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Thoughts From The Clemson Game

NCAAF 2018 Texas A&M vs Clemson Sept 8

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

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

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

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

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

Offense:

Kellen Mond:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wide Receivers:

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

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

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

Offensive Line:

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

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

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

Running Game:

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

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

Defense:

Defensive Line:

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

Linebacker:

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

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

Secondary:

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

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

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

 

Overall:

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

Special Teams:

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

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

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

 

Going Forward:

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

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

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

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

#MAFGA

 

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Thoughts From Opening Weekend

2018 Jimbo First Game

Coming into the game against Northwestern St (NWS) I was hoping/predicting a 55-10 victory.  59-7 is a slightly better margin so I’ll take it.  There’s not a whole lot to takeaway from this game which is not a bad thing.  A&M did what they needed to do and dominated a much inferior opponent.  This is likely the most inferior opponent on the Aggie schedule.  NWS is nowhere near the level of A&M but it’s nice to get a convincing victory rather than see any struggles.

Offense:

QB:

I thought Kellen Mond looked fine.  He wasn’t dominant by any stretch but he did what he needed to do.  He was 17/25 for 184 yards with 2 TDs and no interceptions.  That’s a 68% completion percentage.  Would have liked to have seen him at 80% against this opponent but not going to complain too much.  Overall his throws looked pretty good across the middle but his deep balls need some work.

It was clear A&M wanted to establish the run game early and often.  I think that was the right move and A&M did that well which I’ll touch on in a little bit.  When Jimbo named Mond the starter earlier in the week I had a feeling he wanted to do with Mond what he did with Deondre Francois at Florida State two years ago.  In 2016 Jimbo went with Francois to start the season and rode him to a 10-3 season.  This included a 22-point comeback in their opening game against Ole Miss and they almost beat Clemson that season as well.  Mond and Francois are similar quarterbacks in they’re athletic and decent passers.  Neither are exceptional passers or crazy mobile.

What Jimbo did with Francois is roll him out quite a bit rather than just stand in the pocket.  Jimbo did the same thing with Mond on Thursday night.  I didn’t count plays exactly but I believe Monday probably rolled out 30-40% of the time he was passing the ball.  I love designed roll outs if you have a quarterback that can execute it.  It keeps the defense honest and helps the offensive line as the defenses is watching the QB worried about containing rather than just pinning their ears back.  That’s a lot of what Lane Kiffin did with Jalen Hurts and made Hurts so effective despite a questionable arm.

With Mond I think Jimbo is going to do the same thing.  He’ll stand in the pocket most of the time but you’re going to see him roll out from time to time to give the defense something else to look at.  It’s playing to Mond’s strengths.  We’ll see if Mond continues to develop but what I saw on Thursday was a coach working to a player’s strengths and that player executing to the calls for the most part.

What I was most surprised by was the fact Starkel got no snaps in the first half.  I thought Mond would be given 2-4 series and then see Starkel.  We didn’t’ see Starkel until a couple of series into the second half.  It looks like Mond is the true number one quarterback and Jimbo is going to ride him until Mond gives him a reason not to.

Running Back:

Tray Williams had 20 rushes for 240 yards and 3 TDs.  I know it was NWS but that’s an impressive showing.  The offensive line did a good job of getting him to the second level and Tray did the rest.  No way he runs for 240 against an SEC team like that but that’s a good 80-120 yard effort against a normal SEC team.  If we can establish that each game in the SEC we’ll win the 8 games we need to win this year.

I’m a little concerned about depth behind Tray.  It’s a steep drop-off.  Etwi is decent but he’s nowhere near the caliber of talent Tray Williams is.  Corbin and Jackson looked good but by the time they got the ball NWS was worn down.  I like their talent long term but they’re still true freshman.

Behind the offensive line improving all season the health of Tray Williams will be the next most important thing for this team.

Wide Receiver:

I thought the unit looked good but not spectacular.  Clearly A&M wanted to establish the run but I was hoping for a long touchdown pass.  We went deep a few times but our receivers weren’t really getting separation deep which is a slight concern.  You don’t want to go deep all the time but having a legitimate deep threat keeps the safeties from always playing forward.  Not sure I see a true deep threat on this team right now.

Ausbon and Sternberger were the two best receivers on the field and that’s to be expected.  Buckley and Rogers had some decent catches but it’s clear Ausbon and Sternberger are going to be the key components to moving the ball downfield through the air.

All the receivers did a great job blocking which really helped the running game.  Much different look than last year.  I don’t think this receiving corps is as talented as the past 6 years but they seemed to be more disciplined as a whole which is nice to see.

Offensive Line:

It’s no secret the offensive line has been my biggest concern coming into this season.  I feel a little better after this game mainly because we were so dominant in the run game.  No matter the opponent when a team puts up over 500 yards rushing a lot of credit must go to the offensive line.  There’s no doubt Tray Williams deserves a lot of the credit as he had some great long runs but it was his offensive line that was getting him to the second level so he could do his thing.  Time and time again Tray Williams had a gaping hole to get him to the second level.

My only areas of concern for the offensive line in this game is they had a couple breakdowns on blitzes in the first half.  NWS had their linebacker come through untouched twice.  It looked like a delayed blitz but the first time the linebacker got to Mond and the next time Mond was rushed to throw the ball.  It’s a minor issue considering how well they did overall but that can’t happen against teams like Clemson and Alabama obviously.

This was a good first showing even against an inferior opponent.  It’s clear Jimbo wants to establish the run and it’s clear this line knows the assignments to do that.  The only question is can they execute them against the rest of the teams on the schedule?  Even if this line executes their assignments half as well as they did on Thursday night that’s still going to be better than what they did last season.  Long ways to go with this unit but they dominated an inferior opponent and that’s a good start.

Defense:

Defensive Line:

NWS had 13 rushes for 21 yards.  That’s 1.6 yards per rush and their longest run was 6 yards.  That’s REALLY damn impressive.  I know the Aggie defensive line is much more talented than the NWS offensive line but it’s good to see a unit execute perfectly.  Not sure what else to say here as the DLine did exactly what they were supposed to do.  It’s the strength of this team with talent and depth.

Linebacker:

Similar to the defensive line there wasn’t anything the linebackers didn’t do in this game.  They played great football against an inferior opponent.  We’ve got the talent at starting linebacker but we don’t have depth like at defensive line.  If our starters stay healthy it looks like we’ll be fine.

Secondary:

First off, that was the right call on Donavan Wilson.  It wasn’t helmet to helmet contact but Wilson did lower his head and hit the runner with the crown of his helmet.  If you’re a defender and your eyes are looking at the ground at contact there’s a good chance you’re getting ejected.  It’s for the safety of the players as you must tackle with your head up.  Too many people having severe neck injuries is not good for the game of football.

As for the rest of the secondary I though they did fine but weren’t exactly dominant.  There was one 71-yard touchdown catch that skewed the final stats but even without that play I never thought the secondary was truly dominant in pass defense.  They played really good but NWS doesn’t have near the talent we’ll face the rest of the season.  If there’s a weakness on this defense right now it’s pass coverage.  I think our safeties are fine but our corners are going to have to get better in a hurry or teams are going to get yards and points through the air.

Overall I thought the defense played as well as they could other than the long touchdown pass in the second half.  This defense looks good enough to keep us in most games.  We’ll obviously find out more against Clemson.

Special Teams:

Nothing of real note here other than Mann had a couple nice punts and then LaCamera drilled a 52 yarder.  Nice to know we have a guy that can nail field goals from that distance.

 

Looking Forward to Clemson:

Before this game I put the Aggies chance of beating Clemson at 20%.  After the game I’ll put it at 25%.  Clemson is still way too talented across the board for the Aggies to have a real chance of winning, but it was nice to see the Aggies execute almost perfectly against an inferior opponent.

The line for this game is anywhere from 11.5 to 13.5 depending on where you look.  That’s a lot bigger than I expected.  I was expecting around 10.  If the Aggies hold the game to a single digit loss that’s going to be a good look for the Aggies.  Ideally this game kind of looks like the Washington/Auburn game this past weekend if you saw it.  Yes, I’m looking for a moral victory if we don’t win outright.  Baby steps with Jimbo.

For the Aggies to win we’ll have to establish the run like we did against NWS.  Obviously we won’t have the gaudy stats but if Trayveon runs for at least 80 yards and a score against that Clemson defensive line that’s going to be a really strong effort.  I do think that’s possible based on what I saw on Thursday night.  If the Aggies achieve that while Ausbon and Sternberger account for around 150 yards and 2 scores the Aggies have a real chance of winning.  I know ~230 yards and 3 TDs for 3 people doesn’t seem like much but that’s a tall order against Clemson.  They’re #2 in the country for a reason.

Obviously if the offense does that the defense will have to be strong to hold Clemson to around 20 points.  That is a tall order as Clemson scored 24 points or more in 12 of their 14 games last season.  There has been an exception and that’s against an SEC defense.  They failed to score more than 14 points against Auburn and Alabama.  Against Auburn the last two seasons Clemson has only scored 19 and 14 points.  If the Aggies can do the same as the Auburn defense the last two year the Aggies likely win this game.  I just don’t know if the Aggie secondary is up to the task.

One other interesting stat is that Georgia Tech has been the most effective team in the ACC holding Clemson to 26 and 24 points the last two seasons.  I’m sure a component of that is the fact Georgia Tech likes to run the ball and the clock.  That likely kept Clemson’s offense off the field more than normal but hopefully Jimbo is paying attention.  No need to get in a shootout with Clemson.  A low scoring contest is the Aggies only chance to win in my mind.  Keep our defense rested and see if we can wear down that Clemson defensive line.

 

Other Thoughts from Opening Weekend:

Alabama – Holy hell does Tua Tagovailoa give Bama a completely different look.  Saban has had the equivalent of a V6 Honda Accord sedan under center since he’s been at Bama and now he’s got a damn Ferrari.  That’s not a stretch.  Tua’s athletic ability in both passing and mobility is off the charts compared to what Bama has seen in the past.  Someone may figure out how to defend Tua but right now it looks like Saban has a toy he’s never had in the past.  15-0 doesn’t seem like a stretch.

Auburn/Washington – I saw two really good teams but not great.  Auburn’s defense looked really good as did Jarrett Stidham throwing the ball but I wasn’t impressed with Auburn’s run game at all.  I don’t see Auburn beating Georgia and Bama again this season unless they find some blocking and running.  Jake Browning had some really great moments for Washington but it was clear to me Washington just doesn’t have the elite talent of other programs in the country.  Chris Petersen must get a lot more talent to that program if it expects to be a perennial elite program.

Big 12 Conference – OU and Tech picked up right where they left off last season.  OU scores a lot of points and Tech lets a lot of points be scored.  I was surprised Kiffin didn’t put up many points on OU.  The OU defense has shown suspect against good offenses but OU manhandled FAU the entire game.  Not a good look for Kiffin at all if he was hoping to jump from FAU to a big program.  OU looks like it’s set to run roughshod over the B12 yet again this season.

Do Tech fans realize Lincoln Riley played quarterback for them like Kingsbury?  It’s funny Tech fans became all enamored with Coach Cool thinking he was the savior.  Meanwhile, another former Tech football player got the reins at OU and is looking poised to own the Big 12 for at least the next 5 years.  Tech could double Riley’s salary and I don’t think he’d leave Norman for Lubbock.  You guessed wrong on your former players as head coach, Tech.  Lincoln belongs to Norman now.

As for Kingsbury at what point does this guy lose his job?  He’s damn good to look at if you’re a woman but he sucks as a head coach.  He’s in his 6th year at Tech and has made ZERO progress.  There is NOTHING redeemable about him as a head coach other than his looks.  Seriously.  This dude has turned his look into tens of millions of dollars.  Good on him and his agent but bad on Tech.  It’s crazy most people forget he’s the guy that let Baker Mayfield leave Tech.  Somehow OU got two former Tech walk on quarterbacks in Mayfield and Riley while everyone at Tech was wooed at the cool and charm of Kingsbury.  I’m sure he’s fun to chase women with but he must be maddening if you’re a Tech football fan that likes winning football games.  I know Kingsbury doesn’t have the talent of OU but his Tech teams look lost.  Reminds me of his former mentor Kevin Sumlin.

Texas is in fact, not back.  Herman still has time to turn it around but the dude is 7-7 in 14 games in Austin.  He lost to a Maryland team in complete dis-array.  There’s no defending that Maryland team.  That Longhorn squad looked clueless and I think that starts at the top with Herman.  Herman is in a spiral I think his cockiness will only make it worse.  He seems to get distracted by things that don’t really help win football games.

West Virginia looks legit with Will Greier under center.  Something tells me it’s going to be OU and WVU running away from the conference all season.  The Big 12 really needs OU to run away with the conference again.  I’m not sure WVU has the brand recognition to get in the College Football Playoff with more than one loss.  Even with one loss WVU could be on the outside looking in depending on the other teams with one loss.  The CFP selection committee can say what they want but brand matters in their Final 4.  It is about the money from audience numbers in the end.

Ole Miss:

Coming into this season I thought Ole Miss would take a step back and make the SEC West a little easier.  I know they played Tech who is a real suspect team but Ole Miss has some legit talent at QB, RB, and WR.  They’re coached by a former offensive line coach so I have a feeling they’re going to have a much better offense and team than anyone expected.  They won’t be the easy win I was expecting coming into the season.  With Ole Miss set up like they are the SEC West is once again the toughest division in college football by a wide margin.  There’s not a division in college football that has the talent and coaching the SEC West has based on the first weekend.  That could change but the SEC West was 7-0 with convincing wins.

LSU:

Building on Ole Miss, LSU reminded everyone they’re not to be written off either.  Miami is not a Top 10 team but they’re still a pretty good football team and LSU dominated them.  LSU has done two things well for the last decade – play defense and run the ball.  Last night showed they’re still really good at those two things.  Why people were writing LSU off coming into the season I have no idea.  Last year they went 9-3 in the regular season losing early head scratchers to Miss St and Troy but then beat everyone else but Alabama.  LSU is still as talented as any football team in the country not named Alabama.  You put Jarret Stidham on that team and they’re a Top 5 team without a doubt.  The writing off of LSU coming into the season reminds me of 5-6 years ago when everyone wanted to write off Alabama after an early season loss each season.  Meanwhile Saban would just keep winning championships.  Meanwhile LSU is just going to play great defense and run the ball as well as anyone in the country.

The SEC West looks to be back on the rise when it looked like it might be trending down with the coaching changes since Les Miles left Death Valley.

Michigan/Notre Dame – Jim Harbaugh is not a terrible coach but he’s EXTREMELY overrated for what he’s done at Michigan.  For what he gets paid his lack of urgency at the end of that game was criminal.  He seemed utterly clueless or not interested in trying to get that game to overtime.  Michigan shouldn’t scare a decent opponent at all.  As for Notre Dame they’re a legit team.  I don’t think they’re on the level of Bama and Clemson when it comes to talent but I do think Notre Dame deserves mention with the next tier that includes Auburn, Washington, LSU, OU, OhSU, Penn St, and a couple others.  That’s a good Notre Dame team and MUCH better than what they had 2 seasons ago.  I thought Brian Kelly might be done but credit to him for getting that program turned around.

 

College football is back and we’ll find out on Saturday how close Jimbo is to Making Aggie Football Great Again.  I sure hope we’re all swilling Maroon Kool-Aid at tailgates after the game!

#MAFGA

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I’m Tired of 3 Crappy Games at Kyle Field

NCAA Football: Texas at Texas A&M

This post is in response to last week’s comments by Scott Woodward in the Houston Chronicle that Texas A&M was booked when Texas asked to schedule a home and home.  This post isn’t about playing Texas but I will give my thoughts on that later.  This post is putting some tarnish on the SEC and ACC when it comes to their scheduling.  Their 8 game conference schedule is creating too many crappy match-ups.

I’m okay with two crappy games a year at Kyle Field but I’m tired of three.  All teams in a “Power 5” conference should not schedule more than two non “Power 5” teams at home each season.  The Big 10, Big 12, and Pac-12 tend to already do this because they have a 9 game conference schedule.  Outside of those nine games they usually schedule a “Power 5” non conference game so they have at least 10 “Power 5” games a year.  Some schools go above and beyond it scheduling two non conference “Power 5” games a year.  Just last year USC scheduled Notre Dame and Texas out of conference while Texas scheduled Maryland and USC out of conference.  That left one crappy home game on their schedule.  That’s putting the fans first.

I get Woodward’s comments the SEC West is brutal.  As someone who who forks out a decent amount of money every season for tickets at Kyle Field, sitting through 3 crappy non conference games a year is brutal.  No dis-respect to the teams we’re playing but there really isn’t anything enjoyable about watching those games.  The Aggies should win those games in convincing fashion and if they don’t it’s even worse.  There’s nothing to be gained from those games from an enjoyment standpoint.  It’s basically schedule manipulation for an easy win and to hopefully keep the team healthy for the season.  I get why it’s done but it doesn’t mean I like it.  I know there’s also a financial benefit to scheduling those games but that doesn’t make it okay either.  Scheduling two crappy games a year at Kyle Field is plenty.  Let’s get rid of that 3rd game.

The SEC either needs to add that 9th conference game a year or require teams to schedule two “Power 5” teams every year outside of conference.  I get why the SEC isn’t eager to add a 9th game to the schedule because teams like South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia already have regular non conference in state rival games each season.  South Carolina plays Clemson, Florida plays Florida State, and Georgia plays Georgia Tech.  Sure, Georgia Tech isn’t what it used it to be but it’s still a “Power 5” rivalry game that’s slated for every season.  That’s basically a 9 game “Power 5” schedule for those schools.  That only allows for 3 free games to schedule each year while other schools have four.

Some teams in the SEC and ACC schedule two “Power 5” non conference games giving them ten “Power 5” games a year but not all.  There needs to be some consistency in the quality of opponents when it comes to non conference games.  It’s time for the SEC and ACC to come together and get on board with what the rest of the “Power 5” conferences are doing.  When they’re not doing it they’re really cheating the fans.  Some fans get better schedules while other fans suffer.

If you haven’t taken a look at some of the schedules for teams in the Big 10, Big 12, and Pac 12 you should do so.  I get there are some crappy teams in those conferences like Kansas and Illinois.  At least they’re conference games and not complete trash games like Northwestern St, Louisiana Monroe, or Alabama Birmingham.  There is nothing redeeming about any of those opponents other than glorified practices.  Let’s be honest.

I love the Clemson game at home this season but next year these will be the teams we play at Kyle Field – Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Texas State, Lamar, and UTSA.  Outside of Alabama and Auburn that’s not a very exciting home schedule.  South Carolina and Mississippi State will be competitive games but they’re not super intriguing.  Good conference games but that’s about it.  I know there’s Arkansas at Jerry World but that game doesn’t count for any home consideration right now.  It’s still a conference game and even if we brought it home and home there would still be 3 crappy games at Kyle Field based on how we currently schedule.

For those that argue the SEC West is brutal they’re absolutely right.  It’s the toughest division in college football.  But that’s what A&M signed up to play in.  The fans shouldn’t be punished when A&M is not playing those games.  The other reality is thanks to the College Football Playoff if you win the SEC Championship you’re all but a lock to get a spot in the College Football Playoff.  A loss in a non conference game doesn’t hurt you at all.  A win actually makes your resume look much better in case you don’t win the SEC and you’re looking for a spot.  Texas A&M is not Alabama so it’s not going to get the benefit of the doubt if it doesn’t win the SEC West in most seasons.  Wins in strong non conference games would only bolster a resume in that situation.  Sure, it could hurt but more than likely a quality win would do more to propel a team into the playoff than a loss hurting them.

The reality is non of this is changing for A&M or the SEC and ACC any time soon.  Fans at big schools pony up for their prime season tickets every year because taking off a year would mean losing your place in line.  It doesn’t mean it’s in the best interest of the fan.  It might be in the best financial interest of the school but that doesn’t always align with fan interest.  If you really think about what you’re getting for your annual donation and season ticket purchase every year it could be much better.  Just don’t expect it to change anytime soon.

As for playing Texas I’d actually like to see it.  I’d like for A&M and Texas to renew their annual rivalry like Florida and Florida State.  I know lots of fans on both sides come up with reasons why it shouldn’t happen but it’s really emotional reasons.  Like jilted lovers both sides come up with reasons like “We’ve moved on” and “We don’t need them.”  Neither of those make any real season.  Football in the state of Texas is better when A&M and Texas play each other annually.  They’re natural rivals even if some fans on either side like to pretend otherwise.

There’s no real downside to playing it because no matter the record in a given season EVERY fan on each side is going to somehow rationalize their team is better than the other team.  One team could be 6-6 while the other is 11-1 but the fan on the 6-6 side will find some rationalization for why their team would win that year.  You never lose to your rival in your mind and you’ll argue in endless circles whenever someone says differently.  Might as well line up the teams and see who would actually win.

Both teams get plenty of run in state so it’s not like some people don’t know who the schools are.  It won’t really affect recruiting that much because both teams are now selling two different things.  A&M is selling the SEC and Texas is selling the B12.  Who wins or loses that game won’t really affect how players feel about each school.  If anything it might help the recruiting at both schools as it will re-solidify A&M and Texas as the marquee football programs in the state.  They’re still perceptionally seen that way but having that game played every year solidifies it across the state.

It’s pretty obvious this game won’t return anytime soon but the reasons given always strike me as foolish.  It reeks of bitterness or jealousy.  When you’re confident you don’t care who you play.  You’re willing to line it up against the best and see what happens.  If you’re not good enough you make excuses accordingly.  I know I’m in the minority when it comes to A&M and Texas playing again but I’m not afraid.  I only see upside to these two natural rivals strapping it up against each other every year.  It’s good for the fans and the sport of college football.  Especially the season ticket holders.

Either way, I don’t care if Texas is on the schedule but three crappy games a year at Kyle Field needs to go right away.  It can happen if the powers that be want it to.  Don’t let their words of there’s no room on the schedule for it to happen fool you.  Money talks and if it meant more money it would happen tomorrow.  It won’t happen because fans will just keep sucking it up and paying their money.  Administration wins blaming a “full schedule” that could easily be bought out while putting a quality opponent in their place.  It’s not that hard unless you want to make it that hard.

Oh well, when do the Aggies take on Northwestern State?  Thursday?  Cool.  I’ll be there wearing maroon and cheering for the good guys.  Take my money please.

2018 Season Prediction

MAFGA 2018 Season Prediction Cropped

It’s no secret I’m a fan of Jimbo Fisher.  Since the rumors surfaced Sumlin was out and Jimbo was the target I was excited.  Jimbo Fisher is a legit college football head coach.  He loves the grind of coaching, recruiting, and leading.  The dude never slows down and is driven to win a National Championship.  You need some breaks to win it all but first you need to have ability and effort.  I have no idea what the tenure of Jimbo Fisher looks like at Texas A&M but I don’t think it will be from lack of ability and effort at the head coaching spot.

Even with that I don’t think we’ll see a dramatic improvement from a wins and losses standpoint from 2018 from 2017.  I definitely don’t see a repeat of 2012.  We simply don’t have the talent.  We’re also going through a system change so it will take some time to get over the hump of what we’ve seen in the past.  I’m confident with Jimbo we’ll get there though.

If you want to read my thoughts on why 2018 won’t be like 2012 you can read why here.

https://rcwouldhavegonefor2.wordpress.com/2018/06/08/2018-wont-be-2012/

Those thoughts center around the offense.  Defensively I think we have some talent at key positions but don’t have quality depth other than defensive tackle.  You need quality depth to win big in the SEC and we’re not there yet.  Jimbo is working on that but he’ll need a couple of seasons.

Let’s look at the 2018 Season game by game:

Northwestern State Demons (Win):

The Jimbo Fisher Era at Texas A&M kicks off on a Thursday night at Kyle Field on the SEC Network.  This should be a win without a doubt.  Jimbo’s first game at FSU was against Samford and they won 59-6.  Hopefully this game is similar and sets the tone for Jimbo in Aggieland.

An interesting note for this game is Dabo Swinney and Bobby Bowden are the only two coaches to ever win a National Championship in the BCS and CFP era but lose his first game at a school.  Bowden took over a horrible Florida State program in 1976.  Dabo lost his first game as Clemson coach against Alabama and Nick Saban in a neutral site game.  That was Saban’s second season and they went on to win the SEC West that season.  I think Dabo gets a pass in that game and 1976 was a different era.  Other than that, no National Championship coach has ever lost his first game as that school’s coach.  History says if you expect to win a national championship you better win your first game if it’s a winnable situation.  Hi Tom Herman!

One other note is both Mike Sherman and Kevin Sumlin lost their first game as Aggie Head Coach.  Sherman lost that stinker to Arkansas State and Sumlin lost to Florida.  Both games were at Kyle Field.  Dennis Franchione was the last Aggie coach to win his first game beating Arkansas State 26-11 at Kyle Field.

I can’t imagine a scenario where Jimbo loses and we’re worried about the ramifications of what it means.  We’ll start out 1-0 and keep chugging that delicious Jimbo Kool-Aid.

Clemson Tigers (Loss):

For Clemson I can’t imagine a scenario where A&M wins this game because of the Clemson defensive line against the Aggie offensive line.  Clemson has the best defensive line in the country with all four starters likely to go in the first two rounds of the NFL draft.  You should know my thoughts about the Aggie offensive line by now.  If not, click the link above why 2018 won’t be like 2012.

I do think there’s a chance the Aggies can win simply because I don’t think Dabo Swinney is a great coach.  I think he’s an outstanding coach but I put him the class of Mack Brown, Les Miles, and Bobby Bowden.  They recruit amazingly well and when they have a great staff they win a lot of games.  However, they don’t pay attention to the whole game adapting things when something is going wrong or struggling.  They just encourage and clap a lot.  Don’t get me wrong Dabo is a Top 10 coach in college football right now but he’s beatable by a great coach.

Clemson has lost to both Pittsburgh and Syracuse in the past two years so it’s possible the Aggies can sneak up on a much better Clemson team.  Auburn has also had close games against Clemson early in the schedule the past two seasons.  This isn’t an impossible win for the Aggies.

It’ll be a longshot as A&M just doesn’t have the offensive talent to compete with Clemson’s defense.  If A&M has any chance of winning this game it needs to be a defensive battle.  A&M won’t sustain many drives so they’ll either need to get some points off turnovers or have a couple of big offensive plays.  A&M won’t be able to do much between the tackles or have time for plays to develop downfield.  Any hope of moving the ball and scoring will require quick plays outside the tackles to Tray Williams or in short seams to the tight end which I assume will be Sternberger if the Maroon and White Game is any indication.

I think there’s a strong chance we see both Aggie quarterbacks in this game.  We’ll struggle to move the ball so I think Jimbo has different packages with each quarterback to see if one can move the ball better than the other.  Not sure it’ll matter but I think we’ll see both early on.  This will also give Aggie fans a chance to evaluate both quarterbacks in game and provide Jimbo the proper guidance on who to play.  That’ll be important for Jimbo to know which quarterback Aggie fans think is best.  Hopefully he’ll do a Twitter poll each week to determine who starts.

Coaching wise this will be Jimbo and Dabo’s ninth consecutive time to square off as head coaches.  They’re plenty familiar with each other from their time in the ACC together.  They’re split at 4-4 with Clemson winning the last 3 so Dabo definitely has momentum against Jimbo right now.  I think that momentum continues as Jimbo experiences his first loss as an Aggie coach.  Mike Elko is also familiar with Clemson having served as Wake Forest’s defensive coordinator prior to last season.

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks (Win):

This should be another easy win for Jimbo and the Aggies.  The only real interesting note here is ULM beat Nick Saban at Alabama in his first year as Alabama head coach.  If Jimbo does lose this game he can recover but I don’t think he loses this game.

Alabama Crimson Tide (Loss):

Speaking of Nick Saban, Jimbo takes his charges to Tuscaloosa for his fourth game.  That’s why he’s getting $7.5 million a season.  I don’t see any way the Aggies win this game.  Our offense won’t have enough firepower and I think Alabama will be able to move the ball on our defense.  Nick Saban doesn’t lose games like this.  That’s why he’s won 5 National Championships in 9 seasons.  That’s an amazing run.  Just amazing.

The one wildcard here is the Alabama quarterback.  It’s likely going to be Tua Tagovailoa which means this will be his first full game against a legit defense.  He certainly caught Georgia by surprise in the second half of the championship game but that won’t be the case here.  They start off against Louisville so that won’t be a big defensive test.  The Aggies will provide the first defensive test of his career so maybe they can fool him into some mistakes and take advantage with turnovers.

If Hurts plays there’s a chance the Aggies can win if we can shut down the run and not worry about the pass with Hurts.  It’s a tall order but Georgia showed how you beat Alabama with Hurts at quarterback.  He can’t make throws downfield so you have to shut down the run and get him in the situation where he has to.  Tall order but it’s how you beat Bama with Hurts at quarterback.

Alabama also has a new Offensive Coordinator in Mike Locksley but Saban has proven that’s never been an issue with him.  Maybe the Aggies can sneak up on a new OC and QB.  History says they can’t so I’m going with Alabama here.  2018 won’t be 2012.

Arkansas Razorbacks (Win):

The law of averages says at some point A&M should lose this game.  Interestingly enough A&M never beat Arkansas in 3 tries as a member of the Big 12 and has never lost in 5 tries as a member of the SEC.  For the most part this is a series that pitted Bobby Petrino against Mike Sherman and Bret Bielema against Kevin Sumlin.  Both sides hit CTRL-ALT-DEL after the season so now we have a third chapter with two new sets of coaches on each side.

There’s no doubt A&M will lose a game in this series as a member of the SEC but I don’t think this is the season.  Arkansas has gotten progressively worse talent wise under Bielema which was ultimately his undoing.  I think Chad Morris will be a MUCH better coach than Bielema but he’s a few years away from building up the offensive talent.  Y’all know how I feel about John Chavis but he’ll be working with less talent than he’s had in the last decade.  I think Jimbo will be able to exploit Chief’s tendencies.  Everybody else did at some point so hopefully Jimbo can too.  Chief likes to be aggressive and it doesn’t work when you don’t have the talent.

This won’t be an easy win and I think there will be a fair amount of points put on the board since there’s two strong offensive minds at work.  When the dust settles I expect A&M to be on the positive side of the scoreboard.

Also note this is another game with the opposing staffs having history with each other.  Morris was formerly the OC at Clemson so he’s matched up against a Fisher coached team and Elko lead defense.  It won’t matter though as the Aggies win pushing out the law of average a little further.

Kentucky Wildcats (Win):

I don’t know a ton about UK football other than a Stoops brother is their coach.  That’s about all Kentucky fans know about their football program as well.  Doing a little research they’ve been 7-5 the last two seasons and lost spare bowl games in the TaxSlayer and Music City.  Basically, they’re a little worse than A&M under Kevin Sumlin.

Getting Kentucky at home for an SEC FOOTBALL game should be a win.  If we can beat them in basketball in Aggieland then football shouldn’t be an issue.  I don’t think it’ll be a cake walk but this should be a game we control from start to finish.  At least I hope so.

Interesting nugget here is that Mark Stoops served as defensive coordinator under Jimbo for three seasons at Florida State.  That was right before he took the Kentucky job.  Hopefully Jimbo is like Saban where he crushes his former assistants.

South Carolina Gamecocks (Win):

This is a much tougher game than most people realize.  Will Muschamp is building a decent program at South Carolina.  They’re not a flashy team but they’re competitive.  I think Muschamp learned a lot after getting fired from Florida.  Sometimes you must take a step back to take a step forward.

South Carolina went 8-4 in the regular season last year finishing second in the SEC East.  Two of those losses were to Georgia and Clemson.  Nothing to be ashamed of there.  The other two were to A&M and Kentucky.  South Carolina finished the year beating Michigan in the Outback Bowl.  I know Michigan was down last year but that’s still a solid win for Muschamp.  Beating Harbaugh and Michigan in a bowl game is a damn nice win.

Jake Bentley returns for his third season as quarterback of the Gamecocks.  He’s a solid quarterback so South Carolina will move the ball and score points.  The question is how many.  I see this as a relatively low scoring game as Muschamp and Fisher play cat and mouse more than anything.

In the end I think A&M walks out of Columbia with a win but I’m not certain.  This is certainly one of those games that if A&M beats Arkansas and Kentucky with confidence they could slip up going on the road.  I just don’t see that happening in Jimbo’s first year.  The Aggies are playing to prove a lot.  A&M is 4-0 against the Gamecocks and it will extend to 5-0 this season.  The James Bonham trophy stays in Aggieland for its fifth straight season.  Y’all know that’s a thing, right?  There’s trophy for this “rivalry.”

Mississippi State Bulldogs (Win):

Mississippi State is a team that I think is about to fall off big time.  I think people are going to realize why Dan Mullen is an elite SEC coach.  Florida is about to take two steps forward while Mississippi State takes two steps back.  There’s going to be a lot of programs wishing they’d hired that Cousin Eddie look alike.  The dude can coach.

The Bulldogs won’t be a pushover with Nick Fitzgerald under center and a decent defense.  However, I don’t think you’ll see the brain farts A&M used to have against MSU with Sumlin going up against Mullen.  Mullen loved playing Sumlin every year because he could outcoach Sumlin and staff with ease.  Without Johnny, Sumlin was 1-3 against Mississippi State.  That’s pretty bad.  Clearly one guy can coach and the other can’t.  Now they’re both gone and things will change.

This is a win I feel pretty confident about considering the coaching changes.  One program got remarkably better at head coach.  The other program got remarkably worse.

Auburn Tigers (Loss):

Most people forget Auburn won the SEC West last season.  They also beat the two teams playing in the National Championship game.  I don’t care what you think about Gus Malzahn but that’s damn impressive.  Their two regular season losses were at Clemson and LSU.  Both games were within 8 points.  That’s a damn good regular season.  Gus’ offense will struggle every now and then but for the most part he always has a competitive Auburn team.

Jarret Stidham returns under center for Auburn.  That’s a big deal for their offense.  I think we all know he could be in maroon and white but if he’s in maroon and white then so is Sumlin.  It’s kind of like losing to Texas in 2011.  Sometimes addition does happen by subtraction.

Auburn has an underrated defensive team and their defensive line will give our offensive line fits.  I see this game playing out like the Clemson game.  It’ll likely be low scoring but in the end A&M won’t have enough talent to pull out the win.  It’s possible the Aggie offensive line is much improved by this time in the season but I just don’t see it happening in 2018.  This just feels like a loss with the talent Auburn has on their roster and especially under center.  Just take solace Stidham is the reason we have Fisher so it’s a short term sacrifice for a long term gain.

Ole Miss Rebels (Win):

This seems like one of the easiest wins on the schedule.  Definitely the easiest SEC win along with Kentucky.  They’ve been hammered talent wise by the recruiting and Hugh Freeze escort scandal.  Shea Patterson was one of two lone bright spots and he’s gone.  AJ Brown at receiver is the other bright spot but I’m not sure who’s going to get him the ball.  He’s one of the best receivers in the country but I don’t think he’ll be enough to beat A&M.

This is not a knock on the state of Mississippi as it’s fine state to visit with fine people but I think both of their major football programs are about to take major steps back.  Say what you want about Hugh Freeze but they won football guys with him as head coach.  Those days are over and aren’t likely coming back anytime soon.  I’m totally okay with that as I’d like a weaker SEC West.  Crazy to think a few years ago the SEC West had 7 teams with legit Top 25 talent.

UAB Blazers (Win):

This should be an easy win but UAB is a scrappy bunch.  Despite only their second year of football after being shut down for a few seasons they went 8-4 last season.  Sure, it’s the C-USA but they had wins over Southern Miss, Rice, UTSA, and UTEP.  I don’t think it happens but this could be one of those strange games that catches you by surprise late in the season between SEC games.

I say this every year but three non Power 5 conference games at Kyle Field is criminal.  We have 4 SEC games and 3 crappy teams this season.  Almost 50% of games at Kyle Field suck from an opponent standpoint.  We pay a lot of money for tickets and there should be only 2 non Power 5 conference games every season.  I’d be fine with 1 every season.  I get why it’s done but it still sucks for the fans.  I like watching A&M win but not against crappy opponents.

LSU Tigers (Loss):

This is the biggest game of Jimbo’s first season.  No matter what happens in the first 11 games (barring a total collapse) this game will have the most meaning.  Winning this game will not only get the LSU monkey off A&M’s back for the first time in the SEC but it will put us into the off season with some November momentum.  The 2010 and 2012 seasons seem like decades ago where we closed out with big wins in November.  Win this game and we get momentum for recruiting and the off season.  Lose this game and Jimbo looks like another Aggie coach that can’t close the season.  Not completely but it’s ammo for our opponents to use in recruiting.

I have no clue what to expect of LSU.  Ed Orgeron entertains me but I think he’s a below average head coach.  LSU is loaded with talent so they overcome a lot of head coaching mistakes.  He has some great coordinators which know how to utilize that talent.  LSU went 9-3 last season with head scratching losses to Mississippi St and Troy.  After those loses they only lost to Alabama before losing to Notre Dame in their bowl game.  That’s a damn good season for most programs.  For LSU it seemed like a complete collapse.  They still finished ranked at 18.  That’s no collapse.

This is a damn good LSU team despite some folks thinking the Tigers will fall off this season.  They have a tough schedule opening with Miami along with drawing Georgia out of the East along with their annual game against Florida.  Maybe their record won’t show they’re a good team coming into Kyle Field but they’re still a damn good football team.  The homer in me wants to think Jimbo can win this game but I don’t think this is the season it happens.  LSU still has too much talent for us to overcome them this season.  If our offensive line shows serious improvement we can win this game but until I see that I can’t pick A&M winning this game right now.

I hope like hell we win this game.  The difference between 8-4 with a loss to LSU and 9-3 with a win over LSU will be HUGE to the program.  Recruits and everyone else will take notice things could finally be different at Texas A&M.  11 games to be played before this one so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens with both teams during the season.

Summary:

I have the Ags going 8-4 in Jimbo’s first season with predictable losses against Clemson, Alabama, Auburn, and LSU.  It’s very possible we go 7-5 with an additional loss to South Carolina.  I also think it’s possible we go 9-3 with a win over LSU or Auburn.  I’m almost positive we win at least 7 games but not more than 9.  8-4 seems right based on the schedule, talent, and new coaching scheme.  I predicted 8-4 last season getting the Florida and Mississippi State games wrong o I wasn’t far off.  I don’t think I’ll be far off this season other.

Since Jimbo got here and based on what Sumlin left I’ve felt 2020 would be the season A&M competes for a SEC West championship.  Despite a lot of Jimbo Kool-Aid drinking this off season I think this team is lacking talent for a “break-through” 2018 season.  8-4 still fits in with my expectations for Jimbo assuming he holds the recruiting class.

You can read my overall expectations for Jimbo at Texas A&M here:

https://rcwouldhavegonefor2.wordpress.com/2018/03/27/expectations-for-jimbo-fisher/

Hold tight as Jimbo works to Make Aggie Football Great Again.  It’ll happen in due time.

#MAFGA

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Thoughts from Houston Coach’s Night

Jimbo Coach's Night

Nobody knows the eventual outcome of Jimbo Fisher’s tenure at Texas A&M.  He may never win the SEC West or he may win multiple national titles.  Only time will tell.  The telling thing will be how much he wins and loses.  It’s the only thing that matters in sports.  Sure, you want to win with integrity but at the end of the day the only thing fans really care about is wins and losses.  Jimbo’s tenure will be judged on wins and losses.  This much we know.

When Jimbo was hired I said if he doesn’t win big we might as well shut the Aggie Football program down.  I feel no different after seeing him at the Houston A&M Club Coach’s Night.  For 45 minutes Jimbo talked football and Aggieland at a pace that made the auctioneer on stage before him seem like he was talking slow.  This was after flying back from Atlanta where he spent all day talking at SEC Media Days.  Sure, he flew on a private jet so it wasn’t like he was fatigued from travel but regardless the man rattled off things about his team and Texas A&M at a pace and length most people in the audience couldn’t keep up with.  They became dis-interested not because what he said was boring but because their brain couldn’t keep up with Jimbo’s words.  Seriously.  Some people at my table gave up trying to follow along with what he was saying.  It got me excited.  You needed your brain’s full capacity to catch every word Jimbo was saying.

It’s clear Texas A&M finally has a legitimate football coach again.  It’s been since around 1995 that we’ve been in this situation.  The last legitimate football coach we had was R.C. Slocum before Mack Brown, Nick Saban, and Bob Stoops arrived on the scene and R.C. lost his way.  I’ll get to that in more detail in a bit.  I finally feel confident we have a coach with no question marks when it comes to being a college head football coach.

I won’t get into the details of what he said as it’s the same thing he’s said repeatedly in other press conferences but it’s crystal clear Jimbo Fisher knows and loves coaching football.  Jimbo carried a small piece of paper to the podium with a few notes but for 45 minutes he spoke completely from his brain.  His brain is filled with football knowledge.  Players, schemes, technique, coaches, and motivation he covered it all.  He knows football is a complex sport that combines all those things.  His brain is constantly thinking about all those things combined.  He’s very focused and he’s very driven.  That much is clear.  He wasn’t up there speaking to speak.  He was speaking about his knowledge and his expectations.  He constantly thinks and works to win football games.  He understands it’s not just plays and players that matters.  It’s every drill about technique in practice that matters.  It’s about his staff.  It starts with a bunch of individual things that must be combined to work in unison.  He knows he’s the leader and it starts with him.  He’s going to set the example for work and knowledge.

In addition to his football knowledge he’s quickly learned his A&M knowledge.  It was impressive the things he’s already realized about Aggieland.  He’s not learning about Aggieland to just speak about it.  He’s doing it because he’s figuring it out how it will help him win football games.  He’s using it to help recruit and he’s doing it to garner support from Aggies all over.  It is good though that Jimbo does seem to get Aggieland.  It’s a special place and he truly seems to understand that now more than ever.  Understanding Aggieland will only help him win games.  Plus, if he does win it all he’ll sell the school as much as the football program.  He’s going to take that next step we’ve yet to realize since joining the SEC.

I’ve never spoken with Jimbo personally but I don’t think he’d be any different than what you see on stage and in interviews.  He’s real and he’s raw.  He speaks from the brain more than the heart.  He’s not covering up any deficiencies.  Having helped put on Coach’s Nights in Houston and Fort Worth I’ve been able to be around every head coach since Jackie Sherrill.  Jimbo seems different than all of them.

Jackie is by far the most personable of all of them.  He knows football but Jackie is a natural salesman.  There’s no doubt why Jackie recruited like he did.  Make the paying the players joke if you want but it was the nature of the beast at the time.  Jackie could recruit for a reason beyond what was going on at the time.  He’s extremely personable.

R.C. Slocum is a fine person but he was stubborn as a coach.  He didn’t want to adapt to how football was changing and what other schools were doing.  Both on the field and in recruiting.  He thought showing up as R.C. Slocum wearing Aggie gear would be enough.  He won a lot but it wasn’t enough.  R.C. was a great coach when he took over from Jackie but he couldn’t sustain it.  Mack Brown, Bob Stoops, and Nick Saban exposed his deficiencies as a coach in my mind.  He’s a fine person but he was put in an outstanding situation and didn’t adapt to keep it going long term.

Dennis Franchione was an arrogant punk.  He felt he was better and smarter than everyone else.  He didn’t like being bothered by regular people.  He was a fraud as a coach as he rode some good luck with Gary Patterson and Ladinian Tomlinson at TCU.  He then inherited a loaded Alabama team before he headed to Texas A&M.  He had his work cut out for him at A&M but he was in over his head.  He masked it with arrogance until he couldn’t win enough.

Mike Sherman is as fine of a person as you’ll meet but he has no charisma and the big picture is not his strength.  He’s a very intelligent man at certain things.  Mainly offensive play calling.  He makes for an outstanding Executive Vice President but he’s not cut out to be a Chief Executive Officer.  His hiring as Head Coach at Texas A&M is still the most confusing thing I’ve ever seen.  I never got it then and I still to this day don’t get it.

Kevin Sumlin just wants to be a celebrity.  He doesn’t want to work because he’s not all that smart.  He caught lightening in a bottle with that 2012 team (and Case Keenum at UH) but the reality he’s not interested in being a great football coach.  He wants to give rah rah speeches and never look at film or work drills with a player.  He’s a great public speaker and a funny guy but he’s horrible as a head coach.  He’s made for a television headset and not a coach’s headset.

Jimbo seems different than all of them.  He has the raw mental horsepower to understand complexities and not be overwhelmed.  He has the curiosity to learn from others and change for the better.  He’s funny and charming enough that he can sell recruits.  He has the work ethic to set the example if you’re not willing to work for it you’ll never achieve it.  He seems humble enough that when assembling a staff he wants people to challenge him and not just compliment him.  He’s the leader but he wants independent thinkers offering feedback.  While he clearly knows a lot and likely knows more than any one person in the room he knows he doesn’t know it all.  Others can still offer him knowledge.

Jimbo referenced Scott Woodward several times last night.  It’s clear Jimbo wasn’t completely sure what he was getting into at Texas A&M and it wasn’t just about money.  He came to Texas A&M because of one person.  Jimbo believed that person when he was told he’d have more resources to win a National Championship than at Florida State.  That person is Scott Woodward.  Let’s never forget what Woodward means for the Jimbo hire.  He’s the man that made it happen.

I loved the Jimbo Fisher hire from the first day.  I didn’t have any reservations about him like I did with Fran, Sherman, and Sumlin.  From what I’ve seen from Jimbo since that day nothing has changed.  Seeing him speak in person I haven’t had faith in the Aggie Football program like this since the early 90s.

Maybe Jimbo never wins that National Championship.  Something tells me he will.  He’s done it once at Florida State and I think the timing is right for him to do it at Texas A&M.  I don’t think Tom Herman will be super successful at Texas so our main in state competitor for talent is susceptible.  I think in the next 2-3 years Nick Saban will step down as Bama coach.  I think LSU will wander aimlessly for a spell like before Saban got there.  I think Georgia and Florida are poised to rise in the East which hill hurt Auburn for recruiting.  You have to win the SEC West before worrying about a National Championship and it could get easier for A&M to do so.

I think everything is lining up for Jimbo to have one hellacious decade at Texas A&M.  It won’t happen this year as our offensive line is too weak.  I think by the third year Jimbo is going to have Texas A&M poised for a run at the National Championship.  I really do.  I don’t feel like I’m drinking the maroon Kool-Aid.  I really feel I’m looking at it objectively.  A part of success takes timing.  I think the timing is finally lining up for Texas A&M.  It’s about damn time.

If you’re an Aggie get ready to enjoy this next decade of Aggie Football.  It’s going to be like that period from 1985 to 1995 where there’s a realistic expectation win every game.  I’ve been behind the phrase Make Aggie Football Great Again for over a year now.  It’s about to happen.  When it’s all said and done Jimbo Fisher will have changed it to Made Aggie Football Great Again.

Get ready to #MAFGA

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2018 Won’t Be 2012

2012 Bama Line

Some Aggies are hoping Jimbo’s first year will be like Kevin Sumlin’s first year where we catch everyone by surprise.  The main reason Jimbo won’t replicate Sumlin’s first season in the record department is because of our offense.  Our offense simply won’t supply the firepower our 2012 offense did for a “breakthrough” first year for Jimbo.  Let’s breakdown the challenges facing the Aggie offense in 2018 compared to 2012:

Quarterback – Saying there’s no Johnny Manziel on this roster is an understatement.  There’s not a quarterback on this roster that’s even close to what Johnny brought to the table in 2012.  Johnny’s ability to run along with his pocket awareness made so much happen.  He’s a once in a lifetime player.  Starkel and Mond aren’t horrible QBs but they’re not outstanding QBs either.  They both have skill sets that are one dimensional for the most part.  Starkel is a pure pocket guy but doesn’t possess a cannon for an arm.  He’s what one would call a game manager.  That’s not a bad thing but Nick Starkel is not going to put a team on his shoulders and win a game we shouldn’t.  His job is to simply move the team up and down the field as much as possible without turning the ball over.  We won’t be lighting up any defense under Starkel.

Mond could still develop into a dual threat quarterback but nothing I saw in his first season leads me to believe that.  I know he was a true freshman but he’s not as quick as I hoped he’d be.  He certainly didn’t appear to have the burst of Manziel or Kyler Murray.  I think Trevor Knight was a better runner than Mond is.  I was shocked when Mond got walked down in the Arkansas game last year.  He had a wide-open sideline and a defender caught him from behind.  Guys with true elite speed don’t have that happen to them.  Think of all the times Trevor Knight ran away from people in the open field.  I haven’t seen that from Mond.  In addition, Mond is erratic as a passer.  I think he’ll improve under Jimbo but I’m not sure it’ll be enough for this team to take a major step forward from last season.

Step 1 one of eliminating hopes for a 2012 repeat in 2018 is the quarterback position.

Wide Receiver:

People forget how amazing the 2012 receiving corps was.  Everyone points to Mike Evans but there was quite a bit more in 2012 than most people realize.  That team also had Ryan Swope, Uzoma Nwachukwu, and Malcome Kennedy.  It’s sad to think about what happened with him but Thomas Johnson had a couple decent games including Alabama.  That was a REALLY good receiving corps.

For 2018 there’s no telling what we have.  Outside of Christian Kirk last season nobody really produced game in and game out.  Jhamon Ausbon appears to be the best receiver we have and we’re not sure how good he is.  He’s certainly no Mike Evans or even Josh Reynolds/Ryan Swope level at this point.  Other than Ausbon I’m not sure what else to expect from anyone.  Certainly Jalen Preston has a lot of promise but he’ll still be a true freshman in the SEC.  I think he could be a complete stud by the time he leaves A&M but in 2012 he won’t be a dominate receiver.  2012 had a complete stud in Mike Evans, a great receiver in Ryan Swope, and then two really solid guys in Nwachukwu and Kennedy.  I’m not sure the 2018 will have one great receiver unless Ausbon takes a major step forward.  He has the talent but it remains to be seen if he actually does it.  There is some other receiving talent on the roster but it must take some major strides and I’m not sure if it’s quite there yet.

Offensive Line:

This is where the 2012 and 2018 teams will have the biggest difference.  Even bigger than quarterback.  Everyone talks about Manziel, Evans, and even Swope from 2012 but most people forget about that offensive line.  That offensive line was one of the greatest college offensive lines ever assembled.  Every starter on that offensive line started in the NFL at one point.  Four guys were taken in the first round but all five guys not only made an NFL roster but actually started an NFL game at one point in their career.  I don’t know how many collegiate lines can lay claim to that.  It can’t be many.  The 2012 offensive line was one for the ages.  Maybe more than Johnny Manziel if you want to truly dissect it.  It’ll be easiest to get a game changing quarterback than it will be to get five guys that will start together in college and then each start in the NFL.  It doesn’t happen often.

As for the 2018 Aggie offensive line nobody knows what to make of it.  The only guaranteed starter is Erik McCoy and right now it’s not certain where he starts.  He’ll either be center or guard simply because the staff must figure out the four best guys to go with him and what position they start.  It’s great McCoy is that good and has the versatility but it’s not good the staff is waiting to see where he’ll plug best along the line because the other four guys are such unknowns.

It looked like someone was taking Koda Martin’s job even if he came back fully healthy which I think led to his transfer.  We’ll be starting someone with little experience and have no depth at the position.  That’s not a good thing for a very important position on the offensive line.  Not to knock any individuals but we just don’t have any talent or depth on the offensive line outside of Erik McCoy.  I think McCoy might be the only guy that would be in the two deep at Bama or start for schools like Auburn and LSU.  Everybody else coming back would just be fighting for a roster spots on the better teams in the conference.  We have some solid true freshman coming in but I always tell people the SEC is not a league that favors true freshman.  Especially at offensive line.

I know everybody loves Jim Turner and I do as well but I’ve taken a step back from him over the last two seasons.  I think he has a LOT to prove over the next two seasons.  Some people like to blame Sumlin and Mazzone for the shortcomings of the line but he’s still the OLine coach.  He holds a lot of responsibility for the overall results.  He signs off on the recruits and coaches them individual technique, fight, and teamwork.  We’ve missed a lot of assignments or calls over the last two seasons.  We’ve also had lineman get their ass whipped at the line of scrimmage.  I’m talking not even getting any engagement on certain plays.

Our recruiting under Turner his first two seasons has been less than stellar and our play has matched that as well.  I’m not saying he’s on the hot seat by any stretch but if you measure his results based solely on the roster and performance on the field it certainly doesn’t match up with the perception he’s one of the best offensive line coaches in the country.  Sometimes perception and reality don’t match when you judge things objectively.  If you were to objectively Turner’s second stint in Aggieland the performance and talent of his unit certainly don’t match up with the perception for what kind of offensive line coach he supposedly is.  Turner has a lot to prove this season in my eyes.

Offensive line recruiting has been amazing of recent so something has apparently changed.  Maybe it’s the Jimbo effect or maybe it’s true Sumlin was an albatross around Turner’s neck in recruiting.  I’m glad for the recruits that have committed for future classes but the success of the 2018 team centers around the performance of the offensive line more than any unit.  Right now, it doesn’t look good for our offensive line in 2018.  No doubt having a tight end will provide a huge help but the reality is the talent level is not where it should be for a program like Texas A&M.  Turner and Jimbo are working on that but it’s not going to be enough for 2018.

 

Maybe the Aggie offense surprises me in 2018 but I think Jimbo has a couple of years of work ahead of him to get the offense to championship caliber level.  If Aggies are expecting Jimbo to have the same success record wise as Sumlin in his first year it’s likely not happening.  There’s a MAJOR talent difference between the 2012 Aggie offense and the 2018 Aggie offense that coaching and scheme won’t be able to overcome.

I do believe Jimbo needs to go 8-4 this season but he won’t go 10-2 during the regular season like Sumlin’s first year.  Bama and Clemson are certain loses and there will be at least one more if not two more loses on the schedule.  It’s possible we go worse than 8-4 but 8-4 should be Jimbo’s baseline for his first season.  He needs to do some building to win the SEC and that means winning 8 games in the regular season.

The dream scenario is likely going 9-3 with a win over LSU and then win our bowl game ending the season at 10-3.  If that happens it won’t appear to be as good as Sumlin going 11-2 with wins over Alabama and Oklahoma.  However, 10-3 with wins over LSU and a bowl win in 2018 will be MUCH better than Sumlin’s 2012 season.