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Thoughts From the Colorado Game

Not sure where to start with my thoughts from Denver.  A couple things that haven’t really been discussed are the clouds and the location of the game.  For those that weren’t there you don’t have any idea how hot Denver was.  Coming from Houston it was worse.  At the beginning of the game the sun was intense.  The clouds came in the second quarter and the heat really wasn’t an issue.  The clouds hung around for most of the rest of the game as the sun didn’t really make an appearance until sometime in the 4th quarter.  Even in the 4th it was off and on.

We wound up winning time of possession by 1:26 but that’s thanks mainly to the 4th quarter as we started moving the ball and stringing first downs together.  I don’t know how our defense would have held up if they had to deal with the blaring sun for the entire game.  I really think the cloud cover help keep the defense fresh.  They weren’t gassed at all in the 4th quarter when they did their best work. Fatigue tends to lead to mistakes and we didn’t have that issue at all in the 4th quarter.

The other thing that hasn’t really been discussed from a win standpoint is the location of the game.  That was a decision by the Colorado Athletic Department.  They controlled all the ticket sales so this was a true home game for the Buffs.  At least from a technical standpoint.

It was referenced by the television crew but it really was a 50/50 crowd with the Aggies concentrated all together.  Folsom Field in Boulder only holds 50,000 people.  I have no idea how their normal ticket sales are but I would guess there’s no way a game in Boulder looks like 50/50 and the visitors concentrated in the same sections.  Certainly not near the field.  At best you’ve got 8,000 to 10,000 Aggies in the same section away from the field.

As things turned out at Mile High Stadium you had roughly 15,000 Aggies strong right behind the Aggie bench near the field.  That’s a guess on my part but I don’t think it’s far off.  As referenced on TV you didn’t know the Aggies were at an away game late in the 4th quarter.  The 12th Man came alive and it was electric as the Aggie Defense put the clamps on the Buffalo’s offense.

If you’re a long time Aggie fan you know how the Aggies have fared in Boulder.  It’s got that same Lubbock feel where the luck doesn’t tend to go our way.  I’m not sure the Aggies pull out the win in Boulder. 

I’ve never been to Boulder for a game.  I was a little disappointed the game was moved but I’ll take the Aggie win in Denver over watching the Aggies lose in Boulder.  Hopefully Ross Bjork sent a “Thanks for the Neutral Site Game” bouquet to the Colorado Athletic Director.  I really think the 12th Man had a big impact late in the game when it mattered most.

As for the game itself there lots to discuss.

Overall/Coaching:

I’ll start with some general thoughts. 

First off, lets start with the defense.  Their performance saved the day.  They had their struggles in the first half but they absolutely put the clamps on the Buffs offense in the second half and especially the 4th quarter.  They only allowed one first down in the second half.  They forced a 3 and out and 4and out on the Buffs final two drives.  They stepped up all game long but they put their foot down when it mattered most.

I’ve seen his name mentioned a few times but the work that Nik Constantinou did can’t get lauded enough.  I mean this guy channeled his inner Braden Mann and just hammered some balls when it was needed most.  He kept Colorado deep in their territory most of the game when our offense was struggling.  He even completely flipped the field from the end zone once.  What he did was remarkable.

His leg coupled with the defense’s effort allowed us to walk out of a Denver with a win.  At the end of the day an ugly win beats a good loss, moral victory, or whatever you want to call feeling good about loding.  Give me the damn win all day long.  That’s what this Aggie team did.

Offensively it was a mess and it’s due to one word – INCONSISTENCY.  The only two people that get a pass from this are Isiah Spiller and Devon Achane.  I’ll talk about them later.

Jimbo’s play calling was widely inconsistent.  It seemed like he was picking plays rather than his normal sequencing where he’s stringing 4-5 plays together for consistent gains.  I think a lot of this had to do with Calzada and playing from behind.  Colorado was hell bent on stopping the run which they did and Calzada was wildly inconsistent passing the ball.  I think Jimbo was desperately trying to figure out a way to get ahead so he could pound on the Colorado defense with a margin of error.  I think he was also calling plays that Colorado was trying to dictate because they didn’t want the Aggies to establish the run.  Jimbo was calling more pass plays because that’s what Colorado wanted.  They wanted Calzada to beat them through the air.  It almost worked.

I’m certainly not defending Jimbo because he called a bad game.  However, I do think we would have seen a different game from a play calling standpoint had we been able to establish a lead much sooner.  Jimbo kept looking for some knock out punches early in the game but couldn’t find them.  Luckily they found them in the 4th quarter.

Beyond Jimbo the entire offense other than Spiller and Achane were EXTREMLY inconsistent.  The offensive line couldn’t establish the run and did just okay on pass blocking.  We all know about Calzada’s inconsistency as a passer.  The wide receivers were wildly inconsistent at getting open and even catching the ball.

It was almost like the perfect storm of mistakes from an offensive standpoint.  Play calling, blocking, passing, and catching.  Credit to the whole team though.  They never quit punching and when it mattered, they got the knockout they needed.

Defense:

This is going to be short because you saw the effort on Saturday.  It was every bit worthy of the moniker Wrecking Crew.  I know it won’t happen but if I’m Ross Bjork I ask Jimbo if he’s okay with us giving Mike Elko a 4-year contract for $20 million.  I’m not kidding.  Mike Elko is a defensive mastermind.  I know he’s got a good staff but his play calling and adjustments are outstanding.  Elko’s defense has been the heart and soul of Jimbo’s tenure here.  If Elko ever leaves it better never be over money unless it’s Top 20 head coach money.  He’s easily worth $5 million a year.  I don’t care what the market says.  I care what my eyes see and he’s arguably the best defensive coordinator in college football right now.

Defensive Line:

I don’t know how to describe what these guys did.  They tore it up.  Just flat out dominated the Colorado offense from start to finish.  Demarvin Leal lead the way but Jayden Peevy probably had the game of his career.  He was all over the place from his defensive tackle position.  Michael Clemons took on double teams freeing up linebackers even when he wasn’t applying pressure himself.  Tyree Johnson had an outstanding day.

They’re doing all of this without McKinnley Jackson who is an All SEC caliber talent at defensive tackle.  Couple that with the youngsters getting more experience and this defensive line is just going to get better as the season goes on.

Nothing more to say on these guys.  Just sit back and enjoy their greatness.

Linebackers:

These guys aren’t as good as the defensive line and secondary but they’re proving to be pretty serviceable.  They had a bad first half as they often found themselves out of position quite a bit.  They cleaned it up in the second half in a big way though finally staying home and in their lanes.

Aaron Hansford led the way with Edgerrin Cooper and Andre White behind him.

These guys aren’t going to be All SEC players at the end of the season but we don’t need them to be.  We just need them to execute their assignments.  That’s it.  Let the defensive line do their work and don’t make the secondary work any harder.

Secondary:

I must start with Antonio Johnson in this group.  He’s playing in his 12th college game and looked like a man among boys out there.  Two years ago he was in high school at this time.  He plays the nickel position so he’s a hybrid linebacker/safety but the dude was all over the field on Saturday making plays.  He led the team with 9 solo tackles.  This is a guy from St. Louis that was the top player in the state.  Jimbo somehow convinced to come to A&M over Mizzou.  He’s one of those players that really gives me confidence Jimbo and his staff know how to identify real football talent.  He’s looking like an All SEC type safety and that’s what you need to compete against the likes of Alabama and LSU who routinely have those guys starting for them.

Beyond Antonio Johnson, Demani Richardson and Leon O’Neal do what they do.  They just play damn good football. 

Jaylon Jones might be the most underrated corner in college football.  Nobody throws his way for him to get on the stat sheet or make plays.  They don’t throw his way because he has his guy blanketed.  I saw Colorado throw at him once and he just batted it away without much effort.

Beyond Jaylon we have Brian George and Tyreek Chappell who are serviceable.  We’re still missing Myles Jones so like adding McKinnley Jackson this defense could get better.

Most of the people that watched the game really missed out how great this defense played.  People are talking about how A&M is screwed due to the loss of Haynes King.  We’ll get to that part in a bit but let me tell you something – Texas A&M is not screwed.  This defense is going to get better thanks to two key guys coming back and talented youth gaining experience.  There’s certainly an offensive challenge that Jimbo needs to figure out but Texas A&M is not screwed.  They aren’t screwed at all thanks to Mike Elko and his charges.

Offense:

Like most football fans all anyone wants to talk about is the first three quarters of this game when it comes to the offense.  The negative gets precedent over the positive.  The starting quarterback gets hurt and points don’t come so everyone naturally assumes the offense is screwed.  We’re not.

Maybe I’m more bullish than most but what I saw in the 4th quarter was an offense that was finally starting to click.  The offense essentially scored on the last two drives.  How are you feeling if we walked out of there 17-7 as opposed to 10-7?  It’s not much score wise but it’s a huge mental difference knowing we scored on the last two drives.  Replay correctly overturned the call but we basically scored two touchdowns on our last two drives.  The offense that struggled so much finally clicked when it mattered.

While the offense was wildly inconsistent they never stopped trying.  The offensive line kept blocking, Calzada got more accurate, and receivers made more plays in the fourth quarter.  Look at the difference between the Aggie offense and the Colorado offense in the 4th quarter.  They were playing different caliber defenses but the Colorado offense was physically and mentally beaten.  They had no confidence in the 4th quarter.  The Aggie offense kept plugging away and finally started moving the ball in the 4th quarter.  They weren’t mentally or physically beaten and were trying to figure out.

There is LOTS of work to do with this group but there is a strong glimmer of promise if you shield some of the negatives.

Running Backs:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I wouldn’t trade Spiller and Achane for any running back duo in the country.  I would not.  All everyone is talking about is how we couldn’t run the ball.  That’s true.

Spiller only got 22 yards on the ground.  Achane only got 50.  Calzada was our second leading rusher for the game.

What no one is talking about is Spiller’s receiving ability.  We all know he got the winning touchdown but he caught 6 balls for 56 yards.  When he couldn’t move it on the ground he took to the air.  He and Calzada were also inches away from probably another 15-20 yard gain.  Spiller was a lot closer to 100 total yards than people realize.

The other thing nobody is talking about with Spiller is his ability to block.  If he’s not going out for a pass or taking a handoff he’s picking up blitzes and doing it remarkably well.  He’s helping the passing game by giving the quarterback more time.  He’s also an outstanding run blocker which not many people realize.  Although he didn’t post some gaudy rushing stats it doesn’t mean he wasn’t an integral part of the win.  He absolutely was.  That’s a complete back.

Achane did what Achane does coming in and giving the defense that jab they’re not quite ready for.  The Colorado defense was so focused on shutting down Spiller between the tackles they weren’t quite ready for Achane to stretch the corners.  Achane carried 9 times for 50 yards with most of that coming in the second half.  It doesn’t seem like much but having Colorado worry about him hitting the knockout punch kept their linebackers playing the whole field and not just dropping into passing lanes or focused between the tackles for runs.  They had to worry about defending the edge on the run.

Achane also had a beautiful 25-yard reception on the winning drive that set us up in Colorado territory.  He found the open spot in zone coverage and Calzada threw a perfect pass.  It was wonderful execution.

These guys compliment each other so well.  We’re going to try and run Spiller between the tackles.  If that’s not working then we’re going to see if you can defend Achane on the edge while we flare Spiller out.

Jimbo has been a little reluctant to run the two-back set with Spiller and Achane.  It’s pretty much all we ran in the second half.  I think we’re going to see a lot more of it going forward because it’s just so tough to defend.  Spiller and even Achane to a degree are showing they can do it all.  That’s tough for a defense to defend when you have two talented running backs.  That’s what Texas A&M has.

Offensive Line:

I don’t think these guys were as terrible as a lot of people made them out to be.  They certainly didn’t consistently bust open holes or give Calzada all day to throw.  What they did do is create some gaps to run through at times and did give Calzada some time to throw.

I’ve seen a lot worse offensive lines over the past couple of decades. 

This unit is starting four new guys in their second game.  One of those is a true freshman who wasn’t on the team until this summer.  This was their first against real competition. 

Shout out to Layden Robinson who appeared to be playing with a pretty nagging injury.  The dude gutted it out.

I need to see more from this unit before I pass judgement.  I do see some promise with these guys so I’m hoping time, competition, and coaching get them to a similar point as last year’s unit.

Wide Receivers:

Calzada certainly didn’t help this group but they certainly didn’t help themselves either.  I’m still not sold on this group at all outside of Ainias Smith and Jalen Wydermyer.  Ainias didn’t have a big game at all but he was the receiver that appeared to get open the most.  Calzada just didn’t see him for some reason.  Calzada hits Ainias and this game gets busted open a lot earlier.

Wydermyer appears to be trying to be more Kyle Pitts this season going deeper down the field.  Pitts was the tight end at Florida last year.  I’m good with that but it needs to develop better.  More than anything we need Wydermyer to develop the same rapport he had with Kellen Mond.  If we can get that going I think you’re going to see the passing game really open up.

As for the rest of the group I have no clue.  For whatever reason Calzada seemed to focus on Chase Lane even though he wasn’t getting open and had some drops.  Credit to Chase though as he had a key 12-yard reception on 3rd and 7 during the phantom touchdown drive deep in A&M territory.  He caught that ball while he was blanketed and kept the drive alive.  I think Lane is fine as a 4th receiver.

We really shouldn’t be talking about Lane though as the balls should mostly be going to Smith, Wydermyer, and whoever our deep threat can be.

I don’t know what to make of Caleb Chapman.  For all the bitching about Calzada late in the 2nd quarter he laid a perfect ball into Chapman’s hands and he dropped it.  Chapman was covered to an extent but Calzada laid the perfect ball in his hands.  Chapman needs to figure out how to get more open or catch perfect passes when he’s covered.  He also had a bad holding call on 26 yard reception by Achane.  That penalty took us out of field goal range.

Chapman is what I like to call a strider.  His advantage is going down the field because he’s not good at working intermediate routes.  He needs time to get his legs going.  He needs to watch film of Josh Reynolds and see how that guy got open.  They’re similar receivers in my mind.

If I were Jimbo I’d take a page out of the Art Briles’ playbook.  I’d rotate Chapman and Demas on the Aggie side of the field and make them run straight fly routes wearing the cornerback out.  When it looks like the corner is tired start running 15 yard stop routes.  I’m not kidding.  Briles used to do this with the sole purpose of making a corner tired.  Chapman and Demas don’t look good for much else right now so let’s start using their long legs on deep routes every play.

If the safety doesn’t respect their speed downfield then have Calzada take some shots to see if they can connect.  He’s got the arm.  Just have Chapman and Demas turn into a track meet and see what happens.  We’re not getting much out of them so we have nothing to lose.

Either way, this receiving corps is still holding this offense back.

Quarterback:

Yep.  I saved the thing everyone wants to talk about the most for last.

What if I told you two things:

  • You’d miss Kellen Mond
  • Zach Calzada might be better than Haynes King

The first statement is 100% accurate as 2020 Kellen Mond is infinitely better than what we’ve seen at quarterback so far this season.  You’re lying or a fool if you don’t agree.  I hope things change but that’s the reality two games in.

The second point we have no idea on.  We’ve basically seen King play 4 quarters against a lesser opponent then get hurt when he wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire.

In this game King piloted a 3 and out where he missed Chase Lane on 3rd and 6 and then another 3 and out where he couldn’t convert a 3rd and 4 running the ball where he wound up getting hurt.  This isn’t a knock on King.  It’s a reality check.  He appears to be an outstanding quarterback based on practice reports but we haven’t actually seen it on the field yet.  I’m not blaming King for getting hurt but we won’t know how good King is until he’s healthy again.

We think King is good but we really have no idea.

I personally hope we have a full-blown quarterback controversy on our hands.  I want Calzada playing so well Jimbo has no choice but to keep playing Calzada when King is healthy.  That means we’re moving the ball and winning games.  Last thing I want is for Calzada to be struggling so bad there’s a loud cheer when King comes back.

That’s not a knock on King or hope for Calzada but simply the reality.  I still want this Aggie team to win a bunch of games.  I think they can.

Calzada looked like dog feces for most of the game.  He was WILDLY inconsistent.  He couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat throwing the ball.

However, something happened in the 4th quarter as he completed 8 of 14 passes which is a 57% passer.  That’s not dynamite but it’s solid.  He started finding the open guys and hitting them.

His pass to Achane was a tough pass he threaded perfectly.  His pass to Spiller to win the game was beautiful.  I saw Spiller break open and when I saw the ball leave Calzada’s hand I knew it was on the mark.  That’s not an easy pass but Calzada put it right on the money.  That was 3rd and 9 down by 4 and maybe one possession left.  The pressure couldn’t have been higher.  He didn’t let it get to him.  He deserves credit for that.

Jimbo didn’t look prepared to call a game with Calzada and Calzada didn’t look prepared to be the starting quarterback.  When it mattered most though they figured it out and did what needed to be done.

We all know Calzada has a big arm and at times on Saturday he threw a beautiful ball.  Calzada has prototypical NFL size and arm strength.  That’s a good place to start.  We’ve had much worse to start from under center in Aggieland.

So who is Zach Calzada?  Is he the guy that we saw for three quarters or is he the guy we saw for one quarter when the pressure was on?  I have no freaking clue.

A lot of it is going to depend on Zach Calzada.  For the next 4-8 weeks this is his opportunity to take the reins and never give them back to Haynes King.  Nothing personal against King but I’m tired of the Aggies falling short for whatever reason.  I want to win a lot of football games.  I hope Calzada realizes what could be in front of him and takes advantage.  If Calzada is a true gamer he’ll never give the starting position back to King.

Alabama won a national championship with two quarterbacks.  Clemson won a national championship with Trevor Lawrence taking over from Kelly Bryant during the season.  Sure, everyone knew Lawrence was the better quarterback but the point is there’s two recent examples of a team that won a national championship with a quarterback that didn’t start the season.  You can even go further back to the 2014 season when Ohio State won the title with their 3rd string quarterback.

Professionally Tony Romo never got the ball back from Dak Prescott.  We all know about Tom Brady.

I truly hope the best for Haynes King.  I just hope more for the Texas Aggies.  This is Calzada’s show for the next several weeks and I hope like hell 4th quarter Zach Calzada is who we see because the Aggies can win a lot of games with that guy.  They’ll struggle to win half the games Calzada starts if he’s early in the Colorado game Zach Calzada.

Right now we have no idea what we have so we’ll just have to wait. 

Looking Forward:

I said before the season started we need to get through September to really determine what the Aggie season might look like.  I obviously feel that way now more than ever.  We need to make sure our defense stays dominant against Arkansas and even Mississippi State before Bama rolls to town.

More than anything we need to figure out if this offense can develop any consistency and score points.  We have no clue right now.

If you’ll think back to last year after the second game we didn’t think much of this team.  They struggled against Vandy and got blown out against Bama.  Florida came to town and something magical happened.  The Aggies traded blows with a Top 10 team.  They didn’t back down and got the breaks at the end.  Then they went on a magical run for the rest of the season.

There’s no reason to think this Aggie team can’t do the same.  It needs to prove out but I saw enough glimmers at the Colorado game that this team can build on and get better.

I’m not saying I’m drinking the maroon Kool-Aid.  I’m just saying I’m willing to let Jimbo keep mixing that batch a little more because I’ve seen what he can do.

If we roll through Arkansas and Mississippi State I may just take me a big swig before Bama comes to town.

I just need to see how Jimbo keeps mixing it…

Thoughts From the Kent State Game

Before I get going on the Aggies performance against Kent State I want to talk about the first full weekend of college football in two years.  It was glorious.  I don’t mind Texas and OU coming to the SEC.  My biggest concern with that move is it could be the first step to destroying college football as we know it.  I feel the networks might be trying to turn college football into the “NFL on Saturdays.”  It would be one super conference or even two super conferences with 30-40 teams.  I don’t think that’s good for college football.

College football is haphazard and unstructured and it works.  5 “Power” conferences and 5 “Non Power” conferences for 4 playoff spots.  Sure, recently it’s the same old teams over and over again at the end but for 100+ schools there’s some level of hope this could be the year something magical happens.

College football is a regional game that drives pride in towns many people wouldn’t visit.  Trying to convert college football to something more like the NFL is a massive mistake in my mind.  People watch college football because they have some kind of vested interest and it’s different than the NFL.

The scenes from this weekend were wonderful.  Starting in Minnesota on Thursday night, Blacksburg on Friday afternoon, all over the country on Saturday, and Tallahassee on Sunday night.  The passion of college football fans for their team is unmatched.  It’s not the NFL and that’s the way it should be.

I hope those in charge don’t get blinded by the money thrown around by the networks.  Mainly ESPN.  I really feel ESPN is trying a last-ditch effort to save it’s network in hopes it can turn college football into “NFL on Saturdays.”  It may work for a few years but I think it’s going to turn off a lot of fans as it becomes too structured.  College football needs to be haphazard and unstructured. 

College football doesn’t need a clear schedule for everyone along with a clear path to the playoffs.  Maybe a little consistency in conferences when it comes to scheduling but nobody should be guaranteed a playoff spot if they win their conference, division, or whatever.  It needs to be some level of a beauty contest.  It’s not perfect but it works.

I think the two best changes college football can implement is to go to the 12-team playoff.  That could give college football that March Madness feel and give more teams more hope.

If the 12-team playoff happens that’s going to destroy bowl season.  With that, maybe “Bowl Season” gets flipped to the beginning of the season.  Teams get assigned to a game in the following season after the end of their season.  There’s lots of logistics to work out as would teams schedule 11 or 12 games and does everyone get a bowl assignment?  Also, are games at a neutral location or someone’s home stadium?  Lots to work out in that scenario mainly when it comes to money.  However, I have a feeling the 12-team playoff is going to destroy the bowl system as we know it as it’ll be matchups no one really cares about and the best guys will continue to opt out.

Whatever it is college football needs 100+ teams and multiple conferences believing if the stars align they can be hoisting the championship trophy at the end of the season.

Texas and OU can come to the SEC but I really hope we don’t see a contraction of teams in conferences that matter.  College football doesn’t need to be a perfect structured system.  We have the NFL for that.  College football needs to be a little confusing because it drives passion like no other sport.  The NFL has theatrics.  College football has tradition no other professional league can match.  Let’s not let a network throwing around a bunch of cash fearing for their existence ruin that.  Let tradition reign over theatrics.

Don’t NFL my college football you stupid network executives.

Let’s talk about the Aggies:

Overall:

I certainly would have liked a better initial performance from the Aggies on Saturday night.  In the end it was okay but it was a little slow to get going.  I was never worried about losing the game even with a 10-3 score at halftime.  The Aggies were moving the ball but shooting themselves in the foot.  Defensively we looked fine other than a few mistakes here and there.

At the end of the game it was a dominant performance against a Kent State team that is better than most people think.  I feel better about this game than I did the last two openers against Texas State and Vanderbilt.  We all know about the slow start to the Vanderbilt game last year and that season turned out fine.

Two years ago we beat Texas State 41-7.  The score is similar to this game against Kent State but we struggled to establish the line of scrimmage in that game.  That would prove out through the rest of the season where our offensive line wasn’t very good that season.  I didn’t see any glaring issues on Saturday night other than receiver which I’ll get to in a bit.

There’s a fair amount of work for this team to do but what I saw on Saturday night is correctable.  We had a lot of guys getting their first playing time in a real game.  I’ve always said don’t tell me what guys do in practice.  I want to know what guys do when live bullets are flying.  That’s what matters.

Everyone looked pretty good logging significant playing time for the first time.  Even if the opponent wasn’t on the same level we’ll see in the SEC.  I believe in Jimbo and this staff.  I think we’ll continue to get better each week but like I said in my season preview we need to get through September to get a good feel for this team.

Things look fine after the first week.  Not great but they look fine.

Offense:

Haynes King and a host of guys on the line took their first starting snaps in this game.  The result was good but there’s some hiccups that need to get cleaned up.

We must realize we lost 4 senior starters on the offensive line and at starting quarterback.  I know a lot of people still don’t like Kellen Mond but the dude was as solid as they come in his last 9 games as an Aggie.  There was no way Haynes King was going to step in and have the same production as Kellen.  He did fine though.

Same thing on the offensive line.  No way you start four guys together for the first time and have no issues.

This offense shot itself in the foot a few times.  That stalled things out but for the most part this offense dictated the pace of the game which is what Jimbo wants.  It would be nice to have a more explosive offense but Jimbo’s just not going to take shots for the sake of taking shots.  He wants to control the ball and win the game.

That’s what this offense did on Saturday night and it worked.

Quarterback:

Haynes King’s stat line wasn’t what you hoped at the end of the night but he did fine for the most part.  He was 21 for 33 with 292 yards.  That’s a 64% completion rate.  I’m good with the completion percentage.  I want another 100 yards against a team like Kent State though.  At some point we need a quarterback that can sling it around.

King threw two touchdowns and three interceptions.  Not the ideal ratio.  Two of those were tipped but one was a complete mistake where he stared down a receiver and the defender read it perfectly.  Cut out those interceptions and his night looks completely different.  Tips or not he can’t throw three interceptions against the better SEC teams and expect to win.  Those mistakes must get eliminated.

Running wise he didn’t run nearly as much as I thought he would.  I think that’s fine as he really needed to work on his passing more than his running.  He certainly showed his athleticism on the scramble where he got a first down.  The kid has wheels and can run.  I’m sure he’ll figure out timing when to run as he gets more experience.

If I have one real complaint about King it’s his apparent lack of chemistry with Wydermeyer.  Mond and Wydermeyer were outstanding together.  It did look like Jimbo was using Wydermeyer a little different trying to get him deeper down the field but it really didn’t work.  Wydermeyer has been a serious security blanket for this offense the last two seasons and I think he’ll be just as important this season.  It was just one game but hopefully it was Jimbo trying something different with Wydermeyer.

I think it’s important King to have some level of chemistry with Wydermeyer like Mond had.  That’ll be important in keeping the chains moving.  We’ll see how King develops over the next 3 games but he certainly has the athletic skill set.  I didn’t see anything on Saturday night to give me concern.

Offensive Line:

This is the group I wanted to see the most on the evening.  They certainly weren’t as good as last year’s line but last year’s line didn’t take off until the third game last season.  When you have 4 new guys it’s going to take a little time gel. 

The thing I liked most about their effort on Saturday night was their ability to impose their will at times.  That gives me a lot of hope once they get use to working together they can be as good as last year’s unit.  They might even be better as the unit is more talented.

The biggest surprise of the evening for most was Bryce Foster starting at center.  I’m not terribly surprised it wasn’t Luke Matthews but a little more surprised it was Foster.  The kid is immensely talented but he’s a true freshman that didn’t participate in spring practice.  This kid showed up this summer and he’s the starting center.  That’s remarkable.

He had a few plays where he struggled but for the most part he held his own and did pretty good.  His physical skill set looks solid and obviously the coaching staff has some level of comfort to have him take those snaps for most of the game.  I’m good with Foster at center.

A couple of bad holding calls by Green and Johnson at tackle but not a big deal.

There’s enough to clean up here but there’s also enough to be optimistic about.  Like quarterback let’s get through September before we pass any major assessments on this group.  I’m good with what I saw on Saturday night.

Running Back:

This unit makes me smile.  It really does.  The combination of Spiller and Achane is outstanding.

Spiller is just an outstanding runner.  He makes everything look easy.  He’s not flashy or bruising but the dude just churns out yards.  He’s not going to get the credit he deserves from the media or opposing fans but he’s the heart and soul of this offense.  He just takes the football and runs for positive yards repeatedly.

Achane picked up right where he left off last season.  He’s obviously much flashier than Spiller because of his raw speed.  His speed was on display on his 63-yard touchdown run.  The offensive line did a nice job of opening a hole for him.  Achane deflected the defender that had a shot at him in the backfield and then he just hit the burners and took off untouched to the end zone.  I don’t know if there’s another running back in the country that could have ripped of that run.

I think the most impressive thing about Achane is his balance.  He’s not the biggest running back but he runs tough for his size and speed.  Usually guys with his size and speed don’t handle contact well but Achane is remarkable at deflecting contact to keep moving forward.

These two guys aren’t going to get the notice of some running backs in the country but I wouldn’t trade them for any running back duo on the country.  They’re the perfect compliment to one another.

Wide Receiver:

If there’s one area of concern for this game it’s the receiving unit.  Ainias Smith did his normal thing catching 8 passes for 100 yards and two scores.  He had a big drop but I’m not going to hold that against him.  I just hope he doesn’t do it in a big game.

Caleb Chapman showed up for a big pass and caught a few others totaling 4 coaches for 91 yards.  That’s a productive evening but we need more out of him or Demas if this offense is truly going to explode.  I saw Demas take some snaps but the majority of the snaps went to Chapman.  At some point I’d like to see both of these guys on the field stretching defenses.  Maybe it’s coming but we certainly didn’t see it in the first game.

Establishing a legitimate regular down the field threat is how we’re going to beat Alabama.

As for the rest of the receiving group I thought Chase Lane looked serviceable. He caught three passes for 41 yards which is good enough for what should be the number 4 or 5 receiving option.

I’ve already talked about Wydermeyer a bit.  I’m hoping his lack of production was due to not having the chemistry with King like he had with Mond.  Wydermeyer has a big enough body of work that I’m not worried about one game.

The biggest head scratcher of the evening was the use of Max Wright over Baylor Cupp.  This isn’t a knock against Wright at all as he looks to have gotten in great shape and Jimbo clearly trusts him for the playing time he got on Saturday night.  Wright did just fine helping the running game.  He’s just not a dynamic receiver. 

Maybe Cupp is just a myth.  Maybe he’s all talent and not much more.  For as much as we’ve heard about Cupp’s athletic ability I was really surprised we didn’t see him at all on Saturday night.  Even more head scratching was that Eli Stowers got snaps at tight end.  Maybe Cupp is hurt and if so that’s not good.  The guy hasn’t taken a snap of football since his junior year of high school football.  Maybe it’s time to just move on from Bigfoot until we have an actual confirmed sighting.

As for the rest of the receiving group we didn’t see anything out of anyone else.  Jalen Preston, Devin Price, and Moose Muhammad got some snaps at the end but they seem to be buried down the depth chart.

I still hold out hope this unit takes the step forward in 2021 like the offensive line did in 2020.  I see the potential and maybe it’s just King getting more familiarity with everyone in actual games.  Until this unit takes that step we don’t really have a shot to beat a team like Bama. 

In today’s college football you need receivers that can take the top off a defense.  We’re clearly still not there with this unit.

Defense:

My biggest takeaway from this game for the defense was the amount of participation.  A LOT of people got snaps.  Some of it was due to suspensions and injuries but there were lots of names I didn’t expect to see on the field.

We were missing starters like McKinnley Jackson, Michael Clemons, and Myles Jones so that was the main reason.

Demarvin Leal, Demani Richardson, and Leon O’Neal were the only three guys that played the majority of the game.  Lots of guys rotated in and out.  We had six linebackers take snaps which I really didn’t see coming.  We had 12 defensive linemen take snaps.  We had 9 defensive backs take snaps not named O’Neal or Richardson.  It wasn’t just guys getting snaps in the last couple of series.  A lot of people were rotating throughout a good portion of the game.

This unit performed about as expected for the first game missing some key starters.  A few mistakes here and there but a solid performance for the evening.  I continue to be impressed with Jimbo’s recruiting and Elko’s coaching when it comes to our defense.

Defensive Line:

This group was missing two key starters but it didn’t miss a beat.  Sure, Kent State doesn’t have the athletes we’ll see in the SEC but this is a pretty damn good offense that struggled against our defense.

Demarvin Leal was his usual self wrecking shop up and down the line.  He reminds me of Spiller in a way.  He’s not the flashiest but when you watch him you realize how productive he is and how he’s the heart and soul of this side of the ball.

I mentioned it earlier but a lot of guys rotated in and out of the game at the defensive line.  They all seemed productive but the guy who stood out the most to me was Shemar Turner.  He had a few plays where was flat out dominant.  He’s a true freshman out of Desoto.

We know there’s plenty of depth with this unit but from what I saw on Saturday night I have hope that we can get Michael Clemons and Fadil Diggs at defensive end with Demarvin Leal and Shemar Turner at defensive tackle on obvious passing downs.  If you can apply pressure with 4 guys on passing downs it really changes what you can do defensively.  I have some hope we’ll be able to finally do that since Myles Garrett left.  This defense has been missing a legitimate pass rush for a long time.

It’ll be interesting to see what the rotation and participation looks like when Jackson and Clemons are back.  We have so much depth and talent here that I’m not worried about this unit at all.

Linebacker:

Aaron Hansford led the team in tackles.  Looks like he’s gonna be just fine leading the linebacking unit.

The surprise of the night was Edgerrin Cooper getting more action than Andre White.  That sort of makes sense as Cooper is more athletic and better at defending the pass.  He did a solid job as he was tied for fourth in tackles with Demarvin Leal.

I think this is an outstanding development as it looks like White and Cooper can rotate out based on the game situation or even opponent for pass happy teams like Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

We’re going to be playing a lot of Antonio Johnson at nickel so he’s basically the third linebacker but it looks like we have some flexibility with Hansford, Cooper, and White.  I’m totally good with that.

We still need to add more talent and depth here but looks like we’ll be serviceable at linebacker this season.

Defensive Back:

As mentioned Leon and Demani played the whole game.  They were outstanding.  Leon had a nice pick 6 after he was wrongly flagged for targeting.  The football gods took care of the situation.  Leon also had another nice interception.  I’ve been critical of Leon in the past but he’s really doing an outstanding job.  Demani kind of fits in that Spiller and Leal role where he’s not super flashy but he’s now on his third year starting and he’s been solid and this year looks no different.

Antonio Johnson spent most of the game at the Nickel and I thought he looked good.  He’s a true sophomore and I think he’s going to continue to develop into an outstanding player.  Keldrick Carper also saw a lot of action as we ran four safeties quite a bit and was outstanding.  He’s not the most talented DB on the roster but he really understands his assignments and does a good job.

Jardin Gilbert who is a true freshman showed a few flashes at safety.  Not sure he’ll get a lot of playing time since we have O’Neal, Richardson, and Johnson manning the three safety spots.  It’s good to see someone make the most of their opportunity though.

At corner we rotated a lot more people out due to Myles Jones being out.  That also meant Ainias didn’t have to do his jersey swap on punts if you were wondering.  I saw Jaylon Jones playing but he didn’t show up on the stat sheet.  That means they didn’t throw against him.  That’s a good sign as Jaylon is the best corner we have.

It seemed Tyreek Chappell and Brian George got most of the snaps at corner and did a solid enough job as the Kent State starting quarterback completed half his passes for less than 100 yards.  Deuce Harmon also got some playing time.  Chappell and Harmon are true freshman with plenty of talent so it’s good to see them get some in game experience.

I fully expect Jaylon Jones and Myles Jones to start most of the season at corner but it’s good to see if they’re not able to go for whatever reason we have some talent and depth behind them.

Kent State was a team that averaged over 300 yards passing last season.  They obviously know how to pass but the Aggie secondary didn’t let them.  That’s a good showing.

We’re thin at linebacker but with the defensive line and this secondary I think we’ll be able to cover for the linebacking unit in most of our games.

Looking Forward:

This was just one game but I would have liked to have seen a better start.  It turned out just fine though.  Lots of new guys taking snaps at key positions on offense so it’s justifiable to take a little while to get going.

We’ve got some good tests coming in Colorado and Arkansas.  Those are both VERY winnable games if this is to be a special team.  We’ve seen in the past where other Aggie teams struggled to get things going against good teams like Colorado and Arkansas.  Let’s hope this Aggie team can avoid that and control Colorado and Arkansas from the start only to put them away in the second half.  They’re winnable but not pushovers.  They’ll provide a good barometer of where this Aggie team really is.

Let’s get through September before we really start believing we have something special with this year’s Aggie team.

Other Thoughts:

I thought the Longhorns looked good in their game.  Not dominant and I’m not saying they’re back but they looked different than the Tom Herman teams that made repeated mistakes.  It’ll be interesting to see how their season turns out.  I don’t think they’re loaded with talent but after one game it looks like their coaching has improved.  This Big 12 may wind up being a tossup this year as OU and Iowa State didn’t dominate in their first game.

I didn’t see any of the LSU/UCLA game but the results sure weren’t good for Coach O.  The more I see him the more I realize he’s like Kevin Sumlin.  He caught lightening in a bottle with a generational quarterback and good coaching.  He got cocky after that season talking a lot of trash with no clue on how it happened.

For me personally I want Coach O to hang around.  His body of work says he’s not a good head coach.  Turns out he didn’t figure out how to be a good head coach when he got the job at LSU.  He just got extremely lucky one season.  He’s delightfully entertaining but he’s not a good head coach.

I’m hoping he can still pull off 9 wins losing to Alabama and A&M.  That should be keep him around for another season.  The last thing I want is Matt Campbell at LSU.  I know Iowa State struggled in their first game but that dude can coach football and I think he’s clearly open to getting out of the Big 12 right now.

Other than those few things college football is back in all of it’s glory.  I couldn’t be any happier.

Can’t wait to be in Denver this Saturday although I really do wish it was in Boulder on campus.  That’s much more of a college feel.

A Look at the 2021 Aggies

Haven’t blogged in a while mainly because I got married and as part of that we bought a 1968 Bronco.  It’s been requiring a little bit of attention from me but it’s been fun to tinker with.  Enough of that, we’re less than a month away from football season so time to make a little effort towards Aggie Football.

Before I get going on the 2021 team here’s my thoughts on some recent big news.

Longhorns to the SEC:

I don’t like it but it’s the reality of college football.  What I hate even more is the leadership of A&M through all of this.  The Big 12 was always the most unstable Power 5 conference in college football.  It didn’t take a rocket surgeon to realize that.  The leadership of Texas A&M was woefully unprepared for the inevitable.  It appeared the leadership at A&M didn’t know or didn’t ask the protocol for adding teams to the SEC.

If Brent Zwerneman had not leaked his story then the Sooners and Longhorns join the conference in less than 7 days.  One week to collapse the Big 12 and jump to the SEC.  ONE WEEK.

Even with Brent Z leaking the story they joined the SEC in less than 10 days.  Think about that.  In less than 10 days NOBODY knew about the Sooners and Longhorns joining the SEC and then all of a sudden they’re voted in.

When Brent Z published his article connected people all over the country were scrambling trying to figure out how much was true because they hadn’t heard anything about it.  Highly connected people had no clue this was coming.  Now, obviously some people knew but most people didn’t know. 

This leads me to my biggest issue with A&M leadership through all of this.  As we look back now it appears some people at A&M knew.  Or maybe just some one.  A&M didn’t go from saying they didn’t want Texas in the conference to voting them in a few days later without someone in power having some knowledge.

The rumor is John Sharp knew but didn’t tell anyone.  Maybe he was sworn to secrecy but he hung our AD out to dry.  Poor Ross Bjork looks like a fool saying we didn’t want Texas to join the SEC.  It’s true and we didn’t but the reality is the train was far down the tracks.  When Brent Z published his article the Sooners and Longhorns were coming to the SEC.

That well done Bradley Cooper video got made because of Ross Bjork’s soundbites right when the news broke.  If John Sharp knew he hung Bjork out in a bad way. 

We got to look like the inferior little brother who was afraid of the Longhorns joining the SEC.  I’m tired of that narrative.  We’re the better football program and we’re actually the bigger school now.

Our narrative from the moment the news broke should have been something like this, “We’re aware conference re-alignment is always happening.  We also understand why teams want to join the premier athletic conference in the country.  We made that decision a decade ago leaving an inferior conference.  We will gather with our member schools in the conference and make the best decision for the conference.”  That’s it.  That should have been the narrative all along because we really knew what was going on.

Behind the scenes you can work like hell to keep the Longhorns out but on the exterior don’t act inferior or scared which is what we did.  Even if John Sharp knew and was sworn to secrecy he could have given Bjork and the school president a little info that something might be brewing with the SEC adding teams.  When that news did come out we needed a consistent message of being aware and not being afraid. 

Even if Brent Z didn’t leak the story on a Wednesday afternoon it would have come out the following Monday.  Did Sharp have some grand plan to get everyone aligned in those days?  I don’t think so.  Maybe I’m wrong on Sharp knowing but someone somewhere knew and the leadership at A&M failed in how they handled this.  Completely failed.

If you can’t trust your school president and athletic director then there’s some big issues going on.

From a football standpoint I don’t think this really hurts us that much.  We truly have the superior program right now.  Sure, it sucks we can no longer sell we’re the only SEC school in the state but how much did that really help Sumlin?  It didn’t.  Sumlin won in 2012 with most of Sherman’s players and then never did much in recruiting or really winning after that.

At the end of the day coaching staffs matter more than anything else.  Conference really doesn’t matter.

I remember when R.C. Slocum was complaining about facilities when Mack Brown started crushing him in recruiting and coaching.  R.C. was certainly correct our facilities needed improving in a big way but the reality is Mack Brown was a superior recruiter.  It also didn’t help that Bob Stoops and Nick Saban at LSU were also superior recruiters.  Coaching matters more than anything else in college football.

I truly believe Texas A&M has the superior coach and we’re going to be fine.  What happens if Texas joins the SEC and we go on a 10-year run like we did from the mid-80s to the mid-90s?  It will actually help A&M because we can definitively show we’re the better program right now.

Things will finally get settled where they should have been settled all along – On the field.  For 12 months one school is going to have definitive bragging rights.

Trust me when I say this – When you see the Maroon and Burnt Orange line up on the field it’s going to feel right.  It really will.  Rivalries are meant to be contested.  That’s what makes them a rivalry.  Actual competition.

Would I be happier if Texas was swirling around in that god forsaken conference known as the Big 12?  You bet.  But they’re not.  They’re coming to the SEC.  There’s too much money involved.  Let’s saddle up and ride proving we’re the better program on the field because we are.

Stop acting so damn scared.  Stop worrying about the narrative and perception.  We’ll settle it on the field.  Just like it should have been all along.

The 2021 Aggie Football Team:

Overall:

I feel great about this team.  I really do.  Jimbo and his staff are excellent coaches.  I truly believe they’re a Top 5 staff in college football.  They recruit well and have a strong game plan week in and week out.  There’s only been a few games in 3 seasons I’ve been disappointed in Jimbo’s approach.  He’s been excellent in 3 seasons as the Aggie head coach.

Let’s recap what the 2020 team did:

  • 8-1 record in 9 SEC games with our only loss being to Alabama
  • Orange Bowl Champs
  • Finished #4 in the Country

Read those three bullet points again.  Read them one more time.  That’s an outstanding season.

The best part about last season was how we put teams away in the 4th quarter.  We might have struggled through 3 quarters like against Auburn and North Carolina but when it mattered most we pulled away and won.  That’s the mark of a well-coached team.

I say that because it gives me confidence Jimbo and his staff will continue the development of this year’s team.  That wasn’t a team that won on raw talent.  That was a team that won on good coaching and hard work by the players.

I don’t see any reason why 2021 will be different.  Talent wise we’ll have more raw talent than last season.  We lose a lot of experience at some key positions.  However, we have something carrying over that I believe is the most underrated thing in sports – Player Leadership.  Demarvin Leal is without a doubt the heart and soul of this team.  He’s the leader that demands excellence.  Behind him you have guys like Demani Richardson, Kenyon Green, Isiah Spiller, and Ainias Smith.  I think you can include Leon O’Neal to a degree.  Sure, he makes some bone headed decisions from time to time but for the most part the dude has really developed into a pretty good football player.

Either way you have a lot of guys at the top that just love playing football.  That sets the tone for the rest of the team.  Tom Brady is a decent physical quarterback.  There are much more talented quarterbacks in the NFL.  What he excels at is leading his team and setting the tone they are there to win football games.  If they don’t want to win football games they don’t need to be there.

I see a lot of guys like that on this team and that bodes well for the season.  Great teams tend to have great leaders on the field.  I think we have that for this season.

Offense:

I think we’re going to see more of the same from Jimbo which is good.  No need to mess with what’s working.  Jimbo runs an offense that works with his talent on both sides of the ball.  We have a stable of running backs and a really dominant defense.  Because of that winning time of possession is key.  Wear the other defense down and keep ours fresh.

I like big plays on offense as much as anyone.  I like winning football games more.  Winning “ugly” games is much sexier than losing high scoring contests.

We lose a ton of experience at quarterback and offensive line.  We’re still waiting on great receivers to emerge.  I think we’ll be more talented at each of those positions but experience is a huge part of being successful.  The good news is the people taking over these positions have been in the program for a year or two so they should be prepared.  It may take them a little bit to figure some things out as in game experience is more valuable than anything else.

Hopefully by October 9th they’ve got all the kinks worked out and are hitting on all cylinders.  Yes, that’s when Alabama comes to Kyle Field.  That will be the most important game at Kyle in almost a decade assuming the Aggies get through September.  I’ll detail it out later but you don’t win it all without beating Nick Saban.  It’s just that simple.

Quarterback:

Although Jimbo hasn’t named a starting quarterback I don’t see how it’s not Haynes King.  King took the backup snaps last season behind Mond.  All indications are he’s acting like the starting quarterback.

King is extremely talented and really fast.  That’s what you want in a college quarterback.  Calzada has a complete cannon of an arm but I think King gives Jimbo more flexibility because of his legs.  Don’t be shocked if Calzada turns into a better NFL quarterback but I expect King to be the starter at A&M for his career.  I think after this season Calzada likely transfers somewhere else after 3 years in the program.

I’m not too concerned about King being a redshirt freshman.  The list of freshmen that have done great things as a college quarterback are pretty long.  Names like Manziel, Jameis Winston, Tua Tagovailoa, and Trevor Lawrence come to mind.

No reason King can’t follow those guys because of the talent surrounding him.

There will certainly be some learning curves and some mistakes here and there but in the end I think King will be just fine.  If not, we have Calzada waiting in the wings.  Jimbo has proven he can develop college quarterbacks.

Offensive Line:

This is my biggest question for the 2021 team and it’s because of this question – Was the 2020 offensive line the result of talent finally developing into coaching or was it just because the guys had so much experience with one another?  They had basically played 3 seasons together.

That 2020 offensive line was OUTSTANDING.  I can’t say enough good things about those guys.  We had 4 seniors and Keyon Green. 

I personally believe it was talent developing into coaching.  Because of that I don’t have a lot of concerns with this group.  They’ll take a little time to develop but I’m hoping by October 9th they’re one cohesive unit.

Kenyon Green moves out to left tackle and Layden Robinson takes over at right guard.  These two will be the heart and soul of the unit.  These are two guys that are going to have long NFL careers.

Aki Ogunbiyi looks to start at left guard, Luke Matthews at center, and Jahmir Johnson at right tackle.

Overall this will be a more talented unit than last year.  Ogunbiyi was a highly rated recruit, Matthews has excellent genes, and Johnson was a four year starter at Tennessee before transferring to the Aggies.

Like quarterback there will be some growing pains but I feel good about this bunch.  They’ve all been in the program for a while and I believe in Josh Henson.  I don’t think last year was the result of four seniors just having familiarity with each other.  I think Henson was a major factor in their performance.  Until I see differently I’m going to believe that.

Running Back:

Texas A&M may really have the best running back group in the country.  Alabama is always loaded with running back talent but the Aggies have an impressive group.  At the top is Isiah Spiller.  The dude isn’t splashy but he just churns out yards.  He and the offensive line work really well together as he waits on holes to develop.

Behind him is Devon Achane who was EXTREMELY impressive in his limited carries last season.  He’s a little small but he has good balance and world class speed as we saw in the Orange Bowl.  He’s the perfect compliment to Spiller.

You also have Ainias Smith who you’ll see lined up in the backfield from time to time. 

Behind those guys you have L.J. Johnson who was a four star recruit out of Cypress.  You also have Amari Daniels who was highly rated out of Miami.  Then you have Earnest Crownover who’s 6’3”/220 and has taken some snaps.

It’s a stacked group and next to the defensive line it’s the most talented bunch on the team.

Wide Receiver:

This is the group that still frustrates me the most.  The best pass catcher in Jimbo’s three seasons has been a tight end or slot receiver.  You’ve had Jace Sternberger, Jaylen Wydermyer, and Ainias Smith.  That’s it.  We haven’t had a truly dominant receiver stressing the secondary down the field.

I know Caleb Chapman flashed in the Florida game but he’s struggled to stay healthy.  Hopefully he can get back to the Florida game form AND stay healthy.  He’s played in 3 games in his Aggie career and had 2 big catches. That’s it. He needs to stay healthy. We need a deep threat in the worst way.  It’s crazy to think what this offense has done with no real wide receivers. For one game we saw it but we need a lot more of it.

We’ve been hearing about Baylor Cupp for two seasons but haven’t seen anything.  I know he’s been hurt but this is a guy that’s missed the last three years of football going back to his senior year of high school because of injuries.  I feel bad for him but until he can stay healthy it’s just empty hope of what he can be as a compliment to Wydermyer.

Demond Demas allegedly has all the talent in the world but we haven’t seen any of it on the field.  Promise is one thing.  Production is even more.  He needs to produce on the field.

Chase Lane is serviceable but I don’t think he’s a superstar.  Same thing with Hezekiah Jones.  Jalen Preston came into the program as a heralded four star and hasn’t done anything.

Moose Muhammad and Devin Price are redshirt freshmen with lots of promise.  Hopefully they show up this season.

Yulkeith Brown is a true freshman with lots of speed out of Miami.

The numbers and talent are there but the production isn’t.  I don’t know why that it is but something needs to change if this Aggie team is going to dominate.  We’ve got to have receivers on the outside that can stress the defense down the field.  That has been the biggest change with Nick Saban’s offenses over the last few seasons. 

Alabama now has a fleet of receivers stressing a defense’s secondary rather than just pounding them on the ground.  The Aggies need to do the same.

I’m really hoping the receiving corps takes the same step the offensive line took from 2019 to 2020.  If it does, there’s no reason Texas A&M can’t win the national championship in 2021.

Defense:

I feel REALLY good about this defense.  Demarvin Leal is probably the most underrated football player in college football.  He’s not flashy but the dude does work up and down the defensive line.  His football awareness and technique is off the charts.  He may not rack up gaudy stats but he’s the heart and soul of this defense working to create plays for everyone.  The dude loves playing football and others follow his lead.

Beyond Leal this side of the ball has plenty of talent.  The loss of Buddy Johnson is pretty big but I think there’s enough talent and experience to overcome that loss. 

This defense is going to be damn good.  Beyond Leal on the field the other reason is Mike Elko.  What Elko has done in three seasons as the Aggie Defensive Coordinator has been outstanding.  I don’t see that changing in 2021.  He’s an elite college defensive coordinator.

One positive about the Sooners and Longhorns to the SEC is we might be able to hold onto Mike Elko for another season or two.  I really think college football is about to turn into the haves and have nots.  I think firing coaches and hiring new guys for big money might cool down a bit until the college re-alignment talks slow down a bit.

You’ve got 8 teams left in the Big 12 and it looks like they won’t have a landing spot in any new conferences.  I don’t think the money is there.  I think some other smaller schools are going to be reluctant to give a new head coach a lot of money.  Big schools tend to hire guys with head coaching experience.

I’m not saying Mike Elko will never leave Texas A&M but right now he’s making good money and there’s a lot of uncertainty for a lot of schools.  He may see a guy like Dave Arande and wait a bit before he gets his chance for a more stable school.

Before this Sooner and Longhorn news I would have assumed he’s gone after this season.  I’m not sure of that right now.  That’s good news for the Aggies.

Mike Elko is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country.  The dude is fundamentally sound, makes great in game adjustments, and works well with Jimbo’s overall game plan.  I can’t say enough good things about Mike Elko.  Every national championship team has a great defensive coordinator and A&M has a great one.

Defensive Line:

The Aggie defensive line is just stacked.  Just stacked.  It could be the best in the country.  I’ve talked about Leal already.  He’s going to play up and down the line going from defensive end on running downs and defensive tackle on passing downs.  The dude is a monster.  We won’t have him after this year but that’s fine.  There won’t be anything else for him to prove when he’s done this season.

At defensive tackle we have Jayden Peevy and McKinnley Jackson.  Jackson is currently suspended but I’m hoping he gets things cleared up and is only gone for one game.  He’s a true sophomore but was excellent when he played last season.  He’s got All SEC caliber talent.

Peevy is a super senior and it’s great that he came back.  I’m not sure he’ll play in the NFL but he’s an outstanding defensive tackle for the Aggies.  What he may lack in talent he’ll make up for in experience.

Michael Clemons will start opposite Leal as defensive end.  I really feel this guy is the key to A&M’s national title hopes.  Clemons graduated high school in 2016.  This will be his sixth year on a college campus.  He goes 6’5” and 270 pounds.  He’s 24 years old.  He’s a grown ass man playing college football.

Beyond his numbers the dude is talented.  I think he can really have a Demontre Moore like 2012 season.  A&M has been missing a pass rushing threat since Myles Garrett.  I think Clemons can finally bring that element to an Aggie defense.  Last season he had 4 sacks in 5 games.  If he’s healthy he can bring pressure off the edge that will be disruptive to any offense.  He won’t be Myles but if he can be like Demontre in 2012 that’ll be good enough for me.

Beyond the starting four we’ve got a good group of guys that’s short on experience but plenty talented.  Guys like Tyree Johnson, Donell Harris, Fadill Diggs, Isaiah Rakes, and Adarious Jones.  Jimbo has recruited the defensive line really well in his time in Aggieland.  You need talent and depth at the defensive line in the SEC and the Aggies have that.

Linebackers:

As mentioned the loss of Buddy Johnson is big.  The dude had a nose for the football and made plays as a linebacker.  I don’t think we’ll have anyone be as productive as him but we have some guys that are serviceable.

Aaron Hansford returns for his 6th season on a college campus.  I don’t think he’s as talented as Buddy Johnson but he’s got plenty of experience.  He’s been solid the last two seasons.  I don’t think he’ll make a massive leap but he’ll be a very serviceable linebacker.

Andre White, Jr. takes over for Buddy Johnson in his third year in the program.  He started in the Orange Bowl where he played great.  He had 8 tackles, half a sack, and an interception.  He’s not started a full season but I feel good he’ll be solid.

Linebacker is the unit with the least amount of depth but we have Chris Russell and Edgerrin Cooper backing them up.  They’ve mainly been special teams guys the last few seasons.

All in all I don’t think this will be an outstanding unit but I do think it’ll be a unit that can hold it’s own with the rest of the talent on the defense and Mike Elko’s coaching.

Secondary:

I’m a little torn on this secondary.  I’m not sure if it’ll be serviceable or it will be excellent.  The talent is there to be excellent.

Demani Richardson and Leon O’Neal are the starters at safety just like they’ve been the past two seasons.  Richardson is solid and will likely play on Sundays.  O’Neal has all the talent in the world and seems to be maturing.  He has some brain farts from time to time in coverage and emotion but for the most part he’s damn good.

Myles Jones returns for a fifth season and while I’ve been hard on him I thought he played really solid at corner last season.  He’s not spectacular but if he continues to improve from last season he’ll be fine.

Jaylon Jones returns as a true sophomore at the other corner.  He’s a little short on experience but he’s loaded with talent.  He’s got the ability to be a star but he needs to take that step this season.  I’m hopeful he will.

Antonio Johnson will start at the nickel back and is similar to Jaylon Jones.  A little short on experience but loaded with talent.  I too think he makes a big leap this season.  Erick Young will back up Jonson and he’s loaded with talent as well.  He’s struggled from an assignment standpoint but he adds outstanding depth.

Beyond those guys as key contributors you have guys like Brian George, Tyreek Chappell, Deuce Harmon, Josh Moten, Brian Williams, and Keldrick Carper.  Lots of inexperienced depth but hopefully it’s not needed this season.

We go up against some great receivers this season like Treylon Burks at Arkansas, John Metchie at Alabama, and Kayshon Boutte at LSU.  We also go up against Lane Kiffin’s pass happy offense at Ole Miss and who knows if Mike Leach will get things going at Mississippi State.

This unit is going to get tested.  The talent is there and the limited experience says they should be okay.  We just need them to continually get better.  If the secondary really takes that leap we’re talking about one of the Top 5 defenses in college football.

If the talent and coaching come together this season we’re going to be just fine on this side of the ball.

Season Prediction:

I’m not doing my usual record prediction this season.  The sole reason is this – I feel this Aggie team is good enough to win every game on their schedule.  That’s right, I feel this Aggie team can win the national title.  I doubt they do but for the first time in forever I believe it’s possible.

They still play in the SEC West which is the toughest division in college football.  Arkansas will be better, Ole Miss puts up a ton of points, Mike Leach always snake bites someone that wasn’t expecting it, LSU is still extremely talented, and there’s some guy named Saban who coaches in Tuscaloosa.  If I truly had to wager I’d say this team goes 11-1 this season.  I feel like they’ll get past Bama because Saban seems to struggle against first time athletic quarterbacks.  The Aggies will probably then wind up losing to Ole Miss or LSU.  Most likely LSU because Ole Miss is at home and we’ll just run down their throats to keep their offense off the field.

I want to get past September to see where this team is before I start predicting wins and losses.  I want to see the inexperienced talent develop and execute what the coaching staff wants.  I want to see them put teams away in the 4th quarter.  I want to see running backs churning out yards, a quarterback have time in the pocket, and limited busted plays on defense.  If I see those things I’ll hold true to my 11-1 prediction right now.

As for the national championship here’s an interesting nugget – In 2013 Jimbo Fisher was in his fourth season at Florida State and coming off an Orange Bowl championship.  He had a redshirt freshman quarterback under center and went undefeated winning a national championship.  Can history repeat itself?  It happened once so why not again? 

Interesting Nugget #2 – Did you know every team that won the national championship since 2008 has had to beat Alabama with one exception?  That exception was 2013 when Auburn beat Alabama on the Kick 6 to go to the SEC Championship.  They would beat Missouri and go on to lose to Jimbo’s Florida State team for the national title.  In a way Bama was still a factor as if Auburn didn’t beat them then Bama would have likely played that Florida State team.  For 13 seasons Nick Saban and Alabama have had a direct influence on who won the national championship.  They’ve won 6 of those seasons.  That’s complete dominance of college football.

October 9th can really be a pivotable moment for Aggie football.  If the Aggies can get by Bama then they have a chance to win it all.  No small task but if they can get by Bama the road is paved.

For fun I went back and looked at the national championship winners since 2008.  In 6 of those 13 seasons a team with a pre-season ranking of 5 or worse won the national title.  The most recent team to win a national title with a pre-season ranking of 5 or worse?  The 2019 LSU football team who had a pre-season rank of 6. 

What’s the pre-season ranking of the 2021 Aggies?  6.  Can history repeat itself?  We’ll find out…

Here’s the chart:

Our Best Friend Right Through it All

If I were to draw up the perfect male dog it would be Chopper.  He was everything I could have ever asked for in a dog.  His name, his colors, his hair, his size, his look, his athleticism, and his smarts were an amazing package.  He was just a cool dog.  I can’t believe how blessed I was to have him.

I often repeated my mantra for Chopper as polite, respectful, and loyal.  He was all of those.  He was loyal above everything.  He was truly the definition of Man’s Best Friend.  At least for me.

Chopper was tasked oriented and loved having something to do.  He could rarely sit still and slept with one eye open for most of his life.  He would follow me from room to room as he was always at my side for the most part.  He was always waiting on his next assignment.

The easiest way to talk about Chopper is to talk about what he loved to do the most.  In addition to being my best buddy for 14.5 years Chopper was put on this earth for four things:

  1. Protect his Pack
  2. Hunt Squirrels
  3. Go for Rides
  4. Charm the Ladies

Protect his Pack:

Chopper lived by the code of the pack which means every pack needs a protector that watches over everyone and keeps the pack safe.  This dog must be the first to react to any threats to the pack.

I like to think Chopper wasn’t aggressive but he wasn’t submissive for sure.  He never submitted to another dog that I saw.  Being willing to be the Alpha comes at a cost and it’s to show you’re willing to establish the pecking order of the pack.  Chopper was always willing to establish the pecking order so it was clear.  Just a rule of the pack.

The dude loved to brawl if need be and I broke up a few fights where two dogs were looking to establish a pecking order.  Luckily over the years I got good at recognizing escalating situations and got him out of them before things went south.  To Choppers credit he was good at de-escalating himself as soon as I got involved.  Fortunately, no fight ever got too far where either dog got hurt.

While protecting his pack of dogs was important the most important pack Chopper ever protected was his pack of people.  I said earlier he was loyal above all else.  He was loyal to his pack of humans and that meant protecting them.

Whenever I was with Chopper I always knew I had a sidekick ready to protect me.  It felt cool. 

His loyalty was on display daily as he usually waited outside for me to come home from work.  My house in Fort Worth was next to a doctor’s office parking lot.  I had a metal fence on that side of the house and there was a gate near where I parked in that parking lot.  Most every day when I came home from work he was laying just inside that gate with his head pointed to the street.

As soon as my truck came in sight, he’d jump on all four paws and show major excitement.  I’d get out of the truck and talk sweet to him and then head to the front door.  Once I did that he would race around to the dog door and meet me inside at the front door.  I don’t know how long he’d wait on me each day but he was usually there waiting.  It was cool to have that kind of loyalty.  It was even cooler that it was Chopper.

Even at my house in Houston where he couldn’t see me drive up I’d get out of the truck and look around the corner to the side gate and he’d be standing there.  He couldn’t see me driving but I guess he’d just wait there to hear the sound of my truck backing down the driveway.  I’d acknowledge him and he’d run to the front door to meet me.

When Kelly and I moved to our house he did the same for her.  We have a detached garage beyond our backyard where we enter from the alley.  Kelly would go for a workout or errand and he’d be standing outside the garage when she came back.  The dude lived for his people.  Waiting on them to get back home was part of the deal.  The second he could be next to his people he wanted to be there.

You can’t put a price on that loyalty.  Protect his pack at all costs is what he was put on this earth to do.  It was awesome to be the main thing he protected.

Hunt Squirrels:

Most of you know but Chopper LOVED to hunt squirrels.  I don’t mean chase squirrels.  I mean hunt.  The dude had every intention of catching every squirrel he went after and have them meet their demise.

I don’t know the exact number but it was somewhere around 20.  That means he got at least 1 squirrel for every year he was on this earth.  He hadn’t caught one in his last three years as his squirrel gear faded on him.  However, he still loved the pursuit as he aged.  He was like the hunter that still enjoyed sitting in the stand or field even though he had no intention to shoot.  His wall was full of skins but he still enjoyed the thought of the pursuit.

His approach was awesome to watch.  He’d try and sneak up as close as he could.  He’d either take off in full sprint once the squirrel saw him or he felt he was close enough.  He’d sneak for minutes at a time just trying to inch closer.  He never got impatient.  Over the years he got good at identifying the angles he needed to beat a squirrel to a tree.  I could always tell when he had that angle as he’d hit a little extra speed and pick the squirrel clean right before they got to the tree.  People would always stop to watch him do his work.

Chopper’s heyday for squirrel hunting was a place called Haden Park in Houston.  It was about a ½ mile from the house I lived in before I moved in with Kelly.  It wasn’t a dog park but it was 10 acres of wide open land with trees.  It wasn’t the nicest park so it was PERFECT for Chopper as he could roam free without anyone bothering him.  Just Chopper and the squirrels.

Chopper would spend a solid 30 minutes going from tree to tree looking for squirrels.  I once put my GPS watch on his collar just to see how active he was.  This was even as he was getting older.  Even as he got older he still covered 2 miles in those 30 minutes.  Here’s the photo. 

There’s no doubt in his prime he was covering 3-4 miles in those 30 minutes.  That’s a lot of sprinting so it was one hell of a workout.  He never wore out though as he wanted to maximize those 30 minutes.  There would be time for resting back at the house.  Haden Park was all about squirrel hunting.

He absolutely loved that park.  When I came home from work he’d get so excited as I changed clothes.  He knew what was coming and waiting those 10 minutes for me to change was agonizing.  He was ready to go.  Once we got there I’d make him sit and stay as I took his leash off.  When I told him, “Okay” he’d release to a dead sprint to the middle of the trees while the squirrels scattered.  He loved it.

When it was time to go I’d find him and make him look at me.  I’d clap my hands and say, “Let’s go”.  He’d make a mad sprint to the exit point where he’d get leashed up and we’d make the walk back.  Even on his way out he was covering as much ground as possible.

Go for Rides:

Chopper was always up for a ride.  The dude absolutely loved to hop in a vehicle and go somewhere. 

Chopper always had a good notion of when a ride was about to happen.  He’d hear the click of my remote start and freeze.  When the diesel sound started he’d make a bee line for the truck and do a full lap around it.  He’d stop at the passenger door pointing his nose right in the crack waiting for the door to open.  He’d sit or stand there until I came over to let him in.  As soon as the door was open he’d jump right in.

When he got in the truck he had one place he’d ride.  He LOVED to stand on the console and keep his head pointed forward looking out the windshield.  The dude was running point and he wanted to see where we were going.  Maybe he was just looking for squirrels but he was looking for some kind of action.

Even when he slept in the truck he’d sleep right on top of the console.  If we came to a stop he’d stand up and look around to make sure everything was okay.  The only downside was when he’d stand he’d block my line of vision out the passenger window and mirror.  I seriously couldn’t see out one side of my truck.  I didn’t mind.  The dude loved going for rides so much.  If he was happy I was happy.

I’ll miss that brown fella riding on the console blocking my view to the passenger side.

Charm the Ladies:

When the pack was safe, squirrels on the run, and no more rides to be had Chopper loved to spend his time charming the ladies.  Chopper loved the ladies and the ladies loved Chop.  His long brindle hair and charming demeanor was quite the force.

His go to move was to find a lady sitting quietly and saunter up near her.  He’d either take a seat in front of her or just kind of stand there.  If she wasn’t paying him any mind he’d offer a light paw and bat his eyes.  It was quite effective and truth be told made me a little jealous.  He was a smooth operator.

The list of ladies he charmed is too long to list.  They know who they are.  He used his charming powers to get pets or treats.  I’m not sure which he enjoyed most but there’s no doubt scoring both pets and treats was the ultimate achievement.

The greatest charm job Chop ever did was on his mom Kelly.  Kelly didn’t grow up with any animals.  She never had a pet her entire life.  Obviously if she was going to get serious with me she had to accept Chopper and Sterling as a part of her life.

Chopper did more than his fair share of work as Kelly did more than accept Chop and Sterls into her life.  She fell in love with Chopper and learned to accept Sterling.  Fair enough on all accounts.  Kelly and Chopper became best buddies.

Whenever Kelly would come over to my house I’d meet her at the door and give her a hug and kiss.  A couple feet behind me would be Chopper.  As soon as Kelly took another step inside she’d see Chopper wagging his tail in excitement.  They’d lock eyes and she would ask him, “Chopper!  Do you want a treat?”

Chopper would run back to their bedroom parking himself in front of the treats on top of his crate.  Kelly would chase after him.  She’d excitedly give him a treat while he’d excitedly accept.  This became their routine.  When she got her own key Chopper would excitedly run to her waiting on her to ask the big question.  It was a fun game for both.

Kelly even started keeping treats at her house for when Chop and Sterls came over.  We’d come through the front door and Chopper would immediately run to the kitchen and stand in front of the pantry door where the treats were.  After Kelly and I said our hellos she’d head to the kitchen where Chopper was dancing waiting on his treat.  It didn’t matter the location as Kelly loved giving Chopper treats and he’d happily accept them.

When we moved in together her and Chopper became even closer.  We moved into the house right at the beginning of COVID and Kelly was working from the house the entire time.  Kelly would work in the study attached to our master bedroom upstairs.

At some point in the morning after Chopper had done all of his outside security patrols and deemed the outside safe he’d go upstairs.  He’d sleep right at the entrance to the study as if he was protecting Kelly.  Kelly didn’t mind one bit as she felt a little more secure but most importantly her buddy was by her side for some company.

She also loved Chopper waiting on her when she’d come back from a workout or running an errand.  Most of the time Chopper would be outside waiting on her to come in from the garage and would follow her inside.  I’m sure he was also looking for a treat and I’m sure he often got it.  Chopper was loving but he was also damn smart.  Kelly didn’t mind.  Company for treats seemed like a fair trade.

Chopper quit asking me for treats for the most part.  If we were in the living room and Chopper wanted a treat he’d just go up to Kelly on the couch where he’d get real close.  He’d gaze into her eyes with his brown eyes until she gave in.  He’d also pant on her which also worked because Kelly quickly realized if he got a treat the panting stopped.  Once again, Chopper was smart.

Kelly did an amazing job incorporating Chopper and Sterling into our home and lives.  For Christmas she made sure to get them stockings that matched ours.  We added a carpeted stair runner to make it easier on the dogs to get up and down the stairs.  For our wedding it was Kelly’s idea to have the specialty drinks named after them including having our artist draw super cute renderings of them.

On the day we made the decision to put Chopper down Kelly and I bawled our eyes out.  Her two most poignant statements of what he meant were these:

“I can’t believe I’m crying this much over a dog but I can’t quit crying.”

“I can’t imagine our home without Chopper.  He means so much to us.”

The following day when we put him down we both cried a lot.  It wore on both of us.  It was probably the longest day of our life.  It seemed so unfair yet necessary.  As we laid Chopper down on the grass in our backyard Kelly sat right in front of his head and petted him.  She talked sweet to him the entire time he slipped into eternal peace.  Chopper was calm as can be and I’m sure it’s because he knew how much he was loved by both of us.

Somebody made the comment maybe he went so peacefully because part of his job was to be the bridge between my ex-wife and Kelly. His job was complete and he knew it.  There’s no doubt I could have survived that period on my own without Chopper and Sterling.  However, my life was MUCH better with Chop and Sterls.  There’s no doubt Kelly and I would have grown just as close without the hounds.  However, our life was MUCH better with Chop and Sterls in it.  Dogs have that effect on people.

Maybe Chopper spent all those years honing his charming skills so he was ready when Kelly came along.  Nah.  Chop Man was born a Ladies Man and died a Ladies Man.  He just happened to do his best work on Kelly.  I’m glad he did.

It’s been almost a month without Chopper now.  We are all fine but we still miss him dearly.  We still have Sterling and her sassy attitude so we’re not totally alone.  We miss our pack protector though.  Our life will never be the same as it was when Chopper was in it.  We’ll say the same when Sterling’s gone as well.  Dogs just have this strange effect on you.  Words can’t describe it.  You just have to live it.

I’m sure one day we’ll get a new pack.  There’s no doubt that’s the way Chopper would want it.  Give some more dogs the life he got.  I’m sure the next dogs we get will be wonderful.  It’s just hard to imagine when you think you’ve had the perfect male dog how another can match up to Chopper.  We’ll give it a go though.

Rest in Peace, Chopper.  You were truly our best friend and will always have a special place in our hearts.  We love you, buddy.

For you people familiar with Fort Worth here’s a little bonus story about Chop and Sterls:

Magnolia Avenue Years:

Chopper and Sterling’s first main era of life was living off Magnolia Avenue in Fort Worth.  For those of you that know Fort Worth you know that Magnolia Avenue is a vibrant scene these days.  It didn’t use to be that way.  When I first moved in Magnolia Avenue was still a little sketchy.  It was improving dramatically but it certainly wasn’t a destination in Fort Worth.  Avoca Coffee Shop was a dirty mechanic shop.  There’s a whole list of places that changed over time and I’d like to think Chop and Sterls had a little bit to do with that.

Every weekday after work I’d walk the hounds the full length of Magnolia Avenue.  We’d head towards Hemphill from 6th and then back from Hemphill to 8th.  We also did this on weekend mornings.

We did this for about 5 years and I feel like the hounds became “Celibridogs” along the way.  Whenever I’d go into places on Magnolia Avenue I’d often get asked, “Are you the guy that walks the dogs every day?”  I’d say yes and they’d say how cool they thought Chop and Sterls were and how they loved seeing them walking.

On one afternoon this guy comes out from Cat City Grill and yells at me across the street.  He tells me he’s the owner and would love to have me come eat there because he loves seeing the dogs walk by.  A couple days later I went in like a celebrity myself as he comes over to introduce himself.  Let’s be real.  Chop and Sterls were the main draw as I was just the guy holding the leash.

The best part of their Magnolia Avenue walks was Saturday mornings.  On weekends I’d let them walk off leash.  They knew how to heel on command and not cross curbs into the street.  It’s hard to describe in words.  As we walked they would wait at the end of each block for me to allow them to go into the street and onto the next block.  I’d take a few steps into the street to make sure there were no cars and say, “Okay.”  At that point they’d sprint across the street to the next block.  Chopper would usually dead sprint to the end of the block and then work back to me.  Sterling would do whatever caught her fancy which mainly involved following her nose.

On one end of Magnolia Avenue was Hemphill and a place called Paris Coffee Shop.  It was very popular on Saturday mornings.  Our walks would take us across Magnolia from Paris Coffee Shop.  As Chop and Sterls first started walking off leash they looked like a scary sight to the waitresses at Paris.  They would see the two dogs running loose along Magnolia Avenue thinking they were going to get run over.  The first couple of times they saw this they’d run out of the coffee shop trying to help them.  They didn’t realize they were trained to not run into the street and I was right behind them.

Whenever I’d cross over Magnolia to go to the Paris side I’d make Chopper and Sterling heel next to me.  They were good at it and truthfully it looked impressive to watch two dogs off leash walk right next to their owner after running so wild.  I did this across Magnolia and in front of Paris since there was usually people outside.  People were usually entertained by it.

It got to a point where some days the waitresses would come out of the coffee shop and tell the hounds hello.  As soon as they saw Chop and Sterls on the other side of Magnolia they’d come stand outside.  They’d tell people waiting outside I was their owner and to watch me walk them across Magnolia next to me.  They’d tell us hello and go back inside to wait tables.  It was cool and a lot of fun to see people enjoying the hounds.  I’m sure some people were annoyed but whatever.

It was a good five years and I like to think there’s still some people on Magnolia Avenue that remember the brown and silver dog running off leash but never into the street.  Nothing kept Magnolia Avenue safe and entertained like Chop and Sterls.  They certainly did their part to make it a better place.

The City of Fort Worth can thank them for increasing the property values on the tax rolls.

Thoughts from the Arkansas Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s talk about the units.

Offense:

Offensive Line:

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

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

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

Kellen Mond:

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

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

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

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

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

Running Backs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wide Receivers:

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

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

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

Overall:

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

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

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

Defense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A quick look at the units.

Defensive Line:

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

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

Linebacker:

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

Secondary:

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

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

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

Overall:

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

I still like Elko and this unit all things considered.

Can the Aggies Run the Table:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#MAFGA

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We’ll do a re-cap of each game throughout the season along with some other things like game previews for bigger games.

Thoughts From the Florida Game

What a win for the Fightin’ Texas Aggies on Saturday.  What.  A. Win. 

I won’t say that’s a statement win just yet.  There are still 7 games left and the wheels could fall off of this season.  It’s certainly a game that will shut the Jimbo detractors up for at least a month.  Hopefully it does it for eternity where we look back at this game as the day Jimbo made the definitive statement the Aggies have officially arrived.

I’ve been saying this for a while – one of the most important things Jimbo can do to Make Aggie Football Great Again is make Kyle Field a true home field advantage.  Kevin Sumlin was terrible at it.  For whatever reason Sumlin seemed to win his big games on the road and completely spit the bit at Kyle Field.  If the Aggies are truly going to return to a perennial Top 10 team they must win at Kyle Field way more than they lose.  Kyle Field must be a definitive home field advantage.

Jimbo Fisher is now 7-2 in SEC games at Kyle Field.  The two losses are against Alabama and Auburn last season so they’re not terrible losses.  I like the trend so far and hope he can keep it up.  If I had to choose one of beating Bama in Tuscaloosa or Florida at Kyle I’d take beating Florida at Kyle all day long this season. 

I don’t think people understand the importance of making Kyle Field a true home field advantage.  Other than recruiting and developing talent it’s the most important thing Jimbo Fisher can do to sustain long term success as the Aggie head coach.

On Saturday it was a home field advantage without doubt.  Dan Mullen commented on it but it’s impressive in the era of COVID for Kyle Field to help decide the outcome of the game.  That’s a testament to not only the students but the way the team fought back.  The students feed off the team and vice versa.  If the team didn’t kept fighting against the Florida Gators then the students aren’t yelling as loud.  If the students aren’t yelling, the defense might not have a found the will to make a much needed stop on Florida’s final drive.  It’s a beneficial relationship that needs both giving it their all.  That was certainly on display Saturday.

Before I get to the specific units everyone needs to remember the Aggies weren’t even close to playing a perfect game.  They had some stupid penalties which could have ended Florida scoring drives.  Jimbo and his staff had coaching brain farts.  Our running backs put the ball on the ground a couple of times with one of those almost costing us the game.  We also got burned repeatedly through the air. 

Other than the late fumble I think Florida played almost a perfect game yet still lost.  That is thanks to the 12th Man, the talent on this team, and the resiliency by the coaching staff to keep pushing forward to a win.

This whole team can still improve which is a good sign.  They have yet to play their best game where the defense and offense are taking care of the opposition. 

Hopefully they’re still developing to that point.  There’s not a game on this schedule they can’t win.  They can also lose 2 to 3 games if they don’t stay focused.  Hopefully this team understands there’s still work to do and they haven’t yet arrived.

They’re close but they’re not there yet.

Let’s get to the units:

Offense:

I’m starting with the side that played almost a perfect game.  Take away the two fumbles and there’s not much more you can ask of this unit.  This is the offense Jimbo has been working towards and it finally clicked.  Hopefully it keeps clicking.

Offensive Line:

I’ve been the most critical of these guys over the last two seasons.  What they did on Saturday was nothing short of remarkable.  They ground down the Florida defense and imposed their will when it mattered most.  Florida might not be as talented as Alabama or Georgia defensively but they’re damn good.  They’ve got some legit talent in their Front 7 and the Aggie offensive line imposed their will.

I can’t say enough good things about these guys from Saturday.  They weren’t perfect but they were the key to this victory.  If we didn’t run the ball like we did on Saturday we never have a chance to win this game.  We ran the ball because the offensive line took care of the Florida front 7.  It was impressive.

From a pass blocking standpoint they gave Kellen enough time to throw.  They’re not dominant like the 2012 offensive line who gave Johnny time to make sammiches in the pocket but they gave Kellen a pocket he could step up in.  Kellen and this line were pretty in sync where he had a pocket and knew when he needed to step up to buy a little more time.  They worked well together on Saturday.

The unsung heroes of this line are the running backs and tight ends.  They’ve done a tremendous job in either picking up blitzes or chipping at the line of scrimmage before going into their routes.  They do a tremendous job of helping slow down the defensive pressure so the offensive line is not overwhelmed.  Everyone seems to know their assignments and can read the defense.  This has changed drastically how this unit is performing from last season.  Last season they were often lost on who and how to block.

I sure hope these guys can keep this up because I’d love nothing more than to eat a big plate of crow at the end of this season.  I’ll happily eat a little bit right now as I didn’t think they had Saturday’s game in them.  I’m very happy to be wrong about these guys so far.  Keep it up, fellas.

Kellen Mond:

This was the Kellen Mond Jimbo has been building.  Like the offensive line I’m shocked to see it and glad I’m wrong.  He played his best game in an Aggie uniform by far.  I don’t know if he can keep this up but maybe this is the confidence boost he’s been needing.

He was 25 for 35 for 338 yards with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.  That’s not perfect but it’s DAMN good.  We’ll take that stat line from Kellen Mond every damn game.  I don’t know if he can repeat this the rest of the season but I don’t know why he can’t either.

We’ll just have to see.

If I have one complaint it’s his lack of running ability.  He took off on a couple runs but didn’t gain many yards because he doesn’t have enough shake.  He’s got good straight line speed but he needs some space to get a couple strides going.  He’s certainly not an elusive runner which may explain his desire to stay in the pocket rather than take off.

If he can keep passing like he did on Saturday we won’t need his running ability.

Running Back:

Isaiah Spiller was a complete stud on Saturday.  You can’t say enough about this guy.  He rushed for 174 yards on 27 carries to average 6.4 yards per carry.  His longest run was for 23 yards so that means he was just grinding out yards finding holes and getting yards after contact.  He didn’t get most of his yards on a few long carries.  The dude was taking the rock and finding space and making defenders pay for contact.  He put the ball on the ground once early in the game but he tightened up when it mattered most.  It was a remarkable effort.

He didn’t have a signature run so his performance might not seem that impressive.  It was impressive.  He had a will and he just kept moving the ball forward.  I’m not sure how good he can be but we’re talking about a guy playing in his 16th game as a true sophomore.  He’s still young and seems to get better every game.  Keep on keeping on, Isaiah.

Early in the game I was a little frustrated at Jimbo for not using Ainias Smith more from a running standpoint.  Jimbo was right and I was wrong.  He leaned on Isaiah and it paid off.  There’s a reason I get paid nothing to write this blog and Jimbo pulls in a cool $7.5 million a year.  I’m fine with it.

If Spiller and the offensive line can repeat Saturday it’s going to do wonders for this team.

Wide Receiver:

Holy hell.  We finally completed not one but TWO deep balls to a wide receiver in SEC play.  For one game Jimbo showed us he knows how to use a receiver on a deep route. 

Caleb Chapman had the game of his young Aggie career catching 9 balls for 151 yards and 2 touchdowns.  He saved the best for last catching a beautiful 51-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 38 late in the fourth quarter.  Unfortunately, he tore is ACL on that play and is out for the rest of the season.  Hopefully there’s some guys on the roster that can pick up where Caleb left off. 

I don’t think it’s coincidence we had our best game on the ground in the same game we hit two deep balls.  Those two things work together causing a defense to defend the entire field.  It’s all a balancing act.

As for the other receivers they were pretty productive as well.  Jimbo really stuck with Chapman, Ainias, Wydermyer, and Chase Lane for the whole game.  There weren’t a lot of substitutions at receiver.

Each of those guys caught 4-5 balls for around 50 yards each.  That’s solid when you can equally spread out 3 guys for ~15 completions and 150 yards between them.  That keeps the defense having to defend the whole field and can’t key in on any single person.  It’s also a strong statement to Mond he was either reading the defense well or he was just spreading the ball around making plays to keep the defense honest.

I like what I’ve seen out of these guys.  I certainly like this unit better than last season’s unit but we need to keep developing.  We need someone to step up for Chapman in a big way.  Hopefully it’s time for Demas to finally step in and live up to his promise.  If it’s not Demas I hope it’s someone else.  We need the deep threat.

Overall:

I don’t see a reason why this offense can’t come close to replicating this performance every game.  They’ve actually done it all three games this season.  Against Florida they just didn’t make the mistakes they did against Vandy and Bama as it relates to turnovers and dropped passes.  It’s that simple.  Don’t make mistakes and this offense can win games for this team.

Defense:

This defense is much better than they showed on Saturday which gives me some hope.  Dan Mullen is an outstanding coach with an outstanding quarterback.  They had a great game plan for our defense.  They were really balanced and used a lot of mid level crossing routes and running backs out of the backfield to sustain drives.

It seemed we were pretty committed to shutting down the running game along with not letting Kyle Pitts beat us.  It was a sound strategy by Mike Elko but Dan Mullen utilized other weapons to keep drives going down the field.  I’m not sure we’ll see an offense better prepared for this defense for the rest of the season except when we play Ole Miss and Auburn.

We missed a lot of tackles on Saturday which his really unlike this defense.  I’m really hoping it was related to Dan Mullen’s scheme where our guys were just a tick slow diagnosing plays.  Tackling is physical but it’s also a little mental.  When you’ve diagnosed the play and in the right position it’s a lot easier to make tackles.

My biggest concern for this defense is not having a repeat of when we beat Tennessee at home in 2016.  They missed a ton of tackles in that game and had to be bailed out by the offense.  The John Chavis lead defenses never seemed to be the same after that game.  It’s not a big concern I have with Elko but it is something to be mindful of.  This team is capable of tackling better and they need to get back to it in coming games.

Defensive Line:

This unit is a little boring but I still believe they’re as solid as they come.  They’re still looking for that dominant playmaker but the way Leal and Clemons flash at times I have some hope.  Tyree Johnson is getting more playing time which I think is a good thing to keep guys fresher so they can flash

It would be nice for one of these guys to break out and start playing like Daylon Mack, Demontre Moore, Justin Madibuike, or even half of what Myles Garrett was.  We need someone who on a play can just decimate the offensive line and get a sack or big tackle for a loss.  I’m thinking DeMarvin Leal is the most likely as he’s still a true sophomore learning his role on this defense.  He’s just so versatile right now playing all over the defensive line.  Once the positions become second nature to him I think you’re going to start seeing this guy dominate offensive lines like those names I mentioned.

Now that we’re beyond Alabama and Florida I’m wondering if Donnell Harris starts getting some snaps to see if he has the raw pass rush talent most people seem to think he has.  If we can add true edge pressure in passing situations it’ll be a major boost for this defense and their struggles to get off the field on third downs.

This unit plays a little boring but make no mistake they’re the core of this defensive unit.  This unit allows Elko to focus on the other areas that need help.

Linebacker:

These guys are much like the defensive line.  They’re solid without being flashy and dominant.  Buddy Johnson lead the team in tackles which shouldn’t be a surprise.  Aaron Hansford has looked good as has Andre White Jr.  We certainly need to upgrade the overall talent with this unit but these guys are really serviceable for now.

If there’s one complaint it’s Buddy Johnson really struggles covering running backs out of the backfield.  Alabama was successful doing it and Florida continued it.  He’s not terrible at recognizing it but he’s just a step behind covering it because he’s built to be a run stopper and not cover running backs.  I think getting Erick Young back and not having a defense focused on defending Alabama’s receivers or a guy like Kyle Pitts will help Buddy.  If not, Buddy is going to continue to see situations where he’s responsible for a running back flaring out of the backfield which is a bad mis-match for us.

I’m curious if Antonio Doyle will start getting snaps like Donnell Harris.  He’s a true freshman as well with All SEC talent.  Hopefully he can add some depth and talent to the team this year as it’s still needed.

Secondary:

Dan Mullen doesn’t have the same weapons as Alabama but he does have an accurate quarterback who makes smart decisions.  Florida had 8 receivers catch 23 passes for 312 yards and 4 touchdowns.  We did a really good job limiting Kyle Pitts but I think it opened up Trask to just find the open guy which he did most of the game.

The worst performer of the day for this unit was Leon O’Neal.  For all the good things he did in the first two games he didn’t do it in this game.  He had two REALLY stupid personal fouls.  He also got picked on for three touchdowns.  One was to Kyle Pitts which isn’t a terrible thing to have happen but the other two it seemed like Florida knew they could fool O’Neal in coverage and took advantage.  He let his emotions get the best of him and that can’t happen.  Hopefully Jimbo and Elko can get him settled down and let him play to his talent.  We don’t need this guy regressing as he’s a key component of this defense if his head is screwed on correctly.

As for the rest of the secondary they were all equal offenders it seems.  Florida simply did a good job of flooding the secondary with a lot of crossing routes.  Since we can’t generate a pass rush Kyle Trask simply had time to find the guy our secondary wasn’t covering.  It’s not a huge knock on our defense but just more of a masterful job by Mullen and Trask attacking our secondary in a smart way.

Demani Richardson is still the heart and soul of this unit.  Jaylon Jones does seem to be getting better every game.  It’ll be nice to get Erick Young back at some point this season.  The talent is there to improve.

Overall:

I still believe in Mike Elko and this defensive unit.  I think we simply have seen them against a REALLY good offensive team in Alabama and a very good offensive mind and quarterback in Mullen and Trask.  This unit is going to get tested on Saturday against Mike Leach but I think they’ll be fine.  Leach got his surprise game against LSU and defenses have an idea of how to defend his Air Raid.  The team that scares me the most right now is Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss team as they’re putting up points against everyone they’ve played.

Let’s get past Mississippi State first and then we’ll let the rest of the season play out.  There’s still plenty of time to improve the young talent on this defense.

Looking Forward:

At this point I think this is a 7-3 football team at worst.  That’s a HUGE improvement from the first two games.

I don’t expect us to win out even though it’s possible.  We still play in the SEC and this is a pretty inexperienced team with a very inconsistent quarterback.  I really expect us to go 6-1 finishing up at 8-2.  That will likely put as the second-best team in the SEC West.  While I’d love to go 9-1, if you’d told me after the first two games we’d wind up 8-2 I would have asked how to nail that record down. I’m not going to get greedy from a record standpoint just yet.

This is a good football team.  We saw that on Saturday and have seen glimpses against Vandy and Bama.  We just don’t know how consistent they can be. 

We’ll just have to see how the season plays out.  It sure looks a lot different this week than it did this time last week.  Fine by me.

Make Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

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Thoughts on the Alabama Game

This week’s write up won’t be as long as normal.  This Texas A&M team was never beating Alabama.  Sure, there was technically a chance but Alabama is still immensely talented coming off a 2 loss season.  All Nick Saban does after a 2 loss season is win a national championship.  There’s a good chance this Alabama team doesn’t lose a game all year.  Texas A&M losing to Bama on Saturday will be like 13 other teams this season.

Still, you wish the Aggies could have been more competitive.  There was a fleeting moment when the score was 14-14 and it looked like the Aggies might compete.  Saban quickly squashed that.  Going into halftime the game was pretty much done.

Defense:

Normally I start with the offense but I’m going to start with the defense this week.  I’m not going to do unit breakdowns like I normally do either.

Nick Saban and his staff did an outstanding job of understating the strength and weakness of the Aggie defense.  As we know it’s a strong unit up front but suspect to the pass.  It’s better against the pass than in years past but it’s still got a ways to go.  There are still holes in this secondary. 

Alabama basically used the run to not only set up the pass but set up deep balls.  It was a marvelous job of coaching.  For the most part the Aggie defense bottled up the run.  Bama rushed 28 times for 109 yards and two scores.  That’s a little under 3.9 yards per carry.  That’s not a dominant effort for the Aggies but Alabama has a solid offensive line and an NFL caliber running back in Najee Harris.  Their longest run was 16 yards and Harris himself never ran for more than 6 yards on a single carry.  That’s a decent enough job by our defense up front.

The Bama offense annihilated the Aggie team with deep balls.  Bama did a tremendous job of attacking the weakest people in the secondary.  They went after Myles Jones, Devin Morris, Jaylen Jones, and Keldrick Carper.  Jaylen Jones has plenty of talent but he’s a true freshman playing in his second game.  He wasn’t ready for the talent Alabama has.

Bama had three touchdown passes of 78, 87, and 63 yards.  Each time they just isolated one of their speed burners on a vulnerable Aggie secondary member and Mac Jones hit them in stride.  Credit to Bama for a great game plan and executing.

I thought the defensive line and linebackers did a pretty good job.  They gave the Bama offensive line a lot of trouble for much of the game.  The defensive line had a nice tip and catch interception that could have swayed the game but it didn’t matter in the end.  The linebackers executed most of their assignments but were just playing more talented guys.  Individually, Michael Clemons continues to look like a guy that can create pressure by himself.  There’s certainly some positives for the defense other than the deep touchdowns.

If there’s one gripe I have about this game it’s the lack of blitzes.  I think we blitzed once and that resulted in one of the long touchdown passes.  Maybe Elko was afraid they would get burned again.  Maybe he felt his defensive line was doing a decent enough job getting pressure.  Maybe he though it wouldn’t matter.  He was probably right.  More blitzes wouldn’t have mattered but it would have been nice to see the attempt jus to see what could happen.

While the defense wasn’t without fault in this game the reality is A&M was never winning this game. Bama is just too talented from a team standpoint as a whole and didn’t make mistakes.  You can’t do anything defensively if you can’t force Bama into making mistakes.  Lick your wounds and move on to Florida.

Offense:

Offensive Line:

I must give these guys credit as they seem to have developed beyond last season.  They’re still not that great but they’re a little more serviceable than last year.  Since A&M played from behind most of the game we really couldn’t focus on the running game to see if we could truly get it going.

When it comes to pass blocking they’re doing a better job of engaging defenders.  In years past they would flat out miss defenders.  These guys are getting pushed back but at least they’re slowing the opposing defense down just a little bit.  They still struggle with blitzes though.

This unit still has issues but for now I’m going to leave them alone.  They’ve improved to a degree.  They are who they are.  They’re not going to establish the run against strong SEC defenses.  All you can hope for is for them to give the quarterback some time to throw by engaging the defender while getting pushed back.

I’m dead serious.  Simply engaging the defender rather than miss the defender straight up is an improvement for this unit.  It’s the little things.

Running Backs:

Spiller couldn’t really get going despite 11 attempts for 25 yards.  Really not much to write about here.  The running game was just never going to be in a factor with the way this game played out.  It takes a while to establish the run against a team like Bama and you can’t do that playing behind the whole game.

Hopefully the run game materializes the rest of the season.  I do see some positives with Spiller and Smith getting hand offs.

Wide Receivers:

Ainias Smith became the first non-tight end to have a touchdown reception over 40 yards in SEC play during Jimbo’s tenure.  That was done solely on his athleticism.  He’s a hybrid receiver/running back so we still have no true wide receiver score a touchdown over 40 yards in the SEC over the past three seasons.  Meanwhile Bama had three long touchdown passes in one game.

Just once I’d love to see an Aggie receiver running deep due to busted coverage and get hit it in stride for a touchdown.  I’d be even happier if it was because the receiver is just so talented they can blow by coverage by themselves.  It still hasn’t happened under Jimbo’s watch.  Deep balls remain elusive for this offensive unit when another SEC team is on the schedule.

Ainias Smith was our best receiver on the day catching six balls for 123 yards and two touchdowns.  The dude is a baller.  Wydermyer was our next best pass catcher with 8 receptions for 82 yards. He almost added an amazing catch on the sidelines but couldn’t hold on.  It was good to see him come back after a bad performance against Vandy.

Chase Lane was targeted 11 times but only caught 6 balls for 62 yards.  Some of the passes were uncatchable but at the same time he’s not regularly getting open.  The rest of the unit was basically the same.  Jalen Preston was targeted 5 times and only caught two balls for 27 yards.  He was the target of the interception returned for a touchdown and did nothing to fight for the ball or chase the defender down.

My biggest gripe with this unit for guys not named Smith and Wydermyer is they don’t fight for the ball.  They just don’t adjust and go after balls.  They basically only catch balls if they’re open and it’s a catchable ball.  Other than that, they’re not making much effort.

Demas saw some snaps and the stat sheet shows he was targeted once.  I guess Jimbo is bringing him along slowly but this dude needs to see snaps.  The other true freshman in Price and Muhammed ought to start seeing snaps as well.  I like this unit better than last year’s unit but it’s not by much at this point.  We need to find some guys that will fight for the football.

We’ve got issues with the offensive line and quarterback but these guys aren’t helping either.  At some point we need a true receiver to step up and be a threat the defense must worry about.  It’s not there right now.

Quarterback:

For the first time in Jimbo’s time at A&M I get to talk about two quarterbacks in a game. I feel like Lawrence in Office Space with a million dollars.

Kellen Mond did what Kellen Mond does.  He made some decent passes but he also missed a bunch of passes.  His receivers dropped a couple balls they should have caught.  Statistically he didn’t look bad.  He was 25 of 44 for 318 yards with 3 touchdowns and 1 interception.  The interception was a back breaker as it was a Pick 6 that took the score from 21-14 to 28-14 midway through the second half.  The Aggies would never stand a chance after that play.

A completion percentage of 56% isn’t terrible against Bama but it’s the way Mond does it.  He’ll throw a beautiful ball at times and an ugly pass the next.  He’s terribly inconsistent.  The offense never gained any true momentum.  He simply failed to make plays in the game much like he did all last season against better opponents.  He did nothing to put the team on his shoulders.  He’s a senior and it’s disappointing to watch.

If you stuck around for the whole game you saw Haynes King take the reins for the final offensive drive.  I wasn’t totally surprised to see King take the field over Calzada.  He’s a true freshman but I think his skill set is better served for what this team needs.  Calzada has a cannon but that doesn’t really help if the offensive line can’t block and receivers can’t get open.  King offers mobility.

King didn’t look that great passing but his running was outstanding.  I understand the game was out of reach and Bama was playing a couple backups but King was decisive in running the ball.  That’s what this offense needs.  A quarterback that WILL run.  Mond has the ability but just chooses not to.

King’s final play was an interception in the end zone but I don’t have a problem with it.  He had single coverage with Chase Lane and put the ball where Chase Lane could make a play on it.  Lane didn’t and the Bama defender did.  At some point you must take chances as a quarterback.  Especially with this team.

King doesn’t appear to have the arm that Mond or Calzada has but if he’s smart and accurate it’s more valuable.  Completions matter more than style.

It was a small sample set but I like what I saw out of King.  He appears to have some moxie and you need moxie at quarterback.  You need someone who’s willing to show the team he’s willing to take chances to make plays.  Mond should have developed that by now.

Special Teams:

Seth Small missed what should have been an easy field goal.  Our kick and punt returners fair caught everything.  None of it mattered.

Looking Forward:

I was shocked Jimbo put in King.  That was a HUGE sign he’s looking for something different.  Even if he didn’t want Mond in on that last series he could have put in Calzada.  That’s the safe play and minimizes controversy.

Calzada has been in this program since January of 2019.  That’s almost two seasons.  Jimbo decided to put in the guy who was playing at Longview High School this time last season.  No offense to Longview but it’s a far cry from Longview High School to Tuscaloosa, Alabama in less than 12 months. 

I think it’s pretty telling for what Jimbo sees playing out at quarterback the rest of the season.  I still believe Mond was the best option at quarterback for the last two seasons.  Starkel wasn’t the guy two seasons ago and Calzada didn’t get the back up reps against Bama on Saturday he wasn’t ready last season.

I do think it’s obvious Jimbo put Kellen Mond on notice.  If you’re going to continue to do the same things you’re not going to take snaps.  I’m totally good with that.

I also think by going with King that Jimbo has a better grasp of the offensive issues than we give him credit for. 

My personal belief is that Mond will start against Florida and struggle.  Florida will be up by two touchdowns at half.  King will start the second half and we’ll never look back.  We won’t beat Florida but I think King will do enough to hold on to the starting job.  King won’t be without his struggles as he’ll make plenty of mistakes but it’s time for a youth movement with Aggie football.

I’m just a little shocked Jimbo is willing to go to it so soon.  It’s good to see though as it’s warranted.

It’s time for a youth movement on the offensive side of Aggie football.  Jimbo’s recruited the talent so it’s time for them to all grow up together.  I’d much rather go 5-5 with the younger more talented guys gaining real experience.  I think we could pull off 7 wins if we do it sooner than later.

It’ll be a sacrifice worth making.  Let’s Make Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

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Thoughts from the Vandy Game

The third year of the Jimbo Fisher era at Texas A&M got off to frustrating start.  While most of us don’t expect the Aggies to contend for the SEC West this season we are hoping this is they year where make a clear step towards that goal.  We certainly didn’t see that on Saturday night at Kyle.

This was basically an extension of the 2019 season.  If you put this game in the collection of game film from 2019 it would have fit in perfectly.

Let’s count the ways:

  • Kellen Mond not taking over a game
  • Kellen Mond being loose with the football putting it on the ground multiple times
  • Kellen Mond not knowing when to run
  • Kellen Mond being inconsistent with his passing
  • Receivers dropping easy passes
  • No downfield passing threats
  • No play calling creativity
  • Delay of game calls
  • Bone headed special teams play
  • No pass rush
  • Strong defensive effort despite that
  • Jimbo and Kellen saying they’ve got some problems to fix

I can keep going but you get the idea.  While Kellen Mond is a good portion of this list he’s not the only issue this team is facing.  Maybe it was rust by the players or maybe it was Jimbo trying to figure out what he has with this team.  Whatever it is, the team on the field Saturday night will be lucky to win 5 games.  It really has the talent to win 10 games.

Speaking of talent, it needs to be pointed out the ONLY reason the Aggies won the game was because they’re more talented.  It wasn’t coaching and execution.  The Aggies are simply more talented than the Commodores and that’s why the Aggies won.  While Jimbo has major question marks on his coaching and development his recruiting is showing promising results.  He’s got talent to work with.

Before I get into specifics about the game I have to say Kyle Field was really impressive all things considered.  It certainly wasn’t the environment of a packed Kyle but it was damn good.  The students were yelling, the band was playing, and the DJ was rocking.  You knew who was the home team and there were moments when the team fed off the crowd that was there.  Kudos to the Aggie gameday operation crew and the students.  Despite the COVID limitations they made it a pretty solid experience.

On to the game in my usual format where I look at the specific units.

Offense:

Kellen Mond:

I think I’ve been consistent in my assessment of Kellen Mond.  He’s not as bad as some people make him out to be but he’s not someone that’s going to take a game over either.  In his first game of 2020 he showed exactly ZERO development.  I mean not one step of development from a nine month off season.  He was the exact same quarterback he’s been under Jimbo Fisher.  Not one positive deviation from who’s been for two full seasons.

All of this talk about looking at every play from last season to correct errors did absolutely nothing.  He did all the same things he’s done in 2 seasons with Jimbo.  He was inconsistent passing the ball.  He was unaware when to run and when to sit in the pocket.  He was lazy with the ball and put it on the ground multiple times.  If he really did watch every play from last season to correct errors he wasted a bunch of time.  The test on the field showed he learned NOTHING.

The fumbles bother me the most because that’s the sign of quarterback who’s thinking too much.  He’s still trying to figure out plays and not being careful with the ball.  He’s now put the ball on the ground 5 times in the last two games against lesser talented teams.  That’s inexcusable.  Running backs lose their jobs for doing the same thing.  Jimbo has a ton invested in Mond’s development but if Mond keeps up this fumbling he won’t be under center much longer.  That’s too big of a liability.

I was hopeful we’d see a senior quarterback take command of the game against an inferior opponent.  Kellen didn’t do that.  He’s not a natural leader and it’s painfully obvious at this point.  He’s really damn talented but he doesn’t have the mental makeup to be any better than he is.  He pays a lot of lip service to being a better quarterback but his play doesn’t show it.

Kellen is still in the top half of SEC quarterbacks in my mind simply because he has talent.  I no longer have any hope he’ll be the dominant player he could be because of his talent.  It’s simply not in him and he really doesn’t want it.

It’ll be interesting to see how Jimbo handles Kellen.  He must be frustrated he has the same guy he’s had going into this third season.  I don’t think Jimbo changes quarterbacks anytime soon but if this offense plays like it did on Saturday night I think he’ll have to seriously consider a change at some point in the season.

Let me be clear – I don’t think there’s a quarterback controversy right now.  I’m simply saying if this Aggie team winds up 1-3 with losses to Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi State due to offensive ineptitude Jimbo is going to be questioning if it’s time for a change.  The fans will already be there but at the end of the day wins and losses are what matters.  Kellen Mond has a tough three game stretch to prove he still belongs under center.

After the Mississippi State game we have a bye and then two games against Arkansas and South Carolina.  That’s the perfect time to make a change under center if the offense is struggling.  I’m not saying it will but the schedule is set up to make a change if we’re 1-3 with a puttering offense.  Just something to be mindful of if Mond doesn’t step up his play over the next 3 games.

Mond can still win the Aggies a lot more games than they lose but I do believe the clock is ticking for Jimbo.

I watched a lot of the Florida game on Saturday and what I saw from Kyle Trask is what I was hoping to see from Kellen on Saturday.  Trask stood comfortable in the pocket and made some nice throws.  Trask had complete control of the Florida offense.  Mond is more athletic than Trask but on Saturday Trask stood head and shoulders above Mond.  Trask appears to have developed while Mond continues to be who he is.  It’s extremely frustrating.

Wide Receiver:

A lot of new names at receiver but it looked more of the same.  Decent on some plays but also dropped some very easy passes.  Jalen Preston appears to have taken over the role of Jhamon Ausbon as the possession receiver.  Preston has plenty of talent so good to see him out there.  Didn’t like his fumble but hopefully he can correct that.

Caleb Chapman was targeted 7 times and caught 4 balls including a nice touchdown.  Chapman looked okay but he wasn’t spectacular.  Chase Lane had a couple nice catches along with Kam Brown but nothing impressive.

I love Ainias Smith and he had some nice catches and most importantly yards after the catch.  We’ve been missing a guy that can make defenders miss after the catch since Christian Kirk went to the NFL.  In my mind Smith needs to see the ball more.

What I’m most shocked by is Demond Demas had ZERO snaps.  He was suited up and on the sideline but he didn’t see a single snap.  This is mind boggling to me.  By all reports he’s far and away the most athletic receiver we have.  I get he’s a true freshman but he needs to be out there to see what he can do.

We don’t do true deep balls.  We don’t throw passes downfield in one on one situations to see if we can win contested balls.  We don’t turn short passes into super long gains.  Our longest three catches on the night were of 26, 23, and 21 yards.  Against a team like Vanderbilt that’s terrible.  Elite level teams have receivers that can either get down the field or turn a short pass into a long catch and run.  This has been amazingly missing in the Jimbo Fisher era.

At some point we need a legit downfield threat.  We still haven’t had a receiver catch a touchdown ball over 40 yards in the SEC since Jimbo took over.  A deep threat would do wonders for this offense.  Somebody needs to step up to fill that role and Jimbo needs to work that into the playbook.

Let me put it this way – In 17 SEC games we have never snapped the ball on our side of the field and completed a touchdown pass to a wide receiver under Jimbo Fisher.  Think about that for a moment. 

Jace Sternberger had a touchdown catch of 46 yards against Kentucky in 2018.  Wydermyer had one for 52 yards against Mississippi State last season.  Those are tight ends and those are our longest touchdown passes in 17 SEC games under Jimbo Fisher.  That’s it.  46 and 52 yard scores to really gifted tight ends who did most of the work after the catch thanks to their athleticism.

I’m quite certain defensive coaches are aware of this and it’s a major factor into how they defend us.  We have to develop a downfield threat if this offense is really going to start doing something.

Running Back:

In addition to the defense, Isaiah Spiller is why we won this game.  He only carried the ball 8 times but he had 117 yards ripping off two really nice runs in the second half.  Spiller should have gotten 20 carries in this game.  Maybe Jimbo wanted Mond and his receivers to get some reps but Jimbo should have leaned on Spiller a lot more in the second half.

Spiller is starting his second season but he’s impressed me.  I’m not sure how great he can be but the dude produces.  He was the only offensive player against LSU last season that showed any fire.  On Saturday night he took what touches he got and made the most of them.  This dude needs more touches in my mind.

Here’s Isiah Spiller’s last three games:

LSU – 11 carries for 66 yards and a touchdown.  That’s 6 yards a carry against a tough LSU team.
Oklahoma State – 19 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown.  That’s 4.1 yards a carry.
Vanderbilt – 8 carries for 117 yards with no touchdowns.  That’s 14.6 yards a carry with a long of 57 yards.

Isiah Spiller is producing at running back with a spotty offensive line.  Give him the damn ball more.

I love Ainias Smith as a receiver but I also love what he’s doing at running back.  He’s a nice change of pace to Spiller and knows how to make defenders miss.  His touchdown run was proof positive of that.

Jimbo really needs to figure out how to confuse defenses with Spiller and Smith in the backfield.  They’re clearly the most dynamic offensive players we have and they need to touch the ball more.  If you’re not going to thrown the ball downfield at least stretch the defense at the line of scrimmage with two running backs capable of two different things.  Give the defense something to worry about.

Offensive Line:

Obviously this has been my biggest concern coming into the 2020 season.  On Saturday night they looked solid enough.  They weren’t really tested but they did just fine.  We had 183 yards on the ground and Kellen only got sacked once.  For the most part Kellen had time to make passes.

I’m still concerned with this unit but they were fine on Saturday night.  Had the quarterback and receivers did more to catch and protect the ball their work might have looked a lot better.

We’ll find out more about this unit over the next three games.  For their first game they actually looked serviceable.  No complaints from me right now.

Mark me worried about what they’re going to do against Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi State though.

Defense:

Defensive Line:

We all knew this is the best unit on the team and on Saturday night they did what they do.  Michael Clemons, Bobby Brown, Jayden Peevy, and DeMarvin Leal were solid.  DeMarvin Leal is a beast.

This unit is the heart and soul of this team.  I really can’t say anything more about these guys.  They show up every game and play as a really strong unit.

The lack of pass rush is a bit concerning but Michael Clemons got a key sack late in the game.  I’m hoping he’s the guy that gets more comfortable and starts to develop into a guy that can bring pressure.  He has the potential so I hope he realizes it.  If it’s not these guys bringing the pressure directly I think you might see Elko get a little creative and bring disguised blitzes.

The most impressive thing from this game was McKinnley Jackson.  He’s a true freshman and got some snaps in the second half.  He looked outstanding.  I’m excited about this guy.  He was the best player in Mississippi last year.  He was a late addition to the recruiting class and he chose A&M over Bama.  It was a major get for Jimbo and his staff.  If his first game is any indication he’s going be a total beast as well.

I was excited about this unit coming into the season and nothing about Saturday night changes that.  If anything I’m thinking it might be better than we thought.  If Clemons can develop a pass rush and Jackson adds serious athleticism and depth then this unit will be one of the best in the country.

Linebacker:

While this unit isn’t as talented as the defensive line it’s a strength of this team.  Buddy Johnson and Aaron Hansford lead the defense in tackles which is what they’re supposed to do.  Buddy Johnson is a football player.  He’s probably not going to make first team All SEC because he doesn’t have the raw talent and make highlight plays but the dude can play football.

I think Anthony Hines was getting passed up by Hansford which is why Hines decided to opt out.  Hansford is a heck of a story coming back from a serious knee injury and switching from offense to defense.

Andrew White saw a few snaps and looked solid.

While this unit is not as talented or deep as the defensive line it’s a solid unit.  I wasn’t worried about this unit coming into the season and I still feel the same way.

Secondary:

Welcome back, Leon O’Neal, Jr.  This kid had a less than stellar 2019 season.  In the off season it looked like he was going to transfer.  On Saturday night he was starting for the Aggies and played outstanding football.  He got a key interception late in the game with a nice return.  I hoping O’Neal has his head screwed on straight because he’s a heck of a talent and can be big for this team.

Demani Richardson was his normal self.  He picked of a pass and was all over the field.  He’s certainly the heart and soul of this secondary.  Jaylon Jones started at corner and he looked pretty solid as a true freshman.  Myles Jones started at the other corner and was decent enough.  I must give him credit as Myles has really developed.  He’s not as talented as the other guys he plays with but he’s playing much better than he used to.  Erick Young also played much of the game as the nickel and was strong.

This unit is going to have it’s hiccups but I feel pretty good about them right now.  I’m wondering if Elko starts trying to figure out how to bring pressure with these five guys.  They’re all pretty talented and flexible in what they can do between covering and tackling.  Sneaking one of these guys on a blitz a few times a guy will do wonders for this defense.

Special Teams:

I love Ainias Smith but I have no clue what he was doing fielding a punt in the endzone.  Even worse I don’t know what Brian George was thinking illegally blocking someone in the endzone.  No punt return personal should ever be in the end zone.  Just take the ball at the 20.  That resulted in 2 points for Vandy and even worse a loss of possession.  That’s bad coaching and execution.

Constantinou had one bad punt and one good punt of 53 yards averaging 45 yards on the day.  Seth Small hit his one field goal attempt and his two extra points.  Return wise we don’t have much going for us other than some head scratchers on returning balls in the end zone.

This unit appears more of the same under Jimbo.  It’s not going to win us any games so you just hope it doesn’t lose us any games.

Coaching:

As most of you know I love Jimbo Fisher.  His offensive plan and the player’s execution on Saturday night was terrible.  Spiller and Ainias Smith get a pass.  His play calling made no sense.  He looked like a 12 year old playing Madden just randomly selecting plays.  I hope he was just trying to call as many different plays as possible to see if Mond had truly developed in the off season.  If so, he couldn’t have liked what he saw.

At some point Jimbo must add some wrinkles to this offense.  I get what he’s doing because his defense is so good coupled with a questionable offensive line and quarterback.  He wants to win time of possession and limit turnovers so he limits plays for his defense wile minimizing his offensive weakness.  I get it because not many people have a defense like he does.  No reason to gamble and put those guys in a bind.

However, he must develop a downfield threat.  If defenses only need to worry about 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage it’s only going to make this offense’s job even harder.  Better defenses will flat out expose this offensive line and Kellen Mond.  We saw it in 2019 and we’re about to see if over the next three games.  We’ll still have LSU and Auburn at the end of this season.

Jimbo has to evolve and develop as much as his players need to.  Right now everyone is kind of holding each other back so it’s time to try some different stuff.  This is not a tough offense to defend if you’ve watched any film on it.

Jimbo needs to coach in 2020 a little differently than he did in 2019.  He certainly didn’t do that on Saturday night.

Speaking of coaching, here’s the list of current SEC West head coaches:

Alabama – Nick Saban
LSU – Coach O
Texas A&M – Jimbo Fisher
Auburn – Gus Malzahn
Mississippi State – Mike Leach
Ole Miss – Lane Kiffin
Arkansas – Sam Pittman

Three of those guys have national championship rings.  One of those guys took his team to a national championship game and won a ring as an offensive coordinator.  One of those guys has multiple national championship rings as an offensive coordinator.  One of those guys is Mike Leach.

One of those is not like the others.  How do you feel if you’re an Arkansas fan knowing you could have hired Mike Leach?  What a failed job by the Arkansas administration to miss on Leach not once but twice.

Looking Forward:

I obviously don’t feel good about my 10-2 season prediction right now.  Football is a funny game so you never know.  The talent is still there to win 10 games this season.  Jimbo and some key offensive players need to take a different step forward. No more one step forward and two steps back they’ve taken for two seasons.  \

We’re going to learn a lot about this team in the next three games.  Based on this past weekend there’s a strong chance we go 1-3.  More than likely I think we still wind up going 2-2 as Elko will find a way to keep Leach from repeating what he did in Baton Rouge.  I just don’t see us beating Florida based on how the two teams played on Saturday.

I put our chances of beating Bama at exactly zero.  That’s not battered Aggie syndrome and just reality.  The only way we can beat Bama is if they turn the ball over and/or we really open our offense to try and score lots of points.  I don’t see either of those happening.

Saban will play into Jimbo’s hand of wanting to play a slow and methodical game just like Jimbo.  Saban will make sure his guys don’t turn the ball over and Jimbo will take exactly zero chances on offense.  Bama will break more offensive plays and Jimbo will be yelling at Mond over multiple bad decisions.  I won’t be shocked to see us get the back door cover of 17 points late in the game.  The final score won’t mean we were ever in the game though.

I hope I’m wrong but 17 SEC games with Jimbo and Mond give me a pretty good idea of how things are going to play out in Tuscaloosa this weekend.

We’re still 1-0 with a ton of talent but Jimbo needs to get coaching if he wants to earn that $7.5 million.

Make Aggie Football Great Again

#MAFGA

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Projecting the Aggies’ 2020 Record

As we know, 2020 has proven to be a year where expectations change by the week.  Assuming the Aggie football team can stay healthy through the COVID mess I don’t see expectations changing much throughout the season.  We shouldn’t need to see a few weeks of football to determine what kind of team we have. 

I think this Aggie team is easy to determine.  This is a good football team.  It’s got big holes with the offensive line and lack of experience.  However, it’s by far the most talented team Jimbo has had in three seasons.  This should be the season where Jimbo finally puts a foot in the ground and people take notice of what he’s really building in Aggieland.  This isn’t a college football playoff team but it is a borderline Top 10 team.

I’m torn on what 2020 and the new SEC schedule will bring from a win/loss standpoint.  I think the floor for this team is 6-4 but 9-1 is possible.  It’s not the Aggie team that I don’t know about.  I feel comfortable knowing where this team stands from an ability standpoint.  It’s four of their opponents in Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, and LSU I’m not sure.  Those are four really good football programs but I don’t know what they’re going to look like in 2020.  They all have question marks coming into the season.  I don’t believe last season is indicative of this season for those teams.  I think all 4 can be worse in 2020 than they were in 2019.  I just don’t know enough about their talent. 

The talent is there for the Aggies to be better than those teams.  The ultimate judge will be who wins and loses so we’ll just have to see how it plays out on the field.   

I’m not worried about how Jimbo is going to handle this season from a coaching standpoint.  In his two seasons he’s shown to trust his defense and limit mistakes by his offense.  Don’t get greedy.  Stay really steady and focused hoping the breaks roll your way late in the game.  It’s worked as we’ve come back in games against Kentucky, LSU, and Oklahoma State. 

There were times I wish he’d roll the dice more against better teams but I get what he’s doing.  He’s put down a solid foundation and I think we’ll see Jimbo continue to build on it.  He’s got a plan and he’s going to stick to it.  He and Mike Elko have shown to be a really good team so no need to disrupt that balance in year 3.  Just keep doing what you’ve done.

Year 3 has been interesting for recent Texas A&M coaches.  Coach Fran completely imploded coming off a Cotton Bowl appearance.  He tried to implement some option/spread type offense with Reggie McNeil.  The Aggies went 5-7 that season.  Mike Sherman had his best year in his third season after struggling early to start 3-3.  He wound up taking the Aggies to the Cotton Bowl reeling off November wins over Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas.  Kevin Sumlin had a yo-yo of a season his third year destroying South Carolina to open things up which lead to 5 straight wins followed by 3 straight humiliating losses to Mississippi State and Ole Miss and cumulating in the 59-0 loss at Alabama.

I don’t expect Jimbo to repeat any of those seasons.  I think you’re going to see the Aggies compete in every game they play this season.  If that offensive line can make any level of improvement I think the Aggies stand a really good chance of placing second in the SEC West making a New Years bowl game.  Assuming those still happen this season.  If the Aggies place second in the SEC West that will be one hell of a season.

Enough talk.  Let’s look at the Aggies 2020 schedule and how I see these games playing out.

Vanderbilt:

Vanderbilt is not good.  The Aggies should beat them.  I expect a fairly close game in the first half with the Aggies pulling away in the second half.  For an all SEC schedule this is as good of an opponent as you can get to knock off the rust.

Ags win. 

Record 1-0.

Alabama:

2019 was considered a down year for Alabama.  For Alabama that means you lose by 5 points to one of the best teams ever in the history of college football.  You also lose by 3 points on the road to your rival in an abnormal game.  In that game against Auburn, Mac Jones replaced Tua Tagavolia a couple games prior and threw two pick sixes.  That’s 14 points gifted by the Bama offense.  Auburn also got the benefit of bad officiating.  They kicked a field goal at the end of the first half they shouldn’t have been allowed to kick.  That’s 17 points. 

That loss knocked Alabama out of the New Years bowl games and into the Citrus Bowl.  In the Citrus Bowl they throttled a pretty good Michigan team who was ranked 14th at the time.  11-2 with a Citrus Bowl win over Michigan is a bad season for Nick Saban.  Unreal the expectations for that guy.

I cite the above because people want to write off Nick Saban and Alabama after a season they don’t make the playoffs or win the SEC.  That’s a damn good season for anyone other than Bama and maybe Clemson or Ohio State.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that Alabama is on their way down because they went 11-2 in 2019.  They’re still Bama.

The Aggies and Tide pose an interesting matchup because they match up pretty evenly.  Bama lost some serious firepower in Tagavolia, Ruggs, and Jeudy at quarterback and receiver.  They certainly won’t have the firepower through the air but they return four of their starting offensive lineman.  Three of those guys are seniors and the fourth was a freshman All American.  It’s tough being Nick Saban.  Senior Najee Harris is in the backfield who is no different that the dozen NFL running backs Saban has had before him.  Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith return as starting receivers.  This offense may not be as spectacular but it’s still going to be damn good.  Saban is basically going from a Ferrari to a Porsche.  It’s still better than what most everyone else has.

The strength of the Aggie team is in the defensive line so we should be able to give what might be the best line in college football a good fight.  We should keep them from running up and down the field on us.

I think Nick Saban goes back to his old offensive plans of letting talent take over late in the game.  He’s not going to let Mac Jones make any mistakes like he did against Auburn.  They’ll use the run game to set up shots downfield with the speedy Waddle and Smith.  They may not put up 40 points a game but they’ll put up 30 while wearing down the opponent’s defense.  The Aggies will need to make some key third down stops to get off the field if they stand any chance of winning.

Believe it or not the defense is where Bama is likely to have the most questions.  They still have plenty of talent but Saban doesn’t return as much on the defensive side of the ball as he has in the past.  He has four returning starters on defense including Dylan Moses who started in 2018 and sat in 2019 due to an injury.  It might be best we catch then in the second game.  This might be a defense that’s still learning to play with one another when the Aggies catch them.  Plenty of talent but not the experienced unit Saban is used to running out there from the start.

If we can establish the running game and keep pressure off Mond the Aggies stand a real chance to win this game.  That’s a big if though.

This is a winnable game for the Aggies.  I really believe it’s the most winnable game against Bama since 2012.  However, I’m not betting against Nick Saban until I see the clock hit 0:00 and the Aggies have one more point than the Tide.

I’m marking this up as a loss.  I hope I’m wrong though.

Record 1-1.

Florida:

Florida is a really interesting team.  I think they’re perceived to be better than they are.  They’re a damn good football team but they benefit by playing in the SEC East which isn’t nearly as strong as the West.  They went 11-2 last year but they really didn’t beat anyone other than Auburn which was at home.  They lost to LSU and Georgia which is understandable.  They played in the Orange Bowl beating Virginia 36-28.  That’s not that impressive.  Good solid win but it’s still Virginia.

11-2 looks good until you look under the hood a little.  I love Dan Mullen as a coach but I don’t think this Florida team is as talented as the record indicates.  This is only their third season removed from being 4-8 so Mullen has had to do some roster rebuilding.  This isn’t a typical Florida team deep in talent and experience like we saw in 2012.

I think this team is somewhere between the 2012 team we saw at Kyle and the 2017 team we saw at The Swamp.  I believe the Aggies might be more talented overall.

Florida returns Kyle Trask under center which I don’t think is a great thing.  He’s pretty pedestrian but he’s coached up by Mullen who’s got a pretty good track record with quarterbacks.  Guys like Alex Smith, Tim Tebow, Dak Prescott, and Nick Fitzgerald.  Trask lacks the running ability those four guys have so it really limits what Mullen can do with him.  If he had better wheels I’d be more concerned.

Their best offensive player is a very talented tight end in Kyle Pitts.  Ironically he’s coached by Jimbo’s former tight end coach who coached Jace Sternberger.  The Gators are inexperienced at receiver and offensive line.   It’s not without talent but it’s short on experience as unit.  This will be a pretty solid but not spectacular offense.  I think the Aggie defense can really give them fits.

Getting Florida in their third game will be good for A&M.

Defensively it’s solid but not spectacular.  They’ve got some veterans and younger talent but nobody that stands out.  Not one of their guys on defense was named to the pre-season first team All SEC team.  They’ve got three guys on the second team.  These pre-season teams aren’t always indicative of how one will perform but they’re a good guide.  The first team defense is laced with guys from Bama, Auburn, LSU, and Georgia.  It feels like Florida’s defense is a step below those programs.  Fine by me.

This game feels like a “Jimbo Special.”  Those are games where Jimbo doesn’t do anything to make major mistakes for 3 quarters and finds a way to pull it out in the end.  I think this might be a pretty ugly game as Elko and the defense stalemate the Florida offense while Mond and the offense take little shots here and there hoping something will break open.

This feels like 2017 but at Kyle with more talented teams.  I think the Aggies win this thing 19-13.

Record 2-1.

Mississippi State:

Mike Leach is back in our division.  I love Mike Leach but I HATE him being in our division again.  I want to cheer for the guy but hate playing him.  He had our number at Tech.  Not only would he beat us on the field but then he’d get in his little jabs after he did it.  I don’t blame Mississippi State for hiring him.

However, I don’t think he’ll have the same amount of success against us as he did in Lubbock.

This isn’t a very good Mississippi State team.  They were 6-7 last season only because of the Ole Miss playing who pretended to be a dog peeing on a fire hydrant.  If it wasn’t for that event Mississippi State has exactly 2 SEC wins last season.  1 of those being over Arkansas so it’s really 1 SEC win.

We handled Mississippi State at Kyle last season and I expect us to do the same this season in Starkville.

This is an Aggie win.

Record 3-1.

Arkansas:

At some point Arkansas will beat us in the SEC.  I don’t think it’s this season.

This is an Aggie win.

Record 4-1.

South Carolina:

This feels like the ultimate trap game.  The Aggies could be going into Columbia, SC on a pretty decent win streak having only lost to Alabama.  South Carolina has lost a lot and we pounded them last season at Kyle.

Put this as an 11:00 am game and I can see the Aggies being completely surprised.  I don’t really see that happening but if there’s a trap game this season this one is it.

As long as the Aggies don’t turn the ball over they’ll be fine here.

This is an Aggie win.

Record 5-1.

Tennessee:

Tennessee is like Florida benefitting from playing in the SEC East.  Their record is inflated compared to an equivalent SEC West team.  A lot of people think Tennessee is on the rise after last season.  They’ll be improved but we need to look more at the 2019 season.

They started out HORRIBLY last season losing to Georgia State and BYU at home in their first two games.  Sitting at 2-5 looking like a lost season they then reeled off 6 straight wins including a Gator Bowl win over Indiana.

The problem I have with this team is they didn’t beat a single ranked team all last season.  They barely beat Indiana by 1 point in Jacksonville.  They weren’t competitive at all against Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.  Sure, not many teams are but it feels like Tennessee happens to be in Tier 2 all by themselves in the SEC East behind Georgia and Florida.

Jeremy Pruitt is certainly improving things at Tennessee but I don’t think he’s farther along than Jimbo is at A&M.

As long as the Ags are healthy, playing like they should be, and don’t turn the ball over the Aggies will win this game.

Record 6-1.

Ole Miss:

This sort of feels like a trap game as well but I’m not terribly worried about it.  It’s an SEC West opponent that’s played us tough so I think we’ll be ready.

I’m excited to have Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach at the Mississippi schools.  That is going to make for serious theater. 

Kiffin has some work to do in Oxford and he’ll cause some people fits at times but I don’t think it’s in 2020.

I think the Aggies will be just fine here.

Record 7-1.

LSU:

This is by far the most conflicting game I have on the schedule right now.  My head says despite all the losses LSU had from last year’s team this is still a REALLY tough game for the Aggies.  It will be decided at the line of scrimmage and I don’t trust our offensive line in this game.

My heart says we win this game.

Like Alabama this is a very winnable game.  LSU lost a TON from last season’s game.  They lost their entire offense for the most part.  They lost what I think is the brains of their offense from last season in Joe Brady.  This won’t be anywhere close to the same offense as last year. 

They lost Dave Aranda as their defensive coordinator.  They replaced him with Bo Pelini who I have no idea if he’s still any good as a defensive coordinator.  He should be but guys tend to lose their fastball.  Lord knows we see plenty of re-treaded DCs in Aggieland that didn’t turn out so well.  I hope the same for SMU.

Their defense took a hit but they return Derek Stingley and Jacoby Stevens in the secondary who are potential first round guys at the next level.  Coach O has recruited well so they might lack experience on defense but they’ll have PLENTY of talent.  There’s a load of LSU guys in the NFL.  They just grow them differently in Louisiana so they’ll have talent.

I’m going to chalk this one up as a loss right now.  What I really think is going to happen is we’re going to trip somewhere between Bama and LSU losing one of those game and then pull this one off.  Basically the same thing we did in 2018.  I just can’t tell where that other loss is right now so I’m giving it to LSU.

Aggies lose.

Record 7-2.

Auburn:

Gus Malzahn is to the SEC what Mike Leach used to be in the Big 12.  You never know what you’re going to get each week because they draw up something different each week.  When their plan works it’ll hit you from out of nowhere.  It doesn’t always work and they lose some stinkers.  He’s a fascinating coach.

He’s had Jimbo’s number the last two years.  The Aggies gave the game away in 2018 at Auburn.  Gus walked into Kyle last year and pulled down Jimbo’s pants.  The Auburn defensive line mutilated the Aggie offensive line and Gus ran enough mis-direction on offense where they caught a couple Aggie defenders sleeping for big touchdowns.  It was a masterful game plan by Gus.  He knew where the Aggies were weak and attacked.

I’m not sure what to expect from Auburn this season.  Bo Knix returns for his second season in Auburn.  An experienced quarterback is always dangerous with Gus.  They have two talented receivers that can burn you downfield.  Gus will move the ball but the question his how much will he score.

Defensively they won’t be as talented but they’ll still be damn good.  They lost three defenders in the first two rounds of the NFL draft.  The fact that Derek Brown is gone is a major win for the Aggies.  That dude single handedly destroyed our offensive line in last year’s game.  He regularly took out two Aggie linemen on his way to hit Mond before Mond had his feet set.  It was impressive.

Auburn always has a stout front 7 so the 2020 Auburn defense will still be damn good.  They know how to play SEC football.

This game is really a toss up to me at this point.  It’s the last game of the year and could mean a ton.  Depending on how LSU does this could be the game that decides who’s second in the SEC West or even first.  This could be a really big showdown.

I think this is the year Jimbo finally gets over on Gus so I’m going Aggies here.

Record 8-2.

Year 3 is the year Jimbo needs to take the next step.  I believe in Jimbo so I think he will.  He’s got a senior quarterback and a lot of young talent.  If the Aggies do pull off an 8-2 season with this schedule and offensive line that’s a major step in the right direction.  It will really put people on notice to what Jimbo is doing.

While I would love to see the Aggies win the SEC West this season I just don’t think this is the team to do it.  I think this is the team that will knock on the door of doing it.  Let’s get through the 2021 season before we even talk about next season.  Enough next season talk for Aggie fans.  Let’s see what the 2020 Aggies do first as they’re capable of plenty. 

Should be an interesting season for a host of reasons.

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A Look at the 2020 Aggies by Position

I have no idea what to expect from the 2020 Aggie Football season.  Thanks to COVID there’s additional questions beyond the roster and original schedule.  The schedule has changed dramatically along with a major reduction of fans in the stands.  Some players thrive off a stadium’s energy even on the road.  Some players get distracted by it.  Nobody has any real idea what this means so we’ll just have to see how all of this goes. 

I am PUMPED about the 10 game SEC schedule.  This schedule is amazing.  Every game this season is worthy of watching.  If it sticks around after COVID we’ll have one blessing from this pandemic.  Schedule one cupcake and one other Power 5 school for an out of conference game and we’ll finally get our money’s worth as season ticker holders.

I’ll look at the schedule in my next post but for this post I’m just going to pontificate on the various position groups.

Offense:

Kellen Mond:

I’m not even going to call this group Quarterback.  The quarterback is Kellen Mond.  He will start the season and barring a major injury he’ll be the quarterback all season.  Simple as that.

Somehow Kellen Mond has become the most polarizing Aggie player that I can recall.  Maybe it’s the Johnny Football effect where everyone expects a dynamic quarterback under center. Mond is nowhere near dynamic but he doesn’t deserve the anguish he gets.  I can’t figure it out but for some people no matter what Mond does he’s a terrible quarterback.

The reality is he’s an above average college quarterback.  He’s been solid enough in his two seasons under Jimbo.  Go look around college football if you think Kellen is a horrible quarterback.  We’re MUCH better under center than a lot of college programs.  He’s been the best guy available for the Aggies since Jimbo got to town.  If you don’t believe me go find out where Nick Starkel is.  As a hint, he’s moved on from Arkansas because he couldn’t find playing time there.  Mond is the best guy Jimbo has had available.  Starkel wasn’t the guy.  Calzada and King aren’t ready.

The good news is that 2020 will likely be Mond’s last year under center.   I don’t see him coming back despite the new rule the NCAA created where 2020 is a free year of eligibility.  Mond either does well enough in 2020 to try his hand at the next level or he won’t have done well enough to warrant leaving.

If Mond comes back in 2021 I believe he’ll have a hard time fending off Calzada or King because his 2020 was more of the same.  He didn’t progress enough to try his hand at the NFL so not sure why he’d beat out two guys that seem really talented.  I fully trust Jimbo to run a quarterback out there that’s going to help him win football games.  I don’t see that being Mond in 2021 if he’s still around.  Mond will move on.

As for Mond’s play in 2020 I do expect it to be better.    

His legs made the difference in the Aggie’s season last year.  That took a few games for him to figure out.  Once he took off running he changed the dynamic of the offense.  His legs helped immensely in the games we won in the second half of the season.  We probably don’t beat OkSU in the Texas Bowl without Mond’s legs.  Without his legs there’s a good chance we go 6-7 rather than 8-5.  I suspect he’ll be more likely to run all season which is a huge deal for a defense to defend.

From a passing standpoint I think he’ll be better as well.  He’ll have a better group of receivers to throw to which I’ll get to next.  There’s no way he’ll make a Joe Burrow like accuracy jump but I do expect him to be better.  He’ll still be wildly inconsistent at times but any quarterback is better when their group of receivers is better.

As for Mond’s off the field stuff related to the Sully statue I truthfully don’t care.  I think too much of it has been made.  Everyone is bored and wants something to talk about.  A&M is much bigger than a statue.

I personally don’t think the Sully statue should go anywhere but Mond has a right to feel how he wants.  From what I saw he was protesting it peacefully.  Maybe he learned something about leadership through all of it.  I have no idea and I’m not going to judge him because I’ve never had a conversation with him about it.  Getting wound up over what college kids say/post on social media isn’t a good idea.  I think we’d all agree we think MUCH differently than we did in college.  I’m sure as hell glad I didn’t have social media in college. 

Mond does have the ability to be a really outstanding college quarterback.  Physically he can make a lot of throws and he can run.  I believe a lot of his issue have been confidence in addition to not having time or open receivers.  He should have more confidence and open receivers in 2020.

Hopefully 2020 will be the year that Mond shines.  It’s in EVERY Aggie Football fan’s best interest for Mond to have a really solid year.  Mond’s success will do nothing but keep the Aggie program on an upward trajectory. 

This team isn’t ready to win a national title which I’ll get to in a bit.  8 wins with a bowl win will be a pretty good season for the Aggies.  That’s an 8-3 season for an all SEC schedule.  I want more and I think there’s more there but that is the low water mark.  If Mond has a good enough season to get us 8 wins then let’s all tip our hat to him and wish him well at the next level.

If Mond fails, it’s not going to help any facet of the Aggie Football program.  For 11 games this season cheer for the man under center.

Wide Receiver:

Last season I consistently said our wide receiver group was way overrated.  Jhamon Ausbon was our most consistent receiver but he wasn’t dynamic.  Our most dynamic receiver wound up being a true freshman tight end.  Quartney Davis and Kendrick Rogers appeared to have all the tools but they really couldn’t get open for the most part.  I believe the lack of them getting drafted proves they weren’t as good as some people believed.

Enough about those guys.

The 2020 receiving group should be IMMENSELY better.  Ausbon comes back to be the consistent move the chains guy.  Demond Demas while a true freshman should be in the regular lineup just so defenses must defend his physical ability.  I’m hoping he’s a big play threat all season.  We’ve been missing a guy like him since Josh Reynolds left.  Cam Buckley is out for the season which is a loss but I think guys like Caleb Chapman, Kam Brown, Dylan Wright, Chase Lane, Devin Price, and Muhsin Muhammad can pick up his slack.  I’m thinking there’s a couple of guys in there that can cover the loss of Cam Buckley.

The wide receiver unit will definitely be better than last season.  I have no concerns of that.

The best news for the receiving group is the return of Jalen Wydermyer along with a healthy Baylor Cupp.  We saw what Wydermyer did last season and Cupp is supposed to be a more gifted receiver.  Those guys will give Jimbo a lot of flexibility in formations because they’re so versatile.  I think they’ll also help a very suspect offensive line which I’ll get to later.

The person I’m most excited about returning is Ainias Smith.  I know he’s listed as a running back right now but I think you’re going to see him flexed or motioned out of the backfield to get receiving advantages.  Think of what Bill Belichick does with his receiving running backs.  Smith will certainly get handoffs in the backfield but I will be shocked if he’s not targeted in the passing game as much as he’s getting touches in the backfield.

I was really shocked he didn’t get more playing time at receiver last season.  I thought he showed out in the Arkansas game but for some reason Davis and Rogers kept getting playing time when Smith was simply more productive when he played.  Ainias Smith is a football player that can do a lot of things.

Between Wydermyer, Cupp, and Smith you have a lot of flexibility in attacking the shorter and intermediate areas of the field.  That was really missing last season.  They are going to wear out linebackers in coverage.  I believe those three guys can also help someone like Demas get one on one matchups where we can watch him just go get balls.

This receiving group won’t be on par with those from LSU, Bama, and Clemson last season but I do expect it to be MUCH better than the Aggie receiving group last season.

Running Back:

The running back position has really taken a step back in the area of depth.  We basically have two guys in Isiah Spiller and Ainias Smith thanks to injuries and lack of talent.  They were true freshmen last season and had a solid year all things considered.  Behind them there’s lots of question marks. 

I REALLY love the speed of Devon Achane but he’s small.  I think he’s a guy that you’ll see flexed or motioned out as well.  He’s nowhere near an every down back but you’ll see him in sets where they hope to get him the ball in space so he can utilize his speed.  He adds some nice depth and flexibility though.

The rest of the group remains to be seen.  Earnest Crownover comes in from the junior college ranks.  He’s not highly ranked but has size going 6’1” and 220.  Hopefully he can turn into a short yardage back.

We still a need a Bama style all purpose running back but I’m fine with Spiller and Smith taking the snaps.  They both look like legit football players so I think this position group will be better than last season simply because those two guys will be a year older.

Offensive Line:

This is the group that’s bothered me the most in the two seasons Jimbo has been in charge.  I don’t see 2020 being much better and that’s a MAJOR concern.  There’s a REALLY good chance we don’t have an offensive lineman get signed by an NFL team between Erik McCoy and Kenyon Green.  Notice I said signed and not even drafted. 

That means we’ll go at least three seasons without having an Aggie offensive lineman signed by an NFL team.  More than likely it’ll be four seasons as I don’t think Kenyon Green leaves early.

You can’t compete in the SEC with that deficiency.  You just can’t.  The NFL is the ultimate metric of SEC talent.  When you have a position group that has a void for that long without NFL caliber talent you have an issue.  I don’t know how to stress this enough.

You have no idea how much I hope I’m wrong but that’s what I’m seeing.  It’s why I don’t see the Aggies being a true Top 10 program capable of beating anyone in the country this season.  Strong defensive lines will eat our lunch.  See the 2019 losses an example.  Especially the Georgia game.  We could have won that game had the offensive line done anything that game.

Most of the offensive line is back.  That’s usually a good thing for a team.  Not with this group.

The only change is Ryan McCollum will take over for Colton Prater.  McCollum was the 2019 Spring MVP but then barley played all last season.  I know he had injuries but he’d occasionally trot out there so whatever was wrong never seemed to be season ending.  I’m hoping he had some nagging injury that never fully healed and he’s fully healed now.  I believe he can be a better center than Prater which will be an improvement.  If he was really healthy all season and couldn’t beat out Prater then that’s a little alarming.

Dan Moore, Jared Hocker, and Carson Green return for their senior seasons.  I don’t see those guys improving very much from their junior to senior season, but it has happened before.  They were terrible against the elite teams last year.  I mean just got repeatedly destroyed.

We have no depth behind those guys because some of the guys Jimbo brought in his first season have had to retire due to injuries.  We have nobody in the two deep to really compete with those guys.  This is just a decimated unit that missed on a solid 3 years of recruiting.

Kenyon Green should be better with a season under his belt.  He certainly has NFL level talent.  Supposedly he’s been playing left guard some this summer which could help us.  My personal hope is that he can move out to left tackle at some point this season.  At worst he goes to right tackle.  He needs to be playing tackle at some point this season.

We do have some talented youth in Layden Robinson and hopefully Luke Matthews can live up to the family name.  We have some good looking freshmen in Chris Morris, Akinola Ogunbiyi, and Smart Chibuzo coming in.  It’s hard for a true freshman to do well at offensive line in the SEC though.  Kenyon Green struggled at times last season and he has all the talent in the world.

Short of the returning senior starters making a quantum leap I’m hoping Layden Robinson and Chris Morris find their way into the starting group at some point.  I think they’re the most ready from a talent standpoint.  Even if they’re slightly worse than the returning seniors at least they’d be getting valuable experience.

If McCollum can play as good as he did in the 2019 Spring then I think a combination of McCollum, Kenyon Green, Layden Robinson, Chris Morris, and whatever senior works best with those guys might be serviceable.

I hope I’m wrong but this is the weak link of the 2020 Aggie Football team.  I think it’s a pretty major weakness.  You can mask a weak offensive line in any other conference but the SEC. Looking at you, Big 12.  Unfortunately, we play in the SEC West where those weak offensive lines get exposed.

If I find the time I’ll do a write up on why the offensive line is in shambles but the reality is this is still a  “gift” from Kevin Sumlin and Jim Turner.  We should have talented guys entering their redshirt junior and senior year on campus but we don’t.  We simply missed on a good 2-3 years of offensive line recruiting and paying the price.

Defense:

Coaching:

Before I get to the players I have to point out Mike Elko.  This dude has been the unsung hero of Jimbo’s first two years in Aggieland.  He and Jimbo have worked perfectly together.  His one mistake was at LSU last season but I kind of get why he tried it.  He tried a 3 man front thinking he could confuse Burrow with increased coverage and Burrow just torched it.  We were never winning that game but it was interesting to see Elko go away from the strength of the team which was the defensive line.

Outside of that he’s been OUTSTANDING.  Seriously.  I don’t think most fans realize how sound of a defensive coordinator he is.  At some point he’s going to take a head coaching job.  We need to enjoy him in Aggieland.

The other blessing of COVID besides the 10 game SEC schedule is that Elko likely sticks around for 2021.  I don’t see many programs firing their coaches this season for a host of reasons.  I think Elko comes back in 2021.  I’m not sure we see Elko in maroon in 2021 without this COVID mess.

There are some blessings in all of this.

Defensive Line:

This has been the strongest unit on the field in Jimbo’s first two years and I don’t see 2020 being any different.  It’s a fairly young unit but it’s probably Jimbo’s most talented.

There will be a lot of movement as Elko likes moving guys around based on opponent and situations.  You’re going to see DeMarvin Leal, Jayden Peevy, Bobby Brown, and Michael Clemons taking most of the snaps and that’s damn good.  Leal will likely be a high round draft pick and the others can hold their own in the SEC. 

Peevy is coming into his senior year and he’s been solid in his time at A&M.  He’s not an every down tackle as I think Leal will move down on passing downs but Peevy will see lots of snaps and be fine.  I personally think Bobby Brown is a little soft.  He’s a big fella but I don’t think he’s quite playing to his potential.  He goes 6’4”/325 so he’s a big body in the middle which you must have.  I just would like to see him be more dominant because he has the talent.  This will be Clemons fourth year on the A&M campus.  This is his third on the football field as he sat out his first year.  He came in with lots of hope but hasn’t quite delivered.  He finally showed some promise last year at times.  Maybe the third season is the charm.  He’s 6’5”/270 so he’s a big body at defensive end for running downs.

Behind them will be some mix that’s likely adjusted all season.  We have lots of really good depth so it’s just finding the right mix.  Jermiah Martin and Tyree Wilson will back up Leal and Clemons.  Martin had probably his best game all season in the Texas Bowl so hopefully that carries over.  True freshman Donell Harris will likely see some snaps in obvious passing situations.  He’s supposed to be fast off the ball.   That’s something you can’t coach so let’s find out early.

Backing up Brown and Peevy will be Josh Rogers and Derrick Hunter.  We’ve got some talented true freshman coming in at Defensive Tackle as well.  The best incoming freshman is McKinley Jackson who Jimbo got over Alabama.  If he’s as advertised he’ll be in the rotation this year and hopefully starting next season.  In addition to him we have Isiah Rakes and Dallas Walker coming in who are both over 325 pounds.  Jimbo has been recruiting space eaters for the middle of the defensive line.  That’s a good thing.

This is not quite the elite unit it needs to be in the SEC but it’s got enough talent and depth to compete in the SEC.  I don’t really have any issues with this unit as it’ll be the anchor of the defense.

Linebacker:

Buddy Johnson and Anthony Hines return as the starting linebackers.  I can’t type enough good words about Buddy Johnson.  The dude is a football player.  I’m not sure he’ll sniff the NFL but he’s a really solid middle linebacker at the college level.  He plays smart and anticipates plays.  I think we’d be in big trouble if we didn’t have him.  He’ll be a senior and he’ll be the quarterback for the guys up front.

Anthony Hines is long on talent but he’s short on football sense.  He’s often out of position because he can’t read or anticipate plays.  He relies on his athleticism to bail him out which really doesn’t work in the SEC.  He’s not terrible but it’s just frustrating to watch someone with so much talent continually be out of position to make plays.  This is Hines’ fourth year on campus.  I’m hoping the light finally comes on for him and he plays up to his potential.

We’re finally starting to develop some depth at linebacker which we’ve been sorely missing for a few seasons.  Andre White and Aaron Hansford will back up Johnson and Hines.  Andre White was a true freshman and looked good for the times he played.  Aaron Hansford is a senior.  He came in as an offensive player but due to some injuries switched over to defense last year.  He really impressed me in how well he played at times.  I don’t think he’s an every down linebacker but he is a good situational guy.

Antonio Doyle is a true freshman coming in from St. Louis.  I believe he was the top player in the state of Missouri and is already 6’3”/250 so he has SEC LB size.  He’ll likely see some time and hopefully he’s seeing regular snaps by the end of the season.  We also have Chris Russell, Andre White, and Ke’Shun Brown who saw time as true freshman last year.  I don’t think they’ll make a major impact this season but it is nice to know we have some young depth on the roster.

This unit isn’t as good as the defensive line but it’s nice to finally see some talent and depth here.  We’ve been putting a Band-Aid on the linebacker position for what feels like 4-5 years now.

Secondary:

The secondary is a lot like the linebacker unit where we’ve been trying to Band-Aid it since Armani Watts left.

Demani Richardson is the anchor here.  He started last year as a true freshman and he’s really solid.  He’s as good as we’ve seen since Armani Watts.  I have no issues with him being the anchor for this secondary.

Leon O’Neal should be the starter at the other safety position but he’s a head case.  He’s got a load of talent but like Anthony Hines he’s often out of position.  O’Neal has also shied away from contact at times.  To make matters worse he flirted with transferring in the off season.  I have no idea what to make of him.  He seems like somebody that just likes the idea of playing football and the attention.  He doesn’t actually like playing football.  He’s got next level talent but his head last season looked like he was still in junior high.  There are rumors he’s finally taking football seriously so let’s hope that’s the case.  If he wants to see the next level he’s got a long way to develop.

Backing them up will Brian Williams and Keldrick Carper.  Brian Williams played at times last season and looked decent.  He’s not as talented as Richardson or O’Neal but he should improve with experience.  Carper is a 3-year letterman so he’s been around a while.  He’s improved but he’s still not as talented as the starters.  He does add nice depth.  If O’Neal falters I think you’ll see Williams and Carper rotate out at the other safety position.

Antonio Johnson is a true freshman that should be a safety at some point.  He’s got talent.  He shouldn’t make an impact in our secondary this season but it is nice to see Jimbo bringing in talent that can take some time to develop rather than getting thrown to the fire right away.

Corner is a bit of a toss up at this point.  This position used to be worse than our offensive line.  Smart teams would just completely expose this group.  It improved dramatically last season but still has a long way to go.

Elijah Blades and Myles Jones were looking to be the starters to begin the season.  It was always assumed Jaylon Jones would push Myles Jones at some point this season.  Jaylon Jones comes in as a true freshman but he’s really talented. 

That thinking has changed since Elijah Blades decided to sit out the season earlier this week.

Blades has battled injuries since he got to Aggieland so I’m guessing this is why he decided to sit out.  That doesn’t make much sense to me because this is a free season.  I think he’d be better off spending time on the practice field hoping to get healthy and get playing time.  

Either way this takes away some much-needed depth and talent in a position we can’t afford to lose depth or talent. 

Brian George is a talented junior college transfer so I think he’s now in the mix to start right away.  My hope is at some point this season Brian George and Jaylon Jones are our starting corner backs.  Nothing against Myles Jones but he doesn’t have the talent to regularly go against the top receivers in the SEC.

I think the plan all along for this season was to bring Jaylon Jones and Brian George slowly along to get the starting spots.  Blades’ announcement just likely changes the timing of that.

The wildcard in all of this is Erick Young.  Like Richardson and Jaylon Jones, Erick Young is SEC talented.  He’s also really versatile in what he can do defensively.  He’s been slated to basically play the nickel role mainly covering the slot receiver or defending the run.

Erick Young is going to see LOTS of action.  How he’s used is going to change each week and each series I have a feeling.  If Leon O’Neal plays to his talent then I think you’ll see Erick Young at corner back when a third linebacker is in there.  When a fifth defensive back comes in (the nickel formation) then I think you’ll see Young cover the slot receiver and another corner comes in.

To me Leon O’Neal is the difference maker here.  If he plays to his potential then you’re going to have Demani Richardson, Leon O’Neal, Jaylon Jones, and Erick Young getting most of the secondary snaps.  All four of those guys have SEC talent.  It would be nice to have Elijah Blades talent to add to the rotation in the nickel set but such is life.  If those four guys can play to the talent we’ll have the best secondary we’ve had in a good while.

We still need to improve this unit but it’s good to see there’s finally some talent and depth here.  It’s been sorely lacking.

Special Teams:

I honestly don’t now much about our special teams.  We lost Braden Mann and I’m still in mourning.  We obviously won’t be nearly as good at punter but I think we’ll be fine.  This is a unit that won’t win us any games but hopefully they don’t cost us any games.

Smith and Achane are likely our return guys which will be interesting as they have plenty of talent.  I just don’t know if they’re on Christian Kirk’s level.  Not many are.

For special teams here’s what I want to see:

  1. Give me a field goal kicker that’s 80% inside of 50 yards and over 95% inside of 30 yards.
  2. A punter that averages 45 yards in the air and 90% fair catches.
  3. Kick and punt returners that don’t fumble the ball and know when to take the ball at the 25 yard line.

That’s it.  Let the defense and offense win games.  Don’t make it harder on them.

Overall:

I really like this Aggie team except for the offensive line.  That’s obvious.  I wish things under Jimbo were a little further along but I still agree 100% with what Jimbo is doing.  If we hadn’t missed on 2-3 years of offensive line recruiting the outlook for this team would be completely different.  

This would truly be a team that could win the SEC and make the college football this season.  There’s still a chance we get there but there’s just a major hole in a key spot.  This is a young but very promising football team.

In my next post I’ll look at what all of this means from a wins and loss standpoint.  At the end of the day there’s only one metric in sports – Wins and Losses.

You have to win games to Make Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

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