barking dogs

Thoughts from SMU

Before I get into what I saw on Sunday between SMU and A&M, a quick note on how I do this for the first timers.  I’m no expert but I watch enough football to know the general feel of the game along with strength and weaknesses.  I don’t take notes during the game and I dont watch DVRd or replays of the game. I might see highlights but that’s about it. I go completely from memory so that’s why I say I’m not an expert by any stretch. Also, my BAC fluctuates between games and affects my memory so some games I remember more and some games I remember less. It all depends on the pre-game tailgate!

Overall, the further I get away from the game, I feel MUCH better. During the game I kept trying to figure out how good SMU was. They looked like a La. Tech or SFA during the game but they’re MUCH better than that. This is a very good C-USA team and a C-USA in Houston beat UCLA on Saturday.  Maybe SMU misses a bowl game this year but there’s a strong chance they make one and maybe even win the C-USA so this is a very good team.  SMU’s offensive line has the most starts of any OLine in the country and their John Riggins look alike ran for over 1,000 yards last year. He’s actually a really good college RB because he’s strong and has really agile and quick feet.

Defensively they’re not as strong as their offense but they’re not terrible.  We’ll definitely be tested more on defense but this was a decent test.  They had some decent size on their line so it wasn’t like we just had a raw size advantage up front and just mauled them with no technique or ability.  They also did a decent job of tackling and flowing to the ball so they put in a solid defensive effort in my mind.  Overall this was a very good win and very good effort by the Aggies. I was concerned this was going to be a trap game because June Jones is a good coach and SMU has some talent and wouldn’t roll over like a typical road patsy.  46-14 is a great showing in your first game against a decent opponent.  This could be a very good Aggie football team.  It already is but they have to actually continue to do it on the field.  That’s the only thing that really matters.

 

 

OFFENSE – The offense was the hardest thing for me to analyze.  The reason I say that is because we were about as perfect as you get for a college offense.  No, we didn’t put up 60 points and break big play after big play but this offense is not built that way.  What we saw on Sunday night is EXACTLY how this is offense is built.  No huge runs or passes but plays that chew up positive yards on every down and sustain drives.  Looking at it during the game it’s kind of ho hum but looking back it was DAMN devastating.  Now, SMU is not a dominate defense by any stretch but they’re a decent test in the first game and the Aggie offense scored a 98 out of 100 in my mind.

QB – Ryan Tannehill didn’t pitch a perfect game but he did throw at minimum a complete game shutout if not a no hitter.  I’d have to watch film to see if it was a no hitter.  He ran the offense to perfection.  He made all the right decisions and trusted his receivers and OLine.  He wasn’t perfect passing but at the same time he made some pretty damn good passes and was almost perfect. No QB ever is perfect.  He threw Swope a couple balls across the middle that only Swope could catch.  His TD pass to Priloeau was one of the prettiest balls you can make it.  He hit Priloeau in stride while having to clear a couple underneath defenders while dropping it perfectly into Priloeau’s hands.  Just a perfect pass.  He looked great rolling out and finding the open guys as well.  I still contend in college there’s nothing more dangerous than a roll out QB that can make solid throws.  Tanny looks great doing this.

The two things that stood out to me most were his decision making.  He either made a quick decision or showed some patience waiting for guys to get open.  The thing that impressed me the most was his trust of the pocket.  He stood in there fearlessly and showed very good awareness of when it was breaking down to get rid of the ball.  He didn’t tuck too early or hold the ball too long.  Most of that is on the OLine for giving him time but it’s awesome to see Tanny has a solid pocket presence.  The reason Tanny didn’t pitch a perfect game is because he missed EZ on a quick post route where he was wide screaming open for a sure TD but Tanny went outside and short to Swope who was also open.  That’s just Tanny though.  He’s gonna lay up for the sure thing rather than go for broke.  Good news is he’ll let it fly rather than tuck and run which is important for a QB because unless you’re Vince Young, tucking and running isn’t the best option.

RB – From a running back standpoint all I can say is enjoy it while we can. If we don’t have the best 1-2 punch of RBs in the country I’d like to see that team.  Outside of Gray’s fumble that Fuller caught and Michael’s substitution error you couldn’t ask for much more. The other mistake was on the goal line in the 3rd quarter when Cyrus waited on the D lineman rather than go out to chop him and the Dlineman batted the ball down on 3rd down so we had to settle for a field goal.  That’s nit picky though as that’s tough on a RB to go out and meet a guy he’s giving up 100 pounds to.

While the RBs didn’t bust off any long TD runs what they did is get positive yards on virtually every carry.   What you notice about our RBs is patience on the hole and every step they take is forward once it develops.  There were only a couple of runs where they were forced to go down the line but even then stayed parallel to the line and always looking to cut up field rather than try and burn the corner which is tough to do.  Cyrus picked up right where he left off and most importantly Christine looked to have learned from Cyrus’ playing time when he got hurt.  Christine appeared more patient looking for the hole.  At times in the past he’s looked like a dog that just got let off the leash running into the back of the line as fast as possible.  Sunday night he looked like a guy that fully understands how to run behind our zone blocking scheme.  The other thing that looked different in Christine is that he used fewer spin moves and when he did he was spinning forward and not to the side.  Once again, always looking for positive yards with every step.  Let’s just hope I get to write a ho hum report of our backs every game because these guys are that good.

WR – Not many big pass plays other than the TD pass to Priloeau.  LOTS of possession routes and most importantly lots of catches.  It was really only Swope and Fuller that got any action.  Saw Fuller go down the field maybe twice and Swope worked outside and underneath all night.  Fuller ran a lot of stop routes in the 6-12 yard range along with catching a couple of quick outside passes.  We averaged 11 yards per reception with the longest being 32 yards on the Priloeau catch.  Not a lot to say about these guys as they weren’t necessarily game breakers but they appeared to be on the same page with Tanny all night long.  Its clear Swope and Fuller are the main targets which is just fine.  Don’t expect big yards out of these guys all season as that’s not how Sherm rolls with Tanny at QB but we should continue to see more possession routes and catches to sustain drives.  Fuller and Swope look perfect for what Sherman wants to do.

OL – In my pre-season piece I talked about the quality of the offensive line and these guys did not disappoint.  I’m sure there was once or twice when someone got through to apply pressure too soon but there were ZERO sacks and that’s all you can ask for from an offensive line.  Sure, some is on Tanny but the OLine worked well with their QB all night so that’s solid.  Most importantly I only remember one holding call on Pat Lewis I believe.  I don’t remember any false starts on the OLine either which is VERY impressive in the first game.  I think there was one false start on one of the receivers but not the line.  That’s pretty damn good for their first game.  Let’s hope it holds.  From a blocking standpoint they created seams for the RBs to squeeze through all night long and created solid pockets for Tanny to throw out of all night long.  Easier said than done but they did it well.

Now, I’m not sure how good the SMU defense is but I think their defense is pretty decent but not great so it was a really good effort.  The other thing that impressed me is the athleticism of our tackles.  A couple of times we ran Joeckel and Matthews on the same side and these guys move REALLY well for their size.  Simply amazing what two likely NFL first rounders will do for an offense.  Pat Lewis looks perfect at center and Shep Klinke is a big ol’ boy.  This is a real beefy line with some real athleticism so it’s going to be fun to watch this crew.  I can’t help but think this offensive line is just going to get better all season and we’re in for a real treat.  It all starts with the big uglies in the trenches and we look like we have some solid guys for us.

 

 

DEFENSE – Point wise we did tremendous.  This is a pretty damn good offense and we gave up 14 points through mainly 4 quarters of football.  We got one gifted interception and another off a tip on a great play by TFred.  Remember, their OLine has more starts than any other OLine in the country.  Sure, they might not be the most talented but they’ve got some talent and have worked together for a long time.  That’s usually the sign of a decent OLine.  Their running back is also pretty sneaky good.  He’s not nearly as plodding as he looks as he adjusts really well to a hole and didn’t just run straight ahead.  Oh, let’s compare him to another big white running back with the recent Toby Gerhardt.  Very similar as his feet were just outstanding.

Something I noticed that our best defensive plays were from our base defense.  DeRuyter channeled his inner Carl Torbush and got exotic from time to time.  That long run for SMU in the first quarter that almost resulted in a TD (turned over by replay) was done against a two man front.  It was 3rd and 8 but we ran a two man front.  When I saw the front I immediately turned to the guy next to me and said we’ve only got a two man front.  I’m assuming SMU noticed it to and likely audibled into that running play that was easy to execute because they pulled a couple OLineman and just clobbered our LBs and DBs.  I don’t recall seeing that front again the rest of the game.  We had some zone breakdowns but SMU ran a lot of crossing routes which are designed to confuse zones or lose man coverage because people get picked and confused.  I would put some of that on our defense but give some credit to SMU because they executed those crossing routes REALLY well at times.  At times though we were able to keep coverage which is what you want in your first game.  There are a couple areas of weakness on this defense which I’ll get to in a bit but they did their job in only giving up 14 points.  I’ll take that.

D LINE – I thought these guys did a tremendous job all night long.  They tied up a decent offensive line all night long and applied pressure at key points in the game.  Out of 8 sacks the DLine got credit for 6.5.  That’s impressive for a 3 man front but not necessarily good for our defense which I’ll get to in a bit.  TJE was about as dominant as we’ve seen from a 3-4 lineman in quite some time.  Dude was just a destructive force all night long.  I have no reason to think it won’t last all season.  Jonathan Mathis didn’t do much but he looked to be getting double teamed most of the night.  Eddie Brown got decent push and even the subs on the DLine looked really solid.  In a 3 man front you don’t expect a lot of domination but based on Sunday night this group looks really solid with a real playmaker in TJE.

LINEBACKER – All off season we questioned what the loss of Von Miller and Mike Hodges would do to the linebacking corps.  Well, if Sunday night is any indicator the initial prognosis is not good at all.  We were without Domantrae Moore so I’m hoping his return greatly helps us.  I’m also wondering if it’s time to break in more of these freshmen to immediate playing time.  I just didn’t see anything great out of the LB crew on Sunday night but they ran pretty much everyone out there.  I’m guessing to get film so maybe they settle on a couple guys on the inside after this game and get them experience and more coaching.

I really don’t like calling individuals out but I’ll do it if it’s warranted.  Cayleb Russell had a less than stellar game based on all the off season reports.  Dude might be one of the best athletes on the defense but if you’re lost assignment wise or have no technique it does you no good.  This guy seemed lost all night long.  He was handled single handedly all night long on the edge.  He has two moves of getting around the edge or power rush.  Problem is he doesn’t have Von’s explosiveness or his ability to cut back inside to fool the blocker.  He also doesn’t have Moore’s football strength and technique to overpower a blocker.  Plus, there were a couple of times where he was running free on the backside and just missed the RB because he didn’t know how to close.  I watched him quite a bit because the off season reports had him as a suitable replacement for Von.  You don’t expect anyone to be Von but even 70% wouldn’t be bad.  I hate calling him out but what I saw on Sunday night wasn’t even maybe 50%.  He’s still learning to play defense I know but it’s his senior year and if he’s going to start he needs to learn some things quickly.  I honestly think Moore comes back with a clear head and assumes that spot very quickly.  I think Sherm was just trying to teach Moore a lesson and give Russell a chance.  Lessons learned so let’s move on.

Sean Porter is probably our best linebacker right now and while he’s very solid he’s not spectacular.  His problem is we got spoiled by Von on the outside last year so everyone has to measure up to Von.  It’s not fair but if we’re going to be great these guys have to get near Von level.  I do like the combo of TJE and Porter on the same side as it’s clear it’ll be the most disruptive side of the line.  That will be a huge boost to DeRuyter to know that side of the line can handle more and offenses might run away from it.

I have no idea what to think on the inside.  No one stood out at all.  They ran guys out there all night so maybe no one got comfortable with calls and keys but no one separated themselves in the middle.  I think it’s clear Garrick is one of the best two so he might as well start getting reps and find out quickly who is going to stand next to him manning the middle.  ILB is clear to me the weakest part of the defense and it’s going to allow teams to gash runs much like what SMU did on Sunday night.  Good news is that we’re in a pass happy league but if someone will commit to running up the middle on us they can find success.  Someone needs to tell Dalton Santos we’re going to the SEC and show him this film as he might be able to start as a true freshman next year if he’ll change his commitment from Tennessee to the Aggies.  Let’s just hope Dat and DeRuyter find their Michael Hodges quickly.  I know I just bagged on him but I wouldn’t be hesitant to move Russell inside if he can follow ILB assignments that are willing to attack the line and free Williams to make tackles based on reads.  It wouldn’t hurt based on what I saw our ILBs do on Sunday night.  Russell is athletic but there’s a lot more read and reacting on the outside than just being a down field ILB taking on OLineman all night long and it might suit Russell better.

DBs – While there were a few brain farts in zone coverage due to crossing routes I thought this unit did a pretty decent job as a whole.  Coryell Judie is by far our best cover corner.  SMU didn’t allow it very much because they didn’t run many routes straight up the field but when they did Judie stuck with them very well.  He should come in handy against some of the better WRs in the B12.  Terrance Frederick also had a solid game basically as the slot corner.  He did blitz a lot and did decent but SMU was also really responsive to his blitz hitting the quick outside passes because our safeties and LBs were late to cover his man.  I would have to look at the film but it seemed like a lot of their big pass plays came off a TFred blitz so that might be a big factor as to why they got yards due to our LBs and safeties being slow/confused on who to cover.  If so, let’s hope DeRuyter can get that cleaned up.  Dustin Harris looked solid at corner but they didn’t really test him deep that much and kept everything short for the most part.  Each of our safeties got an interception with one being a gift and the other being a tipped ball but you’ll take them because at least they were paying attention to the ball.  I thought both safeties did pretty well but not spectacular.  I still worry about Trent Hunter as a cover guy but Campbell is a physical beast that if he can stay healthy will help Hunter out.  Hunter is just so heady that we probably don’t have a better safety than him right now so I’m fine with him being out there.

Overall, looking back this was about the effort we can expect week to week.  Great DLine play although there’s only three of them, solid DB play, and questionable LB play.  I would say along the DLine we’re much better than last season and DB wise a little better.  If Moore can be 60% of Von and DeRuyter can find someone to be 80% of Hodges then this could be a really solid defense.  Not a lights out Wrecking Crew defense but easily Top 40 and maybe even Top 30.  Finding Hodges replacement worries me more than any other position on the field and it’s going to be our Achilles heel for good teams if we don’t find it.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS – This is really hard to judge as we had two extra points blocked due to terrible blocking.  I heard recently that guy has blocked 16 kicks in his career so he sounds like he’s got some good technique but a good special teams coach identifies that strength and prepares for it.  We obviously weren’t.  You hope that can get cleaned up and it should.  Bullock did make his two field goal attempts which is good to see and looked fine kicking off.  I think we had two punts which looked better than last year so you’ll take that.  Kick return was decent but we only had three chances which is what you like to see.  There was nothing impressive on punt return other than a muffed fair catch that we luckily were able to jump on.  Punt return for this team just makes me nervous as hell.  I don’t know if our guys get nervous but put someone back there that will catch the ball above everything else.

 

SUMMARY  – Very good first game by the Aggies.  They have a few things they need to clean up coverage wise and need to find someone to play opposite Garrick Williams inside but we’ve had much worse opening games.  As evident by some team’s first game against a “lesser” opponent, a win is not always a given but we took it to SMU.  Defensively as fans we have to pay attention to the score and not plays given up or yards amassed against us.  The other thing about our defense that I didn’t mention is we seemed to adjust in the second half.  That’s just a sign of good coaching and DeRuyter has proven he can distill the first half pretty quickly and make second half adjustments.  Offensively you can’t ask for much better but we’ll definitely play better defenses.  Based on this game there’s a lot of good things to look forward to for the 2011Fightin’ Texas Aggie football season.   Let’s just hope this is not a blip and a solid indicator.

As for the next game against the Vandals of Idaho I fully expect a bigger pounding with Cyrus and Christine busting off some long runs along with Fuller getting him a long TD.  I’m going to call 56-10.

And Baylor and their lawsuit threat can pound sand for all I care.