wrinkles for the second half.  And I’m not talking about the pitch to Swope on 3rd down in overtime.  I actually LOVE that play on a 2nd and short as it could really bust loose but don’t get why Sherm called it at that time.  Just seems Sherm gets lost in his playsheet rather than realizing how the plays he calls effect the flow of the game.  Where was the reverses that we so effective against Baylor?  Start with a 3-5 yard run on first down and then run some play action, reverses, draws, and creative plays on second down.  Just doesn’t seem we do that and puts us into a predictable situation on third down.  Just too methodical and college football is not about that.  It’s about creativity and the element of surprise.

DEFENSE – I won’t go into too much depth on the defense like I did with the offense.  Plain and simple the defense played good enough to win.  We don’t have enough playmakers on the defensive side of the ball to truly be disruptive so our defense’s main focus is to limit points rather than shut down an offense.  That means limiting 3rd down conversions and converting drives into field goals instead of touchdowns.  If I’m DeRuyter I make sure my guys know they have to up their effort on third downs and in the red zone.  Sure, it seems like a defeatist attitude not giving 100% on every play but it’s the reality of the situation.  Teach those guys to dig deeper in those two scenarios and let them celebrate those achievements.

I will say one thing I was disappointed with DeRuyter was running the second string subs towards the end of the first quarter.  Mizzou got a first down on our 42 yard line and there was about a minute left in the quarter.  Mizzou had been pretty methodical for most of the 1st quarter so I don’t think they were going hurry up due to the end of the 1st quarter.  With a minute left DR made one of his wholesale substitutions putting about five to six of his second string DL and LB out there.  In all likelihood the defense had two more plays but DR decided to sub.  Why sub them when they’re two plays away from a long TV break between quarters.  What happened?  On the second play Mizzou scored on a 42 yard pass with :02 seconds left on the clock.  Now, would the first team have been scored on?  It’s very possible but if you’re not watching the clock to know the flow of the game or don’t believe your starters have two more plays in them before a long break there’s something wrong.  Shouldn’t someone on the defensive staff be aware of the clock and be in DR’s ear?  Did the Mizzou OC adjust knowing the pressure would be less with the second team DL in there?  Who knows but it seems suspect to me to make that move at that time.

In the first half, Mizzou passed a lot more than I thought they would.  They were doing more of a zone read pass keying on our OLB to the wide side.  What they did a lot is put two guys out wide in a bubble screen set with a single back.  The Mizzou QB would read our OLB.  If the OLB crashed the Mizzou QB would pull the ball back and throw to one of the guys lined up outside.  This was their bread and butter play for most of the first half and it worked decently but we did a decent job of defending it.  We had great pressure in the first half getting 3 sacks total with two on the first series and almost getting a 4th by Sean Porter but Franklin got rid of the ball right before his knee hit.  Caleb Russell did have his most productive play of the year when he got held pursuing Franklin which turned a touchdown into a 3rd and 20 at the 21 yard line.  The result of the series was 3 points instead of 7 which was a pretty big boost.  Way to go Caleb!

What I was surprised by in the first half was that Mizzou didn’t run the ball more and didn’t attack the middle seams like they did last year and like Arkansas exposed in our game earlier this year.  They threw down the middle seams but not as much as I thought they would.  Looked like 4 times in the first half and 4 times in the second half.  Enter the second half.  They didn’t attack the middle seams more with the pass but boy did they adjust on the ground.  Mizzou adjusted and never ran the same zone read where they keyed our OLB but instead ran a more horizontal read giving the Mizzou QB a little more time to read the defense before making the decision to keep or hand off.  This gave the play a little more time to develop since they weren’t passing outside giving both the running back and quarterback more time to see the hole develop.  Make no mistake that Franklin is a very good running quarterback and it’s like Mizzou purposefully held that back to spring it on the defense in the second half.  Just a simple adjustment.

Don’ believe me?  Check this out.  In the first half Mizzou ran 19 passing plays and 17 running plays.  About as balanced as you can get.  Second half?  Mizzou ran 27 running plays and 8 passing plays in the second half including overtime.  77% of their plays in the second half were runs while only 47% of their plays in the first half were runs.  Now you tell me if they made an adjustment at half.  Wondering what Mike Sherman did before and after the half?  Good thing you ask.  In the first half we ran 24 passing plays to 22 running plays.  Pretty much like Mizzou.  Second half?  30 pass plays to 28 running plays.  That’s right.  The team up by 11 at half made NO adjustments in play calling in the second half while the team down by 11 committed WAY more to the run in the second half and won the game.  Quite the head scratcher isn’t it?  Maybe we don’t have the personnel to defend the run but I think at the same time DeRuyter was clearly not ready for it and got exposed.

Personnel wise we’re about where we’ve always been.  No one stood out any differently in a positive or negative light in my mind.  They are who we think they are.  I think at this point DR should have a really good idea of what each player is capable of and can call games and adjust accordingly.  What I was most disappointed with was the lack of wrapping up in this game.  We looked really good early in the year wrapping up and gang tackling but against Mizzou there was very little gang tackling and most of that was due to not wrapping up.  Gang tackling is not the result of everyone being around the ball but a result of the first defender holding up the offensive player if he can’t take him down so help can arrive.  For some reason this defense wasn’t wrapping up on Saturday.  I don’t have the stat but I bet there were at least 20 tackles that weren’t made despite contact by the defender on the ball carrier.  Not sure if these guys were looking for highlight hits or just not wrapping up.  Whatever it was I hope DR gets that corrected this week.  Our defense improving begins with the technique of wrapping up.

The defense did have two VERY big stops on 4th and 1.  The first one was a flat out stop where they gave Franklin no room to run but the second stop on 4th and 1 was a slight gift because a Mizzou player held a defender after the running back had gotten the first down but it goes down in the books as a 4th down stop so credit to the defense.  Your offense HAS to reward those stops.  Has to.  Those 4th down stops are as good as turnovers in my book.  What did the offense do with both of those stops?  Gave the ball back to Mizzou on an interception and Tanny fumble.  Poor defense.  Just good enough to win but this vaunted offense gave it right back.  Still, it’s a team game but that’s just frustrating as a defender.

I will say that second 4th and 1 attempt by Mizzou was the best 4th and short play design I’ve ever seen.  The Mizzou QB snapped the ball and attempted to go forward.  The running back just hung out in the backfield.  When the Mizzou QB realized there was nothing there for him he did a quick pitch to the running back who had green grass to run to a first down.  It was an awesome play design.  Too bad Sherman doesn’t like attempting 4th and shorts but it’s something I’d look to implement assuming Swope is not in the backfield.

I hate saying one player makes a huge difference but this defense is missing a healthy Coryell Judie.  I don’t think he would have made a real difference in the second half because Mizzou ran so much but he could have altered the overtime results.  When Mizzou got the ball in OT they ran the ball 4 straight times setting up a 3rd and 8 from the 11.  Their play call on 3rd and 8 was beautiful.  They were on the right hash and had a one back set with a three bunch formation to the right which is the short side of the field.  That really doesn’t make much sense until you realize they put their best wide receiver in Marcus Lucas wide left.  We left Dustin Harris on an island with no safety or linebacker help inside or up top.  Harris lined up 5 yards off and inside of the receiver.  Franklin and the receiver read it perfectly knowing it was man on man with the defense giving the wide side.  Lucas runs a fade to the left side and Franklin immediately puts the ball up where only Lucas can see it because Harris has turned to run.  Lucas adjusts his route to the ball and poor Harris never had a chance to turn and adjust himself.  Just a perfectly executed play by t he Mizzou players and a perfect play call to exploit man coverage on 3rd and 8 where the receiver was not getting disrupted coming off the line.  Look, I like Dustin Harris but he’s clearly our 3rd best cover corner behind Judie and TFred.  Does Judie or TFred defend that play?  I don’t know but it was pretty clear to me the Mizzou OC exploited our weakness with a perfect playcall.

Hats off to the Mizzou offense as they made a half time adjustment that exploited us throughout the second half and when we clamped down in OT they called the perfect play to exploit us yet again.  I’d love to know if the plan all along was to be balanced in the first half and then exploit the run in the second half or if that adjustment to run more was made at half because the balanced attack wasn’t working.  Either way, it worked and Mizzou won the game.

Special Teams – I won’t harp on these guys too much but just mention a couple of things.  First off, Kyle Mangan had a gorgeous hit on a punt that was timed perfectly.  Sadly, that was the only real highlight of the special teams.  We didn’t get many punt returns as most of our punt returns were either fair caught or downed because we weren’t in position to catch the ball.  Now don’t get me wrong in that I’d rather have a fair catch or downed ball compared to a fumble but it just seems that’s as good as our special teams aspire to be.  Malcome Kennedy did have a catch interference on a punt which is just frustrating.  The funniest and disappoint thing was on a kickoff by Missouri.  We have two guys around the goal line and three guys around the 20 yard line.  Well, Mizzou sky kicked to the middle 20.  Our guy standing at the middle 20 was the great Spencer Nealy.  What does he do?  He runs away from the ball forcing the guys in the back to run up 20 yards and pick up the ball off the ground.  Now, I don’t expect Nealy to return the ball but I sure as hell don’t expect him to run away from a live ball.  One crazy bounce and that’s a Mizzou ball.  If the guys you have lined up on the 20 have ZERO confidence in catching the ball then they don’t need to be back there.  Worst case is they call for a fair catch and the other two guys on the 20 and the guys on the goal line run up to either protect him or be ready for a loose ball.  Whatever you do, don’t run from the ball because it’s live.  I just don’t get why Sherm doesn’t appear to really care about special teams execution.  I don’t expect him to be Frank Beamer but average is what our special teams execution aspires to be and we can’t even really get there. It’s just disheartening because special teams and turnovers often decide the game for evenly matched teams and we don’t even seem to care about gaining a special teams advantage.  The only exception is Randy Bullock who has become flat out nails.  Damn shame he didn’t get a shot to win the game at the end of the 4th quarter before we fumbled that chance away.

WHAT TO DO WITH MIKE SHERMAN – For anyone still reading, my thoughts on Mike Sherman are about what I thought when we hired him.  I said he’d stabilize the program to the point we wouldn’t get blown out but we’d go between 8-4 and 10-2 every year.  He’s a very solid coach but he’s not a great college coach.  He’s too methodical and gets caught up in his playsheet rather than watching what’s going on throughout the whole game.  It just doesn’t appear he has a solid grasp on the entire game.

He also doesn’t appear to have a great grasp of the college game.  If I hear him mention the NFL one more time I’m going to pull my hair out.  For some reason he doesn’t want people to forget that he has NFL experience.  I don’t get it.  Note to coach – The college game has NOTHING to do with the NFL.  It’s great you can put guys in the NFL but that doesn’t really matter if we’re not winning ball games.  Winning ball games comes first and putting guys in the NFL comes a VERY distant second if even there.  Don’t get the two confused.  What goes on in the NFL has NO bearing on what you do as a college coach.  You get ZERO credit for losing a game but called a really good NFL game.  It doesn’t matter that those bubble screens OSU destroyed us with in the second half won’t work in the NFL because we’re NOT in the NFL.  We’re in college.  The hashes are wider, the clock stops to set the chain, and the players aren’t motivated by a paycheck and are more motivated by getting lucky after a game.  Give them a chance to get lucky week in and week out by winning football games!  They’ll thank you for it on and off the field.

Outside of losing out there’s ZERO chance Sherman gets fired so get used to him.  I’m torn on the guy because the team is in a much better place than it’s been in the last 10 years but there’s no National Championship on the horizon for Mike Sherman.  Even conference or division championships in the SEC with Sherman at the helm will be hard to come by.  Greatness is just not him because he’s not a gambler.  He’s a VERY good coach but he’s too methodical to step out from his black and white world of Xs and Os and make something out of the ordinary happen.  Make fun of Les Miles all you want but he knows you have to have luck to win more than you lose and he continually gives his team a chance to get lucky.  I’m talking about on the field luck which coincidentally likely translates into off the field luck for the players.

I read this week that since 1975 only two national championship coaches did not win 10 games by year 4.  Those 2 coaches were Bobby Bowden who took over an abysmal FSU program and Lavell Edwards who caught lightening in a bottle with a BYU team in 1984.  EVERY other coach who has won a national championship has had a 10 win season by year 4.  Many of these guys did it back when 11 game seasons and no conference championships game were the norm.  Does that mean Sherman can never win a national championship?  Not at all but it’s a pretty clear indicator the great ones continually improve through year 4 and unless Sherm wins out he’s going to at absolute best  equal to last year which will be questionable because he’ll either be 8-4 in conference play with a lesser bowl win or 9-3 in conference play with another Cotton Bowl loss at best.  Certainly not incremental improvement with what is as a whole a better prepared team for an improved season.  Sure, we lost some guys on defense but this whole team should be better than last year especially with our schedule this year.  Make no mistake that it appears Mike Sherman spit the bit this season when he had a chance to be better.

If you want more research on what works against Mike Sherman winning a national championship here’s the analysis I did after year 1.

https://rcwouldhavegonefor2.wordpress.com/2008/10/14/a-look-at-the-first-year-of-coaches-that-have-won-a-bcs-championship/

The compelling data in that analysis is those national championship coaches didn’t lose the first game at home against an inferior opponent, they won more than they lost at home, and didn’t get blown out by more than 7 points in most of their games.  Sadly, none of that works in Mike Sherman’s favor and as the sample set gets bigger.  His 4-8 first season with multiple blowouts including big losses at home is standing out as par for the course of where he’s ascending to.

So do we fire Sherman?  All depends on who we’re going to go get.  My personal belief is Sherm will follow the Fran plan of being gone after year 5.  This season will be seen as a disappointment and we’ll walk into the SEC with no excitement hurting ticket sales.  We’ll go 8-4 in our first year in the SEC at best creating a lethargic fan base and we’ll have a new coach going into the 2013 season.  It sucks, but it’s pretty clear who we were getting when we hired him and it’s playing out like many predicted.  If we fire him we better be damn certain on who his replacement is before we pull the trigger.  No firing him and figuring it out.  Someone better be in the bag and we better have done our homework.

The one wild card in all of this is Dr. Loftin.  I spoke with Dr. Loftin after the Kansas game last year and he was surprisingly candid.  That was my fist interaction with him but since then I’ve found him to be very candid which is refreshing.  Even after the Kansas beat down last year he told me he had concerns for the football team.  He said his biggest concern was Sherman calling all the plays and not having an OC.  He feels it’s too much for a head coach to prepare an entire team in general while preparing the offense in such great detail that he’s creating and calling the plays.  Loftin told me he actually sat Sherm down before the 2010 season and expressed his concern but Sherm told him he could handle it.  Now, will a move to the SEC force Loftin to make the move sooner than later?  I don’t know but always thought it was an interesting nugget Loftin was critical of Sherm for trying to be the head coach and the offensive coordinator at the same time.  This is the same guy that forcefully pushed us into the SEC so maybe he doesn’t sit on his hands depending on how this thing plays out.  I don’t see it happening though.  I watched a special on Arkansas this week and even the great Bobby Petrino has an offensive coordinator that prepares the offense during the week despite Petrino being all over the play calling on game day.  It can be done.  Fortunately for us our foundation should be MUCH more solid for the next coach assuming it’s done in the next two years.  At least we’ve got that…

Thoughts From the Baylor Game

This week’s edition is going to be much shorter than normal.  A couple reasons for that.  First, the 11:00 a.m. game didn’t work in my favor.  I stayed up drinking until 4:00 a.m. and was woken at 8:00 a.m. by dog’s banging tail to go out.  Not enough sleep to work that night off.  Just so you know, part of the evening included a trip to the Dry Bean.  You do the math.  I drank 100 oz. of water during the game to help alleviate the headache and hydrate enough to tailgate the rest of the day.  Secondly, there’s just not a lot to gripe about this game.  This was by far the most complete game A&M has played all season and you just hope we can keep it up.

Going bullets this week due to the challenges I faced during the game.

Overall/Coaching:

  • First off, this was the most animated I’ve seen Mike Sherman ever in a game.  By animated I mean celebrating great plays.  Usually he’s face deep in his play sheet but for some reason he was displaying a ton of excitement and emotion all throughout the game.  I think a coach being emotional is a little overrated but it was interesting to see Sherm so fired up.  I wonder if he was concerned about the last 11:00 a.m. game at Kyle Field when we got dog stomped by Missouri and decided that he was going to set the tone for emotion.  We’ll see if he does the same against Mizzou in two weeks as we have another 11:00 a.m. kick at Kyle.  No, I don’t plan on drinking until 4:00 a.m. the night before.
  • I was mildly surprised Sherman decided to pass so much.  I know we’ve railed on him for not running enough but he passed a lot more than I thought he would.  I thought he would play ball control offense to keep his defense and the Baylor offense off the field as much as possible.  Coming into the game people talked about how bad our defense was but the reality is that Baylor’s defense is much worse than ours.  They’re really lacking in talent on that side of the ball.  I wonder if Sherm saw in film he could exploit the Baylor secondary or if he just wanted to keep the pedal to the metal to show Art Briles that if Briles wanted a track meet his Aggie offense was certainly up to the challenge and then some.  Don’t forget the TCU offense carved up this defense in the first game.  Whatever it was it was a great game plan.
  • I got real worried when our 3rd or 4th play on offense had a no back set but it worked out just fine.  Good job, Sherm.  Your offense fired in all facets.
  • Think about this – in 11 possessions we didn’t punt once.  We scored 9 times in those 11 possessions.  The last possession was due to us just running out the clock for the last 4:00 of the clock.  The only hiccup was a bad shovel pass on our first drive after we drove 58 yards in 9 plays on our first drive but we were driving the field with no problems.  Simply put, our offense was about as dominating as it could get and that’s great to see.

Offense:

  • The stats bear it out but Tannehill had a game like he had against Tech in his first start.  He missed a few throws here and there but by and large he was making passes left and right.  He also had some really solid runs.
  • LOVED the reverses.  LOVED THEM.  I don’t know if Sherm was sandbagging them but he broke them out at the perfect time to keep the backside contain honest and at home.  What’s kind of ironic is I was watching Green Bay and Atlanta on Sunday Night Football last week and Atlanta ran a reverse out of the same bunch formation we use to Julio Jones.  When I saw the play that night I was hoping Sherm was watching and took notes.  He probably wasn’t watching but I was wondering if we were going to see it on Saturday and I’ll be damned if we did.
  • Welcome back, Ryan Swope; welcome to the receiver rotation, Malcome Kennedy; keep it up, EZ.
  • Jeff Fuller didn’t have a bad day at all making some good possession receptions but I think I saw him drop at least 2-3 balls that he should have caught.  Some weren’t the best passes but Fuller should have caught them regardless.  Let’s hope he picks it up in the second half as he’s really the linchpin to this offense really clicking I believe.
  • Offensive line cut holes all day long and gave Tanny all the time he needed.  There’s just not much to say about this line as they dominated from start to finish.  Not every run resulted in a huge run but most had positive yards and our Oline just wore them down through the game.  That Baylor defense was GASSED about halfway through the third quarter and our boys just leaned on them and kept them at bay.  You know the defense was gassed when Tannehill juked them all out of their jocks on a 20 something yard zone read in the 4th quarter.
  • CMike got the brunt of the carries.  He showed decent patience at times but he also showed that he can still be impatient sometimes waiting on the hole to develop running into the back of the line where no hole existed.  He’s just an amazing physical runner.  Was really kind of surprised he didn’t bust one off but he looked like a beast.  I think he fed off his line as in the second half he was loading up and pounding the Baylor defenders as they started to show they were physically whipped.
  • Cyrus looked like Cyrus and that’s not a negative.   He averaged 3.5 yards a carry and just waited on holes to develop.  Sometimes those holes didn’t develop because Baylor was selling out to the run which hurts Cyrus because he’s not a really physical runner and he was getting stopped at the line of scrimmage.
  • Just as solid of an effort as you’ll ever see.

Defense:

  • First off, let’s all admit Robert Griffin is a fantastic quarterback.  Hate Baylor all you want but Griffin has turned into a tremendous passer and runs Briles offense really well.  He makes really smart decisions and made some outstanding passes through 3 quarters.  Just a tremendous quarterback and I’ll be the first to admit I’m shocked how consistent he’s been this season.  I think that win over TCU woke him up and instilled some confidence that’s been lacking.
  • We were finally able to get to Griffin in the 4th quarter because they were playing so far from behind that we knew he was looking for bigger plays.  That gave us more time to get blitzes through and play deeper zone coverage to confuse Griffin a little more.
  • I thought we played the zone read as well as we could with someone of Griffin’s talent.  We stayed home on the backside and Griffin mainly let the running back keep the ball.  There were 2-3 times that I thought Griffin should have kept the ball as he could have got to the outside on our guys but he didn’t.  Griffin has shown he doesn’t like getting hit so I wonder if Briles told him not to run unless it’s wide open or if Griffin is the one preferring not to run.  Either way we did a nice job of keeping Griffin and the run game contained.  Baylor is actually a much better running team than most people think.
  • I thought our defensive line did really well.  They got solid push all day long against a decent Baylor offensive line.  We rotated out a ton of guys as always so it’s always hard following who is doing what other than TJE because he stays in most of the game.  It was a good effort no doubt.
  • We might have some ILBs we can rely on in Jonathan Stewart and Steven Jenkins.  Don’t know what was going on but Stewart was making calls left and right and lining folks up.  I hadn’t seen him take on that role until this Saturday.  Stewart and Jenkins both looked better than they have all season.  Not saying they’re going to start dominating but it’s the best any two ILBs have looked together all season.  JStew had a really good couple of blitzes.  DeRuyter may have finally figured out who works best in the middle for us.  Don’t want to bag on Garrick Williams as he did okay but he just still looks timid and confused at times.
  • The OLB rotation was really interesting because it was mainly a mix of Moore, Russell, Porter and not many others that I remember.  DMoore finally played his best game of the year as he was in the backfield most of the game harassing the running back or Griffin.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again that Moore needs to go forward and never backwards.  He’s questionable in coverage but he’s the most disruptive guy we have to get into the backfield on a regular basis.
  • Sean Porter got his sack and had his normal good game.  He and TJE are our most consistent and disruptive defensive players by far.
  • Caleb Russell finally got him a sack but it’s the only thing I saw out of him.  My favorite was when he didn’t see or didn’t know to cover the slot receiver who was completely uncovered but luckily Steven Campbell got him straightened out before the snap.  I’m sure he’s a great Aggie but man he just looks lost out there most of the time.  He’s not horrible as he’s not getting destroyed but he’s certainly not disrupting anything.
  • Looked like Judie got pulled after Baylor’s 77 yard touchdown pass in the 2nd quarter.  Judie got toasted and that’s just not like him.  He struggled covering most of the time he was in the game and I’m guessing he’s not 100% which was kind of confirmed in Sherman’s presser today.  Sounds like he’s on the shelf for this week which is probably for the best.
  • The rest of the secondary looked just okay.  No one really stood out.  We finally got an interception but that was due way more to pressure on Griffin than anything we did.  Griffin threw up a prayer into double coverage and we simply can down with it.  Howard Matthews looks like a real player and I think he just needs to get more time.
  • Overall this was about as good of a performance as you could expect out of this defense against this opponent.  I fully expected Baylor to score 35 points and we held them to one less score.  We did get some solid stops when we needed them so kudos to the defense for holding them at key moments.  Luckily our offense never sputtered so that was HUGE assistance to our defense because I think it allowed them to relax and play a little more aggressively.

 

I’d like to see a similar type performance against ISU this weekend with a little less scoring on their end obviously.  I’d like to think DeRuyter is working his second half magic again where he’s getting enough opponent film to coach tendencies while just having the defensive guys be more comfortable in his systems and calls.

It’s just frustrating to think that had this offense not sputtered in the second half of two games we’d be looking at a Top 5 ranking and a showdown in Norman for a shot at the National Championship.  Oh well, welcome to Aggie football.  Let’s just hope this Baylor win is a launching pad for a nice run down the stretch.  What we saw on Saturday is what we expected all year.