Where I saw the Clemson game as validation of something different in our coaching staff this Alabama game was certainly a moral victory. Moral victories aren’t good but they’re better than a straight beatdown where there’s no positives. We held Bama below 50 points, scored more than 20 points, and covered the 27 point spread. I don’t like moral victories but that was a moral victory. For a lot of fans that haven’t seen Bama play this year they didn’t realize the Alabama offense is a different beast with Tua Tagovailoa as quarterback. My comparison is Saban has had a nice V6 Honda Accord at quarterback since he got to Bama and got a Ferrari this season. This Bama offense is different than anything he’s had before. There’s a reason Vegas put a 27-point spread on this game. They weren’t far off.
I don’t know that A&M beats a Jalen Hurts quarterbacked offense but there’s no doubt in my mind A&M would lose that game by less than 2 touchdowns and likely single digits. Tua is that much of a difference maker for the Bama offense. It’s likely Bama loses a game this season but in my mind this is the best Bama team Nick Saban has coached. When you see that 45-23 score just know this is a different Bama offense than you’ve ever seen.
Overall I like what I saw in this game from a relative talent standpoint. Bama is loaded with talent and the Aggies have holes. Bama exposed those holes in a major way but the Aggie players and coaching staff never quit. This could have been a similar game to 59-0 but the players and coaching staff weren’t going to let that happen. A lot of teams would have quit after giving up an interception on their first offensive possession and then giving up a touchdown on the first play by the opposing offense. When you’re on the road in Tuscaloosa and Bama gets an interception and then scores on their first play to go up 7-0 in less than a minute that can be REALLY demoralizing. This Aggie team didn’t quit though. Credit the Aggie players and coaches for that. If an Aggie fan tells you they didn’t have thoughts of 59-0 dancing through their head check to see if their nose is growing. Luckily this is a different Aggie team than in the past.
I still believe while not as talented as teams in the past few years this is a better Aggie football team than the last few years. I like what I see on the field even if I don’t like what I see on the scoreboard and stat sheet. I’ve said since Jimbo got here that 2020 would be the season where the Aggies finally push through to the elite teams of college football. There’s no doubt Jimbo is trying to win today but there’s holes he can’t plug until his recruiting classes get on campus and get some experience. This could have been a blowout but it didn’t happen. Don’t discount what could have been when you see that 45-23 score.
I’m starting with the worst part of the offense for the game. I’ve consistently said this is the weakest part of the offense by far. Saturday that showed up. Mond was sacked 7 times as the offensive line continually whiffed at slowing down Bama defenders. It was partially due to talent deficiencies but it was also due to blown assignments. Those talent deficiencies might have lead to the mental issues but either way the offensive line was exposed for needing serious help from a talent standpoint. We just don’t have the talent we need at offensive line to compete as an elite team. They do have their moments where they can create plays thanks to the play design but for the most part this line struggles against more athletic defensive lines.
Tray Williams is not a bruiser running back but there was nothing between the tackles at all. They weren’t getting blown back on running plays but they weren’t getting any push or creating holes to run through. I suppose creating a stalemate on running plays against the Bama defense is a positive thing but that’s got to get better. The offensive line has got to get backwards movement if they’re not going to create holes.
From a pass blocking standpoint they were pretty bad continually blowing assignments when Bama blitzed. I’m afraid Bama just gave teams a blueprint on how to slow down our offense with blitzes. I don’t recall Clemson blitzing like Bama did. Bama had great success running blitzes against our offensive line so I expect to see more of that from defensive opponents going forward. Our offensive line must get that cleaned up or Mond is not going to have a lot of time to throw. Sure, Bama has superior talent but there were plays where our offensive line couldn’t read the blitz at all. That is really disappointing.
If we need to shuffle our offensive line personnel to get experience for the future I’m fine with it. I’m not saying this line is a steaming pile of junk as they do execute some plays well but this offensive line has issues. A&M won’t be dominant until their offensive line is dominant. Like getting a truckload of Coors from Texarkana to Atlanta we’ve got a long ways to get there.
We knew it was going to be tough sledding for Tray Williams coming into this game and it was. He carried the ball 8 times for 32 yards. He had two nice runs outside but other than those two runs there wasn’t anything there for him. That’s not his fault as he’s not designed to run behind our offensive line against that Bama defense. Just a total mis-match. At least we didn’t continually run between the tackles and just tested it from time to time.
At receiver no one dominated at all. The unit had some nice catches but were wildly inconsistent getting open and catching balls. Kendrick Rogers is looking like Mond’s safety blanket but they failed to connect on a couple passes where the ball should have been thrown better or Rogers should have caught it. This unit isn’t wildly talented but they seem to be a little more disciplined than receiving corps of the past.
Against teams not named Alabama I think there’s enough weapons here to move the ball through the air with more work. Getting 263 yards through the air using 9 receivers against Alabama is a decent sign even with their mistakes. I’m happy with the development I’m seeing here. It’s shorter on talent than we’ve had the past few years but they seem to have some promise as a complete unit. We’ll see if they keep developing as there’s definitely work to do but they seem up to the task. At least they did make a few plays rather than be completely afraid of a team like Bama. I think a lot of that has to do with the next part of our offense.
I can’t say enough about Kellen Mond on Saturday. He’s the reason this team didn’t quit. He threw 2 interceptions and had some missed passes but it wasn’t from lack of effort. The dude was under pressure all day long and never backed down from the best team in the country. He used his head, arm, and legs all game long.
I can’t believe this is the same Kellen Mond from last season. It’s completely night and day. The dude keeps developing every game and it bodes well for Aggie Football over the next few years. In 2020 Kellen Mond will be a senior and I think he’ll be the key reason A&M breaks through to the elite level of college football. He’s not as talented as a Tua but he’s young and pretty complete right now on decision making. He just needs more experience executing plays so it becomes second nature. I don’t see any reason why he won’t continue to get better. I’m pleasantly shocked at what I’ve seen from Kellen Mond through 4 games this season. Maybe one day we’ll send Kevin Sumlin a flower bouquet for recruiting Mond over Jarret Stidham. We’ll just need to make sure we get his address correct because there’s no telling where Sumlin will be at the end of 2020. Yes, Kevin Sumlin ineptitude jokes are still fun. He cost us millions so I’m going to keep making them.
My favorite part of the game was the play design and execution at times. Any good offensive coach will have 5-10 plays a game that give the defense a different look either before snap or post snap. Sometimes both. This is the result of watching film and designing plays that look to exploit a matchup or counter reads a defense tends to make. We haven’t seen that in the past because we’ve had offenses that keep the same design and try to react to the opposing defense. Defenses tend to figure those out over time.
We did it some against Clemson and continued it against Bama. My favorite play from a design, call, and execution standpoint was the pitch out to Tray Williams on 3rd down in the middle of the second quarter. It was 3rd and 3 on the Bama 34. We gave Bama a look we hadn’t shown before with our receivers stacked on the right side. Tray was to the left of Mond. On the snap Mond did a quick pitch to Tray. Tray had a linebacker on him who he was able to avoid (barely) and got outside for a 16 yard gain to the Bama 18. Everything about that play was beautiful. I mean just beautiful from a design, timing, and execution standpoint. That is not something you would have seen with Aggie offensive coordinators since 2013.
There were some other plays but that was the best example where it’s clear we have an offensive staff that is adjusting and scheming to each week’s opponent. The best thing you can do as an offense is have the defense worried about plays they’ve never seen. When a defensive staff has to worry about plays they’ve never seen you have a strong advantage. I absolutely love the fact it appears Jimbo and the offensive staff really study film and design plays each week that look to take advantage of the defense. When you become predictable as an offense you get beat. Through 4 games Jimbo is showing his offense will adapt each week. It’s so refreshing to see.
Despite the issues with our offensive line and lack of a power back I like what I see from this offense. It’s certainly not as powerful as I would like it to be but I feel the staff is getting the most out of what they can from the talent at their disposal. This is an offense that appears to be able to put up at least 20 points in every game from here on out. It’s also designed to chew up time of possession which is a big key for our defense. We once again won time of possession on Saturday which is a bigger factor than most people think.
I can’t say enough about the defensive line and linebackers. They weren’t dominant by any stretch but they held their own against a powerful Alabama offense. Alabama’s running backs got 106 yards on 21 carries. That’s about 5 yards a carry. Half of those yards were on 2 carries. Take away those two runs and that’s a respectable 2.7 yards a carry for the other 19 carries by Bama running backs. Not many teams in the country can do what the Aggie Front 7 did. Alabama is going to run the ball and they’re going to rip off long runs against you unless you’re Georgia. Even with Tua at quarterback Alabama is still going to attempt to establish the run to wear down defenses. The Aggie defense did all they could against one of the best running teams in the country. You might not have thought it was a dominant effort by our Front 7 against the run, but it was as good as it gets for a team not named Georgia.
The Front 7 didn’t get any sacks but this defense isn’t really equipped to get sacks. Especially against Tua. We have no edge rushers and that’s what you need against a guy like Tua. What we did was collapse the pocket as much as possible causing Tua to throw before he wanted for the most part. Tua torched us through the air but it wasn’t because our front 7 wasn’t completely getting to him. In my mind our Front 7 did everything they could. Alabama tried to establish the run and really couldn’t but did carve us up where we’re weak. Kudos to the Aggie Front 7 for holding their own against a powerful Alabama offense.
The Aggie secondary was terrible on Saturday. There is NOTHING positive to take from it in my book. We couldn’t cover and we couldn’t tackle. Coming into the season I thought our safeties would be serviceable but our corners would really struggle. So far this season the entire secondary has struggled.
I thought Derrick Tucker and Donavan Wilson would be decent but the reality is they’re not the same player when they’re not playing next to Armani Watts and Justin Evans. Watts and Evans really helped covered up Tucker and Wilson’s issues. For you Aggie fans that can remember back to 2011 this is basically like Garrick Williams at linebacker when he lost Cody Hodges. Williams had all the talent in the world to play linebacker but he was lost without the direction of Hodges.
Time and time again on Saturday the secondary was struggling in coverage and tackling. While the Front 7 was looking like a legit SEC defense the secondary was looking like a Pop Warner team. They seemed confused by routes and didn’t like wrapping up on tackles. They’re not disciplined at all. They’re short on talent other than Tucker for the most part.
If you’re an offensive coordinator that has watched the Aggie defense through 4 games there’s no doubt you’re going to look to light it up through the air. There’s no point in trying to establish the run against A&M if Bama and Clemson struggled. The Aggies should be ready for offenses that want to exploit their secondary. A somewhat competent head coach and offensive coordinator should realize the Aggies can be passed on.
How to fix it other than to repeatedly work on tackling drills I’m not really sure. Outside of Leon O’Neal I don’t think you have the talent in the younger guys from a coverage standpoint. I do think it’s okay to get O’Neal more playing time now. Sure, he struggled against Bama but he’s a true freshman being thrown to the wolves. Hopefully his struggles on Saturday drive him to be a contributor in year one. I don’t think he could do much worse than Tucker and Wilson at this point. I know Carper (safety) and Chattman (corner) are supposed to be coming back but I don’t think they’re the answers either. Maybe they can improve on what’s out there now but until the 2019 signing class gets on campus and seasoned our secondary is going to be vulnerable without much hope for improving.
Michael Clemons coming back might help some as he and Durham can team up to provide more pressure in passing situations. It’s just without true pass rushing pressure from the edge this secondary is going to be prone to big plays. We simply have a talent issue in the secondary and no Von Miller or Myles Garrett to mask it.
It’s amazing how different the Front 7 and secondary can be. The Front 7 I’d put up against any team in the country. We’ve now slowed down the running games of Bama and Clemson. Other than LSU we won’t see a team on the schedule the rest of the way that has a true power running attack like Bama. The defensive staff has their work cut out for them in trying to improve this secondary so we’ll see how good this staff is. Even if they started just wrapping up that would be a major improvement as you could basically play bend but don’t break football. Getting to red zone situations would help as you’ve got less area to cover and your Front 7 has shown they can hold their own against anyone in the country. We’ve got Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina coming up to find out if we can have some improvement.
A lot of Aggies were worried about losing Jeff Banks. As you saw on Saturday unless your name is Frank Beamer the quality of the players matter way more than the special teams coach. The Aggie special teams were better than Bama’s. We’re fine without Jeff Banks. Braden Mann is an absolute weapon. I mean absolute WEAPON. He had 5 punts and averaged 60.8 yards. That is insane. He’s a junior so he’s been on the roster for two years. Why he hasn’t been punting until this year I have no idea. I know Shane Tripucka was pretty good the last two years but what Mann is doing this year is unbelievable. He’s flipping the field and that’s a huge weapon to have.
Seth Small filled in for the injured Daniel LaCamera and was remarkable going 3 for 3 on field goals. He hit on a 52 yarder along with a 32 and 25 yarder. He’s a true freshman so to be perfect in your first game in Tuscaloosa with a 52 yarder being your first attempt bodes well. I suppose you give LaCamera his job back when he’s healthy but he better be on a short leash if you have a guy that can boot 50+ yards with no fear against Alabama. Having him as your backup is a serious luxury to have.
There was one minor issue on special teams and it was the return early in the game by Jaylen Waddle. Whoever was running down didn’t flare out to keep contain on Waddle. Waddle is a guy we recruited and has absolute jets. As a special teamer on punt coverage you have to keep contain if you’re alone. You let a guy like that get around you and he’ll burn you like he did. We got bailed out by a block in the back but that was a big mistake not keeping contain on a guy with Waddle’s speed. With Mann booming punts, getting downfield and keeping contain is going to be crucial to limit return yards.
I think Jimbo can mask our offensive line issues enough to get us to 8 wins. He’s scored 20 plus points against two great defenses so it seems we’ll be able to move the ball and score points the rest of the way. I don’t think we’ll have any games where our offense completely goes in the tank like we’ve had in the past. We have two more really good defenses on the schedule in Auburn and LSU. They’ll test our offense. Auburn struggles to run the ball and LSU struggles to pass the ball although LSU has looked better throwing than in years past. I like to think we can get one win of Auburn and LSU to get us to 9 wins. I’m not sure which is more likely at this point though.
The key is we’ve got some tough games on the schedule that don’t look like tough games. Jimbo has to win those. Kentucky has an all-world running back so it’ll be interesting to see if we can slow him down with our Front 7. South Carolina hasn’t looked as good as I expected but that’s a road game so it could be a challenge. Mississippi State was shut down by Kentucky so why can’t the Aggies do the same? However, if that’s an 11:00 a.m. game in StarkVegas then all bets are off. The Aggies haven’t won in StarkVegas when we kicked at 11:00 a.m. Let’s hope for a night game there.
Right now I have to think Arkansas, Ole Miss, and UAB are sure wins. We’ll find out this weekend when we head to JerryWorld. That’s been a back and forth contest in the past but I think with our respective new coaching staffs that’s finally a game the Aggies control from start to finish. I’m hoping for a 35-10 type showing.
It’s entirely possible this team wins out but we’ve got a LOT of work to do to get there. If we can get through Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina in convincing fashion from start to finish then I’ll feel like we have a real chance. I’m ready to make some maroon Kool-Aid and start serving it around. I’ve got the water and jug ready. I just need Jimbo to give me the powder over the next three weeks so I can start mixing.
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