Auburn

Thoughts from the Auburn Game

Auburn v Texas A&M

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offense:

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

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

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

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

Defense:

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

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

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

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

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

Special Teams:

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

Going Forward:

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

Chief vs. Gus

chief-vs-gus

For the upcoming matchup with Auburn I got to wondering how Chief and Gus have matched up over the years as DC vs OC/Head Coach.  Even as head coach there’s no doubt Gus has his hand on how Auburn runs their offense.  Make no mistake Gus likes to run.

I went and looked at their matchups between LSU/A&M and Auburn with Chief and Gus at the helm.  I didn’t go back and dig into statistics for each game.  I just wanted to see if there was a general pattern and if anyone got the better of the other for the most part.

Here’s the summary of the matchups:

chief-vs-gus-chart

Based on this I’m not sure what to think.  Early on it looked like Chief owned Gus with the exception of the year Gus had Cam Newton and even then Chief held that offense to 24 points and LSU only lost by 7.  It also appears the home team had an advantage until last season where Gus came in and ran over Chief’s first Aggie defense.  All I can really glean from that is Chief got the better of Gus the first four years including Gus’ national championship year as head coach but not the year Gus had Cam.  But, Gus has owned Chief their last two match-ups so they’re dead even at 3 to 3.

I like the results the first four times they matched up but man the last two times really make you scratch your head if Chief now struggles against Gus.  Is that what we should expect this Saturday?  I honestly don’t know.  I like to think based on this defense Chief can shut down Gus’ desire to run which you know Gus is going to want to do.

In looking at Auburn’s two games this year they struggled to run against Clemson only getting 87 total rush yards and then blew it open against Arkie St. rushing for 462 yards.  They threw for 244 passing yards against Arkie St for a total of 706 total yards with 1 fumble.  Surprisingly enough they passed for 178 yards against Clemson but 262 total yards is pretty anemic.

Looking at the Clemson game in more detail Clemson’s defense definitely shut down Auburn’s offense.   In addition to the anemic total yards Auburn also had 3 turnovers with one interception and fumble being on failed 4th down conversions.  Gus was swapping QBs in and out this game which he didn’t do against Arkie S.  That seemed to make the offense take off against Arkie St. so maybe their performance against the Clemson D isn’t an indicator of what a strong defense can do to this offense.

I just don’t know what to think of all that Chief vs Gus so let’s look at some other stuff.  Offensively Clemson rushed for 151 yards with 248 passing for a total of 399 total yards but turned the ball over twice.  Still, comparing yards and turnovers for that game I’m scratching my head how it was a 19-13 game with Auburn firing at the endzone at the end of the game to potentially win.  Clemson should have walked away with that game.

Making it even more head scratching Auburn was 3-17 on 3rd down conversions against Clemson.  That’s an EIGHTEEN percent conversion rate.  EIGHTEEN percent.  Now, they were 3-5 on 4th down conversions which is pretty impressive so basically that means they were 6-17 on those third down conversions but that’s still only 35% which is pretty bad.  Crazy enough if Gus had kicked field goals on the 4th downs they didn’t convert the game likely goes to overtime if they don’t win it in regulation.

In looking at the drive charts it looks like Auburn had field position for much of the game.  Gus was gambling on those 4th downs as I’m guessing he felt he needed a TD and couldn’t rely on field goals to win the game.  I guess he didn’t trust his defense.  Odd choices that ultimately cost him a chance at a Top 10 win to open the season.  Still, it’s a head scratching game because I don’t know if Auburn played smart considering their competition keeping it close or Clemson just couldn’t get it going.

With that, my thoughts are Kevin Sumlin needs to channel his inner RC Slocum and rely on the run and his defense.  I’m not sure if Sumlin has this in him to be honest.  Sumlin loves receiving the ball to open up the game but if I’m him I want Auburn to have the ball first.  I want to see what my defense can do against Auburn to dictate what I do offensively.  If the Aggie defense can hold Auburn to a punt and even better a straight three and out on the first series then I can go conservative on offense.  I tell Chief and the D to focus on stopping the run and let Auburn try to pass.  Don’t over pursue and hold your lanes and assignments.  Have seven guys holding the line of scrimmage and not worried about sacks or tackles for a loss.

Tell the safeties play smart on play actions and movement as we’ll need them to help our corners this game.  Auburn will throw the ball at some point so don’t suck up too soon.  It goes against what our safeties are best at in supporting the run but we’ll need them to be real safeties against the pass.  They’ll still need to do their normal thing of bringing the wood if runners do get beyond the linebackers.  Evans and Watts are going to be a big key to what we do diagnosing run or pass correctly.  Basically our safeties better not be moving forward unless the ball is beyond the line of scrimmage or it’s a designed blitz obviously.  We need to see if our front 7 can slow down or even stop Auburn’s running attack as when the safeties start cheating forward to defend the run Auburn will pop a big pass and we can’t have that.  They have to stay disciplined to look to help our corners and not let anyone deep on a play action pass.

Now if Auburn wants to go pass over run and we need to get in a track meet then we’ll get in a track meet with our receivers but I’ll be damned if Auburn is going to run on us like they did last year.  Gus likes to run and we’re not going to let them.  I don’t trust his QBs against our secondary without establishing the run.  Give them some yards through the air but don’t let them rip off long runs against us because that’s what Gus lives for.  If Gus gets that you’re dead as he’ll punish you with play action for over compensating against the run.  Focus on shutting down the run by staying in lanes and not over pursuing and make Auburn pass in true passing situations.  They’re going to get yards but let’s keep them contained on the ground.

Offensively assuming our defense can do what I think they can against the run then I give Auburn a taste of their own medicine.  I want to establish the run between the tackles.  It’ll be pretty boring and unlike what Sumlin likes to do but it’s what I’d do.  It may take a while but I want to show Auburn we’re fully committed between the tackles.  Once that’s established then use a lot of play action in the second half to open it up assuming Auburn starts committing to the run.  With our interior line I think we can establish the same 3.4 yards per carry that Clemson got against Auburn if not better.  If we do that and Chief’s defense holds against Auburns desire to run then we’ll walk away with this game in the second half thanks to play action.

Keep the first half fairly ugly from an offensive and scoring standpoint letting the defenses slug it out.  There’s no need to get in a track meet this game unless Auburn dictates that.  Maybe Gus opens it up from the get go but I don’t see that happening.  He’s going to want to establish the run and pass off that.  If we need to adjust then we’ve shown we can apply pressure on the QB but we need to go in focused on shutting down the run through discipline and establishing the run ourselves.  Sumlin needs to be having breakfast with RC every morning this week getting advice.   Don’t let Knight make any mistakes in the first half and if the flow of the game allows it then let him make plays in the second half to see if we can pull away.

Basically this game is going to come down to head coaching.  Gus is going to do what Gus does trying to establish the run and hoping Sumlin wants a semi track meet.  Gus’ defense will get off the field if we’re continually looking at 3rd and 6s because we missed passes on 1st and 2nd down.  If that happens it works in Gus’ favor based on the Clemson game.

Sumlin needs to do what Mike Sherman didn’t do against Texas in 2011 by trusting his defense and not let his QB make mistakes by keeping the ball on the ground.  If Sumlin sees this whole game with his defense and offense working to complement each other then I think this is A&M’s game no doubt.  If Sumlin allows his offense and defense to work independently then Gus will own Sumlin this game.  It’ll come down to players making plays but it’s up to the head coach to decide the scheme and flow for the game.  The loser of this game will be coaching for his life for the rest of the season which makes it hard to predict to a degree.  One dog might be crazy enough to try something different and if the other coach is not expecting it then that other coach could be hosed.

Does Gus have tricks up his sleeve?  I don’t think so.  I think Gus plays Gus hoping Sumlin plays Sumlin  so it’s basically a repeat of the Clemson game but Gus doesn’t make the same mistakes on his side rotating QBs and gambling on 4th downs when a field goal can be had.  I hope Sumlin plays a little more RC like and gives Gus a taste of his own medicine on the ground believing his defense contains Auburn running game.  We’ll see what kind of coach Sumlin is this week as he walks in with the better overall team.  Coaching makes the difference here.

I like to think Chief is going to get the best of Gus and with that the Aggies are going to win a close 23-19 game.  That seems odd as Gus doesn’t like kicking field goals but if it’s a close game I think he doesn’t repeat his mistake against Clemson.  I expect to see something like a 10-6 Aggie lead at half time where A&M scores on a play action deep ball to Reynolds or Kirk and the other points are just field goals due to a defensive battle.  If that’s the score at half then the Aggies will prevail.  If a semi track meet has broken out and Auburn is grinding yards on the ground then I’m not so hopeful.

For now, I’m hoping those morning breakfasts with RC make Sumlin see the light for this game.  Speaking of, our hotel is next to a Waffle House this weekend.  It doesn’t get any more SEC than that!