Football

Thoughts on the Alabama Game

Mond Alabama Getting tackled

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.

Offense:

Offensive Line:

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.

Skill Positions:

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.

Kellen Mond:

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.

Play Design/Calling:

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.

Overall:

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.

Defense:

Front Seven:

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 Secondary:

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.

Overall:

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.

Special Teams:

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.

 

Looking Forward:

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.

#MAFGA

 

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Thoughts on U.L.M. and Alabama

Alabama Texas A&M NCAA Football

I chose not to go to the game last weekend as I had a customer event at noon on Sunday.  Don’t worry, Good Ags sat in my seats.  Had it been a Power 5 school I would have made it in a heartbeat but I took Saturday easy so Sunday was easy as well.  I did watch the game on TV along with a lot of other games.

I won’t do my normal breakdown of offensive and defensive positions because it was ULM and there’s more important things to talk about.  Mainly Bama and some other things about the SEC.

Louisiana Monroe:

Negatives:

I’ll start with the negatives here.  Obviously we got off to a slow start in this game.  That’s kind of to be expected being the third game sandwiched between Clemson and Bama.  Doesn’t make it right but it’s reality.  Kind of seems like we thought we could show up and have our way with ULM but that wasn’t the case.  At least not in the first half.  The team was mostly uninspired and not executing well.

Coming into the season I said our biggest weakness on defense was the secondary.  It really showed in the first half on Saturday night.  In the second quarter they gave up passes of 44, 34, and 36 yards.  This was against ULM.  That’s not good.  The 34 and 36 yarders were back to back which allowed ULM to get a touchdown.  Wilson and Tucker at safety are our most talented and experienced guys but they’re not playing good football.  Our corners struggle to cover for an extended period so if a team can buy time their receivers can likely get open against our cornerbacks.  I’ve said we need to be prepared to give up big pass plays but I didn’t expect that repeatedly against ULM.  It sure happened though.

Our other weakness coming into this season is our offensive line.  They didn’t look good at all in the first half.  Just like Northwestern St. it was pretty clear we wanted to establish the run.  Trayveon had a couple nice runs around 20 yards each but we never got him sprung for anything really long or consistently long.  Seems like he was always running in some kind of traffic.  You would hope our offensive line could blow up some big holes against ULM for him to use his speed and wiggle for some consistent long runs.  Pass blocking was suspect too as Kellen seemed to be a little rushed and took off a few times when I think he would have rather passed.  We also gave up a sack in the first half as well.  It wasn’t a terrible effort by our offensive line but it wasn’t even close to dominating which is what you would have like to have seen.

We had five holding penalties against ULM.  That’s pathetic.  As an offensive line you can control holding penalties.  One or two is allowable but five against ULM is inexcusable.  That’s just lack of focus and preparation.  If it’s pure talent related we’re in bigger trouble than I thought.  We’re not in that big of trouble so I’m just exaggerating but five holding penalties against ULM is damn embarrassing for this offensive line.  Yes, the tight end is an offensive lineman as they go through the same blocking drills the offensive lineman do.  Tight ends know better than to hold.

We still went in with a 24-10 lead at half time but you hope for better considering the opponent.

Positives:

The most positive thing about that game was the effort in the second half.  It was clear the team and staff weren’t happy with a 24-10 lead against a much inferior opponent.  They seemed to come out more focused and executed better in the second half.  The offense stalled on the first possession of the second half but then a quick 3 and out by the defense.  The offense then took the ball 54 yards for a touchdown.  They followed that up with a field goal and then a touchdown before completely giving away to the second stringers for the most part.  A holding penalty caused the offense to likely trade a touchdown for that field goal but most of that drive was impressive with 9 plays covering 61 yards and eating 3:36 of clock.  Penalties will cost you.

The other positive thing was Kellen Mond.  The dude showed this is his team.  He may be in his third game of his second season but he knows he’s a leader.  This is a great sign as everyone will rally behind a quarterback that wants to lead them.  That’s just how football works.  When your quarterback is willing to lead and can back it up with results on the field a team is always better off.  Mond still has some development to do but this guy is completely different from the Mond of last year.  Jimbo has done wonders with this kid.  We all scratched our heads a little when Mond was named the starter prior to the season but three games in it’s clear Jimbo knew what he was doing.

Overall:

I would have certainly liked to have seen a stronger showing to start the game but the effort in the second half makes me feel good.  I have a feeling teams in the past wouldn’t have put their foot down in the second half and let more of the same continue over from the first half.  It would have been easy to blame a Clemson hangover or Alabama look ahead but the coaching staff and players didn’t let it happen.  That’s a good sign overall.

Alabama:

The Aggies are a 27-point underdog to Alabama.  That sounds like a lot of points but if you’ve watched both teams play this season it sounds about right.  This Alabama offense is unlike any Alabama offense you’ve seen under Nick Saban.  The Alabama defense is, well, the Alabama defense.  I have a feeling Alabama is going to exploit our two weaknesses which are our secondary and offensive line.  If we cover 27 points in Tuscaloosa that will be a serious moral victory.  This game could get out of hand in Bama’s favor.  I don’t expect a 59-0 beat down but a 35 to 40 point difference wouldn’t shock me.  If we can’t move the ball and Tua lights up our secondary it won’t take much to see that kind of point differential.  Ask Louisville and Ole Miss.

I do think the Aggies can keep the game close but they’re going to have to go against conventional wisdom.  For whatever reason teams like to play Alabama conservative trying to establish the run and not bringing pressure defensively.  I think the whole mindset of that game plan is to run as much clock as possible on offense and keep the Alabama offense in front of you from a defensive standpoint.  The problem with this is unless you’re LSU you can’t establish the run on offense.  It’s not possible.  On defense if you don’t bring pressure then Alabama will pick you apart on methodical drives with the occasional big play of 40 yards or so.  Next thing you know you look up and you’re down by 21 headed into half.

In order to beat Alabama you have to do two things:

  1. Bring pressure defensively to slow down the run and force them to pass before they want to.
  2. Offensively you have to get the ball to receivers in space with plays they haven’t seen before. You can’t run the ball against them and if you think your read and react Run Pass Options will work against Bama think again.  They can defend the run and RPOs in their sleep.

For number one above this seems scary as hell because if you don’t get to the Bama quarterback he can burn you.  Here’s the deal – you’re not getting to Tua or Hurts with normal pressure.  Their offensive line will handle whatever defense you throw at them.  Tua or Hurts will sit back and wait for a play to develop.  Tua will either burn you with his arm and legs or Hurts will burn you with his legs.  In order to slow down Bama’s offense you better have a big package of blitzes that you’ve never shown before.  Go look at Wade Phillips’ designed blitzes and employ as many of those as you can.  Even if you do it’s likely a long shot as you probably don’t have the athletes to execute them.  You might as well try though.  You need an edge rushing linebacker like Von Miller you can line up all over the line of scrimmage and bring pressure from the outside.  Even a Myles Garrett isn’t a huge help against Bama if you’re going to line him up on a tackle.  I don’t know if the Aggies have a guy that can bring pressure from the outside linebacker position but if do they better be ready to turn him loose.

That must be done to force Bama to throw before they want to.  If not, they’ll eat you alive waiting for something to develop.  The other thing you obviously must do is slow down the run and keep containment with their quarterbacks.  Both Tua and Hurts can run and if they get into space they’ll burn you.  The Aggie defense needs to bring pressure but it has to be containing those guys from getting outside.  It’s a tall order but it’s the only way.  Pressure and contain.  You sit back defensively and you’ll get run over.

Offensively we don’ have the offensive line and running back to establish any kind of running game against Bama.  I love Tray Williams as a running back but he’s not designed to run between the tackles against Bama.  He’s fine being in the game but I would keep him split out and never behind or near Mond.  For Williams to have any kind of effect on the game he’s going to have to get the ball in some kind of space or on well timed screens.  I’m fine giving him the ball between the tackles a few times early on or even later to see what happens but if we run the ball between the tackles with Tray Williams more than 5 times we’ll lose.

My ideal offensive set would be two tight ends and two receivers split evenly about 50% of the time.  Give Bama the same look but have multiple variations of plays where Bama can’t really read who’s likely getting the ball.  Have Tray lined up in multiple spots so he’s the wildcard on what’s going on.  With this set you can run Mond and most importantly get your tight ends involved between blocking and running routes.  It’s amazing what can happen with a good tight end and quarterback that can read how aggressive a defense is playing.  A good chip block and release is an amazing tool that doesn’t get used a lot anymore.  It seems boring but it’s usually effective.  I think the Aggies have a couple tight ends that can execute this.

On occasion you can run bunch formations with the wide receivers and tight ends that can hopefully spring one guy free.  The key is have a few different looks but don’t become predictable based on what you’re doing before you ever snap the ball.  The Bama defense is way too talented and smart.  They know the play you’re running if you’ve run it before.  You must show them something they’ve never seen the entire game.  Trying to run between the tackles or running the same systematic offense will just make Nick Saban smile.  His defense can defend those things in their sleep.

I put the Aggies wining at about 15%.  Mond will have to have the game of his life which is entirely possible but the defense will have to step up which is my major question.  We don’t have the secondary or guys that can apply a lot of pressure so I think Bama keeps rolling.  If we keep them under 50 and score more than 20 that’s going to be a major win for Jimbo.  This team just isn’t ready to compete with Alabama just yet.  Believe it or not losing by less than 27 points will be an encouraging showing.

Rest of the Season/Other Games:

Season Prediction Update:

After watching LSU and Auburn on Saturday I’m leaving my prediction at 8-4.  I think it’s possible we beat one of those teams but they’re both damn good football teams.  They’re still more talented than A&M as a whole team.  I can see us winning one of LSU and Auburn but losing to South Carolina or Mississippi State.  8-4 just still feels right based on what I’ve seen.  Hell, it’s entirely possible we go 6-6 this season due to our issues on the offensive line and secondary.  I don’t think that will happen though.  I think Jimbo will get us to 8-4 which will be solid considering our issues and this schedule.

Speaking of schedules how about that 2019 Aggie Football schedule?  I’ve said all along 2020 would be the Aggies year and seeing that schedule for next season confirms it even more.  Welcome to the SEC West and big boy football.

Auburn/LSU – This was exactly the game these teams have had the last 2 years.  Close game for four quarters and the team that makes the play at the end wins.  Why people expected this game to be different surprised me.  Everybody wants to write these two programs off for some reason.  They both have tremendous talent on defense with sporadic offenses.  When you have a stout defense you’re going to win more than you lose.

A lot of people don’t think highly of Coach O and Malzahn but I think they’re really good coaches.  They’re not elite level coaches but at their current program they’re easily in the Top 25% of coaches in college football if not in the Top 10%.  Outside of Malzahn’s first season where he caught lightening in a bottle with fluke wins over Georgia and Bama along with a questionable win over A&M he’s exactly who he is.  He’s going to win 8-10 games a year and pull off some upsets.  He’s not Nick Saban but who is?  Worst thing he ever did was play for the national title in his first season as head coach and win a national championship as the offensive coordinator.  That’s not really who he is but it doesn’t mean he’s an overrated coach.  Auburn could do much worse than Gus Malzahn.

As for Eddie O he seems to have grown as a head coach since Ole Miss.  He was pretty solid in his interim gig at USC and hasn’t been bad at LSU at all.  Take away the Troy loss last season and he’s been REALLY respectable in his tenure at LSU.  He’s not Nick Saban either but he’s like Les Miles which ain’t bad.  I swear critics blow up one or two losses writing someone off rather than looking at their full body of work.  The full body of work by Malzahn and Eddie O at their current school is not bad at all.  I don’t see that changing anytime soon so expect Top 15 programs that can beat anyone as long as they’re head coach.  They may not win a national title but that list of coaches is short.

OU/ISU – Speaking of underrated coaches, one day Matt Campbell at ISU is going to get a gig at a big-time program.  Every program that has hired a head coach not named Jimbo Fisher since December of 2017 will wonder why they didn’t hire him.  He took a back up quarterback and moved the ball on OU never giving up.  OU has another juggernaut at offense but ISU exposed their passing defense.  ISU might go 7-5 this season but Matt Campbell is a stud head coach.  The dude just knows how to coach football.  As for OU they’ll probably run the table this season.  Odds say they’ll lose a game somewhere but I think they’re a lock for the CFP at this point.  They’re not being talked about from a playoff standpoint right now but their path to the CFP is the easiest of anyone in college football.

Michigan/Notre Dame – Both of these teams won their games but I expected bigger margins based on their opponents and playing at home.  Maybe their game on Week 1 wasn’t the marquee matchup some people thought it was.  I thought Notre Dame was better than how they played Vandy in South Bend.

Bama/Ole Miss – Ole Miss scored on their first offensive possession and then didn’t score again.  Bama then scored 49 points in the first half.  Ole Miss doesn’t have a defense but I’m telling you this Bama offense is unlike anything we’ve seen in the past.  Get ready for Saturday, Ags.

USC/Texas – This game was U.G.L.Y.  It’s amazing USC won the Rose Bowl two years ago and won the Pac 12 last season.  This isn’t even close to the same team.  I know they lost Darnold but that was just one guy.  Make no mistake this is a great win for Texas but I don’t think it’s a measuring stick at all.  There’s a good chance Texas reels off 8 or 9 wins this season but they still have some major talent and coaching issues.  They can certainly improve from here but that game against USC shows there’s still more questions than answers.

OhSU/TCU – TCU is one of the best coached teams in the country but this game shows they don’t have the elite talent to be a consistent major player in college football.  I love Gary Patterson as a coach but until he starts getting 4 and 5 star talent on campus TCU will be a second tier program at best.  Without some major luck I don’t see Gary Patterson ever playing for or winning a national championship.  He’ll beat a lot of teams in his time at TCU but I don’t think TCU is a nationally elite program.  At some point you have to have the big horses.

As for OhSU they’re now in the same boat as OU.  Their path to the CFP seems clear as well.  Based on the way the B10 looks all they must do is get by Penn State and they’ll roll into the CFP.  They’ll trip up a game but they’ll be 12-1 with a Big 10 Conference Championship I have a feeling.  They’re a good football team in a down conference.  Now they get their memory challenged head coach back which made me throw up in my mouth.

If I had to predict the CFP based on what games I’ve seen and paths to get there I’m predicting Bama, Clemson, OU, and OhSU all with 12-1 records and conference titles.  The CFP will have an easy choice as that Auburn win over Washington in Week 1 will keep them out of the playoff discussion.

I’ll even go so far as to pick each team’s one loss:

Clemson – South Carolina
Alabama – LSU
Oklahoma – West Virginia (which they’ll then turn around and beat them in the title game to win the conference)
OhSU – Maryland

Same old teams as always which is boring but it’s all about coaching in college football.  You either have a great coach or you don’t.

#MAFGA

 

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Thoughts from Houston Coach’s Night

Jimbo Coach's Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get ready to #MAFGA

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Jimbo Fisher: Ace Recruiter

Jimbo Signing Day

When Jimbo Fisher was hired by Texas A&M I had no doubt he could coach on the field.  I personally think Jimbo is a Top 5 on the field coach.  He’s as good as Saban when it comes to game planning, in game adjustments, and seeing the big picture of an opponent week to week.  The other coaches I put in this category are coaches like Gary Patterson, David Cutcliffe, and Bill Snyder.  These are coaches that have great football minds and there’s no doubt Jimbo has a great football mind.  The guys just win with whatever talent is given to them.  The guys understand how every play in a game fits into the big picture.

I don’t think coaches like Urban Meyer, Dabo Swinney, Jim Harbaugh, and Chris Petersen are in that category of being an elite football mind.  They’re great head coaches no doubt but they rely on their school, competition, staff, recruiting, and a host of other variables for their success.  Urban Meyer is on the cusp but the more I watch him I realize he’s only as good as his staff and talent.  Those 3 national titles were won with amazing talent.  Technically he’s the second-best coach in college football and I’ll agree with that but I don’t think he’s an elite football mind understanding the component of every play to the entire game.  I do think Jimbo is in that elite football mind group because Jimbo has an amazing football mind.  Some will argue with that based on his last season at FSU but all I know is the guy won more than 10 games in 6 of 8 seasons and his record in bowl games was 5-2.  Listen to him talk.  He ALWAYS talks football and not consultant speak.  He THINKS football all the time and understands it.

My question for Jimbo Fisher coming to A&M is if he could recruit.  That question was based on two things.  FSU had recruiting momentum when Jimbo took over and at Texas A&M when he took over it did not.  At Florida State Jimbo took over the reins from Bobby Bowden who had placed FSU as a top national program in a talent rich state.  Before Jimbo got to FSU the perception was that FSU was an elite national school.  Combine it with the location in a talent rich area and Jimbo just had to keep the machine Bobby Bowden built rolling.  In 7 seasons Jimbo’s lowest class at FSU was ranked 11th.  His last four classes were ranked Top 6 or better.  That’s consistent elite level recruiting.

At Texas A&M there hasn’t been elite level recruiting since the early 90’s.  Sumlin had a couple really good classes but I’m talking about truly consistent elite level recruiting where your program is Top 6 four consecutive years in a row.  A&M has never seen that.  A lot of that recruiting comes from winning as nothing helps recruiting more than winning.  A&M hasn’t had that so it’s been behind the ball in some time.  Getting to that level is kind of a chicken or egg thing.  You can’t win big without recruiting well and you can’t recruit well without winning.  Despite the 2012 season Texas A&M has been in this cycle of not winning enough to recruit well enough and not recruiting well to win enough.  There’s certainly some pieces in place to get there but in the last three decades we seem to be missing consecutive steps combining wins and recruiting more than one season to really get our football stride going as an elite program.

Every Aggie thinks A&M belongs in the discussion of top programs in the country.  A&M doesn’t have the history of winning like other programs but when it comes to money, location, facilities, resources, and passion there’s not many schools in this country that can match A&M.  For some reason Aggie football has been in a quagmire since the early 90’s.  I’ve always felt A&M simply made bad coaching decisions holding on to RC too long, hiring Fran without fully vetting him, hiring Sherman without checking other options, and letting Sumlin control A&M instead of controlling him.  A&M made some bad coaching decisions and college football is ALL about hiring the right coach.  Then again maybe it hasn’t been coaching and it’s just that A&M will never be an elite level program.  I tend to think it’s coaching but with Jimbo Fisher we’re about to find out.

My question since the day Jimbo Fisher was hired is if he could recruit at an elite level and get those steps going over multiple seasons.  It’s time for A&M to hit its football stride.  Jimbo still has a long way to go but his first step with his first recruiting class looks like he’s on his way to getting that stride going.  Don’t get me wrong steps 2-4 are the hardest but he put a damn good foot forward on step 1 which should help steps 2-4.  I think steps 2-4 are the hardest but step 1 is important as you need something to build off.  Unlike what Jimbo inherited from Bobby Bowden at FSU Kevin Sumlin did not leave Jimbo much at A&M in terms of recruiting momentum.  There’s certainly some key pieces in place so Jimbo isn’t starting from nothing but his work at A&M will be MUCH tougher than what he had to do at FSU when taking over.  Jimbo needed to nail step 1 to build to steps 2-4 and I think he did that.

Texas A&M only finished ranked 17th with it’s signing class but it’s the way Jimbo closed that class that should give Aggies hope.  If Jimbo can stride out steps 2-4 he’ll build Texas A&M into an elite level program.  In the days leading up to Signing Day Jimbo and his staff absolutely did work.  It started with getting Leon O’Neal back into the mix.  The one-time Aggie commit had wandering eyes once Sumlin was let go.  He was looking at programs like Clemson, OU, and Georgia.  Those are three schools that were in the College Football Playoff.  In the past, A&M loses a guy like him coming off a 7-5 season once they start looking at schools of that caliber.  It seems like Jimbo just had to reassure him Texas A&M was the place he belonged.  I don’t think that’s the case so don’t discount the amount of work Jimbo and his staff had to do to fend off schools like Clemson, OU, and Georgia.  People like winners and no schools are winning bigger than those three other than Bama obviously.  Pre-Jimbo Texas A&M loses Leon O’Neal.  Signing O’Neal is a MAJOR feather in Jimbo and his staff’s hat.

Leading up to signing day how A&M would finish was in big question.  A&M was in on lots of guys but most recruiting services were uncertain where a lot of these guys would go.  Some were leaning one way depending on who the recruit talked to but there seemed to be a ton of uncertainty overall.  I don’t think any recruiting service saw it playing out like it did for A&M.  Some experts had hunches but nobody knew for sure.  It was certainly possible but it wasn’t certain.  Pre-Jimbo the signing class finishes with a dud but with Jimbo it finished with a flourish.

On signing day Jimbo signed Texas guys that were committed Bama or were non-Texas guys looking at elite programs across the country.  Even though Vernon Jackson and Bobby Brown are Texas guys they still were technically verbal commitments to Alabama.  Jimbo and staff convinced them to flip to A&M on signing day.  A&M doesn’t do that Pre-Jimbo.  Charles Strong (a FL guy) looked like a sure thing to Ole Miss and Jimbo flipped him.  At one-point James Foster and Marcus “Tank” Jenkins seemed like a package deal out of Montgomery, AL.  As signing day closed it looked like Foster was going to Bama or FSU.  Jenkins looked destined to OU.  On signing day Jimbo convinced them to package to “The Station” as the kids are calling it these days.  Glenn Beal out of New Orleans was looking at Bama, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.  Jimbo convinced him if he was heading west of the Mississippi The Station was the place for him.

Jashaun Corbin out of Florida was looking at Tennessee, TCU and even Florida State to a degree.  Jimbo convinced him to sign with A&M.  Jeremiah Martin out of California was looking at Washington and Oklahoma but Jimbo convinced him to come to Aggieland aka The Station.  That’s 9 guys that Jimbo and staff convinced to sign with Texas A&M despite competition from MAJOR programs.  That’s an impressive crop of guys Jimbo closed on.  Jimbo and staff deserve a ton of coffee.  Coffee is for closers after all.

This class wasn’t perfect as there were some misses A&M could have had.  Jaylen Waddle wound up at Bama after looking like a heavy A&M lean.  The Aggies got in late on Javontae Jean-Baptiste but couldn’t get him and he signed with Ohio St.  Isaac Taylor-Stuart was a longshot to get out of California and USC and in the end he signed with USC.  He flirted with A&M but Jimbo couldn’t close.  Dorian Gerald seemed like a lock to Florida but evidently they didn’t send him a letter of intent to sign so he seemed like a get for A&M.  He wound up in Arkansas thanks to his relationship with John Chavis it seems.  Those guys would have been welcomed additions to the Aggie class due to position or talent but Jimbo and staff weren’t able to convince them to sign.  That’s not a negative just saying there were some misses as well.

It’s hard to fault Jimbo at all for this class as he was working behind the eight ball.  The 7-6 record and early signing period really limited what he could do.  He focused on key recruits and did a damn fine job landing key guys for Texas A&M.  It’s been three decades since we’ve seen A&M have something like that the week of Signing Day.  Usually it’s hoping just to hold the guys we had committed as the top programs made a run at them.  Jimbo’s Step 1 makes it seem like A&M will be closing guys down the stretch rather than hoping to hold on.  Signing Day was a damn good sign for the Jimbo Fisher era at Texas A&M.

Step 2 will be the 2018 season.  I will write about expectations for that in the next few weeks.  Step 3 will be the 2019 recruiting class.  So far things for the 2019 class look even better than 2018 and it must be.  17th ranked recruiting classes will not get you to the elite national level in college football.  If you listen to Jimbo’s signing day press conference it’s clear he knows that.  He’s happy with who he signed but he knows there is still lots of work to do.

That press conference gives great insight into Jimbo as a coach.  He is a coach that drills into the details himself.  He said when he got to Aggieland he immediately started watching film of every guy to evaluate himself.  He’s not a guy that leaves things up to his staff.  His staff is there to support him and not vice versa.  Jimbo makes the decisions because he has the grand vision for where Aggie Football needs to go and how to get there.  In addition it also sounds like he knows how to evaluate prospects from a technical and ability standpoint.  He’s not just watching film for the “wow” factor.  He watches film for ability and from a technical standpoint in isolation of teammates and competition.  He’s trying to project them to the next level.  If you didn’t watch that press conference and you’re a football nerd you’ll love it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSnwPjePthw

Jimbo still has lots of steps to take for A&M to hit its full footballs stride but all things considered his Step 1 was DAMN good.  He’s shown he can sell Texas A&M in short order.  He’s got to win on the field next while building the recruiting class of 2019.  Those next two steps are going to be crucial.  At this point there’s no reason to think Jimbo won’t be successful at Texas A&M but there’s still plenty of steps to take.  For now though Jimbo and his staff should enjoy their coffee because they flat out closed on the 2018 recruiting class.  It’s been a long time since A&M has since a close on Signing Day like this.  I like where these steps are going.  Things are trending to Make Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

Did Texas A&M Treat Kevin Sumlin Fairly?

kevin_sumlin__intro press conference

As we draw near to the end of the Sumlin era let’s look at how things got to where they are.  Over the next week or so there will be lots of narratives and agendas being pushed by various people in the local and national media.  Some will do it because of existing relationships with Sumlin, some will do it because of their perception of A&M, and some will do it just to draw attention in hopes of propelling their name.  Nobody will really be taking an objective look at how things got here because when you look at things objectively it’s actually pretty boring.  People like drama which propels attention so narratives and agendas will be pursued.

Before moving forward let’s address a potential elephant in the room.  The racist note the Sumlin family received after the UCLA game.  Some will want to use that as an example Sumlin was mis-treated and A&M is a racist school.  None of that is true.  Not one Aggie I’ve spoken with in private has any response other than they can’t believe someone sent that.  It’s not reflective of the A&M fan base at all.  That note was sent by a rogue Aggie “fan.”  Based on the writing and return address it’s likely an old white lady with some money.  The reality of her situation is she probably has more time and money than most and hits the wine too much.  In addition, her husband is probably tired of her nagging him and doesn’t talk to her anymore just like her kids.  He’d divorce her but it would cost too much so he just ignores her which means she needs an outlet to get attention.  One night the week after the UCLA game she had a little too much wine and wrote the Sumlin’s a note using the only address she knew that wasn’t her home.  She’s a pathetic human being and not reflective of the Aggie fan base at all.  If someone wants to use that to paint the entire Aggie fan base they’re just as pathetic with a feeble brain that can’t apply logic to a situation and also pushing an agenda.  It’s a terrible thing that happened but it means nothing the grand scheme if you have half a brain.

Dismiss anyone that wants to bring up that issue as a factor in anything related to Sumlin.  In fact, send them to this link which proves it’s a non-story as it pertains to the A&M fan base as a whole.  Mrs. Sumlin makes it pretty clear she sees it as a poor pathetic person acting as an individual and not a representative of the fan base – https://twitter.com/courshel/status/906988595696820224/photo/1

Another item to think about with people with an agenda against A&M is how the Sumlin situation was handled this week.  A&M is no different than any other major program.  Think about LSU two years ago.  Think about Texas last year when it was made aware Charlie Strong would not survive his last game against TCU no matter the outcome after three seasons in Austin.  Any Longhorn fans that talks trash about A&M in this situation just ask them about how Charlie Strong was handled.  It likely won’t shut them up because a lot of them are morons but it might.  It was handled almost the same way heading into the last game.  Think about Florida earlier this year when reports surfaced that McElwain’s agent had met with the Florida administration on a buyout.  The Florida AD denied that report and two days later fired McElwain.

Hell, think about how firings are handled in your workplace.  Sometimes they’re known before they happen as well.  I’m not saying people don’t deserve better but to say the Sumlin situation has been handled this week is different than how MULTIPLE other situations have is foolish.  Do I wish A&M could have handled it differently?  Sure.  Is it possible to handle it differently?  Based on other programs in similar situations it sure doesn’t seem like it.  You never know who is leaking this stuff as it could be the coach’s agent to get the word out there his coach is available.  Terminating an employee is rarely clean and quick no matter the level or industry.  Kevin Sumlin was not treated any differently than countless other coaches.  At least he’s not getting fired on the tarmac after landing from a road loss.  Coaches also leave on their own in less than desirable circumstances.  Sadly it’s the nature of the beast in the industry.  Don’t let anyone act like A&M is any worse than anyone else.

What I think is interesting about these changes is that it’s really a life lesson for the players.  At some point in their professional career someone they report to will move on which will change their professional outlook.  They also might be moved intercompany and have to report to someone they’ve never reported to before.  At that point an individual can either realize they themselves have more effect on their professional career than anyone else or they can wallow in self-pity they have a different boss they didn’t choose.  Winners go on and win while losers look for blame.  It’s not an easy lesson but believe it or not it can be a beneficial one.  We live in a world where things change.  I do believe a player should have 12 months to transfer to any school without sitting out once a school makes a change at head coach.  That’s my only real issue in changes like this.  Other than that it’s just a reality of life despite what the talking heads say.  They work for companies that lay people off or their bosses leave for greener pastures all the time.  They themselves have all left for greener pastures at some point but they fail to mention that when they become holier than thou in a coaching change.  It’s not perfect and never will be perfect.  It’s called life.

With that out of the way let’s talk about what Kevin Sumlin was given during his tenure at Texas A&M:

  • The greatest offensive line in A&M history, a senior laden defense, and Johnny Football in his first season as coach. He capitalized on it in his first season but he walked into a near perfect situation for a first year coach.  Most coaches don’t inherit the loaded team he inherited.
  • The nicest on campus football stadium in the country.
  • Football facilities that are on par with anyone in the country.
  • Money to hire any assistant/football staff he asked for.
  • The Swagcopter.
  • 30,000 seat student section which is the largest and best location for intimidating the opponent.
  • A passionate fan base of former students that ranked in the Top 5 of attendance during his tenure.
  • A large contract increase after his second year when there appeared to be potential suitors in the NFL and USC . This put him in the Top 5 of coaches salary wise and he would always be in the Top 7 of coaches in during his remaining tenure.
  • SIX seasons at Texas A&M which seems to be lost on people claiming he needs more time and stability. He had SIX seasons of stability coupled with everything else listed above.  Kevin Sumlin had PLENTY of time as head coach of A&M to establish as a perennial Top 25 program.

Now let’s list out what Kevin Sumlin didn’t do:

  • Place higher than 3rd in the SEC West even in his first year when he went 10-2 in the regular season.  He never placed higher than 4th after the 2012 season.
  • Win more than 8 games in the regular season beyond his first season in 2012.
  • Finish in the Top 25 in his final 4 seasons. He finished at #5 and #18 in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
  • Have a winning SEC record outside of 2012. Most seasons he was 4-4 in SEC games.
  • Win SEC games in November after the 2012 season. Heading into his final game against LSU he is 4-10 in November games against the SEC from 2013 on.
  • Win SEC games at Kyle Field. In his six seasons Sumlin was 8-14 against SEC opponents and 3-12 against SEC West opponents at Kyle Field.  What was once a major home field advantage in college football Sumlin never could utilize.
  • Have a winning record against the Mississippi SEC schools. Sumlin is 3-3 against both Mississippi SEC schools.  While respectable programs A&M should have a winning record against those programs based on resources.
  • Beat LSU ever. Heading into this weekend’s game Kevin Sumlin has never beat LSU in five tries.  That trend will likely continue.
  • Keep a consistent string of starting quarterbacks. We all know about the Kyler Murray/Kyle Allen situation but where Sumlin really screwed up was not recruiting Jarret Stidham twice.  I can understand the first time as he was completely enamored with Kyler Murray as where a lot of people.  However, the second time he had the opportunity to recruit Stidham he had no veteran quarterback on the roster and passed.  He should have learned with Trevor Knight what a talented transfer quarterback can mean to a football team that has a depleted quarterback situation.  If he signs Stidham in the last recruiting class he’s likely secure as A&M’s head coach right now.  He didn’t learn his lesson which is a trend with him.
  • Keep his offensive line stocked with talent. What was a strength during his first season fell off dramatically due mainly to a bad string of offensive line coaching hires in identifying talent.  Jim Turner appears to be too little too late at this point.
  • Change his ways of coaching when coaching for his job in 2017. There were no visible changes for how Sumlin handled in game situations in 2017.  His handling of the clock based on awareness of the game situation was no different than previous seasons.  The preparedness of his team before certain games and coming off bye weeks seemed no different than previous seasons.  He never adjusted to winning SEC games at Kyle or November.  For a coach that alluded to doing different things in 2017 because of the perceived “hot seat” the results were the EXACT same as the previous 4 seasons.  His stubbornness or lack of awareness didn’t change one bit when it needed to.
  • Establish Texas A&M as the definitive SEC program West of the Mississippi. I’ve always felt one thing Sumlin should have done was establish A&M as the Western outpost of the SEC.  He was well on his way securing major commitments out of Arizona and Nevada but his lack of wins never allowed him to establish what should be a key component in A&M’s recruiting.
  • Hire a competent offensive coordinator after Kliff Kingsbury. Clarence McKinney, Jake Spavital, and Noel Mazzone were not successful offensive coordinators.  They scored points and gained yards but their offenses were wildly inconsistent disappearing and not sustaining drives in games when they mattered most.  Sumlin chose to hire people he had a relationship with rather than hiring the most competent offensive coordinator he could find.  His hiring of Jake Spavital and not demoting him fast enough also lead to the firing of B.J. Anderson and hiring Dave Christensen to coach the offensive line which was a complete disaster.  He did a nice job hiring Jim Turner but it seems too little too late.  Speaking of Dave Christensen ask the Christensen family how they felt after Christensen was let go after one year.  Sometimes the college coaching profession is a messy business and neither side is perfect.
  • Win without Johnny Manziel. Sumlin was 20-6 (77%) with Johnny Manziel and 31-19 (62%) without.  It’s not a stark difference but it’s a difference that contributed to his dismissal.  Most of the difference is tied to his SEC record.

Let’s talk about some of the things Kevin Sumlin did do:

  • Had the guts to start a redshirt freshman by the name of Johnny Manziel that would win A&M’s second Heisman and lead A&M to a Top 5 finish that season.
  • Beat Arkansas a perfect 6 times. It took 3 of those going to overtime but credit is due where credit is due.
  • For the most part ran a really clean program Aggies everywhere can be proud of. There were a couple of problem players early in his tenure and the Kirk Merritt situation wasn’t handled in the best manner but Sumlin ran a program that never shamed A&M relative to other programs.  He’s a good person that served A&M admirably as head coach outside of wins and losses.
  • Recruited really well. Sumlin was by the far greatest recruiting coach in the last 20 years.
  • Hire John Chavis. Despite what some people think John Chavis has been a really solid defensive coordinator.  Sumlin might already be fired if it wasn’t for John Chavis.  He’s been worth 3-4 more wins in Sumlin’s tenure and could have been worth 3-4 more wins with a competent offense.  John Chavis is not perfect but I stand by he’s a Top 10 defensive coordinator in college football.  Credit to Sumlin for making this hire as it’s saved his job until now.
  • Continued putting players into the NFL but that is trending down at the moment.
  • While this area is mostly positives there is one thing Sumlin did that needs to be remembered and referenced earlier. During the 2013 season he flirted with the USC job along with NFL openings.  That flirting got him his 6 year/$30 million contract extension.  While the talking heads talk about loyalty from the A&M side they need to remember Sumlin was looking out for himself during the 2013 season.  I don’t fault him but don’t forget Sumlin has been on the business side of things himself.

When you look at the ledger of what Kevin Sumlin was given, what he didn’t do, and what he did do as coach at Texas A&M it’s hard to say he was treated unfairly by Texas A&M.  He was given everything he asked for over six seasons but yet failed to finish in the Top 25 despite being paid as a Top 5-7 coach.  He was compensated way higher than what he delivered over the last four seasons.  It’s not a knock on him personally but it is a knock on him as a head coach.  He simply didn’t deliver to the expectations that were placed on him and Texas A&M has decided to move on.  Those in charge of Texas A&M feel that Aggie Football is capable of achieving better results than what Kevin Sumlin has and will likely deliver.  It’s nothing personal as a clear pattern of mediocre football has been established under Sumlin’s final five seasons.  It’s a business.  Sumlin knows this better than anyone.  Win enough or else.

Going back to how things were handled this week there are reports Sumlin was made aware of the decision prior to the public report by Brent Zwerneman in the Houston Chronicle.  If Sumlin failed to inform his staff that’s on him as he could have given them a heads up to start putting feelers out for other jobs.  I’m sure Sumlin’s agent has already got a jump on things reaching out to athletic directors that might be interested in hiring Sumlin.  I don’t think Sumlin has been sitting on his hands waiting for the official public announcement from Texas A&M.  I doubt his assistants have been sitting on their hands as well despite the article by Bruce Feldman claiming an assistant first hear about it when the Chronicle published Zwerneman’s story.  I’d wager every one of Sumlin’s assistants has put some kind of feeler out for employment next year.  Employee departures are never easy and clean.  Welcome to this thing called life.

Despite all of the noise what’s going to happen is there to be a change in head coach at Texas A&M in the next couple of weeks.  A month from now everyone will have moved on from this week’s news of how Kevin Sumlin, his staff, and the players were claimed to be “treated unfairly” by a few people with an agenda or need for attention.  At worst if Sumlin, staff, and players found out via the Chronicle story at least he wasn’t in the driveway of a recruit like Mike Sherman.  There have been worse coaching termination notifications and there will be worse.  It’s never a clean move despite what the “experts” say.  It’s all part of the business.  Kevin Sumlin will likely have a new head coaching job in a month from now if he really wants one.  He’s a fine coach but he’s just not a great coach as the last five years at A&M have shown.  Maybe this is the wake-up call he needs to finally make changes to his coaching style.  Either way a year from now all of this will mostly be forgotten just like Charlie Strong and Texas last season and countless other coaching changes over the years.  This is no different.

It looks like Jimbo Fisher could be the new guy which I’m fully on board with.  It’s a MAJOR statement hire by Texas A&M and likely the most sure thing out there.  It won’t be cheap but it could absolutely be worth it.  A&M made a bold move to the SEC which woke some people up but hasn’t woken everyone up.  Some people still don’t have an objective opinion of Texas A&M Football.  The hire of Jimbo Fisher will continue to wake people up that Texas A&M has the ability and desire to compete with the top programs in the country.  It’s all about coaching and A&M is making a move to see if they can find the right coach to Make Aggie Football Great Again like it was from 1985 to 1995.  No more and no less despite what someone may want to portray it as.

#MAFGA

BTHO LSU!

Gig ‘Em Aggies!

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Thoughts on the Ole Miss Game

2017 Ole Miss

This week’s thoughts are going to be pretty short because the Ole Miss game was more of the same as we’ve seen all season.  Even with Nick Starkel starting his first game of the year against a P5 team since UCLA it was much of the same.  I will say that had Kellen Mond started the game we likely lose.  Ole Miss committed to shut down the run and luckily Starkel was able to complete passes.  If we don’t have a passing game then we lose that game without a doubt.

Before I get to my analysis the craziest thing about the game was the first 7 possessions by each team were mirror images.  When Ole Miss scored A&M scored.  When Ole Miss punted A&M punted.  When Ole Miss turned the ball over A&M turned the ball over.  Pretty crazy first 14 possessions for the game.

Now to my quick analysis of the game.

Offense:

We scored 31 points but only 21 of those were by the offense.  All of those in the first half.  The defense was responsible for 7 of those points and LaCamera was responsible for the other 3.  Outside of responding to what Ole Miss was doing in the first half this offense didn’t do much at all.  Every chance we had to really respond and take the lead or even start pulling away we didn’t do anything.  It was completely frustrating seeing us get the ball with a chance to take the lead or pull away and couldn’t do anything.

I believe coming into this game Ole Miss was 125th against the run in the country.  That’s out of 129 teams.  That’s not good as they’ve given up around 5.5 yards every carry.  What did A&M do to exploit that?  Not a damn thing.  A&M running backs rushed 38 times for 133 yards.  That’s 3.5 yards per carry which isn’t terrible.  Take away Keith Ford’s 43 yard run and we rushed 37 times for 90 yards.  That’s 2.43 yards per carry.  Against the 125th ranked run defense in the country that’s terrible.  Three yards a carry less than their average.   That’s maddening we couldn’t exploit that.

Even worse is Trayveon Williams carried the ball 26 times for 75 yards.  That’s averaging 2.9 yards a carry but the worst part is his longest run was 6 yards.  Trayveon got the ball 26 times and the longest run he could muster was 6 yards.  26 chances and his longest run was 6 yards.  Trayveon’s longest run was what Ole Miss gives up on average every run coming into the game.  Let that sink in.  Trayveon is a home run hitting running back so that’s all on our offensive line.  On 26 carries not once could they open up a hole big enough for Traveon to bust off a run longer than 6 yards.  That’s terrible.  It seems it was just basic running schemes off the left guard or right guard.  It was great to see us commit to the run in the second half but it’s disconcerting that we couldn’t actually establish a running game against a TERRIBLE run defense.

I know our offensive line is terrible but it’s more frustrating that our offense can’t scheme any home run plays for two really good backs.  Especially against a team that’s struggled against the run.  We couldn’t really do anything in the running game other than what a high school team can do.  I don’t get it.  It appeared to be basic zone blocking and nothing more.  I’m fine with zone blocking but when you can’t establish it against a terrible run defense you better have something else in your back pocket to try.  We had nothing other than keep handing off and crossing the fingers hoping a big play happens.

We also still had issues with snaps.  I don’t know how many there were but I believe I counted around 5 during the game.  There was a crucial one being on the last drive where we were trying to punch it in to the end zone to put the game away.  It completely stalled out a potential goal line score.  Erik McCoy is our best offensive lineman by far but I have no clue why he can’t clean up his snaps.  I don’t get it at all.

Starkel was 19 of 32 for 272 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception.  That’s less than 50% so he wasn’t exactly lighting it up but it was a solid enough performance.  It was definitely good enough to win and I don’t think Mond would have done the same.  We might have had a better running game with Mond but it wouldn’t have been dominating at all.  Mond wouldn’t have been the difference in establishing a running game but just more likely he would have busted off a couple longer runs.  I still think we lose with Mond though.  Starkel helped us win that game but the defense in the second half was the reason we won the game.  Not the offense.

From a receiving standpoint Damion Ratley had probably the best game of his career.  He was outstanding catching 5 balls for 111 yards and a touchdown.  He had two big catches on our first two offensive possessions when we had to respond to Ole Miss scores.  He’s had his ups and downs this season but he’s been tremendous at times.  Kirk had his normal productive game catching 5 balls for 77 yards.  Jhamon Ausbon had probably his best game of the season catching 4 balls for 61 yards.  Outside of those three there wasn’t much else in the passing game.

Let’s get to some nitpicking.  There was an extremely frustrating moment in the first half.  It looked like we were setting up a trick play or some kind of play to our tight end.  We wind up false starting as the tight end streaked down the field before the snap.  That’s completely a high school team move.  We’re about to call a play with a wrinkle and our offense got ancy completely screwing it up.  Similar to what happened in the Florida game.  It just reeks of being unprepared and not disciplined.

From a coaching standpoint on offense Kevin Sumlin showed what appears to be continued complete unawareness of urgency.  Ole Miss is lining up to kick a 28 yard field goal tied 21-21 with 28 seconds left in the half.  The clock isn’t rolling because there was an incomplete pass so there’s no need to call a timeout by A&M.  We call a timeout so I guess Sumlin thought he was icing the kicker.  Um, you can’t ice a kicker on a 28 yard field goal.  That’s 8 yards longer than an extra point.  There’s no icing a 28 yard attempt.  I’m not sure what Sumlin was thinking with that timeout.  I really don’t.  By the time the kick went through the uprights there was 24 seconds left in the half.  That’s not a lot of time but you can move the ball with 24 seconds and two timeouts to set up a field goal and try to tie the game going in at half time.  Those two timeouts would allow you to attack the middle of the field rather than just the sidelines.

What happens when Ole Miss kicks off?  They kick the ball short to Trayveon and he bobbles it before taking off.  Seems like a lack of focus or urgency by him but he actually got to the 32 yard line with 17 seconds left.  Not a lot of time but decent position and you have one timeout.  Go for the middle of the field, call the timeout, and go for a hail mary.  What do we do?  We run the ball.  Trayveon runs to the sideline for a 2 yard gain stopping the clock.  We then rush it up the middle for 6 yards and let time expire.  I don’t get it.  If you have no intention of calling the timeout you have why not kneel it?

If you don’t want to take a chance on a pass why not call the timeout and run the ball again on a draw or screen in case you happen to break a long run?  It’s not likely but if you’re going to try and run twice why not try a third time?  It’s just mind boggling what Sumlin is thinking in those situations.  He doesn’t have ANY sense of urgency or awareness.  I’d been fine if he just kneeled it.  Why expose your running back to two additional hits along with your other players if you have no interest in scoring?  I just don’t get Sumlin’s end of the half play and clock management.  I don’t think he honestly knows either.

Another situation was at the end of the game we’re up by 4 with 2 minutes left on the 1 yard line.  It’s 4th down and Sumlin decides to kick the field goal.  It’s a chip shot which would put us up by 7 but we now have to kick off to Ole Miss with a little less than 2 minutes left.  Ole Miss has no timeouts left and would have to score a touchdown.  Sumlin decided rather than attempt a 4th and goal from the 1 yard line he’d rather go up by 7 and kick off to Ole Miss.  If we score the game is over.  No way Ole Miss can score 11 points with less than 2 minutes and no timeouts.  If we don’t make it then Ole Miss has to drive 99 yards for a touchdown with 2 minutes and no timeouts because a field goal won’t be enough.  I would think a head coach would know the probabilities of a team scoring from a kickoff in under 2 minutes or driving 99 yards in 2 minutes.  I can’t help but think driving the 99 yards with 2 minutes and no timeouts to be much less likely.

To make matters worse I think our kickoff specialist who can kick it out of the back of the end zone was hurt as LaCamera was handling kick offs.  LaCamera is a great field goal kicker but doesn’t have Braden Mann’s leg on kick offs.  We don’t even have our best kick off guy which would seems more reason to go for the touchdown to put it away or set up a 99 yard drive.

LaCamera kicks off to their 15 and they return it to their 34 yard line so they’re set up pretty well.  Ole Miss has three incompletes which ended their series before it could ever get going so we wound up just fine.  Sumlin’s decision there just reeks of a coach not confident in his offense and not knowing the likely percentages of a team scoring with 2 minutes and no timeouts either having to go 99 yards or receiving a kickoff that’s returnable.  It turned out fine but I would love to know if Sumlin knows the related probabilities in those two scenarios.  I would think a coach would have some clue.  Maybe Sumlin knows the probabilities and that was the basis for his decision but I highly doubt it.

He just seems to have ZERO sense of urgency or awareness for what’s going on for all facets of the game when it comes to making decisions.  It appears he just decides in a vacuum of actual football probabilities and awareness for his team.

Defense:

We’ll talk about the first half briefly.  We all saw what happened.  It’s confusing how we gave up over 300 yards in the first half but only 66 in the second half.  It’s tremendous we did it because it saved the game for A&M but the difference in the halves is amazing.  From my standpoint there was no sense of urgency coming out to play the first half.  There were TONS of missed tackles it seemed.  There was no swarming to the ball and the defense just seemed to be going through the motions.  Ole Miss wasn’t known as a running team coming into the game but they ran all over us in the first half.  Defending the run with our front 6 has been a strength of this team for most of the season.  It was terrible for a half against a team not known for running the ball.  I didn’t understand it as it was happening and still don’t for the most part.

The second half was completely different as our defense shut down the Ole Miss offense.  They held Ole Miss scoreless and only allowed 66 yards in the second half for their 8 possessions.  That’s domination.  Amazing adjustments by Chavis at half so the defense deserves major credit for the win.  Without them stepping up in the second half we lose that game.  I don’t even really know what else to write because it’s so dysfunctional where the same players can get rolled in the first half and then dominate the second.  You got me but credit to the Aggie defense for stepping up when it mattered most.

And of course the key play of the second half was the pick six by Derrick Tucker.  That was the only time the Aggies saw the end zone in the second half because our offense stunk it up in the second half.  Just an uncanny game with two completely different halves of football.  You got me.

Special Teams:

More of the same here where lots of inconsistency from various units but there was one star and that was Shane Tripucka.  He punted 8 times for 368 yards which is a 46 yard average.  Most importantly he pinned 5 of those kicks inside the 20 yard line.  I thought he was outstanding all night.

Other than Tripucka nobody really stood out to me from a special teams standpoint.

Going Forward:

I don’t think this game changes anything with Sumlin.  Even if he beats LSU I think he’s gone.  I don’t think he’ll beat LSU though as if Ole Miss can shut down our offense for a half then LSU can shut us down the whole game.  I think LSU has enough talent on offense to score more points than our offense will score.  At 7-5 Sumlin will be done with no question.

Even with a win over LSU I don’t think Sumlin survives 8-4 because I think the relationship of Sumlin and A&M is done.  I think both parties will agree to move on.  With UCLA opening up I wouldn’t be shocked to see Sumlin take that job.  It seems to suit him a lot more.  Bright lights and not the same sense of urgency A&M has to win it all.  Sumlin can survive a LONG time winning 8 and 9 wins a season at UCLA.  I think he’ll go there and we’ll be off the hook for a good portion of his buyout.

As for Sumlin’s replacement I’m now all in on Jimbo Fisher.  He’s kind of a jerk but he can flat out coach.  It won’t be cheap but he’ll do better than Sumlin and there’s a good chance he’ll make A&M the second best team in the SEC West.  Plus, it’s a major shot that Texas A&M is serious about winning big time college football.  Attracting Jimbo Fisher IMMEDIATELY changes the perception of Texas A&M from a national standpoint.  It’ll prove that A&M is interested in being more than the sleepy college football program that perpetually underachieves relative to its resources.  It’s a hire that says Texas A&M is now a Top 10 job in the country like it should be.  Maybe Fisher won’t be successful but his track record says otherwise.

If we don’t get Fisher then I say give Chad Morris a chance assuming he keeps John Chavis and his defensive staff.  Either way we have to act quickly with an early signing period this year.

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!

2017 Aggie Football Season Prediction – Part 2

2017 Aggie Prediction Graphic

In last week’s post I talked about the team in general and how I think this year’s team is worse than last year’s team from a talent standpoint.  The loss of Trevor Knight, Myles Garrett, and Josh Reynolds will be a major factor in how this team does and I think it does worse than last year.  That won’t help Sumlin as I think Sumlin needs to win 9 games in the 2017 season to save his job.  There’s an outside chance he could win 8 games but he’ll need that 8th win to be against LSU and I’m not sure that’s possible.  At the end of last season I thought the 2017 season would be a colossal failure with 6 wins being a major question.

Looking at the schedule again I think it’s possible there’s more than 6 wins this season.  The schedule is not nearly as daunting as I originally thought.  There’s a lot of winnable games.  Now, that doesn’t mean there’s more wins than last season as we still have the same coaching staff that only won 8 games with a more talented team.  Still, this schedule is more manageable for wins that I originally thought.  The problem will be coaching.

For this exercise I’m looking at each game from a standpoint of if it’s winnable with the talent we have on the 2017 team and then if it’s winnable from the standpoint of the current coaching staff.  I’m calling these two assessments WWT for Winable With Talent and SOS for Same Ol’ Sumlin.  There is enough talent to win 9 games but I don’t think our coaching staff and most importantly the man who wears the #1 headset has the ability to win 9 games if the last 5 years are any indication.

Let’s get to the games.

UCLA:

This is an interesting game because UCLA was 4-8 last season and we beat them to open up the season.  We had them handily beat but a late 4th quarter come-back by UCLA sent this to overtime where the Aggies prevailed.  Their 4-8 record is deceiving because they lost Josh Rosen halfway through last season and Rosen makes this a totally different team.  Prior to Rosen going down in the Arizona State game they were 3-2 with wins over BYU and Arizona with losses to A&M and Stanford.  They only lost to Arizona State 23-20 so it’s reasonable to think they win that game if Rosen doesn’t go down.  He means a lot to this offense.

They lost quite a bit from last year’s team much like A&M but I think getting Rosen back will be the difference in the game.  Their defense is susceptible and they lost some talented receivers.  When I look at this matchup I feel that they have a good offensive line and outstanding QB so it’s really a fairly even matchup across the board as we have great defensive tackles.  Their defense is susceptible as will be our offense with a new quarterback taking his first ever snaps under center or a quarterback that’s never beat a P5 team in multiple starts.

This is a winnable game but I don’t think Mazzone runs an offense different than last year’s and like always he’s just randomly picking plays over having a real plan to attack their defensive weaknesses.  Rosen is going to put up points and we have to counter but I don’t think we do.  We’ll be on the road with a new quarterback playing in an almost full stadium.  It’ll be a beautiful sight everywhere except on the field for the Aggies.  Winnable With Talent is a Yes but Same Ol’ Sumlin is a No here.  Sumlin suffers his first loss of the season in game 1 although it’s a winnable game.  Not the way to start the season.

SOS: 0-1; WWT: 1-0

Nicholls State and ULaLa:

Two Louisiana schools roll into Kyle Field and get Sumlin back to and above .500 before heading to Jerry World to take on Arkansas.  I know ULaLa once beat us causing me to call R.C. Sloucm’s ex-wife to discuss the game but that was in Lafayette and Tupac had just been killed so the team wasn’t focused at all.  At least that’s a rumor of why we lost that game.  Rap seems to be in a peaceful place where any feuds are just words and not bullets so I think the Aggies are safe in both of these games.

SOS 2-1; WWT: 3-0

Arkansas:

This is the most fascinating series to me because after the Johnny Years when we went back to JerryWorld Arkansas has outplayed us for the most part.  The games 2 and 3 years ago we had to make amazing fourth quarter comebacks to send it to overtime where we won out.  Last year’s end result was a total ass kicking but had our defense not made some key stops, got some turnovers, and Trevor Knight not make two big runs we lose that game.  We really do.  While we’re 3-0 in the last three games of this series we could easily be 0-3 at the same time.  Sumlin has been lucky these games.

I think Arkansas is similar to us in that they’re not as good as last year.  I love their quarterback in Austin Allen as he’s as solid as they come but I think their offensive line is worse than last year and they don’t have the running game they had either.  Defensively they’re just okay and not great.  I think this is going to be a pretty ugly game but the Aggies win in the end.  It’s definitely a winnable game and I think A&M continues their run against Arkansas as Sumlin has Beliema’s number although Sumlin has no clue how or why he does.  Arkansas couldn’t definitely win this game though and it’s not a gimme.  Still, I think the Aggies win.

SOS 3-1; WWT: 4-0

South Carolina:

Our “rival” in the East comes to Kyle Field to open up SEC play at Kyle.  I think South Carolina is getting better under Muschamp but I think they have a long way to go to match A&M’s talent.  This is an interesting game to me because I feel A&M is much better from a talent standpoint but Will Muschamp could see this as a winnable SEC game for his squad and pull out all the stops beating Sumlin.  Not really a trap game but just South Carolina implementing some wrinkles A&M is not expecting at all.  Muschamp knows he needs some SEC wins and a win over A&M would be a big feather in his hat.  If Sumlin and the team take South Carolina lightly they’ll absolutely lose but for the first home SEC game of the season I think the Aggies win here.

SOS 4-1; WWT: 5-0

Alabama:

There isn’t ANY chance that A&M beats Alabama in 2017 even at Kyle Field.  Not a single chance.  I really think this could be a slaughter.  Something like 45-7 and this is where the wheels start coming off the Sumlin wagon.

SOS 4-2; WWT: 5-1

Florida:

After getting pounded at home against Alabama the Aggies will have to turn around and head to The Swamp.  Believe it or not I think this is a winnable game for the Aggies.  I think Florida is a slightly better team but they’re not the Florida teams under Urban Meyer or even Muschamp’s first year.  This is a team that went 8-4 getting pounded by Arkansas, Florida State, and Alabama while blowing a sizeable lead to what wound up being a mediocre Tennessee team.  Their marque win was a 16-10 win against LSU in Baton Rouge in which they should have lost.  They also barely beat Vandy 13-6.  Still a really solid team but this is a winnable game with great coaching.  However, we don’t have great coaching.

I think we lose but don’t be surprised if this is an Aggie win as this Florida team is really beatable despite what people think.  McElwain is not an elite coach at all.  They’re going to get pounded by Michigan to start the season.  I just don’t think Sumlin can pull this one out after getting beat by Alabama but it’s entirely possible.

SOS: 4-3; WWT: 6-1

Mississippi State:

While MSU had our number last year I think we’ll take care of them this year at Kyle.  This will likely be an 11:00 am game so we’ll return the favor they did to us last year.  They have a great young quarterback but we’re still a more talented team and I think we’ll be looking for payback for what happened last year.  I honestly think Mullen might be the second best coach in the SEC because what he does with MSU is remarkable.  It really is.  He’s as good as any coach in the SEC not named Nick Saban.  He just doesn’t have the talent to compete with the other teams in conference.  Aggies win this one no doubt.

SOS: 5-3; WWT: 7-1

Auburn:

I’m really torn on this game because I can’t figure out Gus Malzahn.  At one point I thought he was a remarkable coach but I’m torn on him at the moment.  They were 8-4 in the regular season last year but got pounded by OU in the Sugar Bowl.  OU had a really good team but Auburn wasn’t even really competitive in that game.  They’re not consistent at all.  He didn’t have a quarterback last year but he had a pretty solid defense and they were kind of all over the place.

This year they have Jarrett Stidham under center which I think changes the dynamic of their team as Malzahn is at his best with an exceptional quarterback.  I think Stidham is the difference in this game and Auburn beats A&M.  This too is a winnable game for A&M with great coaching but I think the quarterback play will be the difference.  It’ll be ironic as Sumlin has passed on recruiting Stidham twice.  The first time he favored Kyler Murray over Sitdham and now there’s no Murray on the team.  This last year he favored Kellen Mond over Stidham and Stidham went to Auburn.  Might be kind of ironic if Stidham winds up being the reason Sumlin loses his job.  This is a winnable game for the Aggies but Sumlin will find a way to blow it.

SOS: 5-4; WWT: 8-1

New Mexico:

This will likely be an 11:00 am game and will be the least attended game at Kyle Field all year.  Maybe ever for the new Kyle.  Ironically enough it’ll be Sumlin’s last game at Kyle and nobody will be there to see it.  Sumlin will get the win but if there’s nobody there to watch it will it really matter?

SOS: 6-4; WWT: 9-1

Ole Miss:

I have no clue what to think on this one.  This is the 11th game of the year for Ole Miss and their season could go in two COMPLETELY different directions.  Obviously Hugh Freeze is a moron off the field but I’ve always thought he was a moron on the field as well.  Twice he let Johnny Football come back on him at home and then twice he won two games in which A&M completely vapor locked from a coaching standpoint.  At Ole Miss two years ago Jake Spavital made a fool of himself and his precious note cards.  The Aggie defense played well enough to win that game but Spav couldn’t get the offense to do anything.  Last season Ole Miss scored 23 unanswered points in the 4th quarter to beat A&M.  It’s not anything Freeze did but the A&M coaching staff collapsed in those games.

Enter Matt Luke who was the offensive line coach for Ole Miss.  I know nothing about this man but I do know he could be better than Hugh Freeze as a coach.  He has an outstanding young quarterback in Shea Patterson.  Luke is coaching for his life and has a decently talented team.  Can he rally an Ole Miss team by coaching better than Freeze?  I think it’s possible as Freeze’s bar wasn’t really high in my mind.  Or is Luke a failure of a coach and by this game the whole Ole Miss team has quit making this an easy for win for the Aggies?  I honestly have no clue because I don’t know anything about Luke as a head coach.  A&M could be falling apart at this point as well with the team knowing Sumlin is gone.

Right now I’ll give Sumlin the benefit of the doubt in this game because interim coaches tend to be worse than the previous coach.  At best I think Luke is Coach O at LSU last year but I think that’s a stretch.  It’s entirely possible A&M loses this game but at this point I’ll give Sumlin the win.

SOS: 7-4; WWT: 10-1

LSU:

I promise I went through the list of games above independently not looking at the season as a whole.  As it stands with my prediction Kevin Sumlin walks into Baton Rouge with his job on the line needing to get to 8 to have any chance of keeping his job.  I didn’t do that by design but it could absolutely play out like that.  If he goes 7-5 with a loss in Baton Rouge for his 6th straight loss to LSU then he’s done.  I don’t think there’s anything that will save him in the scenario.  However, if he can pull off win 8 against LSU and especially with Mond as his quarterback he has a puncher’s chance of holding his job.  I think he would hold it if that happens because his buyout is so much and he seems to be recruiting decently enough.

I’m not sure what to make of Coach O as head coach at LSU.  He’s working with one of the most talented teams in the country with two outstanding coordinators and a dynamic running back but they still don’t have a quarterback.  I was never a fan of Les Miles as he reminded me of Mack Brown.  He beat the teams he was supposed to be beat with the talent he had but he had problems against more capable coaches.

I don’t see any way A&M beats LSU in this game but I don’t know what Coach O looks like over the course of an entire season.  A part of me thinks he’s a super conservative coach that doesn’t want to make mistakes.  Those are the kinds of coaches you can beat with an aggressive game plan.  That’s not Sumlin but depending on how the season goes with Coach O along with what’s on the line for Sumlin this could be a winnable game if Sumlin has his back against the wall.  I think this LSU team is too talented for this A&M team so LSU wins even with great coaching but by game 12 you never know what could happen with a job on the line.

I’m chalking this up to a loss even if Sumlin’s job is on the line and A&M comes out with an aggressive game plan.  It’ll be too little too late and Sumlin will get his $10 million check and be on his way.

SOS: 7-5; WWT:10-2

 

Summary:

So there you have it.  Kevin Sumlin will go 7-5 and this will be his final season in Aggieland.  It’s possible with this schedule and the talent on the team to go 10-2 so Sumlin can save his job if he’s really focused.  I don’t think he cares though.  I think in the back of his mind he knows he’s getting $10 million no matter this year’s record.  He doesn’t have it in him to make the changes needed in how he handles game preparation and in game management.  I think that’s why there’s so much talk about the new strength and conditioning coach.  He’s deflecting his shortcomings.  As I’ve said time and time again it wasn’t strength and conditioning that lost those final 4 games to close out last season.  It was mostly lack of good decision making by the head coach.  He couldn’t see things before they happened and prepare the team.  Instead he just looked shell shocked at the result.

I hate saying this but I equate this year’s Aggie football season to last year’s Presidential election.  Don’t get stirred up by what happens prior to November.  None of it matters.  Don’t get worked up over what’s in the press or what happens in games.  I equate games to the debates as they won’t be pretty at times and you’ll wonder if this is the best we have to offer.  There will be a change in November and there’s nothing you can do about it.  I just hope those in the decision making process give us something better than Hillary or Trump.  If not, we might be wishing for Same Ol’ Sumlin…

Gig’ Em!

2017 Aggie Football Season Prediction – Part 1

12th Man Flag

I have no clue how the 2017 Aggie Football season will go.  I don’t think Kevin Sumlin will be the Aggie head coach come December but I’m not sure of our final record.  I think Kevin Sumlin has to win 8 games to even have any consideration of keeping his job.  If he wins nine then he’s fine but I don’t know if he’ll get there.  Based on last season I think 7 wins is the ceiling for this team.  There’s no kool-aid to be drank here as far as the team goes but there is optimism in the schedule.  Coming into the season I thought the schedule worked against us and doomed Kevin Sumlin but I don’t think it’s as bad as we originally thought based on looking at it little more.

I’ll go through my game by game prediction with a record prediction next week but for now I want to talk about the team in general which is where I see the most concern.  This 2017 team has to start where the 2016 team ended and that’s not good.  For a brief re-cap the 2016 is the team that lost to Mississippi State, Ole Miss, LSU, and then lost to Kansas State in the bowl game for which they had a month to prepare.  That’s a pathetic ending to the season.  Simply pathetic.

Against Mississippi State the team was simply not mentally prepared riding their #4 ranking.  Sure, the loss of Trevor Knight during the game didn’t help along with Myles’ injury but there’s more talent on the A&M team than Mississippi State team and A&M should have won.  The team thought they could sleep walk to a win and was wrong.  That was on coaching.

The Ole Miss game was a complete choke job AT Kyle Field.  We blew a 21-6 halftime lead AT Kyle Field to lose 29-28 to a guy starting his first college game ever as a TRUE freshman.  That’s right, a Kevin Sumlin lead time let a TRUE freshman start his first game AT Kyle Field and overcome a 21-6 halftime deficit.  I’m not even sure that’s the worst loss of the season.  It should be but to me it’s not.  I don’t even want to get into the LSU game.  That game was a 54-39 shootout.  That still boggles my mind.  How did their inept offense score 54 points and then our pop gun offense score 39 points on them is beyond comprehension.  I would have to watch film of that game a dozen times to figure it out and I have don’t have the time or desire.

To me the worst loss of the season came in our bowl game against Kansas State.  In Houston in a stadium full of Aggies we let an inferior team beat us 33-28.  That’s an infuriating loss.  How does Kevin Sumlin let that happen?  The team was not prepared despite having a month to get ready for a Bill Snyder team that just doesn’t make mistakes.  They don’t do anything flashy but they just don’t make mistakes.  That was a crappy KSU team and they owned Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies.  Sumlin should have been fired for that loss.  He really should have.  Instead Sumlin blames his strength and conditioning coach for the collapse down the stretch and fires him as he’s the last coach Sumlin hasn’t fired other than himself.  Meanwhile nobody is wondering how with a month to get our legs and stamina back we lose to KSU in a home bowl game.  That is maddening.  It really is.  Larry Jackson was not the problem last year.  Kevin Sumlin was.  For the last half of the season he didn’t have his team prepared to beat a Power 5 conference team.  He lost all 5 of the final games against Power 5 conference teams.  That’s a major collapse beyond strength and conditioning.

Yet, all you’ve heard this off season is how amazing our new strength and conditioning coach is.  People are really buying into the fact that our team will be totally different because for 5 seasons we had a total sham of a strength and conditioning program.  I just don’t get how people are drinking so much maroon kool-aid because of a different strength and conditioning program.  I have no doubt Mark Hocke is an outstanding strength and conditioning coach but I also have no doubt the issues with this team extend beyond the team’s strength and conditioning.  It starts at the top with Sumlin.

The 2017 season will go beyond the issues at head coach as this team just isn’t as talented as last year’s.  There might be more depth and experience at needed positions like linebacker and offensive line so that’s good but I’m not convinced that’s actually the case.  Either way, this team lost the three most important players from last year.  Those players in order of importance are Trevor Knight, Myles Garrett, and Josh Reynolds.  Yes, I put Trevor before Myles.

There is no doubt the most productive quarterback in the Kevin Sumlin era is Johnny Manziel.  Believe it or not there is also no doubt that Trevor Knight is the second most productive quarterback of the Sumlin era when it comes to wins and losses.  It sure as hell isn’t Kenny Hill, Kyler Murray, or Jake Hubenak.  A case could be made for Kyle Allen but Trevor Knight was 7-3 in games he started including the Mississippi State game which I think we win if he plays the full game.  Trevor Knight is the second best quarterback in the Sumlin regime and now he’s gone and people are expecting this team to be better.  I think we’re a 6-6 team at best last year without Trevor Knight.  That’s why he’s the most important guy from last year.  We certainly lose to Arkansas without him and likely lose one of UCLA, Auburn, and Tennessee without him if not all three.  We might have had a losing season without Trevor Knight last year.

We’re going to start a quarterback at UCLA that has either never taken a snap at the college level or never won a game against a Power 5 team.  Nick Starkel is not Johnny Manziel.  Kellen Mond is not Jalen Hurts.  Jake Hubenak is Jake Hubenak.  This is our quarterback situation for the 2017 team.  Trevor Knight was a fifth year senior and even though he lost his job to Baker Mayfield he did win a Sugar Bowl against Alabama.  With all of that Trevor was still 7-3 as a starter.  He was a little erratic as a passer but he was perfect for Mazzone’s zone read offense.  I’m just not sure we’re going to have someone as good as Trevor under center this season.  Mond could get be all world but I don’t think it’s going to happen as a true freshman.  We shall see.

The loss of Myles is obvious.  He was the #1 pick in the NFL draft and he was a one man Wrecking Crew even while injured.  Teams looked to double team him (aka hold) and rolled plays away from his side.  He was the focus for opposing offenses and now he’s gone.  I don’t see how the defense is better without him because he was that big of a factor for our defense.  Our defense will still be loaded at defensive tackle, should have more depth at linebacker, and will have great safety play with Watts and Wilson but the loss of Myles is going to be like the 2013 defensive line losing Demontre Moore and Spencer Nealy rolled up in one person but even worse.

I know everybody loves Christian Kirk but all Josh Reynolds did last season was have 111 more receiving yards and 3 more touchdowns despite 22 fewer catches than Cristian.  That’s not a knock on Christian at all as he’s an amazing talent but the coaching staff always wants to talk about Kirk while Reynolds was more productive and under-utilized in my mind.  He was way more Mike Evans than we realize and he’s going to be missed.  I know we get Kirk back and Ausborn looks legit but we lost our most productive receiver from last year and nobody is talking about this headed into the season.  The drop off from Reynolds and Kirk to the other receivers last season is dramatic.  There’s nobody close on the 2017 roster than can match what Reynolds did besides Christian.  Nobody.  Ausborn will be a true freshman so I don’t see how he replicates the production of a senior that got drafted in the NFL.  Maybe he gets to 75% of Reynolds production but even that’s a decline.  I just don’t see how the loss of Josh Reynolds isn’t a factor for the 2017 receiving corps being worse.  I’m confused why everyone thinks our receiving corps is going to be so strong when Ricky Seals Jones and Speedy Noil did nothing from a production standpoint despite their natural talent.  Josh Reynolds is easily a Top 10 all-time A&M receiver and nobody is talking about his departure like we’ll miss him.  We’ll miss him in a bigger way than most people would imagine.

While we’re talking about receivers, after this season Kevin Sumlin will have had 4 receivers drafted into the NFL in Ryan Swope, Mike Evans, Josh Reynolds, and Christian Kirk.  Outside of those 4 guys I can’t think of a serviceable wide receiver in the Kevin Sumlin era besides Malcome Kennedy.  Kennedy was a solid college player but he wasn’t great.  Basically, if you don’t have NFL talent then Sumlin isn’t going to develop you to be a productive collegiate receiver.

With those three guys gone from last season I don’t know how this team is better.  I just don’t.  There’s still plenty of talent on this team so it won’t be terrible but the more I think about it, I think the 2016 Aggie Football team was a damn solid football team.  The best since 2012 by far.  That team still only got 8 wins and it wasn’t from lack of conditioning.  It just got outcoached and that hasn’t changed for 2017 as the coaching staff remained in-tact except a couple of position coaches.

Let’s look at this team from unit standpoint:

OFFENSE

Coaching – Noel Mazzone is back calling plays for another year.  While he’s not horrible he didn’t show in year 1 that he’s an exceptional play caller.  He relied a lot on zone read and didn’t adjust for when Jake Hubenak took the reins when Trevor went down.  That’s a concern he’s not adapting to his talent.  He’s better than Spavital but I’m not sure by how much.  He’s what I call a play picker and not a play caller.  He’s okay at designing plays but from what I’ve seen he doesn’t really call plays in any kind of succession that sets plays up or calls them in some rhythm for what the defense is doing.  He just looks at his play sheet and randomly calls plays based on theoretical execution.  I don’t have a lot of faith in Mazzone but hopefully I’m wrong.

Quarterback – I covered this above but we’re going to start someone that’s never taken a collegiate snap or never won a game they started against a Power 5 conference team.  Trevor Knight was a 5th year senior that had played in some big games at OU.  We don’t have that under center.  You hear great things about Starkel and Mond but they have to produce in a game.  Allen and Murray supposedly had all of the talent in the world and we saw how that turned out.  I’m just real cautious at QB as this could be our worst season yet under center.

Running Back – Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford are back.  Both of these guys are outstanding backs averaging over 5 yards a carry last year but they’re not exceptional.  They wouldn’t start at Bama or LSU which are two teams we play every year.  That’s not a knock on those guys but just more of a reality of the situation we’re in.  Until you get guys that can start at LSU or Bama you’re always going to be looking up at them.

Wide Receiver – Covered this above as well but the loss of Reynolds is going to be huge in my mind.  Ausborn sounds legit but he’s still a true freshman.  Think back to Trayveon Williams and how he faded down the stretch.  A 12 game SEC schedule is not a high school schedule.  There’s going to be an adjustment period.  I know there are some other talented freshmen but they’re still freshmen in the SEC and that’s tough.  Some people are making this out to be a strength of the team because of talent and depth but we’ve had that before as Ricky Seals Jones and Speedy Noil were supposed to have NFL talent and we know how that turned out from a production standpoint.  We’ll see but I think our passing attack takes a step back with the loss of Reynolds.

Offensive Line – The offensive line should be better this year as the interior of the line has one more year under its belt.  Our tackles seem serviceable with Sutherland and Martin but let’s not kid ourselves this is not our usual offensive line where there’s NFL caliber talent anywhere on the line.  It will be a decent offensive line but it won’t be anywhere near as dominant as we’ve seen in the past under Sumlin.  Once again strength and conditioning are being blamed but maybe it’s just lack of talent that’s been recruited.  Only so much a strength and conditioning coach can do if there’s no talent.  I love Jim Turner and think he’ll get the most out of them but this isn’t a dominant offensive line that can overcome a bad game plan, play calls, or errors by the skill position.

DEFENSE

Coaching – It’s no secret I love John Chavis as a defensive coordinator.  The dude looks and talks the part.  Prior to the last half of last season he executed the part too.  However, the last half of the season made me wonder if he’s like a pitcher that lost his fastball.  Our defense got torched starting in the Mississippi State game.  I was ready to crown this defense the Wrecking Crew again after the Auburn and Arkansas games but I think the Tennessee game took a toll on the defense.  In that game they started holding guys up and trying to strip the ball which helped as we got 7 turnovers that game.  However, I think the team lost the fundamental ability to tackle which I thought was Chavis’ real calling card as a DC.  Up until that game it was the best tackling unit I’ve seen since way back when RC was head coach.  Hopefully the second half was just a blip and Chief gets his defense back to fundamentals of assignment football and tackling.  The jury is currently out on him though based on the second half of last season.

Defensive Tackle – We’re loaded here.  We really are.  This is definitely the strength of the defense which is good because you have to be loaded at defensive tackle if you want to compete in the SEC.  I just hope Daylon Mack finally takes that next step as he seems to have first round NFL talent but hasn’t played up to it.  This unit is the anchor of our defense and I feel good about them.

Defensive End – As talked about above the loss of Garrett is going to be massive as well as Hall although it seems he might have underachieved last season.  His talent was still real.  There’s actually some decent talent here but it hasn’t produced up until this point.  Not the talent of Garrett and Hall but it’s not terrible talent.  We just don’t have much depth here either.  I think the defensive ends can be serviceable but serviceable defensive ends aren’t usually enough in the SEC.

Linebackers – I’m torn on the linebackers.  It seems we finally have some depth here but I’m not sure as not sure if the true freshmen will be able to provide that depth.  I like Anthony Hines and Marchiol but they’re still true freshmen entering the SEC.  We heard all about how Tyrell Dodson was ready to crush heads in the SEC but the dude had problems executing his assignments last season.  I think Dodson will be better this season but while we now apparently have depth at linebacker staying healthy and executing assignments are the next step.  Neither of those have been a strength of our linebackers under Sumlin so not sure this is the season it becomes different.

Safety – We’re totally fine here with Watts and Wilson and Larry Pryor looks like he can fill some of the void left by Justin Evans.  Much like defensive tackle this is a strength of our team.  Watts is like a little Honey Badger as he just has a nose for getting the football when we need it most.

Cornerback – This is an area of concern for me.  Nick Harvey was spotty as a coverage guy last season and he’s out for this season.  Looks like Willis and Oliver will be the starters who are decent but I don’t think outstanding.  My main concern at the corner back position is with no pass rush these guys are going to get exposed.  Chavis likes to play aggressive with his corners and if there’s no pass rush these guys could get exposed big time.  I think we could see some big passes against us this year if Chavis doesn’t back these guys off a tad unless we develop a pass rush.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Outside of Christian Kirk returning kicks I’ve never seen anything from the special teams under Kevin Sumlin and Jeff Banks.  I mean nothing.  We’ve had some decent punters but even then they weren’t Shane Lechler.  Most elite teams have really good punters so it’s just more of the norm in college football these days.  That should be our expectations.

Last year we had Justin Evans and Keith Ford returning kicks which still boggles my mind.  Those guys are great athletes at their positions but they’re nowhere near the explosive return man you need for big returns.  Evans was a freaking strong safety and he’s returning kickoffs.  I never understood that.  We couldn’t find a single receiver that was fast than Evans and Ford with hands we trust?

Other than Christian Kirk I’d love to know the number of touchdowns we’ve scored on kickoff or punt returns against Power 5 conference teams.  I bet it’s not more than 5 during Sumlin’s 5 years here.  Other than Myles Garrett how many field goals or punts have we blocked against Power 5 conference teams?  I bet it’s not more than 5.  I don’t know how 2017 will be any different for our special teams other than Kirk returning a couple punts for TDs.  This unit has just been a non-factor under Sumlin unless there’s an extremely talented player.  It’s certainly not well schemed and coached in my mind.  It’s not even average.

If I were Sumlin I’d put a poster of Frank Beamer in my Special Teams coach’s office and limit his internet browser to YouTube and videos of Virginia Tech special teams under Frank Beamer.  I’m not kidding.  For some reason some people think Jeff Banks is a good special teams coach and I can’t think of why as there hasn’t been big plays out of our special teams since Sumlin has been here.

Summary

This team isn’t horrible by any stretch but I don’t see how it’s better than the 2016 team.  This really reminds me of the 2013 season where everyone thought we’d be fine but no one truly analyzed the losses because we had Johnny Football back.  That 2013 team lost a lot on defense and a few key spots on the offense like Luke Joeckel and Ryan Swope.  That 2013 team lost two more games in the regular season than the 2012 but that 2012 team won 10 games so 8 wins wound up being respectable.  Last year’s team only won 8 games so if the 2013 and 2017 teams parallel the previous season’s team we’re looking at 6 wins in 2017.

Next week I’ll take a game by game look at the schedule and make predictions.  I honestly think there’s anywhere between 5 to 9 wins on the schedule.  I think 9 wins is VERY extreme but I don’t think the schedule is quite as tough as we originally imagined so 9 wins is possible.  It’s still daunting but there’s some factors about each game I’ll cover next week.

Thoughts from the Tennessee Game

trayveon-vs-tenn

First off, something VERY major happened with that Tennessee win.  Kevin Sumlin confirmed his spot as Aggie head coach for one more season.  It was trending he was off the hot seat but if the Aggies collapsed like the last two seasons and he lost to Tenn, Bama, Ole Miss, and LSU there’s a slight chance Sumlin could have lost his job.  With this win we’re a 9-3 regular season team and will play in a damn good bowl game.  Kevin is gonna win at least nine so with that Tennessee victory on Saturday night he guaranteed he’s fine for 2017.  Congrats Coach.

Secondly, I’m TIRED of all the hand wringing about the Wrecking Crew.  Yes it’s frustrating and statistically it doesn’t look good at times but the reality is this Wrecking Crew while not dominant responds and makes plays when it has to.  The offense is still a work in progress but for 90% of the game our defense is playing their assess off and making plays.  I get the frustration of the 10% when they’re not dominant but don’t ever forget what those guys are doing for almost the entire game.  Tennessee is a damn good football team and dialed up some great plays and made some second half adjustments we were late to adjust to.  Still, that defense played their ass off on Saturday night and they’re the reason we won.  While our offense was sputtering our defense was holding their own for most of the game.

If Trayveon Williams doesn’t fumble out of the back of the end zone there’s a good chance we win that game 42-28.  I’m not sure Tennessee would have scored knowing they had to come back two scores down with under 2 minutes.  If he’s tackled it’s a 35-28 game that we kneel out.  That changes the perception of things big time.  I’m not putting this on Trayveon directly but the odds of that play happening are miniscule and yet totally changed the perception of the game from a defensive standpoint.  In overtime the Wrecking Crew showed up and held Tennessee to only 5 plays including the field goal.  When they had to, the Wrecking Crew has shown up twice in overtime games.  I don’t like the stats either but the point is this defense has shown they can show up and make plays when it’s needed most.  We haven’t had this trait in a LONG time.  Like I’ve been saying this defense won’t be this good next year so quit with the hand wringing on this defense and enjoy it because you’re going to be doing lots of hand wringing next season.

Before I get into the analysis can we PLEASE stop assuming when a defensive player goes down he’s faking it?  Every time a Tennessee player went down someone in my section was yelling they were faking.  Even before they carted their guy off people were yelling he was faking.  Uh, he went off on a stretcher.  That’s one hell of a fake.  We’re not even running a true up tempo offense right now so Tennessee had ZERO incentive to fake injuries because they were already missing three starters on defense.  When you’re injured you have to sit out a play.  They weren’t faking.  The rules allow a defense time to make substitutions based on offensive substitutions so you don’t see the amount of faking you used to see.  The worst was I heard an impromptu yell while a Tennessee player was on the ground.  That’s completely classless.  I would love to think Aggie fans are better than that but maybe not.  The MOST important thing that should come out of every game is every player leaves without any kind of injury.  Please have some respect when people are down on the field.  If we’re running true up tempo and an opponent’s player goes down repeatedly then it can be questioned.  But please don’t boo or yell at a player down on the field just because you think they’re faking it.  I don’t want Kyle Field turning into a place that’s not respectful of the opposing players when they’re injured and it sure got close on Saturday.  We’re not the idiots in Austin.  At least I hope not.

The Wrecking Crew:

I’m starting with the defense this time mainly to drive home the work these guys did.  Statistically at the end of the game they look liked crap.  I mean utter crap.  Evidently we witnessed the defense that gave up the most yards ever in an Aggie football game.  That’s insane because for the 3 quarters and then in 2 overtimes I saw a damn dominant defense.  At the end of the first half we were up 21-7 and at the end of the 3rd quarter the score was 28-14.  I mean that’s REALLY respectable.  Damn respectable.  That’s where I wrestle with Tennessee played better than A&M and we got lucky to get a win.  For 3 quarters we soundly beat Tennessee mainly thanks to our defense.   We really did.

Tennessee was 0-7 on third down conversions to start the game.  They didn’t convert one third down the entire first half.  Say what you want but that’s DAMN impressive.  They wound being 6-17 for the game which means they were 6-10 in the second half which isn’t so impressive.  I don’t know the exact stats but I’m assuming at least 4 of those came in the 4th quarter.

We clearly melted down in the 4th quarter giving up 21 points and everybody forgets what this defense did for 3 quarters.  We won 3 quarters and OT and Tennessee won the 4th quarter.  So did Tennessee really play better than us?  I don’t think so.  I think Tennessee just got really hot in the 4th with some REALLY great play calls and our defense was too slow to adjust.  Most of those play calls were screens that took advantage of aggressiveness and pressure along with crossing routes that took advantage of the pressure our linebackers and safeties were applying. We were leaving the middle of the field wide open for crossing routes.  It was some really great play calls by Tennessee.  We probably should have gone to a much more conservative defense but that’s not how Chavis rolls.  He likes to bring pressure.  I don’t like what happened in the 4th at all but it’s hard to fault these guys for how they played for 3 quarters and the overtime.  They were truly dominant for 45 minutes of the game and then the same thing in overtime.  I can’t fully explain the 4th quarter melt down other than solid play calling by Tennessee and execution by a pretty talented team.

There are two things I can fault this defense for and the first time I’ve seen it all season.  The tackling was TERRIBLE.  I mean just terrible.  I don’t know if it was because Tennessee is the best team we’ve played athletically all year or something else but this defense was not bringing Tennessee players down like we’ve done with other teams.  It was really noticeable.  The other terrible thing by this defense was the defensive ends playing in place of Myles Garrett were biting on the zone read really bad.  So much so Dobbs got some pretty nice runs when there shouldn’t have been anything there.  On the zone read the defensive end is left alone and the QB makes the decision to leave the ball with the running back or pull it and run outside if the defensive end is crashing.  Usually there’s not much help out there so if the QB sees the defensive end crash and pulls the ball he’ll get a decent gain.  Dobbs was doing that repeatedly so I don’t know why our defensive ends kept crashing as they need to stay home and be disciplined.  I think it was just a case of those back-up defensive ends being excited to make plays and forgetting what should have been disciplined football.

Speaking of defensive ends I have no clue what was going on with Myles Garrett. Early in the game he was playing on passing downs but then he kind of went away for the most part and then showed up in the 4th quarter and played basically the rest of the game.  He was even in on a punt return in the 4th quarter.  If he was hurt why was he in a punt return?  I don’t get why we’d even expose him to special teams.  Either way I’m not sure why they handled him like they did.  Maybe they realized they finally needed him in there later in the game but it’s kind of head scratching how he was handled.  I will say when he finally did go full time in the 4th quarter he looked solid.  He wasn’t his normal dominant self but Tennessee was focused on him and Myles was  pushing their tackle around.  In VERY limited action he still got 1 sack and a tackle for a loss.  I hope he’s fully healthy going into the Bama game as he’s a flat out game changer.  Even injured he helped stabilize a defense late in the game.

As for the rest of the defense the guy who stood out the most was Armani Watts.  Watts is such a baller.  I mean flat out baller.  The dude took the ball away from a guy that was about to walk into the end zone again.  He just clean stripped it from the guy and held it.  He just does that time and time again.  It’s amazing.  Obviously he got the game saving interception which looks like a bad throw by Dobbs but if you watch Watts on that play he had great anticipation knowing where it was going.  He was playing the ball and not the receiver because he knew where it was going.  His instincts are uncanny.  I questioned if he was going pro after this season but there’s no doubt in my mind he’s gone.  I think he’s a first round draft pick.  He should be an All-American based on how he plays.  I once thought Evans was better but Watts is the better all-around safety and it’s not even close at this point.  That’s not a knock on Evans at all but Watts is just better.

The other guy that stood out the most was Shaan Washington.  That dude seems to be coming into his own right now.  I really feel like he’s gotten better each week where he’s now a legit SEC linebacker.  Alaka looked decent but Washington is clearly our best linebacker right now and I don’t think it’s close.  I’m not sure how many plays Tyrel Dodson got but he had some really solid plays.  He’s a true freshman but I think he’s going to be a really solid contributor the next 2-3 seasons.  I doubt he goes pro early but the kid looks like a baller as a true freshman.  Nobody really stood out from the linebacker position as the lack of tackling was really bad.

The defensive line didn’t get as much pressure as it usually does but it wasn’t bad at all.  Dobbs wasn’t holding on to the ball very long but we still wound up with 4 sacks and 5 QB hurries on 47 pass attempts.  Keke, Henderson, Walker, Mack, and even Chevis did they usual thing of just consuming blocks for a big part of the game.  Henderson and Mack each got ½ a sack each.  Hall had a pretty solid game bringing pressure from his side as he wound up with ½ sack but most importantly he had 4 QB hurries.  Even though I griped about the other defensive ends biting on the zone read when they shouldn’t have, Dobbs only wound up with 57 yards of rushing with a long run of 33 so he wasn’t gashing us on the zone read.  As usual the defensive line was the strongest part of our defensive effort.

Not much more to say about Watts and Evans as they wound up being the leading tacklers on the team along with each having an interception.  I don’t know what more you could want out of these two.  Donovan Wilson was tied for 4th on the team in tackles so all our safeties do is produce.   At corner I actually thought Harvey and Willis played really well.  Probably their best game yet.  Dobbs threw for 400 yards but 160 of them were to their running back so I can’t fault our corners for those yards.  I mean that’s 40% of their passing yards right there.  They didn’t get burned deep as the longest pass was for 43 yards and the rest were under 27.  All of the passing yards just seemed to be screen plays to the running back and then crossing routes late in the game.  As much as I love Chief that’s really on him for not adjusting to a Tennessee OC that was clearly calling great plays against an overly aggressive defense that wasn’t watching for certain plays.

I know people want to rail on the Wrecking Crew for the total yards and the defense at the end but I just can’t.  For three quarters they played stellar football and I contend had our offense taken better advantage of the turnovers the defense got then everyone is talking about what an amazing game the Wrecking Crew played.  I’m not totally putting it on the offense but the offense did need to do more in the second half when the defense was giving them the ball.  I know Tennessee had 7 turnovers but a lot of those were caused by us and most importantly we got to the ball.  There was one fumble late in the game where the running back fumbled it and Dobbs tried to pick it up rather than run with it to which he bobbled it and we jumped on it.  We have to give credit to our defense for being around the ball and jumping on it rather than trying to be a hero.  Just jump on the ball.  Fundamentals.  The Wrecking Crew just makes plays when they have to.  It doesn’t look like the Wrecking Crew of old but like I’ve said time and time again this ain’t the Southwest Conference.  We need to clean up our tackling but these guys play their asses off and make plays when they have to.  We now have two 2 OT wins where the defense held the offense to a field goal in the first OT and then didn’t let the other team score a TD when they had to in the second overtime.  That’s pretty damn solid.

Offense:

Not sure where to begin here.  Do I start with Knight or Williams?  I’ll start with Williams.  Except for ONE play this guy was amazing.  I mean flat out amazing.  217 yards on 28 carries averaging almost 8 yards a carry.  That’s unreal for a true freshman that wasn’t touted like an Adrian Peterson, Fournette, or any of those Georgia running backs.  This dude has essentially been carrying this offense since the Auburn game.  He really has.  He’s the biggest difference maker on this offense and it’s not even close.  He’s come so far since his first game when I honestly thought Keith Ford was the better back.  Williams’ vision is his secret.  The dude is so good at anticipating things and adjusting before it happens.  He knows when to cut and when to be patient.  This was his 4th SEC game and he hasn’t been denied the end zone in any of them.  When he gets to the second level he’s really dangerous but watching him he’s so good at getting beyond the line.  He sees the whole develop and knows to accelerate or do a jump cut and go.  Then when he’s on the second level he doesn’t go down with contact and constantly adjusting while going forward.  I don’t know who he looks like to be honest.  It’s a rare combination I haven’t seen in a long time.  Maybe more like Ladanian Tomlinson more than anyone but I think Williams is bigger.  He’s just amazingly fluid in doing it that it looks effortless.  He obviously had the fumble at the end of the game.  If he scores or gets tackled that game is over and never goes to overtime.  It’s hard to fault him for what happened because of his effort the entire game but hopefully he learned a lesson you don’t ever give up until you cross the goal line including protect the ball.  Still, this guy has carried this offense to 4 straight SEC victories so I’m not going to get on him about anything.  He’s going to be a BIG reason why we win 10 or 11 games in the regular season as opposed to just 9 if we wound up with 10 or 11.

Good ol’ Trevie Knight.  At this point he is who he is.  He was a dead flat 50% passer with 2 TDs and 2 INTs.  That’s about as half good and half bad as it gets.  But the damn kid can flat out run.  I mean flat out run like you wouldn’t expect.  If he didn’t have his legs I think we’d be miserable with him as our quarterback but if he gets a seam up the middle on the zone read and into the secondary the kid has amazing top end speed.  It’s actually really amazing to watch as he’ll frustrate you with his passing and decision making through the air but then the next thing you know he found a seam up the middle and he’s prancing untouched into the end zone because no one could catch him.  He sucked everyone into being frustrated and then next thing you know he’s in open field showing off his wheels no one expects him to have.  All you can do is smile as he crosses the goal line and gives everybody the double gigs.  Kid doesn’t get down and just keeps grinding waiting on opportunity to strike.  That’s actually a very admirable trait as a quarterback has got to have confidence and persistence.

Watching him pass is just really remarkable because he’s so inconsistent.  He’ll have some flat out amazing passes and then have some head scratchers on how the same guy can be so inconsistent.  The pass I do like the most although I don’t always agree when it’s called is the deep sideline ball.  He’s obviously inconsistent but he hits it enough it’s worth trying and with our receivers it’s likely to not be intercepted.  I love that it keeps the defense honest because if they don’t account for it and Knight hits it then it’s a big play.  Mazzone tends to do it on second downs where I’m wanting to string along a more consistent drive but it’s worked enough I’m okay with it.  Mazzone is trying to hide it between 1st and 3rd downs to keep defenses on their toes and to give us another down if it doesn’t hit.  It’s worked enough that I can’t really complain but there’s been a drive or two where I just wanted to keep the ball on the ground and move the chain that way.  The biggest problem with Knight passing is that his bad passes are so frustrating they outshine the good passes.  After every game I can remember a lot more bad passes than I can his good passes but that’s just the way it goes.  I’ve also gotten so used to his passes being bad I thought the pass to Kirk in the second overtime was actually picked off the way people dove for it.  I was shocked when it was actually caught by Kirk.  Sorry for ever doubting you Trevor as I don’t know if it went where it was supposed to but it was between two defenders where only Kirk could catch it.  Keep doing what you’re doing as you have more confidence in yourself than any fan does.  More often than not it’s worked in everyone’s favor so just be you and we’ll enjoy this ride with you.

I thought the offensive line did fine as usual.  Tennessee slowed down our running game it seemed in the late 3rd and early 4th quarters but when it mattered most they made holes for Williams to run through and gave Knight time in the pocket late in the game.  They weren’t really dominant at all but they only gave up one sack and we had almost 600 yards of total offense so we clearly had time and holes most of the game.  I don’t remember any WTF moments like we tended to have 2-3 times last year in a game which is a big positive.  There were a couple of penalties that need to get cleaned up and only one high snap on a play I thought we were going to fumble but Knight was able to get into Williams hands for a touchdown.  I’d obviously like to see this line keep getting better and better but the end results are about as much as you can ask for considering we had no clue what to expect coming into the seasons.  Jim Turner has just done a tremendous job with this group considering this was a major question coming into the season.

As far as receiver goes I still stand by the fact Josh Reynolds is the best receiver on this team and the most underrated receiver in the country.  I’m not sure if he plays at the next level but he’s got the speed with decent size that some NFL scout and GM has to watch some film and be giddy at the fact they could take a flier on this guy late in the draft at this point because no one talks about him.  He had a tremendous one handed catch that went for over 30 yards.  It was just an amazing catch with a defender draped all over him.  He had a 15ish yard catch that would have been a clutch 3rd down conversion but we had a lineman downfield so it came back.  That would have pushed him to over 100 yards on the day.  He’s not Mike Evans so you can’t just lean on him like we did with Evans but I firmly believe we should use him more often.

Kirk had a nice day as well catching 7 balls for 80 yards and a score.  I’m not sure what to think about Kirk at this point.  I love the guy and we all know he’s amazingly talented but I’m not sure Mazzone is using him the best way he can.  He seems to be using him mainly on the edges on the bubble screens.  Kirk is an amazing talent so it seems like we should be using him more in space.  I know defenses are keying on him but it just seems we’re not exploiting him as best we can.  We love to run him in all kinds of motion but we don’t ever use him in the motion.  I keep waiting for us to flip the ball to Kirk as a diversion but we haven’t done it these last few games.  Maybe it’s being done to keep defenses honest and read coverage but we’ve never used him of all the times we’ve run Kirk in motion and snapped the ball with him in the backfield.  We did do it against UCLA I think but nothing in SEC games.  I’d love to see him and Reynolds lined up in a stack and run routes downfield off each other.  It just seems he could be much more productive.  I’m not down on Kirk at all as he’s producing but I’m just not sure Mazzone is really using him like he should be.

As for the rest of the receivers they didn’t do too much which is pretty disappointing considering Tennessee’s secondary isn’t one of the best we’ll face all year.  I know RSJ was out but with the way Tabuyo played last week I was hoping he might be a factor and wasn’t.  Speedy had a 27 yard catch but he also dropped a 3rd down conversion that hit his hands so that was a little disappointing.  I know Trevor is an inconsistent passer but this whole squad of receivers except for Reynolds and Kirk just seems to be inconsistent as well.  There’s plenty of talent there but they just seem to underachieve.  I don’t know if that’s on the receivers themselves or Moorehead as their coach.  If he wasn’t our receivers coach next season I wouldn’t be too disappointed as I haven’t see anything come out of that guy in the time he’s been here other than late night Twitter battles.

As for the play calling I’m still not sure what I think of Mazzone.  I still believe he’s a play picker and not a true play caller.  To me a true play caller is someone that is always setting plays up or sequencing plays to keep drives alive.  We were 5-16 on third downs which isn’t great by any stretch and how we’ve been all season.  We have to get better at that.  I mean it’s actually really terrible as we could be sniffing 50%.  The offense is a little too sporadic for me to think he’s always thinking 2-3 plays ahead or knows the perfect time to call a play based on what he anticipates the defense is going to do.  He’s not horrible by any stretch as we saw horrible the last two years but we just seem to stall out for periods at a time and can’t sustain drives.  We’re a big play offense more than anything else and at some point we’re going to run into a defense that doesn’t allow big plays.  I’m looking mainly at LSU and Bama in that regard.  It’s why I don’t think this is a playoff caliber team.  I do think it’s a borderline Top 10 team because we can hit the big plays but we need more consistency from our offense to sustain drives to truly be an elite level team.   This is a really good football team but it’s not elite mainly because our offense can’t sustain consistent drives.  That’s on Mazzone.

Special Teams:

Man what a cluster this whole day was.  My theory on special teams is unless you truly practice it or are fully dedicated to it like Frank Beamer used to be then it just shouldn’t be noticeable.  That wasn’t the case for us on Saturday.  We all know about the missed potential game winning kick but there was PLENTY of other issues during the game.  Tripucka shanked 3 punts and all in the second half I think.  He had some nice points but midway through the game he just seemed to hit a funk where he didn’t connect cleanly on 3 or maybe even 4 punts.  He did pin 6 punts inside the 20 so he’s actually really good at that but he can’t be shanking balls.  Braden Mann who is our kickoff specialist kicked a ball out of bounds in the 4th quarter.  It wound up not hurting us as I don’t think Tennessee scored on that possession but he can’t be kicking the balls out of bounds.  He just can’t.  Boom it out of the back of the end zone and be done.  The 12th Man did make an awesome hit on a kickoff to cause a fumble we recovered so that was solid.  According to the stat sheet on 12th Man.com we didn’t return one punt or kickoff which I guess is right but Tennessee punted 6 times so I guess we just fair caught each one that didn’t get downed or go in the end zone.

My take on our special teams right now is we’re not going to win any games with special teams so we need to make sure we don’t lose any games because of special teams.  No shanked punts, no kickoffs out of bounds, or mis-handling of the ball.  I do have to give LaCamera credit as he was perfect with extra points and after missing the 38 yarder to win the game he hit the 34 yarder to tie the game and send it to the second overtime.  It’s good to see a kid put a major miss behind him and come back with confidence.  Still, hit the field goals in regulation and let’s avoid overtime all together!

 

Make no mistake that was a damn fine win on Saturday.  Any of the Aggie teams in the last 3 years would have lost that game.  There’s no doubt in my mind.  That win puts as at 9 wins minimum and I think we actually win 10 games splitting one of the Ole Miss or LSU game.  It’s possible we win both of those but I still need to see more of each of those teams to figure out who they are.  It’s possible we go into Bama and win that game but we’re going to need lots of help or Trevor to channel the Trevor that beat Bama in the Sugar Bowl.  In fact now that I think about it I’d love for Sumlin to tell Mazzone to roll the dice and create some plays we haven’t ran all season.  We have two weeks to prepare and nothing would excite me more than to see us come out with stuff Bama hasn’t seen all season.  It’s what I wanted Spav to do last year which he clearly didn’t.

I might do a more in depth analysis of us vs Bama next week after watching Bama and Tennessee this weekend.  It really couldn’t set up any better for us to have a common opponent take on Bama while we take the week off.  Ole Miss put up 43 on Bama and Arkansas put up 30 on them so they’re not invincible.    Bama scored 48 and 49 points in those games but our defense is clearly better than those teams.  I’m not saying we beat Bama but if Sumlin, Mazzone, and Knight realize we’re essentially playing with house money we stand a real chance.

As it is let’s just enjoy this victory over Tennessee and being 6-0 for the first time since 1994.  We’ll worry about Bama next week.  Oh and if there was a Gameday curse we finally got the sucker off our back!  Good job Ags!