Football

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.