Football

2017 Aggie Football Season Prediction – Part 2

2017 Aggie Prediction Graphic

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

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

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

Let’s get to the games.

UCLA:

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

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

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

SOS: 0-1; WWT: 1-0

Nicholls State and ULaLa:

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

SOS 2-1; WWT: 3-0

Arkansas:

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

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

SOS 3-1; WWT: 4-0

South Carolina:

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

SOS 4-1; WWT: 5-0

Alabama:

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

SOS 4-2; WWT: 5-1

Florida:

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

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

SOS: 4-3; WWT: 6-1

Mississippi State:

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

SOS: 5-3; WWT: 7-1

Auburn:

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

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

SOS: 5-4; WWT: 8-1

New Mexico:

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

SOS: 6-4; WWT: 9-1

Ole Miss:

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

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

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

SOS: 7-4; WWT: 10-1

LSU:

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

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

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

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

SOS: 7-5; WWT:10-2

 

Summary:

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

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

Gig’ Em!

2017 Aggie Football Season Prediction – Part 1

12th Man Flag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at this team from unit standpoint:

OFFENSE

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

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

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

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

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

DEFENSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPECIAL TEAMS:

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

Thoughts from the Tennessee Game

trayveon-vs-tenn

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

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

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

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

The Wrecking Crew:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Teams:

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

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

 

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

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

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

Thoughts From the UCLA Game

myles-on-rosen

First off, despite the Aggies blowing a 15 point fourth quarter lead, that was a damn solid win.  As we saw on Saturday a lot of good teams lost games they probably shouldn’t have.  You hate the minor collapse but you have to love the fact a win was had.  That’s a really good UCLA team and probably the best team A&M has opened against since Florida in 2012.  Lots of areas to work on but a win is a win.  Take it and move on down the road.

Offense:

I like a LOT of what I saw on the offense on Saturday except for two things – the QB play and play calling.  I’ll get to those two negativess in a bit as I want to hit on the positives first.  I thought the offensive line played pretty solid.  Not great but they looked better than last year as a unit.  The interior of the line looked MUCH better than last year.  It’s only one game but I think this line can be serviceable.  This line appears much better than last year.  We lost our starting left tackle but Koda Martin actually looked pretty decent in Gennesy’s place.  He wasn’t dominant by any stretch but he did a decent job of engaging and staying with their defensive end much of the time he was in there.  I was worried when Gennesy went out but Martin did okay and held his own.  With Turner as their coach I have faith this unit gets better and better along with having some depth.

I LOVED our running back tandem of Keith Ford and Trayveon Williams.  I don’t want to diss Tra Carson as that dude was all heart last year but this tandem is a BIG step up.  Those two guys have a burst and run angry not shying away from contact.  They’re not the top RBs in the country by any stretch but they’re very serviceable and better than what we had last year.  I’ll take that.

Our receivers are exactly the same as last year and that’s not a bad thing.  Josh Reynolds is probably the most underrated receiver in the country.  I’m not kidding.  He might be the best receiver on this squad including Kirk.  RSJ still has issues with his hands at times.  Kirk didn’t see the ball enough in my book but we know how good he can be.  He’ll get his at some point.  Speedy comes back next week and can’t wait to see if he’s progressed like has been said.  No issues here at all but would like to see these guys utilized a lot more.

Now for the negatives – I know everybody loves Trevor Knight because he looks and talks the part but in this game he reminded me of another Aggie quarterback in Stephen McGee.  I know everyone loves McGee because he looks and talks like Aggieland Central Casting would want in a quarterback but McGee really wasn’t all that productive if you watched him objectively.  McGee had horrible pocket awareness and I saw a LOT of that from Knight on Saturday.  There were at least 5 times where a pocket was forming for Knight to step up into but instead he kept going backwards.  I’ve always felt pocket presence is something that’s either there or not and can’t really be coached.  For a 5th year senior in college I’m not sure if Knight is going to develop it at this point.  It’s really important he have faith in his pocket, step up, and find an open receiver quickly.  He’s athletic but he’s not athletic enough to be a great scramble QB when the pocket breaks down.  He needs to step up with his eyes down field and find the open man and hit him or run for whatever gain he can get.  Going backwards is never a good thing.

In the end Knight was very serviceable on Saturday and helped us get the win but if his play had been a little more stellar we would have won walking away.  Some of that is on Mazzone as I’ll get to in a bit.  I still contend Trevor Knight is not going to win us any ball games.  The best he can do is not let us lose any games.  He’s got to be careful with the ball and most importantly aware of his limitations as a pocket passer.  He wasn’t terrible at all but he was the Trevor Knight that got beat out by Baker Mayfield last season.  I hope he can improve but once again he’s a 5th year senior so you really wonder how much improvement is there.  Even just a little bit would likely mean another win on the season.

As for the play calling, 2 quarters I loved and 2 quarters I didn’t.  The first four series seemed to basically focus on pass, run, pass, run.  We did nothing on any of those series and I was wondering if Mazzone was just trying to figure out what he had as on the fifth series he started combining pass and run and we moved the ball down the field.  In the second and third quarter we moved the ball up and down the field and then in the 4th quarter we just went stagnant with conservative and predictable play calling.  The proverbial taking the foot off the gas if you will.  I don’t know if that was an order by Sumlin or he was just trying to protect Knight from making a mistake.  At least it’s better than Spav as I hated his play calling for all 4 quarters.  Hopefully after watching the film and realizing what he has from an actual game he’ll make some adjustments.  I loved the up tempo stuff so hopefully we keep developing that.

The two stats I HATED from an offensive standpoint were we only converted 4 or 5 third downs in 15 attempts.  That’s pathetic.  Absolutely pathetic.  The other is UCLA won time of possession by a pretty wide margin.  With our defense that shouldn’t happen.  Our defense has shown they can get off the field so our offense has to do a better job of staying on the field via third down conversions.  We improve third down conversion and our time of possession goes up and we limit the other offense’s opportunities which results in more wins.  It’s really as simple as that.

Defense:

For 3.5 quarters and an overtime period our defense was flat out nails.  That’s a great UCLA offense and we held them in check for 3.5 quarters.  We did so with our offense turning the ball over twice and not being able to sustain drives to stay on the field.  Our defense was on the field more than our offense and that always put your defense in a bind.  Had our offense done more in the first and fourth quarter our defense likely doesn’t let UCLA score 15 points to tie the game in the final half of the 4th quarter.  We all want perfection and the Wrecking Crew but in the current college game that was a solid defensive effort due to our offense not being able to stay on the field and score more points.

The defensive line and specifically Mr. Myles Garret brought pressure all game long.  Garret’s stats might not have been as gaudy as we want but if you watched him all game that was Garret’s best game by far.  For the entire game he brought pressure from where lined up.  He played pass and run extremely well and his technique was outstanding.  He mixed up edge rushing, bull rushing, and interior spin moves which I don’t recall him doing an entire game last season.  Let’s cherish it because I think he’s about to have a Von Miller type final season in Aggieland where it’ll be a while before we have someone like him again.  That was also a pretty good left tackle he was going up against.

The rest of the defensive line was solid as well.  Hall was bringing pressure from the other side and the interior was bringing pressure all day as well.  Most impressive was the stunting and twisting we were doing along the front with the other the DLinemen thanks to Garret commanding so much attention.  Our DTs weren’t just firing straight up the field but attacking the UCLA line with multiple looks so they never knew exactly what was going to happen.  Lots of athleticism along that defensive line which should prove to be really big as the season wears on.

The linebackers looked solid as well.  What was most impressive to me was the amount of playing time they all got and how effective they were for the most part.  Alaka, George, Washington, and Dodson all got plenty of PT and to be honest they all looked the same.  That’s not a bad thing as we need depth at linebacker more than anything so no one is too burdened.   I wouldn’t say anyone truly stood out but they worked well with the defensive line and safeties to bring pressure from all over and maintain their assignments.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this crew against a run first team like Auburn in a couple of weeks because we were more about pinning our ears back to apply pressure.  That’s my only concern of this crew for now.

The secondary outside of a couple of botched plays late in the 4th looked really good.  Watts and Evans brought it all game long along with Wilson when he was in there.  The corners looked really serviceable but they’re not lock down corners at this point.  If our pressure doesn’t get to the QB they can’t hold all that long.  It’s just part of how this defense is built though.  I’ll take what I saw as if last year is any indication this crew gets better with each game.

The defensive unit as a whole basically picked up where they left off last season.  I’m not kidding in that if I was the Athletic Director I’d go guarantee John Chavis two more years of his salary no matter what Kevin Sumlin thinks.  Chief is one of if not the best defensive coordinators in the country and I don’t want him going anywhere.

Special Teams:

Nothing special here other than our punter looked solid.  Placekicking is in question.  I didn’t really like Evans returning kicks as I want someone with some wiggle.  Maybe with Speedy back that changes.

 

Looking forward I don’t want to get too high or too low after one game.  It’s the best opening game win we’ve ever had with Sumlin but lots of work to go.  I’m still just really uncertain on Knight.  Heart and leadership are not in question but he really was the weakest link of our offense in my mind.  What happens when he gets pressured or we can’t establish a running game?  I really would like to see the pocket moved with him more or him being more confident in the pocket and looking downfield.  His drop back pocket awareness just scares me based on this game and his time at OU.

Mazzone did say in his press conference it’s like a first date where they have to get to know each other.  Hopefully that’s true and they both adapt and grow together.  If that’s the case then I really like this team.

To be clear this is not a playoff team.  At best this is a 10-2 and maybe 11-1 team.  I just don’t see us getting past Alabama.  I’m not sure Bama goes undefeated in the SEC but after Week 1 it’s very possible they do.  They looked that good and the rest of the SEC showed major holes.  Bama will likely lose to someone but we’ll lose to Bama and then someone else in a best case scenario.  I’m totally okay with 10-2 though.  Totally okay with 10 wins.

Auburn looked MUCH better than I ever expected.  I’m not as confident about that game anymore.  Their defense and their penchant to run the ball will prove to be a major test for us.  Tennessee, Ole Miss, and LSU all look like much more winnable games after Week 1 but there’s lots of football to be played.  Let’s wait and see what happens between now and when we play them before moving the needle to a win on those game.  For now I’m sticking with 8-4 but I see us trending to more wins than less right now which means we’ll keep Sumlin another year as if he wins nine he’s fine.

Thoughts From the Games

Thoughts from the Games
Florida, SMU, and SC State

I’ve been holding off writing this again because the new gig has been taking up a lot of time but mainly I didn’t know what the hell I was looking at with this Aggie team. An amazing first half against Florida followed by an offensive turd in the second half. The turd continued through the first quarter against SMU before getting flushed. Then we struggle in the first couple of series against SC State before really opening it up. Through it all I feel like I started seeing what’s going with this team.

The La. Tech Game:

I’m still torn on if the lack of the La. Tech game has hurt us or helped us. As we get further along I think it’s actually helped us. They’re a good team and there’s a good chance we would have gotten beat as our offense would have struggled being on the road for the first time. Make no mistake we came out against Florida on emotion and surprise due to our first game in the SEC. I honestly can’t think of a time when campus and Kyle was fired up for a 2:30 game like that. There were a couple of the OU games in the early 2000s that had a 2:30 start and Kyle was rocking but they’re few and far between. I can’t help but think that carried over to the team and that’s part of the reason we jumped out to a great start.

Plus, with the element of surprise Florida had no idea what to look for offensively. Had they had film of us against La. Tech I think you might have seen our offense struggle the entire game as we’ll get to in a bit. I really do think we might have lost to both La. Tech and Florida had we played that game. As it stands I think we can now go into Shreveport and win that game and the result of the Florida game would have been the same and maybe even actually worse. We lost that Florida game but we all walked out of there thinking we could in fact compete against SEC teams. Let’s not underestimate the result of that. So, I think we dodged a bullet not playing La. Tech as this season is shaping up.

Offense:

I think we’ve all figured out what happened in the second half of the Florida game. I remember noticing it in the game and the quotes after confirmed it. Florida stopped sending their backers and just relied on their front four to apply pressure. That eliminated the open lanes due to over pursuit that our running backs and Manziel were able to exploit in the first half. Since that change our running game has been non-existent. Sadly, I think it’s going to continue that way until we start hitting passes down the middle of the field to pull linebackers from attacking the line of scrimmage or implement a true tight end or fullback.

What happened on Saturday night confirms what I believe as we couldn’t establish a rushing attack against a much inferior front 7. If we can’t establish a running game against this crew even without CMike we’re not going to do it against anyone. Much like Florida, SC State implemented the same scheme against the run. The used their front four to engage our offensive line and then the backers would simply scrape and fill holes. Not aggressively but basically seeing the same thing that the running back on the other side is seeing. The end result is their backers and our running backs are meeting at the LOS. I watched the SMU game on TV so it’s hard to tell but I’m guessing we did the same because we didn’t start moving the ball until Manziel made plays when the defense broke down on the ground and he was able to exploit it through the air in addition to his running. Other than Manziel we really didn’t have a running game against SMU either. Not good.

The reason this is happening this year and not last year is because we don’t have a true TE or fullback. What’s essentially happening is that our 5 offensive linemen are engaging the defensive front four leaving the 3 linebackers to fill the hole that’s created. In addition, because there’s no TE the outside linebackers are playing back off the line of scrimmage and just outside the tackles shoulder looking inside to fill those holes between the tackles. Normally they’d be lined up further outside on a TE and much closer to the line of scrimmage trying to avoid being sealed inside on a block. Without the concern of being sealed inside they can play both the inside and outside assuming they read the offense correctly.

Certainly our offense line has struggled early on with assignments but on Saturday night against SC State I watched our offensive lineman handle the front four of the defense only to have the LB fill the hole and meet out RB at the line of scrimmage. It’s not the line’s fault as much as it is the scheme’s fault. With a fullback they block the linebacker filling the gap and clear them out or at least engage them so the running back has a chance. It’s simple numbers working against us and no matter how well you execute you can’t block 7 guys with five guys. And they’re obviously going to leave their 7th guy home since we essentially have 2 RBs in the backfield with Manziel. So it’s basic 7 on 7 inside the box and I don’t see it changing if SC State can stymie our running game.

The other reason we’re struggling to establish a running game is we’re asking our lineman to run block without a hand on the ground. Without a hand on the ground it’s harder to keep lower leverage as well as fire out off the ball. Think of why track sprinters launch with their hands on the ground instead of on two feet. It’s much harder for our linemen to displace the defensive line so the best they can do is engage the defender and try and move them a little bit.

With all that I just don’t see us establishing a running game in this offense. At least between the tackles like we’ve seen in the past. What’s really lacking that I think we should be able to do is being able to establish an outside run. I would love to see us do overload sets to one side to see if we could seal an edge. Run some sweeps, screens, and zone reads to see if we can get those OLBs to focus outside more or exploit them if they’re hell bent on helping inside. I’d like to see Christine Michael get involved more in the running game so let’s hope he’s got his head clear and realized he’s costing himself money by doing whatever he’s doing to limit his playing time. He can actually take on a linebacker in the hole and get yards after contact. We’ll find out this weekend hopefully.

At receiver it’s hard to figure out what we have. We all know Swope and EZ but it seems like the staff is trying to figure out what they have in the others. It’s quite clear they’re trying to establish Mike Evans as the outside guy if you leave one on one he’s going to make you regret it. It seems we’ve tried to establish that without success and that’s why we can’t exploit the middle of the field with seam routes that Swope is perfect for. Manziel is also missing a bunch of open guys across the middle. Maybe he’s focused too much on the pocket pressure and not looking down field soon enough for fear he misses the pressure. However, it does seem Manziel is getting more familiar with his receivers as he’s been spreading the ball around the last two games. The receiver rotation has also been a little inconsistent so I’m not sure what all is going on and what we’re trying to accomplish with who. We’ll call the receiving corps a work in progress. There’s certainly talent there but it seems everyone including this coaching staff is still trying to figure who’s who and what’s what.

Alright, let’s get to Johnny Football. The kid is electric no doubt. There’s also little doubt he won’t be able to do what he’s done against SMU and SC State on the ground against our conference opponents. I think we’re going to find out that we played the weakest two teams we have on our schedule so it only gets tougher for Johnny Football from here. He has gotten much better about trying to stay in the pocket and when he scrambles keeping his eyes down the field and throw the ball rather than run. Still, there’s times when space is there and the kid should in fact take off and run. He did it against Florida until they took it away from him and he’ll learn over time as he gets more experience when it’s there and when it’s not. He’s just a work in progress.

Don’t forget ultimate success in college football happens because of one of two things or both. Those things are a suffocating defense and/or an electric player on the offensive side of the ball. You know the defenses of Alabama and LSU and even Florida’s first championship under Meyer but the times those teams haven’t won it you know the names of Vince Young, Tim Tebow, and Cam Newton. Now, I’m not saying Manziel is on the level of those guys but it’s pretty clear to me if you want to win it all you need someone that can transcend the offensive side of the ball if you don’t have a strong defense. Looking back there’s never been a “system” offense to win a National Championship. Oregon tried against a fairly average Auburn defense and couldn’t do it. Even Mike Leach’s vaunted offense often stalled against better defenses which is why he rarely beat Texas or OU and struggled in both Cotton Bowls he made it to with what might have been the SEC’s third or fourth best team.

I say all that in hopes that our offense is evolving from game to game as the coaches and players learn one another. I’d rather see that happen than the coaching staff stand headstrong and try to install their “system.” I’d really like to see Kingsbury evolve beyond what appears to be his “Air Raid” roots at Tech and UH. Nothing against Kingsbury but I’m beginning to see his roots won’t do well week in and week out against the SEC defenses.

As for what happens from here it’s not ideal but I think we can have a run of 3 games against Arkansas, Ole Miss, and La. Tech where can have some learning curves and still win. Now, I’m not saying we can win those games with major hiccups because we can’t but I think we can have some growing pains in those games and still win. Mainly because I think our offensive line is getting more comfortable in this system and receivers are learning what to do when the play breaks down and Manziel is able to extend the play with his legs.

So, in summary we’re not going to establish a running game between the tackles. Because of that let’s hope that Manziel and this coaching staff can learn from each other and craft the offense to the strengths of the talent we have on that side of the ball. It’s our only hope Luke.

Defense:

“The one constant through this season so far, Ray, has been defense. Aggie Football has rolled by like an army of steamrollers remaining competitive because of defense. The Wrecking Crew had been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again by men that go by the names of Fran and Sherm. But defense has marked the time and Aggie fans have waited for its return. Kyle Field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.” I adjusted the quote from Field of Dreams to reflect somewhat of how our defense has really carried this team so far. It feels good to have a defense that looks like it knows what its doing and can respond when needed.

Without our defense we get blown out by Florida and probably even play SMU close. Make no mistake this is no Wrecking Crew. Not even close outside of Demontre Moore. Dude is a one man Wrecking Crew so he definitely can be called that but there’s no one else. What this defense is doing is playing assignment football REALLY well. People are executing their assignment which allows all 11 defenders to cover the entire field and line of scrimmage. I think as we get more comfortable with the base defense and continue to execute it in our sleep we’ll see it get more aggressive. Until then I hope Snyder doesn’t change a thing as it’s absolutely marvelous to watch even if it’s not the old Wrecking Crew we know and love.

It’s also not on the level of Bama or LSU simply because we don’t have the athletes but it reminds me a lot of TCU’s defense. Now, don’t get me wrong in that we haven’t played an offensive juggernaut as Florida was very basic on offense, Garrett Gilbert couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat, and SC State missed a lot of open receivers or dropped balls that hit them in the hands. However, rarely is a receiver running wide screaming open like we saw with the litany of DCs that came before Snyder. Our LBs seem to understand their gap assignments and not overrun the ball carrier and the DLine understands engaging the OLine to free up others to make plays. Then there’s DeMonster who just wrecks shop all over the field. What’s impressed me the most is not what he’s done in the backfield but his pursuit all over the field. Time and time again he’s making tackles on the sideline simply because he’s pursuing the ball carrier the entire time. He must realize he can get paid like Von one day.

We are weak in a couple of areas and those include screen recognition and runs to the outside. Our defensive line will get sucked in by a screen and our LBs will either be slow to react or get up in the blocking or trash. Florida and SC State both ran some plays to the outside and gained positive yards. I think the weakness on these two things is our focus of not getting gutted up the middle and focusing our attention inside. I hold out faith that as our defense gets more comfortable with base assignments they’ll recognize screens and outside runs quicker and be quicker to react.

Despite how bad they’re playing as a team right now a Tyler Wilson lead offense can move the ball so we’ll find out where this defense really is on Saturday. Let’s hope we’re still proud.

Special Teams:

I have no clue what we have on special teams. No clue at all. We seem to be getting better each week but I’m still not sure as a whole. Our kicker hasn’t seen a tough field goal and he’s 1 of 2 making a 27 yarder and missing a 23 yarder. Doesn’t exactly instill much confidence does it? Epperson punts either like an old man playing golf that hits a shot 120 yards in the air but gets no trajectory so it rolls another 60 yards for a somewhat respectable drive or he punts like those rugby guys that rely on a roll except Epperson isn’t running before kicking. Whatever he’s doing it’s working for the most part so we’ll take it.

As for returns Dustin Harris has looked pretty decent returning punts but let’s be real in that he’s not an explosive returner. He’s got decent straight away speed but he’s no Dante Hall unless he’s jumping the curb and parking on the grass next to Kleberg that we don’t know about. Kick return wise our blocking was TERRIBLE against Florida and we haven’t seen many kicks in the other games thanks to our defense. However, with the new rules we shouldn’t be returning kicks on anything 2 yards or deeper in the end zone. Just take a knee and take it out to the 25 and be done with it. You get caught at the 15 yard line and then stall on a three and out all of sudden you’re behind on field position and that stuff matters.

There are just still a lot of unanswered questions about everything to be honest. Looking forward to Arkansas I’m DEATHLY afraid of this game. Tyler Wilson can still move the ball so they’re going to have the best day of any team against our defense so far. If our offense stalls a few times like it did against Florida we could be looking at being on the short of a shootout. I’d like to think we could win 35-21 but I can also see us losing 28-24 which would result in John L. Smith streaking on Kyle Field. Nobody wants that. Nobody.

If we can in semi-convincing fashion and our offense doesn’t stumble for the most part and our defense can hold Wilson and their offense mostly in check than I think we can go 8-4 with conference wins over Ole Miss, Auburn, and Mizzou in addition to our non-conference games. Arkansas reminds me of A&M last year. In total disarray as a team but there’s still enough talent that if it all clicks then they can beat a lot of people.

I’m somewhere between 8-4 and 6-6 with this team with all the clarity coming over the next three games.  When we get to the mid-point of the schedule we’ll have a good idea of what we have despite still having LSU and Bama on the schedule.

Thoughts from SMU

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Thoughts From KSU

If you didn’t see the game, consider yourself lucky.  Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreal lucky.  Let’s get to my normal analysis.

Coaching:

  • Sucked

Offense:

  • Sucked

Defense:

  • Sucked

Special Teams:

  • Sucked, but our punter did have an amusing play where he went flying by Brandon Banks and took him down with his face mask.  I’m glad Banks is okay but it pretty much summed up our day where our punter makes the biggest play thanks to grabbing a face mask.

Game Analogy:

Since I can’t really critique the game because it was just so horrible and I like analogies I’m going to try and compare this to something.  I really thought about critiquing the game but I honestly don’t know where to start.  Honestly.  It was bad.

The word that comes to my mind when thinking about this game is “Desecration.”  Emasculated is also a good word but I don’t have a good analogy for emasculated other than when Jackie Sherrill cut the nuts off a calf before Miss. St. played tu one year.  We’ve all heard that story.

The worst desecration I’ve ever seen in my life was when I was maybe 5 or 6 years old.  It was New Year’s night and the family was watching the Orange Bowl.  Earlier that evening we had Popeye’s for dinner (we were poor, okay?) and for reasons I can’t explain today we decided to give our cat, Frosty, some of that glorious fried chicken.  We would pay for that move later so let the story play out.

Like all good Christians we still had our Christmas Tree up not because we were waiting on The Epiphany but because we were lazy.  As part of that tree was a tree skirt that my Mom had made herself that I thought was always pretty neat.  During half time of the Orange Bowl Frosty crawled up under the tree and started making these strange sounds.  She was groaning and making some other strange sounds but we didn’t think much of it as we were all tuned into the laser lights and amazing sounds of the Orange Bowl halftime show.  This is the early, early 80s so it was pretty much all we had at that time besides Ronald Reagan as our President.  Frosty making strange sounds under the Christmas Tree wasn’t going to distract us from our once a year enjoyment of the Orange Bowl halftime show.

Well, about five minutes later the most gawd awful smell we had ever smelt started filling the living room.  I mean this was a HORRIBLE smell.  HORRIBLE.  We all kind of looked at each other like who made that smell or where was it coming from?  Finally, someone snapped that it was coming from under the tree.  Someone boldly looked under the tree to see that Frosty had just DESECRATED Mom’s tree skirt with the help of Popeye’s Fried Chicken.  You know how horrible cat poop stinks anyway?  Popeye’s makes it smell at least 100 times worse.  I still shudder just thinking about it right now.  I took a peek to find that as bad as it smelled, it looked just as bad.  My memory is fuzzy on what happened next as I think my brother and I hauled ass out of there to let my parents deal with the ramifications of what that fried chicken did to Frosty’s intestines.  It was foul.  Real foul.

So why did I make you read that story?  Well, Saturday night reminded me of that incident.  We didn’t know it at the time but Bill Snyder was loading up on Popeye’s Fried Chicken before the game so he could come out and just DESECRATE Mike Sherman with the most foul smelling and looking results I’ve ever seen.  77-0 was one thing but that was Fran’s first year against a strong Oklahoma team.  We got DESECRATED by a half ass KSU team in Bill Snyder’s first year of his return to glory.  It was embarrassing.  Truly embarrassing.  That’s right, what happened to us is the same as a cat’s intestines loaded with the goodness of Popeye’s.  Frosty and Bill Snyder will always have indelible marks on my brain and I never want to experience either again.

Rest of the Season:

I honestly don’t know if we can get to a bowl game at this point.  I’ve been saying all along the minute that Dan Hawkins values his job over nepotism then the Colorado game becomes a very losable game.  Well, Colorado with their non-Hawkins QB just upset a ranked Kansas team in Boulder which we’re going to need to win to get our sixth win.  We have six games left needing three to get to a bowl and I don’t see us getting there.  I don’t see us getting a win over Tech, OU, or the sips.  I just don’t.  We’ll actually probably get blown out by 21 points or more.  That means we’ll need to beat BU and ISU at home which is VERY possible but I don’t see how we can march into Boulder and pull that one out after Saturday night.  I don’t even know if we can beat ISU at home the way they’ve played of late.  Thanks to Bob Griffin’s injury I think Baylor is beatable but don’t count out Art Briles and a Baylor team that thinks playing A&M is their Super Bowl.  Don’t be shocked by another 4-8 season or even 3-9.  I won’t be making ISU and don’t know about Baylor yet.  Saturday night took it all out of me.  If my seats weren’t so good then I would likely not renew next year but one day A&M will be good and I really like my seats so I’ll continue to renew but it’s not worth the almost 6 hours of driving back and forth for each game.

What to Do with Sherman:

If he doesn’t make a bowl game then I think it’s clear that he needs to be let go without a doubt.  I’ve done lots of research on college coaches and one of the most consistent things I’ve seen is they don’t get blown out.  They just don’t.  They sure as hell don’t get blown out.in a game they were favored to win where Bill Snyder doesn’t even have them stocked with JUCO talent yet.

This was a KState team coming off a 62-14 beat down in Lubbock.  They barely beat UMass by 4 points at home, lost to Louisiana Lafayette on the road, and barely beat Iowa St. by 1 at a neutral site.  Make no mistake that this is not a very good team.  It’s very likely they won’t win another game this season winding up at 4-8.  Unreal.

If Sherm does get to a bowl game then I don’t think you have any choice but to bring him back unfortunately.  It’s becoming clear Sherm is not a great coach.  Maybe he proves us wrong but Aggie fans are like someone that’s been abused as we’re ALWAYS going to flinch when Sherm leads us on the field.  He’s not a great recruiter (although he’s done well this year) and it’s likely only going to get worse if we don’t make a bowl game.

I know I was very pleased with the results from the OSU game but last night was an absolute pounding that I’m not sure we can overcome.  There’s time to cut bait and I think it’s now.  I know we’re tied into a 7 year deal with Sherman but I don’t think we can afford to keep him if we don’t go bowling.  Recruiting and ticket sales will take an absolute dive.

Don’t blame youth for this crap.  Sherm doesn’t know what he’s doing in the college game.  He was never a great NFL coach and he’s so confused on the college game right now.  He’s turned his offensive line until a revolving door when that’s supposed to be his specialty.  Its obvious Bill Snyder watched the film of us and was able to exploit every weakness against the team.  Sherm has no answer.  Remember, we were a team that actually got worse last season as opposing staffs identified and exploited our weaknesses.  Early results are that it’s happening again.  Maybe he can turn it around but he DESPERATELY needed a win over KSU to go bowling and I don’t think it’s there.  There’s no excuse for that.

Against Texas Tech:

I’m going to spend my Saturday cleaning out the garage.  Around 4:00 I’ll go take a shower.  After that, I’ll hang my flat screen on the back deck, fire up the pit, crack a beer, and get ready to put on the ribs followed by chicken wings for my barbeque wing and rib feast.  Around 6:00 I’ll turn on the confusing ramblings of Dave and Dave while I watch other good college football on the flat screen.  I figure around half time I’ll turn off the radio and focus on what’s on the screen.  If all goes well I’ll pass out on the deck to be awoken around 11:30 by the water sprinklers.

We don’t stand a chance in hell of beating Texas Tech.  This is the first time Sherm will travel to Lubbock as a head coach and his first trip in probably 15 years so he has NO idea of what Lubbock has become for us.  I kind of wish it were on TV so I could see Sherman’s reaction.  We opened at 24 point dogs and I don’t that’s enough.  I really don’t.

Nugget Stat of the Week:

Kevin Sumlin has 3 wins over BCS conference schools in 4 chances winning two of those on the road.  Mike Sherman has 2 wins over BCS conference schools in 12 chances.