7 OTs

Thoughts on the LSU Game

Hold on a Second Final Play

After the Clemson game this year I said the Aggies made a statement they could play with anyone in the country.  On Saturday night the Aggies began to change the perception the Aggie program is in fact “ain’t gonna be like it used to be.”  I’ll do my full season analysis next week but this week is about that seven overtime thriller at Kyle Field where the Aggies beat LSU.

8-4 with a win over LSU to close out the season looks COMPLETELY different than 7-5 with yet another loss to LSU to close out the season.  A&M walked out of Kyle on Saturday night with a regular season record of 8-4 while LSU walked out with a record of 9-3.  You change those to 7-5 and 10-2 and the two programs look completely different compared to one another.  COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

Add seven overtimes where the Aggies and Tigers went blow for blow with the Aggies coming out on top and those who watch college football certainly took notice.  The Aggies suddenly look like they could be a different program under Jimbo Fisher.  I say “look like” because there’s still a LONG way to go.  With a loss to the Tigers, fans of college football simply assume it’s the same old thing with yet another Aggie coach.  That win makes everything look different heading into the offseason.  Even with seven overtimes had the Aggies lost it wouldn’t have felt much different than before.  It would have felt much closer to being different but in the end wins and losses matter more than anything.  The Aggies beat LSU for their final game.  That’s really all the matters.

For the first time since 2012 the Aggie head coach has something to sell going into the offseason.  Going back to the days of Fran, Sherman, and Sumlin the offseason was generally a tough sell due to how November turned out.  We had two outliers in 2010 when Sherman beat Oklahoma, Baylor, Nebraska, and Texas and then in 2012 when Sumlin beat MSU, Bama, UTEP, and Missouri.  Other than those two seasons November has been pretty bleak the last two decades of Aggie Football.

I’ve said since Jimbo got here the biggest issue with Fran, Sherman, and Sumlin was they could never take consistent positive steps.  They all had one good season and one good recruiting class but they could never consecutively build on those.  We’d have a good season or recruiting class and then the head coach would snub their toe with a bad season or recruiting class and any momentum gained would fall apart.

I know 8-4 may not look much different than season’s past but beating LSU to close out the season changes the perception of how that 8-4 looks.  Jimbo Fisher has the whole offseason to sell a different A&M program thanks to the victory over LSU.  He closed out the 2018 recruiting season really strong and this win over LSU pretty much ensures the stellar class of 2019 stays intact.  If a 2019 committed recruit wants to go somewhere else after watching or experiencing that seven overtime thriller then that’s not on Jimbo.  That kid just wanted to go somewhere else.  This win also gives Jimbo serious ammunition to sway those final studs on the fence for 2019 things are different in Aggieland.  For the 2020 class and beyond he can keep selling the same story with minimal questions.

There’s a long way to go until Jimbo competes for a national championship but he’s making consistent positive steps since he got here a year ago.  It wasn’t easy with seven overtimes but the end result is all that matters.  For the first time since joining the SEC the Aggies have a win over LSU.  An Aggie season finally ends on a high note for the first time in 6 years.  Don’t underestimate what this win can mean long term.

Before I look at the game make no mistake LSU is a legit football team.  They’re EASILY one of the 10 best programs in the country.  They’re likely Top 5 in talent alone.  Other than the Aggie loss they’ve only lost to Alabama and Florida which as off this week’s playoff ranking are Top 10 teams.  They have convincing wins over Miami, Georgia, and Mississippi State.  For some reason a lot of people want to write off the LSU program every year, but LSU is loaded with talent and a tough game every damn season since Nick Saban got there.  They are literally one second away from being ranked in the Top 5 or 6 of this week’s playoff ranking.  Funny how that one second can change the perception of two programs but it did.

By the way – I think the name of this game should go down as “Hold on a Second.”  So much changed due to one single second.  Sports are funny that way.  Feel free to razz your LSU fans with “Hold on a Second” anytime you want.

Overall:

Obviously the referees’ calls were a big factor in this game.  There were certainly some close calls that wound up going the Aggies way but I’ll just say it feels good to be on the good side of the referees’ calls.  It happens every game.  For all the Aggies blaming the Clemson loss this season and going back to the 2014 LSU loss on the referees, we were finally on the right side of those calls that did or didn’t happen.  It tends to balance out over time.

The reality is in a game one play doesn’t make a game.  It’s a collection of plays despite how people want to fixate on single plays.  Ed Orgeron can blame “one second” all he wants but the reality is his team had seven overtimes to overcome that “one second”.  The Aggies certainly benefitted from the referees deciding that second should be added back.  At the same time, LSU certainly had their opportunity to take care of the ref’s decision to prove who was the better team.

Based on what I’ve seen, the calls on Kellen’s knee and the time with the spiked ball were all correct calls.  The call on Greedy Williams pass interfering with Kendrick Rogers during the 2 point conversion in the seventh overtime can be debated.  The reality is there was contact and the ball was in the air.  It’s not a made-up call by any stretch.  I thought Williams grabbed Rogers hair which is an extension of Rogers’ body, but I haven’t looked at a replay to analyze it like the Zapruder film.

While Eddie O and LSU fans are griping about the officials overturning calls on the field they conveniently forgot about the Myles Jones “interception” returned for a touchdown.  Luckily, replay overturned it correctly so it wasn’t just the Aggies benefitting from replay correcting wrong calls on the field.  LSU may not like it but in the instances in question replay did in fact get it correct.

LSU fans also seem to forget that up until 6:41 left in the 4th quarter the Aggies either lead the game or had it tied.  This was a closely disputed game so it really wasn’t the refs that decided the game.  The Aggies and Tigers were going at it for most of the game.

If Trayveon Williams doesn’t fumble that ball in the 4th quarter allowing the Tigers to tie it up the Aggies likely win going away.  The Aggies were starting to exert their will on the ground.  If Trayveon holds onto the ball the Aggies likely try a field goal at minimum rather than give up a quick 7 points allowing LSU to tie.  My point is not to take away from the LSU defense as they absolutely made the play to cause Trayveon to fumble.  But, football is a collection of plays and “one second” or another single play doesn’t totally alter the outcome all by itself.  The Aggies had to be in the game for that “one second” to matter like it did.

It’s crazy to think if Trayveon holds onto that ball it could have been a “normal” win in regulation.  As it turned out it’s a win that any Aggie fan alive will never forget.

One final overall thought is there’s no doubt to me Joe Burrow was the MVP of that game.  His team lost but I can’t think of a single player on that field who had a more valiant individual effort than him.  That dude threw almost 40 passes, carried the ball over 20 times, and was sacked 6 times.  He kept coming though.  That was one gritty effort by him so he deserves some serious props.

Offense:

Offensive Line:

I’ve been critical of these guys all year but on Saturday night they played their best game of the season.  They were tremendous.  They weren’t without fault as Mond was officially sacked twice and hurried another 6 times.  For the most part the line gave Mond enough time with a pocket.  They were also opening holes in the running game.  The Aggies had 107 total plays in this game and the Aggie offensive line showed up for every damn one of them.  I can’t say enough good things about the effort these guys put forth on Saturday night.

I don’t know where it came from but it was a welcome sight and truly the key to the Aggie victory.  It was certainly a team effort but the Aggie offensive line took a really solid LSU defensive line and imparted their will for the most part.  They hadn’t done anything like this all season.  They played above the standard they had been playing to all season.  Kudos to Jim Turner and his charges as they picked the right game to make their presence felt.

Trayveon Williams:

I’ve already talked about his fumble so I’m not talking about it anymore as it was a blip for what he did do.  What Trayveon Williams did on Saturday night should be up there with what Jamar Toombs did against Texas in 1999.  I know the Nebraska game gets Toombs more credit but he only carried the ball 10 times in that game.  In that ‘99 Texas game he carried 37 times for 127 yards and 2 scores Toombs did the heavy lifting that day on the way to an Aggie victory.  On Saturday night Trayveon carried 35 times for 198 yards and two touchdowns.  Trayveon was doing the heavy lifting for this offense behind the effort of the offensive line.

His longest run was only 24 yards but he carried 35 times for an average of 5.7 yards per carry.  Against that LSU defense it was an AMAZING effort.  His line was giving him holes to run through but Trayveon’s ability to find and exploit the holes was amazing.  Of those 35 carries he only had 5-6 for losses and they were only for a yard or two.  All night long Trayveon was finding holes to run through and getting second effort yards.  Can’t say enough about Trayveon’s will on Saturday night.  Next to Burrow no skill player gave more grit on that field than #5 on the Aggie offense.

I know I was critical of Trayveon’s pass blocking ability earlier in the season but he’s made TREMENDOUS strides in that.  I haven’t seen him miss a pass block in the last few games.  Kudos to him for improving that important aspect of his game.

I know I also said he was a mis-match behind this offensive line because he wasn’t a between the tackles runner.  He ran between the tackles all night against LSU.  A lot of credit goes to his offensive line but on Saturday night Trayveon was looking for yards and wasn’t settling until he was brought to the ground.  He consistently changed speeds and direction looking for holes and avoiding contact in the middle of the field.  He wasn’t just looking to get outside.  He ran hard all night cranking out yards even getting two short yardage goal line touchdowns which we hadn’t seen much of all season.

I don’t know if he comes back next year because at this point he’s pretty complete.  His issue is going to be his style of running back isn’t in big demand in the NFL.  The NFL is a numbers game and there’s a lot of guys that look like Trayveon.  He’s not built to be an every down back so he won’t get drafted very high if at all.  He can certainly last in the NFL for a decent period as his work ethic and durability this season are some positive signs for that.  He just needs to find the right situation for him.

Trayveon will make the best decision for himself and his family.  It certainly won’t be easy because he’s already accomplished a lot at Texas A&M.  If he decides it’s time to pursue his NFL career then Aggies need to wish him the best.  If he decides he wants to come back for his final season then Aggies just need to stand and smile with open arms.  I simply want what’s best for him.  He’s earned it this season.

Wide Receivers:

For the receivers in this game it’s really a tale of two parts.  The first 59:30 and then everything after that.  I didn’t think the receivers played exceptionally well during the regulation part of the game.  Sure, Kellen Mond wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire but the receivers weren’t getting a ton of separation and when they were they weren’t making the catches.

The greatest example of this was the second possession of the second half.  LSU had just gone down and scored to tie the game up at 17-7.  The Aggies come out and run two beautifully designed plays were both Kendrick Rogers and Quartney Davis are running across the field set up for a solid gain if they catch the ball.  Mond puts the ball where they can catch it but neither guy made the catch.  We’d wind up going 3 and out for the second series in a row.  Either of those guys make one of those catches and we likely get a 20-40 yard gain on the completion.  The plays were there but the receivers didn’t execute.

Ausbon and Sternberger had some nice completions in regulation but they also had a couple passes they couldn’t quite bring in.  Sternberger also had a nice TD in OT.  Sternberger is kind of who he is.  He’s a little inconsistent but he’s a huge weapon for this Aggie offense.  As for Ausbon he really reminds me of someone who could be a Michael Irvin style receiver when he played for the Cowboys.  Not the fastest guy on the field but Ausbon can use his size to be a big-time possession guy.  Not sure Ausbon will ever turn into an explosive receiver like Evans, Reynolds, or Kirk but he’s plenty talented to be a big part of the Aggie offense for the next couple of years.  He and Mond are developing a rapport in certain situations so I hope it keeps developing.

As for Quartney Davis and Kendrick Rogers these two guys knew when to show up.  These guys were HUGE in getting the game to overtime and in overtime.  Davis’ TD catch at the end of the game was beautiful as was his catch in the seventh OT to tie it up.  Davis has some serious explosive ability but he just needs to become more consistent.

Kendrick Rogers shows up when there’s lights on and Tigers at Kyle Field.  He’s been spotty all season but late in the games against Clemson and LSU he’s flat out balled out.  I’ve been saying since the Arkansas game he’s not good at catching balls when his legs are moving forward.  If his legs are going sideways or stationary and the ball is in the air he’s going to make a play for it.  He’s basically a basketball player in pads right now.  He’s been clutch in some big games at Kyle.  The ball he caught with the LSU defender draped on him was by far his best catch but don’t discount his winning two-point conversion.  He saw Mond scrambling to his left and immediately reacted changing his route getting to a spot where he was wide open and Mond could make the throw.  Rogers has a lot of development but it’s clear around the goal line he’ll go get the ball.

All in all this receiving corps has a lot of development to do.  Despite that, there’s not enough good things to say about how they showed up when it mattered most on Saturday night.  There’s something to be said for not shying away from the moment and the entire receiving corps stepped up when it was needed most.

Kellen Mond:

Oh boy, here we go.  Kellen Mond all season has basically been the President of the United States.  Half the Aggies support him and the other half don’t like him.  That’s not meant to be political in any way but no matter the party of the President half the country supports them and the other half bitches about them.  I feel like that’s Kellen Mond right now.  He can’t win the support of half the Aggie fanbase no matter what he does.

Kellen Mond is not without fault but make no mistake Kellen Mond was a big reason why the Aggies put 31 points on LSU in regulation to send it to overtime.  He then went toe to toe with LSU for seven overtimes.  He could have EASILY backed down after the interception that wasn’t but he didn’t.  He got up from that play and delivered three beautiful passes to get the Aggies tied up.  There’s not enough to be said for Mond’s effort after Aggies at home had turned off their TV sets while Aggies in the stands either headed for the exit or slumped in their seats.  For the record I never headed to the exit but I’ll admit I was slumped in my seat.  Oh I was slumped in my seat wondering how we’d ever take that next step.

When he hit those first two passes after the interception was overturned there was a lot of anxious energy built up in Kyle Field.  When he hit Quartney Davis for the touchdown that tied it Kyle Field erupted.  That anxious energy would never leave for the rest of the night.  From that moment Mond never backed down and made play after play to help lead the Aggies to victory.  It wasn’t just him as it was a team effort but you can’t deny he made some awesome plays when the Aggies needed it most.  He never backed down or got flustered.

Everyone has their opinion on Mond and this game likely didn’t change it much.  If you don’t like him you still question his overall ability but hopefully you respect his ability to make plays when it’s needed.  He helped the lead the Aggies back in a game for the ages and he deserves a lot of respect for that even if you don’t like him as a player.

I’m tired of trying to change people’s mind on Mond.  Before the comeback I was considering not even doing a blog for this game.  So many Aggie fans would have been validated because they could just say “Mond sucks” and blame the entire loss on him.  There would have been no changing people’s mind on Mond.  Hopefully at least coming out of this game the people that don’t like Mond have some respect for his ability to make plays.  If you don’t see that there’s nothing I can say after his final three throws in regulation and his effort in seven overtimes.  You think he sucks and you’re entitled to your opinion.  I just happen to think you’re wrong.

My final thought on Mond as I watch him more – I think Jimbo has a bag of plays he know will work.  The other plays require a little more read and react to see what the defense will do.  When Jimbo calls those plays he thinks will work then Mond tends to execute them flawlessly.  The best examples are the touchdown passes to Davis at the end of regulation and the Sternberger pass in the 6th overtime.  Both of those passes Kellen knew exactly where the guy was going to be open and threw a perfect pass right away.  They weren’t easy passes but Mond made them look easy due to quick recognition and reaction.

I think there’s a lot more method to Jimbo’s madness with Mond.  I’m not saying Jimbo is having Mond struggle to set up good plays, but I do think there are plays where Jimbo is very specific to Mond on who will be open.  When it’s there Mond hits it more times than not.  When it’s not, Mond gets a little confused and isn’t sure where the play will develop so he struggles.

I don’t know what the next two years look like with Kellen Mond at A&M but I see some promise as he and Jimbo grow together.  It could certainly be a lot worse than having Kellen Mond under center the next two seasons.  If you’re one of those people that will never come around on Kellen Mond that’s fine.  One game doesn’t make a quarterback.  Just know in two more years you’ll get the chance to have a candidate you can get behind.  Maybe Mond gets impeached and thrown out of office but I don’t see it happening right now.  Jimbo clearly sees a lot of promise in Mond and Saturday night proved Jimbo more right than wrong for the season.  Right now I don’t see anyone unseating Mond unless he just totally regresses but I don’t see that happening.  He’s been solid all season despite what some Aggies think.

Defense:

Front 7:

Not much to say about these guys.  They did what they normally do.  They gave up one run of 46 yards and the next longest run by a running back was for 16 yards.  Take away that 46 yard run and the LSU running backs had 20 rushes for 66 yards.  That’s a little over 3 yards a rush which is respectable for a defensive effort against LSU.

The wildcard in this game was Joe Burrow as I don’t think anyone expected him to run the ball over 20 times.  His running was really the difference in this game.  Without his running effort there’s no way this game gets to overtime much less seven of them when it did get there.  I think LSU saw a lot of what Mississippi State did with Nick Fitzgerald.  Burrow was up for the task and he certainly delivered.

I’m not letting our defensive line off the hook for Burrow’s effort but they weren’t really prepared for his running and adjusted pretty well.  The Front 7 accounted for 5 sacks on Burrow so he was feeling pressure.  It was just a constant battle between our Front 7 and Burrow all night long.  Sometimes we got the better of him and other times he got the better of us.

I thought the two most impressive series for this unit was LSU’s final possession in regulation and first possession of overtime.  LSU got the ball back with 2:32 on the clock and A&M only having two timeouts.  It was no secret that LSU was going to run the ball but the defense held LSU to 5 yards on three tries ensuring LSU would punt giving the Aggies one final chance.  They did their job in that moment when we’ve seen PLENTY of Aggie teams not make a final stand to get the ball back.  They stood their ground when they had to.  That was a big effort by the Front 7 there.

LSU got the ball first in the overtime and the Aggie defense along with the 12th Man pushed LSU back 7 yards on three possessions.  The 12th Man helped get LSU to false start and then Otaro Alaka sacked Burrow for a five-yard loss setting up a 49 yard field goal.  I was certain LSU would miss it but either way momentum was squarely in the Aggies favor.  As we know LSU made that field goal and the Aggie offense couldn’t punch it in from 1st and goal at the 1 when we got the ball but the Aggie defense never gave up all game long.

The Front 7 also had a great effort on the final LSU play where the pass was tipped on the two point conversion.  An LSU receiver was able to catch it and tried to work his way into the end zone but the defense held him out.  An underrated as who knows what could have happened if the ball wasn’t tipped or the defenders weren’t looking to make the tackle after the tip.  They didn’t give up until the LSU receiver was on the ground short of the goal line.  This unit played heads up ball for most of the night.

I think what’s most amazing about this unit is I’m not sure there’s an NFL starter other than Tyrel Dodson.  I think a lot of these guys will see NFL rosters but I’m not sure there’s any of these guys that will be every down starters in the NFL.  It’s pretty amazing to think what these guys have achieved as an entire unit.  Don’t get me wrong there’s a lot of talent with these guys but there’s as much smarts and effort as there is talent.  These guys have played as an entire unit all season long and it was a remarkable run.  If there’s one group that reminds me of the 2012 team it’s these guys without a doubt.  There’s a lot of comparisons between the Front 7 in 2012 and 2018.

Secondary:

This unit didn’t play half bad but LSU really didn’t test them.  LSU never took any real deep shots downfield but I think that was partially by design.  LSU wanted to keep the ball moving and chewing clock.  They didn’t want to get into 3rd and long situations which they didn’t for the most part.  LSU was able to convert 10 of 20 third down conversions and were really successful converting third downs early in the game.

The Aggie secondary was never really tested and they gave up a lot of completions but they kept LSU from breaking off a big pass reception.  There’s some credit owed there as we’ve seen this season where a short pass turned into a much longer gain.  Still a lot of changes need to be made to this secondary but for one night it was nice to see the Aggie secondary limit the opposing receivers to no big plays.

I think LSU copied a lot of what Mississippi State did with Fitzgerald going after high percentage passes. Burrow was 25 of 38 passing which is 66% and damn good for an LSU team.  Burrow is a much better passing quarterback than people think.  All year long he’s made some pretty solid throws.  His longest completion was for 25 yards.  That was in overtime on the first play of a possession so there were no big gains through the air in regulation.  Burrow just made smart throws and turned in a remarkable performance.  Lucky for A&M it simply wasn’t enough.

The one person I’d like to point out in the secondary is Myles Jones.  Since the Ole Miss game he’s been really solid.  He’s been a MAJOR addition to this secondary because it got Charles Oliver off the field.  Nothing against Oliver personally but he’s terrible at corner and teams know to pick on him.  Whenever Oliver came in for Jones in overtime it wasn’t a surprise Oliver wound up getting a pass interference call.  It’s obvious it’s a different secondary with Myles Jones at corner over Charles Oliver.  Jones is a sophomore so let’s hope he keeps developing as he’ll probably need to start another year while some of these young recruits adapt to SEC play.  At minimum he’ll provide nice depth at a position where we have none right now.

Overall:

This was a solid but not spectacular effort by the Aggie defense.  I expected LSU to score 23 points in regulation and they did almost that at 24.  In the end they did just enough to give the offense chances to win which the offense finally did in the seventh overtime.  This has been a pretty remarkable unit all season despite the lack of talent in the secondary.  The defensive line has been as productive as any unit recent memory.  That defensive line has been the biggest key to the success of the defense.

The other part is Dodson and Alaka.  I’ll say it now as I’ve been afraid to say it all year – how Alaka and Dodson were able to stay healthy all season is the real story of this defense.  We have NO depth behind those two guys.  I mean ZERO depth.  If one or even both of those guys goes down this defense looks COMPLETELY different.  By different I mean TERRIBLE.  We need to thank Sweet Baby Jesus for the health of Dodson and Alaka all season.  I’m not kidding.  Their ability to stay healthy was the real key to this defense.  Those guys go down and there’s no way we’re 8-4 with a win over LSU.

I can finally write that last paragraph.  I’ve been wanting to mention how important their health was to this defense but was afraid I’d jinx it.  Thank you Sweet Baby Jesus for their health this season.  Amen.

Special Teams:

Solid effort by this unit.  Seth Small was perfect which was no small feat with the pressure in this game.  Mann was booming punts.  Paul wasn’t spectacular on punt returns but there’s one thing he didn’t do – turn the ball over.

Like Trayveon’s fumble being a key moment for LSU gaining momentum, the Aggies recovering the fumbled punt by LSU was a MAJOR swing in the Aggies direction.  The Aggie offense took the ball and scored putting the Aggies up 24-17.

I’ve been saying all year if you don’t have a dynamic punt returner then give me someone that can confidently catch the ball.  That’s been Paul all year other than the Ole Miss when he was off for some strange reason.  If LSU doesn’t fumble that punt I’m not sure what that game looks like.  While not spectacular Paul was solid at fielding punts all season except for that one game.  Don’t underestimate what that meant to this team all season.

 

Looking Forward:

In addition to everything I’ve mentioned above for this win helping change the perception of A&M it also provided a major immediate benefit.  Thanks to this win A&M is likely headed to Florida for a New Years Eve or New Year’s Day game against a Big 10 team.  This keeps us out of Nashville, Memphis, or Houston.  Florida is much more prestigious for a bowl game than those locations.  Plus, we’ll likely match up pretty well against whatever Big 10 team we face.

It’s looking like the Outback Bowl right now unless the conference championship games have some major chaos.  If the Outback Bowl happens the Aggies will decide for all of America if there’s going to be free coccy skrimps or a free big ass fried onion on January 2nd.  Who ya’ got, Ags?  Personally, I hope the Aggies are the coccy skrimp team as they’re just as tasty and better on the waistline.  That dipping sauce is divine.  If it’s a big ass fried onion I’ll be okay with that too as long as the Aggies win a bowl game proving their taking even more steps towards a national title.

Things are looking good for Jimbo to be the right guy to Make Aggie Football Great Again.  It just took seven overtimes to keep us on that path.  Hold on a Second – a night for the ages for Aggie Football at Kyle Field.

#MAFGA

 

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