MAFGA

Will the Aggies Be More Talented in 2019?

As we look upon the 2019 season here are my thoughts on the position groups for the Aggie football team.  Overall, we’ll be more talented but we will be VERY young.  We may only start one senior during much of the season.  That will be Michael Clemons.  He’s not even a senior due to missing last season to an injury but he’s listed as a senior on the Aggie football website.  We’ll go with that for now.  Colton Prater will likely start the season on the offensive line but he’s going to be in a battle all season to hold his spot.  I don’t think any of the senior DBs will start very long if they start at all.  Having two senior starters out of 22 should tell you how young this team will be.  Don’t mistake youth for talent though.  There will be talent.

We lose key starters at Center, Running Back, and Linebacker.  Not only were these guys talented but they were VERY experienced in the SEC.  All of them were three-year starters in the SEC and that’s tough to replace.

From a comparison standpoint I don’t think we’ll see the same drop off in talent/leadership we saw from 2012 to 2013 though.  That was Johnny/Sumlin’s first and second year where we lost some key people on the defensive side of the ball and didn’t realize it until the season was underway.  I don’t see 2018 to 2019 as being close to the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

We’ll probably see some hiccups early on as the younger guys get adjusted to playing full time.  I think by the end of the season the 2019 team will be better overall than the 2018 season.  At least I hope.

I believe Jimbo sees this season as a building year for 2020 and beyond.  That doesn’t mean he won’t try and win as many games as possible but I think he’s going to be focused more on developing his guys than worrying exactly about wins and losses.  That doesn’t mean we go 6-6 but I think 10-2 would be a stretch based on the lack of experience.  Jimbo has his method and he’s going to stick to it.  I think we all know 8-4 is the expected record for 2019.  Compete in every game and wind up with an 8-4 record and we’ll know things are on track.  Let’s not worry about the record just yet though.

As I talk about these guys nothing is meant to be personal.  They’re all Fightin’ Texas Aggies and damn glad to have them on the team.  I’m just trying to look at them objectively in how they match-up with the rest of the SEC and past Aggies.  I’m not trying to pump people full of maroon kool-aid and just trying to offer one person’s objective analysis for the position groups.

This is really long at 12 Word Doc pages so it’ll take some time to get through.  I’ve broken it into sections as much as possible so there’s natural stopping points.  Hopefully that allows you easy start and stop points as I don’t think many will be able to read it all at once.  If so, hopefully you don’t get too far behind with your daily work requirements.

With that, let’s get going…

Offense:

Offensive Line:

I’ll start with the offensive line.  I always feel this is the most crucial unit to any football team.  If your OLine can’t hold their own at the line of scrimmage it doesn’t really matter how good the rest of your offense is.  An offense can score points without an effective offensive line but it won’t be able to sustain drives.  Winning football games is about sustaining drives.  That starts with the offensive line.

We have a MAJOR departure along the offensive line in Erik McCoy.  McCoy was probably the best center we’ve had in the last 2 decades of Aggie football.  He might be the best center of all time considering his competition.  Patrick Lewis is up there but I think McCoy is the best one we’ve had.  You don’t just plug someone in his place.

Ryan McCollum is all set to take over at center.  By all accounts he’s done a great job this off season.  He started a handful of games last year at guard along with filling in for McCoy a couple of times.  He’s a two-year letterman with experience.  If the reports are true I’m not terribly concerned but there’s no way he’s matching McCoy’s production.  There will be a step down at center.  Those are just big shoes to fill.

Guard worries me the least as we’ve got decent talent and depth here.  Right now, I’d say Jared Hocker and Colton Prater are the penciled in starters.  They’re going to face serious heat from Tank Jenkins and maybe even Kenyon Green.  Jenkins is probably more talented than both but doesn’t have the experience.  Hocker can probably hold onto his spot but Prater is in question.  I hope Jenkins takes the other spot as he appears to be really talented.  Nothing against Prater.  All things being mostly equal I’d rather see talent get the nod over experience this season.  Either way there’s going to be some battles in summer practice and even during the season which is not a bad thing.  I think we’ll be okay at the guard spots.

At tackle I have my concerns.  We currently have Dan Moore Jr at left tackle and Carson Green at right tackle.  Green is serviceable but neither of these guys are great at pass blocking.  Moore especially struggled last season.  He’ll be a three-year starter but I just don’t think he has the raw talent.  There’s not much talk of this guy other than he’s our starting left tackle.  Seriously.  He’s just kind of our left tackle by default.  In the SEC you need a stud at left tackle.  The SEC is loaded with guys that love to rush the blind side of the quarterback.  Your left tackle must be able slow them down.  I don’t have the exact stat but I’d wager half of Mond’s sacks last year were guys Moore was assigned to.  He just didn’t develop much all season.  He even got owned in the Gator Bowl until we started running the ball and ran it away from his side.

Maybe these two guys develop but I just don’t see it happening to the level we’ll need.  I’d be okay with Kenyon Green taking over the left tackle spot if Moore struggles.  I think it hasn’t been talked about because Kenyon didn’t go through Spring Ball.  There’s no idea how he’ll adapt to the next level.

There’s been talk of him competing at guard in 2019.  If that’s the case I’m of the mindset to just groom him at left tackle from the get go.  If he’s as good as advertised he should be starting at left tackle going into next year.  Let’s see if he responds.

Maybe Moore changes my mind but I just don’t see it happening based on what I’ve seen from him so far.  He reminds me of all the tackles we had before the run of Joeckel, Matthews, and Ogbeuhi.  There’s a difference in superior talent and I don’t think he has it.  Name me one really good tackle in the last two decades beside those three guys.  Moore just seems to be in that group you can’t name.  That won’t work very well in the SEC.

As far as Jim Turner’s departure I’m not too concerned about that.  Much like Jeff Banks I think Turner’s reputation got built up by message boards because of how he looked and acted.  This would have been his fourth season as OLine coach and we have minimal talent and depth.  He deserves some blame for not recruiting and developing enough talent over the last 4 years.  Based on what we’ve seen Josh Henson is doing a pretty good job on the recruiting trail.  We now get to see what he can do developing talent.  Something tells me Turner’s departure was a mutual one and didn’t catch Jimbo by surprise.  Coaching doesn’t bother me on the offensive line coming into 2019.  Talent and depth does.

Running Back:

Like the offensive line we lose a MAJOR presence at running back coming into 2019.  Trayveon Williams was a complete stud in 2018.  He was solid in 2016 and 2017 but he took it to a different level in 2018.  He showed discipline waiting on plays to develop along with improving his pass blocking as the season wore on.  He really was a complete back by the time it was all said and done in 2018.  It would have been great to have him back.  He had nothing else to prove at the college level so I hope he continues on his development path at the next level.

Jashaun Corbin looks like a solid enough replacement.  No way he has the year Williams had in 2018 but I don’t think it will be a major step down.  Corbin isn’t as fluid as Williams searching for holes but he’s more explosive.  In his time in maroon and white he’s shown he can fill most of Williams’ shoes.  I’m okay with him at starter.

The biggest issue at running back is who backs up Corbin.  There’s lots of names but also unknowns.  The Vernon Jackson neck injury is out there.  Jacob Kibodi has flashed potential but also very inconsistent when it comes to protecting the ball.  Cordarrian Richardson is a big back and was decent at UCF but hasn’t seen a snap in the SEC.  Deneric Prince had two carries last year.  These guys have potential but none of them have produced anything other than Corbin.

My hope is Isiah Spiller comes in and repeats what Trayveon and Jashaun did which is prove they belonged on the field as true freshman.  Corbin is going to get the brunt of the carries so we don’t need much depth but we certainly need some.  If Spiller can repeat what Trayveon and Jashaun did their freshman years along with Richardson proving to be an occasional hammer I think we’ll be fine here.  Jimbo has done a nice job recruiting talent and depth at this position.  We just need to see some consistent production by someone with a different last name than Corbin.

Tight End:

We lose our most productive receiving threat across the board in Jace Sternberger.  Sternberger didn’t just lead tight ends in receiving.  He lead ALL RECEIVERS in yards and touchdowns.  Production wise he’s a lot to replace.

If Baylor Cupp is as good as advertised I think we’ll be fine.  What I’m about to say on Sternberger is not a knock.  He’s an exceptional athlete and clearly a great worker.  However, I think Sternberger was as much a product of scheme as it was raw talent.  He found himself wide open a lot of times due to great play design.  Sternberger certainly did a lot after the catch but I think his efforts can be replicated due to Jimbo knowing how to leverage an athletic receiving tight end.

Remember Sternberger’s experience prior to A&M was Kansas and some JUCO in Oklahoma that’s not even a big name.  He did just fine in one year in the SEC.

I believe Cupp can do the same by the end of the season.  I think Cupp is more talented than Sternberger but he’s going to have some growing pains in his first couple of games.  He’s a true freshman.  Cupp had a nice touchdown in the M&W game but it was not the coming out party Sternberger had last Spring.  Sternberger made his presence known in the M&W game.  Cupp didn’t.  By the second half of the season Cupp should be doing the same thing Sterberger was.  It might take a few games before Cupp really gets going but I think he’ll replace Sternberger just fine when it’s all said and done.

Trevor Wood is gone as the blocking tight end but Glenn Beal looked decent as a true freshman.  We don’t expect a lot of blocking from our tight ends so it’s not a big a deal but Wood was definitely used to help our tackles out last season.

Jalen Wydermyer has the talent to be somewhere between Cupp and Beal.  We’ll just see how he adapts to playing tight end in the SEC.  He may not get the attention Cupp does so it might work to his advantage.  He may find himself open a few times because no one’s focused on him.

This group has me the least concerned for replacing major production from last season.  It would have been great to see Sternberger come back but we should be fine.  If Cupp can live up to his talent potential I wouldn’t be shocked to see him exceed Sternberger’s receiving production in 2019.  Jimbo’s coaching and recruiting so far shows he knows what to do with tight ends so I’m not too concerned.

Wide Receiver:

For whatever reason I think I’m in the minority when it comes to this position group.  I’m not impressed with any of these guys at all.  I don’t think they pass the eyeball or statistic test.  Eyeball wise I certainly wouldn’t put any of these guys up with the names like Evans, Kirk, Swope, Reynolds or even Fuller and Ferguson if you want to go back quite a few years.  They make plays at times but they’re just not that consistent.  They certainly didn’t take over any games in 2018.

Before I talk about these guys individually look at this chart showing the cumulative stats for the 2019 Aggie receivers.  Hopefully it opens your eyes a little:

Number Player Games Catches Yards Avg TDs Long Per Game
81 Sternberger, Jace 13 48 832 17.33 10 53 64
1 Davis, Quartney 13 45 585 13 7 37 45
14 Buckley, Camron 13 34 474 13.94 1 69 36.46
2 Ausbon, Jhamon 9 31 375 12.1 0 26 41.67
13 Rogers, Kendrick 12 27 336 12.44 5 30 28
5 Williams, Trayveon 13 27 278 10.3 1 38 21.38
9 Jones, Hezekiah 13 15 134 8.93 0 18 10.31
7 Corbin, Jashaun 12 10 85 8.5 0 16 7.08
6 Paul, Roshauud 13 6 70 11.67 0 25 5.38
12 Gillaspia, Cullen 13 5 52 10.4 0 21 4
80 Wood, Trevor 13 2 17 8.5 0 9 1.31
22 Etwi, Kwame 8 1 16 16 0 16 2
10 Preston, Jalen 8 1 14 14 1 14 1.75

Believe it or not Quartney Davis was our most productive receiver last year from a statistical standpoint.  Even then that was only 585 yards and 7 touchdowns.  That’s a decent amount of touchdowns but that’s a terribly low amount of yards for your leading receiver that’s not a tight end.  There should be someone surpassing 800 yards and even pushing close to 1,000 yards.  Hopefully there’s two of those guys.  I think that chart shows just how productive Trayveon was.

I know Jhamon Ausbon missed 4 games but even if you extrapolate out his numbers he’d have under 550 yards receiving with no touchdowns.  That’s supposed to be your number one receiver.  I know he’s a Michael Irvin style possession guy and he’s great at getting 6-12 yards but that’s it.  He doesn’t seem like a guy that can go down the field and win one on one battles.  I like him as a roster guy as he provides needed talent and depth in a key role but he’s not making the All SEC receiving team at any level any time soon.

Cam Buckley had the longest reception for 69 yards last season.  No other receiver caught a pass longer than 37 yards.  Trayveon had a screen play for 38 yards that was longer than any receiver not named Sternberger or Buckley.  I’m sorry but that’s not going to cut it in the SEC.  Especially if you want to compete with the elite teams in the SEC.  You need a dominant one on one receiver that can stretch the field.  Ideally you have a dominant one on one receiver and a true deep threat to compliment that receiver.  Right now I don’t think A&M has either of those.

I know everyone is high on Kendrick Rogers but I don’t see him more than a red zone target.  I’ve said it before if he’s not running downfield and just facing the quarterback he’s an outstanding receiver.  He really struggles to run downfield routes.  If he’s having to take steps forward AND look for the ball he doesn’t have the same set of hands.  I want him in the red zone no doubt but the rest of the field is a major question for me right now.

Jalen Preston was supposed to be as talented as they come but he didn’t do anything in 2018.  He had one catch for 14 yards.  Even in the SEC if you’re going to be a great player you’re making plays your true freshman year.  Look at what Christian Kirk did his true freshman year.  Nobody on this roster comes close to that guy right now.  Not a single guy can be even remotely compared to Christian Kirk.

From a recruiting standpoint we’re bringing in some nice guys from the 2019 class but I think they’re more of the same.  They’ll need some time to develop.  Dylan Wright might be the exception as he’s got the height and speed to be a downfield threat.  We’ll just have to see how he adjusts to the SEC.

I just don’t see the overall talent for this to be anything more than an average unit.  It’ll be productive at times but I don’t see this unit dominating the SEC at all.  To their credit some of it’s by design as Jimbo wants to control the ball and time of possession.  I know some will blame Mond but if you watch these guys run routes it’s just an average receiving corps for the most part.  There’s nothing super impressive about anything these guys do other than Rogers catching balls in the end zone.  Davis will flash from time to time.  Ausbon will get you a first down when you need 5-6 yards.  That’s all good stuff but there needs to be more.

I really believe the best collection of receiving talent tied to this program is the three guys that are our verbal commits for 2020.  Demond Demas, Muhsin Muhammed, and Troy Omeire will be in the 2020 two deep the moment they’re on campus.  A couple if not all three will either be starters or logging significant minutes in 2020.  Those guys are outstanding but in no way should three true freshmen come in and take over starting spots.  I honestly think it could happen if this current group doesn’t take a massive step beyond what they did in 2018.

Caleb Chapman could be a wildcard here as he could be the deep threat we need if it’s not Dylan Wright.  He missed pretty much all last season with a leg injury.  Can’t remember if it was his knee or ankle.  He’s around 6’5” and appears to have the top end stride speed that deep threats must have.  Think Josh Reynolds.  I’m not saying Chapman will be Josh Reynolds but physically he has the same characteristics.  If Chapman can emerge as a guy that’s even close to what Reynolds did then he could change the entire outlook for this receiving corps.  He may not show it statistically but if he can keep safeties looking back it will help open the middle of the field for the other guys to make some plays.

I REALLY want this unit to step up and be much more productive.  Based on what my eyes and the stats tell me there’s a LONG ways to go.  I’m just not sure they can get there.  I certainly hope they prove me wrong.

Quarterback:

I’m not going to spend too much time on Kellen Mond.  It’s like talking politics.  Everyone has their opinion and you’re not likely changing anyone’s mind discussing it.  I’ve never seen an Aggie quarterback so polarizing.  It really feels like half of Aggie fans support him and the other half don’t like him.

It’s kind of obvious but Kellen Mond will be the reason this team gets to the 9 and even 10 win level in the regular season.  He’ll have to improve his game by a large margin from last season.  At Houston Coach’s Night Jimbo mentioned he felt like he was speaking Chinese to Kellen much of last season.  Jimbo believes Mond has digested their first year together and he’s ready to go to the next level.  Maybe its coach speak but if Kellen can advance his game beyond last year that’s going to cause the Aggies to take a MAJOR step forward in their building plan.  I’m talking wins and losses in that regard.

Kellen is obviously talented enough to do it.  He’s made some outstanding reads and plays but he’s also made some questionable reads and plays.  He’s all about being more consistent in understanding plays and executing them.  We won’t see Kellen in the Heisman talk and that’s okay.  What I want to see at worst is the Aggies competing in every game with Kellen leading the charge to victory no making mistakes.  If Kellen can do that consistently he’ll change a lot of doubters.  I could be wrong though.  People may just always dislike Kellen like the President they didn’t vote for.

As for the backup losing Starkel hurts but I think it’ll be okay.  If Mond stays healthy he’s Jimbo’s guy.  Nobody else stands a chance to take snaps.  No need to have Starkel hanging around if that’s the case.  As for who will be the backup I think it’s Calzada.  Blumrick and Foster seem to be okay but Calzada appears to be a step above them talent wise.  He had a decent M&W game so he just needs to keep getting reps.

I believe Jimbo’s ideal scenario is to have Calzada back up Mond for two seasons and then be ready to step in as the starter in 2021.  If Mond falters then throw Calzada in there and see what happens.  Calzada certainly looks like he has the physical talent to be a top-flight quarterback so let’s find out sooner than later.  Kirby Smart went to a national championship game with Jake Fromm as a true freshman.  Sometimes you just have to find out if a guy can play or not.  I’m fine with Calzada seeing the time behind Mond.  It could also potentially free up a couple of scholarships if Blumrick or Foster want to transfer knowing they’ll always be on the outside looking in at getting snaps.

Overall Offense:

I think this offense can be just as good as last season and maybe even better.  I don’t think it will look the same and that’s fine.  I don’t think there’s anyway we have the same run game as last season.  Trayveon and McCoy were just that good.

I think it will still be very much focused on winning time of possession and total number of offensive plays.  That means a lot of running plays which is fine.  There will still be plays designed to set up other plays through the air.  It won’t be the inconsistent offense we’ve seen under previous staffs.  Those would either strike quickly or go three and out.  That’s not Jimbo’s style and I’m good with that.

It’s possible we don’t miss a beat on the ground with Corbin and the offensive line.  If that happens along with Kellen Mond and the receiving corps taking a big step forward from last year this could be a really potent offense.  I hope the receiving corps proves me wrong and I hope Kellen proves that half of Aggie fans that question him wrong.  We all just want to score more points than the other team in every game.  I believe we can all agree on that.

Defense:

Defensive Line:

Outside of McCoy and Trayveon there’s no doubt the defensive line was the shining part of this team last year.  They likely were more valuable than those two guys.  They were tremendous all damn season.  The defensive line kept our linebackers clean and limited the exposure of a shaky secondary.  I think we were 3rd against the run in all of the NCAA last season in a run first conference.  The defensive line last year was just legit.

We lose a lot with Keke, Mack, and Durham.  Those guys played amazing ball all season.  Despite their departures I believe the defensive line will be better.  We have some experienced and talented guys coming back.  We also have some talented youth to add in the mix.

The defensive line will start with Justin Madubuike at defensive tackle.  This guy is a legit playmaker.  He’s disruptive like Daylon Mack and he can make plays.  His stats basically mirrored Mack’s last season so I think we’ll see them progress as he gets more playing time.  He’ll probably wind up leaving early and in many ways I hope he does.  That’ll mean he had an awesome junior year.  We’ve got depth to cover him in 2020.  Go ahead and set yourself up as a first rounder, Justin.

I think Bobby Brown will kind of play the role of Kingsley Keke last year moving inside to play a lot of defensive tackle depending on team and formation.  Bobby Brown is a giant man that can move.  He came in as a defensive end but has grown into a defensive tackle for the most part.  Brown may move out to defensive end against run heavy teams and certain formations but I think he’ll spend a lot of time inside with Madubuike wreaking havoc.

Jayden Peevy will rotate in quite a bit with Madubuike and Brown while Josh Rogers and Mohamed Diallo provide some really nice depth.  Peevy is no slouch but I think on pure talent Madubuike and Brown can be as good as any pair of defensive tackles in the country.  They should see a lot of snaps together.

At defensive end we’ll likely see Michael Clemons and Tyree Johnson starting.  Clemons is coming off missing all last season but appears to be healthy.  He’s loaded with talent so if he’s healthy he’s going to be outstanding.  Johnson is coming off a good freshman season.  I suppose there’s some question marks of what these guys look like starting over a full season but I’m not terribly worried.  They should be really damn good.

Backing them up will be a host of guys.  Jeremiah Martin brings the most experience and DeMarvin Leal brings the most talent.  Leal missed the spring with a knee injury but the reports on this guy is he’s a physical specimen.  Jimbo really feels he might have been the best recruit in the country last season.  If he’s healthy and lives up to his potential he’s going to be a big contributor in 2019.  We’ll just have to see.

Beyond those guys there’s also Max Wright who was a four start recruit. He’ll find his way onto the field for playing time but how much will be dictated by his development along with the health off the guys above him.  Having Max Wright as your 5th defensive end is a major luxury.  He’d likely be starting on most teams in the country.

This defensive line may not get the press of Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, or whoever else.  Make no mistake if they’re not on the same level they’re not far behind.  I don’t think it’s a far stretch to say this defensive line could be the best in the country.  It certainly could be in 2020.  There’s some serious talent here.  It just needs to develop and stay healthy.

Linebacker:

This position is my greatest fear for the 2019 Aggie football team.  I don’t think most people realize how fortunate last year’s team was in keeping Alaka and Dodson healthy all season.  They missed a little time here and there but they never missed a full game from what I remember.  They certainly benefited from the defensive line but those two guys were unsung heroes making plays right behind the defensive line all season.  They could be sorely missed as there’s just no depth and real experience at this position.

Buddy Johnson and Anthony Hines are penciled in as their replacements.  Johnson has two years experience but never as a starter.  I also think he’s not quite as talented as Alaka or Dodson.  He’s not terrible but he’s got some big shoes to fill if we’re to not miss a beat losing those two guys.

Anthony Hines is VERY highly rated but has no real experience.  He’s battled the depth chart and injuries his entire time at A&M.  He has the potential but just hasn’t done much.  If he lives up to his talent and stays healthy he’ll be fine filling the role of Dodson or Alaka.  I just have to see both before I can get excited about what he offers.

Beyond those two guys it becomes a major crap shoot.  Braden White has the size but I’m not sure he has the ability.  He may wind up being the 12th Man and I don’t really want a walk on playing linebacker.  Sure it makes for a great story but Cullen Gillaspia got moved to fullback because he couldn’t cut it at linebacker.  There’s not really a precedent for the 12th Man playing linebacker at a high level.

Andre White showed some potential in the M&W game but he’s a true freshman.  True freshman don’t wind up doing very well at linebacker in the SEC unless they’ve killed a bear with their hands.  I don’t think he’s done that.  Aaron Hansford moved over from receiver after playing some linebacker in high school.  He certainly has the athleticism but does he have the instincts?  Instincts tend to matter more than talent at linebacker.  Ikenna Okeke has some potential but had his entire season cut short by an injury last season.  He’s another unknown.

We’ve got some other true freshman coming in at linebacker.  I think Chris Russell and KeShun Brown who have the desired size might add some depth.  I just don’t see them contributing a lot as true freshmen.  You know my bear theory and I don’t think these guys have killed bears with their hands either.

There are certainly several bodies to try and throw at the linebacker position.  We’ll see if it works out with raw numbers.  I’m afraid it won’t totally work out with talent.  We still need help with future development and recruiting.

I hope some guys step up and fill the shoes of Alaka and Dodson.  I’m just fearful they won’t and this will look like the 2018 secondary.  The real test is how many 5 to 15 yard runs the opposing offense rips off against us.  That’s the real test of the linebackers.  When running backs are getting an additional 5-10 yards beyond the defensive line that’s because the linebackers aren’t doing their job.  They’re either blocked or out of position.

I also don’t want to be in a position where the safeties are forced to stop the run game.  In the SEC you need linebackers that can help shut down the run.  If not, teams will expose you up the middle.  We’ll just have to see if this group can step up and match last season’s production.

Secondary:

The 2019 Aggie secondary will be a good attitude test for people.  You’ll likely either see a glass half full or a glass half empty.  The 2018 Aggie secondary was far and away the biggest Achilles heel of last year.  Time and time again it was either burned through the air or failed to make a play when it mattered most.  We would have likely won the Clemson and Auburn games had the secondary made one key play in each game.  They wouldn’t even have been amazing plays.  There were a couple of plays in both of those games where the secondary was just completely out of position to defend a pass or didn’t take down a receiver with the ball at contact.  They make one of those plays and we have another win last year.  They make two plays in each game and we have two more wins.

The good news is if you compare this year’s secondary to last year’s it can’t get any worse.  You can see the glass half full.  If you compare this year’s secondary to where it should be you’ll see it as half empty.  They’re going to make a few mistakes.

From my standpoint I don’t want to see anyone in the secondary from last season starting other than Leon O’Neal.  It’s not a knock on them personally but they’re just not that good.  I don’t see how it’s possible they make a serious leap from last year to this year.  Because of that, I don’t see any point in them logging serious minutes.  I’m fine with guys like Derrick Tucker, Larry Pryor, Jr, Keldrick Carper, Myles Jones, Debione Renfro, and Charles Oliver logging minutes but there’s more talented guys that need to get experience sooner than later.  One of those guys can regularly play the nickel but that’s about as far as I want it to go.

If Jimbo’s recruiting, player development, and coaching are on point then Elijah Blades and Erick Young should be our starting corners.  At least by mid-season for both.  Blades is a highly coveted JUCO transfer so I’m really hoping he’s starting the first game.  We need serious help at corner.  Blades locking down a spot to start the season would go a long way to improving the 2018 performance.

Young is a five-star recruit.  He’ll certainly have a learning curve but at worst he should have a Leon O’Neal year where he shows improvement every game and by the end of the season shows he’s ready to take over the position.  I think his development should be advanced as the sooner he gets reps the better off he’ll be long term.  There’s no red shirting this kid so let’s see what he’s got.

At safety Leon O’Neal clearly has one spot locked down and he looks like he’s the real deal.  He should only build on where he ended last season.  At the other spot I’m hoping Demani Richardson or Brian Williams can establish themselves in the other spot.  They’re both really talented.

I’m probably being too ambitious so I’m guessing the real secondary will be a combination of Blades and O’Neal with the best of the rest filling out the other corner and safety spot.  Even if that’s the case I can’t imagine how this secondary is any worse than last season.  With the talent and experience they bring to the table in 2019 those guys will be better than any group we started last season.  At least they better be.

This secondary will still make mistakes giving up plays they shouldn’t.  It should be better to the point where it’s a serviceable unit as opposed to a vulnerable unit like last season.  I’m still shocked anyone tried to establish the run on us last season.  What Elko and Jimbo did defensively last season with that weak of a secondary was remarkable.  It really was.  Mike Elko and his defensive staff were the true MVPs of the 2018 season.  We’re likely 6-6 without them.

Overall:

Buddy Johnson and Anthony Hines will be the key to any defensive improvements in 2019.  If they can stay healthy and come close to the production of Alaka and Dodson this defense will see big improvement.  As crazy as it is to say I think the defensive line will be the biggest improvement over 2018 once they figure out their true roles and rotations.  That 2018 defensive line was the best we’ve seen in some time.  That’s a major statement to make but I believe the 2019 defensive line will be better when it’s all said and done.

The secondary should be vastly improved at two positions if not more.  Maybe the youngsters don’t need to be thrown to the wolves right away but O’Neal and Blades starting should be a major boost.  The 2020 secondary should take another major step so the 2019 secondary should be a preview of things to come.

We’re also still missing a serious pass rush specialist like Myles Garrett or Von Miller.  I think the defensive line will be disruptive enough by creating schemes where someone will consistently be in the backfield forcing the quarterback to throw sooner than later.  It won’t be one guy but a mix of guys applying pressure.  I think we’ll be fine there.

It’s all about filling those linebacker spots.  Cross your fingers.

Special Teams:

Punter:

Not much to say about Braden Mann.  He led the NCAA with a 51 yard per punt average last season.  We all saw what he did.  He’s the best punter at A&M since Shane Lechler and is probably better.

I can’t say enough about this kid.  The statistics bear it out but he’s just special to watch.  His ability to kick different punts at key times is uncanny.  The dude can sky it, angle it, and most importantly he has this booming liner.  I’ve never seen someone punt a ball like him where it’s a low trajectory screamer that’s covering 60 yards in the air.  It’s like watching Tiger Woods and John Daly drive golf balls in the late 90s.  Nobody else can do what he does.

Multiple times last year he completely flipped the field.  I’m talking we’re snapping the ball from our 20-yard line and the other team winds up snapping the ball from their 20.  It wasn’t complete luck either.  He could just put the ball in a spot where the punt returner couldn’t get it and watch it roll.  The returner would wind up chasing it down while the punt coverage team was able to get down and convene around the returner limiting the return.

I assume he can repeat 2018 and that’s all I ask.  I don’t need improvement.  He just needs to do the same thing he did in 2018 and nothing more.  He’s one of the rare punters that is truly able to keep points off the scoreboard.  Enjoy him while we can.  Guys like this don’t happen very often.

Kicker:

Seth Small is the incumbent at placekicker.  He’s pretty good but needs to develop some consistency.  He was 19 of 26 with a long of 52.  That’s a bit shy of 75% so he’s got to be better than that.  He was 3-3 in games against Bama and LSU so pressure doesn’t seem to bother him.  He was also 34-34 on extra points.  Extra points appear automatic.  Hopefully he improves his accuracy to at least 80% if not better.

Caden Davis is a true freshman coming in and apparently has a major leg.  He hit a 57 yarder in high school.  He also hit a 76-yard field goal practicing on July 4th.  If Seth Small struggles at least we have a guy with a big leg backing him up.

Let’s just hope Seth Small improves his consistency.

Returners:

I know a lot of people don’t like Roshauud Paul because he’s not Christian Kirk but I like the guy.  He’s REALLY good about catching punts.  Most importantly he seems to have that knack for knowing when to fair catch and knowing when there’s safe room to run.  Guys like Kirk returning kicks don’t happen along every season.  If you don’t have a Kirk then you better have someone that’s good at catching punts.

Nothing changes momentum like a fumbled punt recovered by the punt team.  Think back to the 2011 Texas game when Dustin Harris fumbled the punt in the second quarter.  Texas ran a trick play on the next play and scored a touchdown.  That was a major momentum swing letting Texas back in the game.  I don’t like fumbling punts.  There’s no Christian Kirk on this team that’s a threat to take it to the house.  Give me the guy that can catch the damn ball and doesn’t get cute trying to do too much.

As for kick returns I’m not sure who all we’ll have doing this.  Corbin did it last year as the backup tailback but I don’t see him doing it this year as the starting tailback.  I’m confident Jimbo and his staff will find two capable guys to do this.

Summary:

I’m certainly high on the talent for Texas A&M for 2019.  The experience and depth at a couple spots give me some concern on how that looks for wins and losses.  The ultimate judge of any season is actual wins and losses.  Moral victories are okay but in the end they’re still losses.  Nobody likes losing.

I’ll do my season prediction in the next blog but I think A&M is going to be better as a whole compared to the 2018 team.  Jimbo has done an outstanding job of bringing in depth and talent in just two recruiting classes.  There’s still a way to go but the 2019 Aggie football team will have more talent and ability across the board than the 2018 team.  I feel confident about that.

If Mond and the receivers take the next step and the linebackers do what was done last year this team can compete with anyone in the country.  There’s only one way to find out and that’s to snap the ball.  Labor Day Weekend can’t get here soon enough.

 

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We’ll post our season prediction in the next few weeks and then do a re-cap of each game throughout the season.

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The Ultimate Aggie Grill:

Aggie Grill small

At the 2019 Houston Coach’s Night the ultimate Aggie grill was on display.  Chaz Hammonds ’13 with Soul Fit Grill has created a maroon kamado grill.  As someone who has one of the big name kamado grills I can tell you this thing is on par quality wise.  It’s comparable in size to the XL of the big name brand for much less.  For $899 you get the grill, side boards, and stand.  If you’re in Houston he’ll even deliver for free.  If you’re in the market for a kamado grill give Chaz a look.  You won’t be disappointed.

Here’s a link to his website:

http://www.soulfitgrill.com/grills/the-legend-kamado-by-soulfitgrill

He also has a smaller grill if you’re looking for a smaller one:

http://www.soulfitgrill.com/grills/r4enfujd21dlcgtzq64zbkkbw8lyqe

Thoughts from the Gator Bowl

trayveon gator bowl

I don’t care the record, location, or opponent of a bowl game.  When you dominate your opponent in a bowl game it feels good.  Especially after experiencing recent losses against Louisville, Kansas State, and Wake Forest.  I know Louisville had Lamar Jackson but that was still a very winnable game that we lost.  I don’t like losing.

After three seasons of frustrating bowl showings it’s good to see Jimbo bury an opponent in a bowl game.  This really reminded me of the 2012 Cotton Bowl where we played OU close for a half and then buried them in the second half.  The Gator Bowl had a slight question mark for the Aggies in the second quarter but the Aggies responded right before half and then buried NC State early in the second half.  The second half turned into a party for those Aggies in attendance at the Gator Bowl as Tyrel Dodson picked off a pass on NC State’s opening drive for a touchdown.  The Aggies then forced a punt and responded with a touchdown followed by forcing another punt and responding with a touchdown for a 42-13 lead right after the fourth quarter started.  When Trayveon Williams finished off his 93-yard touchdown for a 42-13 lead, the party was in full effect.  It wasn’t like it used to be.

Let’s get to what happened.

Offense:

The Key Decision:

The thing that’s impressed me most about Jimbo Fisher so far this season is his in-game recognition and adjustments.  He’s not perfect but Jimbo is really aware of what’s going on in the game.  I’ve never seen a more obvious moment with an adjustment like in the Gator Bowl.

We all know about Kellen’s long run for a touchdown on the first drive.  On the second drive it was an inconsistent drive with Kellen going 3 for 7 on completions.  Trayveon had one nice run with 2 runs for no gain.  The drive gained 3 first downs but ultimately stalled after a false start on 1st down.  They couldn’t gain 15 yards on three downs and the Aggies would punt.

On the third drive Corbin had a nice 4-yard run but on the next play Mond’s pass is tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted.  Back to back bad drives.

The fourth drive was by far the worst drive of the night.  I think because of what happened on this drive Jimbo changed things up.  The drive started with two incompletions where I don’t think the receivers were that open but Kellen threw the ball anyway.  On 3rd and 10 Kellen drops a beautiful ball between coverage to Quartney Davis for a 30-yard gain.  The Aggies are set up 1st and 10 at the NC State 35 and down 13 to 7.  Looks like they’re about claw back into this thing after giving up 12 unanswered points and struggling on offense.

Kellen hands the ball off to Trayveon who is stuffed by the NC State right defensive end who blew up the Aggie left tackle.  That results in a loss of 4 yards.  On 2nd and 14, Mond hits Ausbon on a nice slant route for 13 yards.  On 3rd and 1, Mond keeps the ball and tries to go left side but gets nowhere.  It’s 4th and 1 at the NC State 26-yard line.  Jimbo decides to go for it rather than kick a 43-yard field goal.  Mond hands the ball off to Trayveon who tries the left side and is stuffed for a one-yard loss.  Once again, the NC State right defensive end destroyed our left tackle.

Up until that moment the Aggie offense had a couple solid plays in Kellen’s long touchdown run and the 30-yard pass to Quartney.  The offensive line had looked decent pass blocking but the receivers weren’t really getting open.  Run wise the Aggies hadn’t done much and it appeared the NC State defense was owning the line of scrimmage against the Aggie offense.  Especially the NC State right defensive end against the Aggie left tackle.  Things weren’t looking good for the Aggies despite only being down by 6 points.

I was at the game so I didn’t see this but apparently the television showed Jimbo talking to the offensive line in the second quarter.  It seemed like he was challenging his offensive line and asking them if they could get push.  I’ve seen this before with Jimbo at Florida State where he would basically tell his offensive line they were getting pushed around and asked them if it was going to continue.  Basically, Jimbo was telling his offensive line they were getting their ass whipped and if they wanted to respond.

That’s great recognition by Jimbo to know his offensive line wasn’t dominating the line of scrimmage.  A lot of coaches would just look at their spreadsheet trying to figure out plays that might have a “schematic advantage.”  Apparently Jimbo understands if you’re not winning the line of scrimmage it doesn’t matter what plays you’re calling.  Every play works better when the offensive line isn’t getting pushed back.  Rather than try new plays, Jimbo went to the heart of the matter addressing the offensive line directly.  That’s solid coaching.

Even more solid was a recognition and adjustment based on what had happened.  On their fifth offensive possession the Aggies were set up nicely thanks to a decent punt return by Rashaud Paul.  On the first play Mond hit a wide open Sternberger for 28 yards.  Mond misses Rogers on the next play but the following play changed everything about the game.  Mond handed off to Trayveon who ran to the right side and ripped off a 30-yard run to the 2 yard line.  This run was even on the right hash so it was the short side of the field.  The right side of the Aggie offensive line sealed the edge for Trayveon to get loose.  Trayveon would punch it in on the next play to take the lead back.

From that moment everything changed for the Aggies.  On their next possession they’d mix passes and runs covering 72 yards in 11 plays consuming 5:15 of the clock.  They’d score on a typical Kendrick Rogers leaping touchdown grab to go up 21-13 with 32 seconds left in the half.  Momentum was clearly on the Aggie side.

Coming out of the second half Jimbo was determined to crush the will of the Wolfpack thanks to a 28-13 lead coming from Dodson’s interception return for a touchdown.  On the first offensive series of the second half Trayveon got the handoff five straight times where he ripped off runs of 38, 5, 4, 18, and 17 yards.  5 handoffs and 82 yards to Trayveon.  The first 4 runs went to the right side.  The final run for the touchdown went to the left side but the play design was perfect.  The Aggie left guard pulled left to kick out the right defensive end that had wreaked havoc on our left tackle.  The play used the aggressiveness of that right defensive end to get up field where the left guard easily pulled and sealed him so he was neutralized on that play.  The rest of the line was blocking downfield and Trayveon strolled into the end zone for an easy score.

On the next offensive series we all know what happened on the first play.  Mond handed off to Trayveon to the right side.  Trayveon had a huge hole to run through and it was off to the races for a 93-yard touchdown.  In addition to the offensive line springing Trayveon, Jhamon Ausbon did a tremendous job blocking his defensive back.  Ausbon flat out owned his defensive back making sure he wasn’t anywhere close to the play.  Without Ausbon’s block those 93 yards don’t happen as Trayveon never broke stride once he hit the second level.

The first 6 offensive plays of the second half were to Trayveon resulting in 165 yards and 2 touchdowns.  That’s 27.5 yards per carry.  That’s total dominance.  That 93-yarder would be Trayveon’s final run of the evening as Corbin would see the next carries where he hit on runs of 4 and 35 yards before the Aggie offense sputtered a tad settling for a field goal.

We all know about Gillaspia’s run on the final offensive play of the night.  I’ve been critical of Gillaspia’s blocking this season but I could not be happier for him scoring that touchdown.  He’s busted his ass and represented the 12th Man well his entire Aggie career.  For him to score a touchdown on his final play could not be a better ending for the 12th Man.

When it was all said and done Jimbo and the Aggie offense simply stomped on the Wolfpack defense with the run.  A team that was struggling at the line of scrimmage early in the first half was challenged to get push.  Most importantly, a coach realized he was better off running away from one side of the ball.  Don’t underestimate Jimbo realizing the left side of the Wolfpack defense was the vulnerable side to run to.  There’s a good chance an offensive coach might have thought a simple “rah rah” speech was enough.  Jimbo knew better than to attack the side that had dominated his offense.  Sometimes it takes words and brains to get the job done.  Jimbo smartly used both in that game which was the difference between a close game and a blowout.

Running Backs:

I pretty much covered everything on the running game above.  Trayveon carried the ball 19 times for 236 yards and 3 scores.  That’s a 12.4-yard average.  That’s insane.  Jashaun Corbin made hay in his short time carrying 4 times for 41 yards so 10 yards a carry.  One carry was for 35 yards but that’s still an impressive 4 carries.

I’ll get to Trayveon’s decision to go pro later but after that final touchdown run it was clear he was going pro.  He started blowing kisses to the Aggie faithful and waving goodbye.  His decision was made before the game and he was just living in the moment.  After that performance I don’t blame him one bit.  The Aggie fans in attendance certainly ate it up.

Offensive Line:

Outside of our left tackle struggling against their right defensive end I thought these guys were tremendous.  The running stats speak for themselves especially when you throw in Mond’s long touchdown run.  In passing situations they gave Mond plenty time of to throw as he wasn’t sacked all night.

Maybe the NC State defense isn’t an SEC caliber defense but they still had enough talent to give our offensive line fits if they didn’t play well.  I questioned Jim Turner and this unit coming into the season and at points this season but there’s no doubt the line got better as the season went on.  That is an EXCELLENT thing to see.  This line developed and improved as the season got better.  They saved their best effort for the last game which was a welcomed sight as they were the key unit in blowing this game open.  We don’t score 45 points on offense without the effort of these guys.

Wide Receiver:

Our receivers had an average game.  Some of this was due to the fact of how well we did on the ground in the second half but a lot had to do with not getting open all the time.  There were times nobody was open.  This is consistent with what we’ve seen all season.  They totaled 14 receptions for 140 yards and the Kendrick Rogers score.  Not a bad day but they weren’t dominant by any stretch.  I think that’s partially why Jimbo finally went to the run to see if we could put it away on the ground.

After watching this game I’ve realized this unit gets open because of play design for the most part.  We run a bunch of routes that feed off each other and force defenders to pick one or the other.  A fair amount of time they pick wrong and we have a receiver running open.  This applies to everyone.  We just don’t really get separation in true one on one situations with a defender.

It’s great to see Jimbo and staff create plays where these guys can get open but right now I don’t have faith in any of these receivers dominating man coverage.  We have guys that complimented each other really well so this receiving corps was serviceable all season.  There’s just not a guy on this roster that you’d completely trust to dominate man coverage and make a play.

Ausbon is your go to guy on a quick slant/in route to pick up 5-10 yards.  Sternberger is your guy to exploit the middle of the field.  Quartney Davis is your quick guy you hope the defense forgets to cover.  Of course, Kendrick Rogers, Jr. is they guy you’re throwing it to the end zone as he’ll battle for a ball when he doesn’t have to worry about continuing to go downfield.

I don’t want to take anything away from the effort and productivity these guys had this season.  It’s just we’re still missing a Mike Evans, Josh Reynolds, or Christian Kirk type play with this unit.

Kellen Mond:

Oh boy.  Here we go.  I thought this was a normal Kellen Mond game.  He had a tremendous run on the second play of the game and then was hit or miss on a couple series after that.  He wound being 14 of 26 for 140 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception.  That’s not a bad day at the office at all.  I don’t necessarily put that interception on him as it was batted at the line of scrimmage and a defensive lineman caught it.

There’s no doubt the offensive line and Trayveon carried this team but Kellen was a big contributor.  He wound up as a 54% passer and had some really solid throws.  The 30-yard pass to Quartney Davis was beautiful as he stepped up in the pocket to avoid their right defensive end who had beat our left tackle and threw a beautiful ball between coverage.  That was an amazing play.

He certainly missed on some passes as he missed some receivers high but when receivers were open he hit them for the most part.  He had a solid game.  If you can’t admit that then I can’t help you.

The reality with Kellen is I don’t think we’re ever going to see him win a Heisman Trophy or be a guy that carries a team all by myself.  That’s okay though as that’s not what Jimbo is looking for.  JImbo wants a guy that understands every play design and can execute it quickly when the defense does exactly what’s expected.  I’ve seen Kellen do that all season long where he follows the play design and executes it quickly.  His job is to anticipate where guys will be open based on the play design and hit them when they’re open.  He does that pretty well other than a few mistakes this season.

Kellen isn’t a guy that’s going to consistently make something out of nothing.  That’s not a bad thing.  Just give me the guy that can execute Jimbo’s play design and calling because we finally have a coach that can read and adjust to a defense in game.  Kellen does this pretty well for the most part.  He certainly still has some developing to do but we don’t have a 9-4 season if Kellen is a complete waste of space under center.

I have no clue if we win a national title with Kellen.  It certainly won’t be because of his play by himself.  I do understand that.  It’ll be because we have 85 scholarship players contributing with a few walk-ons potentially thrown in as well.  Kellen will be under center minimizing mistakes and simply running Jimbo’s offense.  It’s entirely possible we win a national title in 2020 with Kellen under center.  There’s no way to tell right now.

We know of quarterbacks like Tim Tebow, Vince Young, Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, and Deshaun Watson winning national titles for their teams.  Here’s another list of names that have also won national titles as the starting quarterback in the last few years – Matt Flynn, Greg McElroy, AJ McCarron, Cardale Jones, and Jake Coker.  I don’t think we’ll see Kellen in that first list of names but it’s entirely possible he shows up in the second list of names.  He’s finishing up his true sophomore season so he can absolutely still develop.  There’s a lot of positives with Kellen after the 2018 season.

If sorry if none of that helps your Kellen Anxiety.  There certainly won’t be anyone on the roster better to run Jimbo’s offense in 2019.  Probably the same in 2020.  It’s not nearly as bad as you think.  I promise.

Defense:

I’m going to write about the defense as an entire unit this game mainly due to a couple key injuries and how the game played out.  The Wolfpack had one drive in the 1st quarter where they drove 71 yards on 12 plays and consumed almost 6 minutes of the clock.  That play resulted in a field goal.  That was by far the most impressive drive of the night for the Wolfpack.  The Wolfpack’s next most impressive drive was to open up the second half where they drove 50 yards in 7 plays consuming 3:42 of clock.  The only issue with this drive is it resulted in Tyrel Dodson baiting them in to an interception return for a touchdown.  I don’t think I’d call that an impressive drive when you give up a touchdown to the defense.

Their touchdown came off our interception where they only had to drive 27 yards for the score.  They had a couple of other series where they gained 35 and 36 yards with one of those resulting in a field goal.  Other than those four drives it was basically three and out all night for NC State.

You probably already know this, but NC State was 0 for 13 on 3rd Down conversions for the night.  That’s right.  In THIRTEEN tries the Wolfpack converted ZERO third down plays for a first down.  ZERO THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS.  That’s unreal.  They were 2 of 4 on 4th Down conversions but to fail on 13 3rd Down conversions is a real testament to our defense.

We only had two sacks on the evening but we had 11 tackles for losses.  We brought pressure to the Wolfpack backfield all night long.  We had 7 defenders credited with 6 tackles or more with the highest number of tackles being 9.  It was spread evenly between those 7 guys.  To me that’s the mark of a defense knowing their assignments and making plays.  Everybody contributed.

I think early on we really missed Otara Alaka as NC State was able to rip off a couple of decent runs on their 71 yard drive.  I think Tyrel Dodson was getting used to playing middle linebacker in Alaka’s absence.  After that drive though, the defense seemed to really settle down and controlled the game for the most part.

It’s hard to isolate any single player on defense because everyone contributed and that’s what you want out of a defense.  Everybody just did their job and helped each other out.

This isn’t a terrible NC State offense either.  Their quarterback is a potential first round draft pick and their center won the Rimington Award as the best center in the country.  They had a nice duo at running back with Reggie Gallaspy II and Ricky Person, Jr.  Yes.  One guy goes by the second and the other guy goes by Junior.  Either way, those guys were solid running backs.  I know NC State was missing their best receiver who decided to sit out and focus on the draft but I’m not sure he would have made that much difference.  The Aggie defense was that dominant.  At best he’s worth two touchdowns.  It would have certainly made the game different but the Aggie defense was ready for what the NC State offense tried to do.

Overall this unit really reminds me of the 2012 defensive unit.  A few really talented guys but for the most part a cohesive unit.  I know out secondary was terrible most of the season but the defense’s ability to play the line of scrimmage was outstanding all season.  I think next season we’ll have even more talent and depth but I think we’ll step back at linebacker trying to fill the holes left by Dodson and Alaka.  Those guys were studs all season long.  I just hope Elko can keep the cohesion going for next years unit as this unit was solid defending the line of scrimmage all season.  If you can defend the line of scrimmage you can win football games.

Special Teams:

Not much to report here.  Seth Small missed a 52-yard field goal at the end of the first half but also hit a 35-yarder.  Rashaud Paul had a nice 21-yard punt return and Jashaun Corbin had a nice 30 yard kick-off return.  It was un-eventful for the Special Teams and I’m okay with that.

 

I think that pretty much covers the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl for the Aggies.  You can’t ask for much better when it comes to a bowl game.  Sure, there were some minor issues here and there but for the most part the Aggies took their foot and stomped it on the Wolfpack.  It was a nice ending to Jimbo’s first season.  Maybe this is a total repeat of the 2012 season with a few more losses but this time feels different.  This entire team feels different than that 2012 season.  That was lightening in a bottle.  This feels like the foundation of something bigger being built.

 

Georgia vs Texas:

If you don’t care about the Texas Longhorns no need to read this section.  Here’s the reality of what happened – Texas came out and beat Georgia.  You can blame Georgia not being ready or some other lame excuse like Georgia made some early mistakes with the knee being down on the punt and Swift’s early fumble.  It doesn’t matter.  Texas came out and soundly beat Georgia.  Texas beat Georgia.  Simple as that.

It wound up being a 28-21 game so the final score looks close but Texas controlled that game from start to finish.  I’ve watched a fair amount of Texas games under Tom Herman and what I was most impressed with was Texas’ ability to control the line of scrimmage.  They didn’t let Georgia run the ball and did an outstanding job running the ball on Georgia.  I’ve not seen that under Herman and it was impressive.

Sam Ehlinger managed the game really well.  He didn’t light it up passing but he made some key throws and didn’t make mistakes.  He also did a really good job running the ball fighting for hard yards while protecting the ball.  It was just a solid effort from Ehlinger.  This guy has really grown in his two seasons under center.  He made a lot of mistakes throwing the ball last season and against Maryland but he did a really good job making smart plays the ball down the stretch.

I’ve had my questions about Tom Herman since he got there but that was a damn impressive win.  They were underdogs against a team that almost won the National Title last year and took Bama to the wire in their last game.  It didn’t faze Texas.  They came out and took it to Georgia all game long.

Don’t look now but don’t be surprised to see Texas in the Playoffs next season.  If they can get by LSU at home in their second game of the year they have a very manageable schedule to at worst go 12-1 winning the Big XII.  I expect OU to take a step back unless Kyler Murray comes back but that seems like a longshot.  OU also hired an outstanding Defensive Coordinator but I think Texas is set up REALLY well to make the playoffs in 2019.

I’m not totally convinced it happens as they lose a lot of starters on both sides of the ball from this 2018 team.  They’ve recruited well so they’ll have young talent filling the departures.  I know they played close games against Tulsa, K-State, Baylor, Tech, and even Kansas this season but it’s pretty clear they learned how to win.  There’s a lot to be said for a team that learns how to win.  They get past LSU though and then everything is front of them to make the Playoffs in 2019.

It’s also possible Georgia isn’t that dominant as the body of work on Kirby Smart gets bigger.  They’re certainly a really good football team but he’s not had them prepared against Auburn last season and LSU and Texas this season.  They’ve been playing in a down SEC East the last two seasons so maybe they’ve just benefited.  He also may just know how to coach against Saban.  I tend to think Georgia is a really good football team and Texas won a big football game that could propel them to bigger things.

We’ll just have to find out in 2019.  I do know this – if Texas makes the College Football Playoff next season that means they got past a perennial SEC West power in LSU.  This is partially why I don’t have a problem playing Texas every season.  If Texas makes the Playoff then Aggies can only blame ourselves because we didn’t line up and keep them out of the Playoff.  I still believe in lining up and playing Texas every season as a lot more good than bad can come of it in my book.

Maybe Texas sputters in 2019.  Right now though Tom Herman has a TON of momentum rolling in Austin thanks to the win over Georgia.  If Texas can figure out a way past LSU which is entirely possible their path to the College Football Playoff might be as easy an anyone else’s.

We’ll just have to see what happens.

 

Early Departures:

There shouldn’t be any surprise by the early departures of Erik McCoy, Trayveon Williams, and Tyrel Dodson.  All three of those guys are three-year starters in the SEC and some of the best at their positions.  They have nothing to gain by coming back to A&M for another year.  They’re basically who they are as players.  They wouldn’t get much better by coming back.

While all of three of those guys are a loss for A&M there’s no doubt Dodson is the biggest loss.  We’ve got Corbin behind Trayveon so we might not see a drop off at running back.  McCoy has been our best lineman for three seasons but I think we have enough talent and depth next season where we won’t see a major drop off.  At least I hope.

Behind Dodson there’s major question marks at linebacker.  Anthony Hines and Buddy Johnson have plenty of talent but they haven’t played the majority of snaps in a full season.  We’ve got a lot of youngsters with talent behind them but playing linebacker is as much instinct as it is talent.  Tyrel Dodson was a legit SEC linebacker and I really think our best linebacker since Dat Nguyen.  For selfish reasons I wish he was coming back but I fully understand his decision.  He’ll likely have a pretty long career in the NFL so time to go make that money.

Jace Sternberger is the guy I think made a questionable decision.  He graduated high school 4 years ago and wants to capitalize on a great season so I get why he made the decision he made.  I’m not sure it’s the best one though as he really could use another season in the SEC.  He’ll get his shot at the NFL but I’m not completely sure he’ll stick.  He had issues blocking this season and he disappeared at times receiving in games.  Most of the time he got open because of the play design.  He wasn’t a guy that just dominated defenders when he was covered.  He also had his fair share of drops this season.  He’s excellent after the catch but I think he would have done himself a favor by getting one more season in the SEC so he’s truly ready for the next level.  For the most part you get one shot to make an NFL roster.  If you don’t make an NFL roster your first season out of school you likely won’t make it in the NFL.  There’s stories of practice squad guys getting a shot on a different team and flourishing but those stories are few and far between.  The reality is if you don’t make an initial 53 man roster you’ll never make it in the NFL.  I hope Jace makes it in the NFL but I’m not convinced he’s fully ready for the next level.

I think we’ll be fine at tight end as we have some awesome tight ends coming in.  He’ll be a true freshman but I think Baylor Cupp might be a more talented receiver than Sternberger.  Jalen Wydermeyer can also catch along with block so I don’t think we’ll see a major drop off with Sternberger leaving.  It still would have been good to have Sternberger back for both the Aggies and for him to develop for the next level.

I wish them all the best and hope they have fruitful careers in the NFL.

 

The Future of Aggie Football:

There’s still a decent path to go to truly Make Aggie Football Great Again.  Things look really good right now but the 2019 season will be the most crucial season for Jimbo.  I don’t think we’re quite ready to break through as we’ll be much younger in 2019 than in 2018.  I think we’ll be more talented across the board but in the SEC you need talent and experience.  That’s the main reason Alabama is so good is because when they roll out a new starter it’s someone who’s been on the roster for a year or two.  Unless they’re an exceptional talent Nick Saban doesn’t roll out freshman on his team including redshirt freshman.

In addition to a young team we have a BRUTAL schedule.  We get Alabama at home but I don’t think it’ll matter.  We must go on the road to Clemson, Georgia, and LSU.  While I’d like to see us win more games in 2019 it might not happen.  At minimum we need to go 8-4 to match this season’s total.  I don’t think we beat Bama.  If we can beat everyone on our schedule of the teams I haven’t mentioned and then win one of those three road games I mentioned above that will put us at 9-3.  That would be a really solid season setting us up nicely for 2020 which I think could be the real breakthrough year for the Aggies.

What makes the 2019 season so crucial is we can’t have a regression from the 2018 season.  We’ve seen it time and time again over the last two decades where the Aggies would have an impressive season but then do nothing the year after.  1999, 2005, 2011, and 2013 all come to mind.  For Jimbo to keep this MAFGA train on track we can’t do worse record wise in 2019 than 2018.  We just can’t.  That’s been the missing element for Aggie Football over the last two decades.  We could get a positive step but couldn’t string another step go with it.  When we couldn’t follow up a successful season with another things fell apart.  That has to change in 2019 with at least an 8-4 record but 9-3 would obviously be even better and a major step forward.

Jimbo needs to make sure 2019 ain’t gonna be like it used to be in order to Make Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

 

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2018 Wasn’t Like It Used To Be

Jimbo with team on Sidelines

On the surface, an 8-4 regular season record in Jimbo’s first season doesn’t look much different than Kevin Sumlin’s final five seasons.  In those five seasons Kevin Sumlin had the following regular season records: 8-4, 7-5, 8-4, 8-4, and 7-5.  Strictly on wins and losses, which is the ultimate metric, Jimbo Fisher doesn’t seem that different of a coach.

When you dig a little deeper, Jimbo’s 8-4 record in his first season looks MUCH different than Kevin Sumlin’s tenure.  Jimbo still has a long way to go to get A&M into the national championship picture but I’ll take his 8-4 over Sumlin’s 8-4 any day of the week.

A lot of Aggies will look at 8-4 and feel we should have been 9-3 or even 10-2 with wins over at least Auburn and maybe Clemson or Mississippi State.  The reality is we’re just as close to 6-6 as we are to 10-2.  We could have EASILY lost to Kentucky and LSU.  Those were both OT games where we came out on the right side.  Hell, we could have been 5-7 had we not overcome key turnovers against Ole Miss.  In the end I do think our 8-4 record is a true indication where this program is under Jimbo after his first year.  It’s a good record in the toughest division of college football but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Let’s look at how Jimbo’s 8-4 is different than Sumlin’s 8-4.

Why 2018 Wasn’t Like It Used Be:

Kyle Field Matters Again:

While it’s only one season it’s nice to have only one loss at Kyle Field.  Especially when it’s a 2-point loss to the second best team in college football.  Alabama was on the road, but the Aggies held their own at Kyle Field this season against some good teams.  This includes the overtime wins over Kentucky and LSU.  Even the Ole Miss game was a bigger win that it appeared.  I’m not certain under Sumlin we win the games against Kentucky, Ole Miss, and LSU the way the flow of the game was.  In each of those games the Aggies had to overcome key turnovers and didn’t give up.  I think we certainly lose one of those games under Sumlin.

We talk about Kyle Field being a home field advantage but under Sumlin it didn’t really seem to matter.  He didn’t just lose games at Kyle Field.  We routinely got our ass kicked at Kyle Field under Sumlin.  It wasn’t just Alabama either.  Every SEC West team at one point throttled our ass at Kyle Field.  Ole Miss, Auburn, Mississippi State, and LSU all kicked the shit of the Aggies at one point during Sumlin’s tenure.  All but Mississippi State have multiple wins against Sumlin at Kyle Field.  That’s right, Ole Miss won multiple times at Kyle Field with Sumlin running the show.  That was inexcusable.

Maybe things change with Jimbo where he loses at Kyle like Sumlin but the first step to Make Aggie Football Great Again is winning games at Kyle Field.  It’s that simple.  During that run from 1985 to 1995 the Aggies lost 5 games at Kyle Field.  That’s right.  In 11 seasons the Aggies lost FIVE games at Kyle field.  The record during that time at Kyle Field was 63-5-1.  That’s a 91% winning percentage.

You must make Kyle Field a tough place to play as an opponent.  Jimbo took care of that in his first season.  Let’s hope it continues.

Ironically enough in Sumlin’s best season where we went 10-2 the two losses were at Kyle Field.  They were against REALLY tough teams and were REALLY close games but for whatever reason Sumlin couldn’t make Kyle Field an advantage in his six seasons as head coach.  You have to leverage 100,000 people including 30,000 screaming students on the opponent’s side of the field.  If you can’t do that you’ll never be successful as head coach of Texas A&M.

Undefeated at Kyle in SEC Games:

Building on the first point but it needs to be noted for the first time ever the Aggies were undefeated in SEC play at Kyle Field.  I think we kind of took those wins for granted because everyone harps on the Miss. St. and Auburn losses.  Don’t discount how important it is to win every SEC game at Kyle.  This was a MAJOR step and I hope like hell it holds.  I can’t state this enough – You can’t lose games at Kyle Field.  It’s too much of a home field advantage to not leverage.

3-1 in November:

Going all the way back to the Dennis Franchione years and even R.C. Slocum’s final years the Aggies had a bad habit of going flat in November.  Every coach suffered from this other than Sherman in 2010 and Sumlin in 2012.  Those were anomalies.

Here’s the breakdown of total wins and losses for previous Aggie coaches in November games:

R.C.’s Final Three Seasons: 2-8
Dennis Franchione: 4-12
Mike Sherman: 7-9
Kevin Sumlin: 13-11

Sherman went 4-0 in 2010 but other than that he was 1-3 in November games each season or 3-9 outside of 2010.  Sumlin had the 4-0 November in 2012 which boosts his November record but he also got a major boost due to the SEC schedule where a non-conference team played at Kyle in November.  Take away the 2012 season and that non-conference game for each season and Sumlin is 4-11 in SEC November games.  Since 2000 the Aggies haven’t played well in November except for two seasons.

Maybe 2018 is anomaly for the Aggies as well.  Hopefully it’s the start of something new.  Either way don’t under estimate the Aggies having a winning record in November.

A Win over LSU:

We’ll find out in a couple more years but the win over LSU feels like it could be the second most important win since joining the SEC.  No doubt until we win a Division Championship the 2012 Alabama will always be the biggest SEC win.  That win got us a Heisman Trophy and national attention.

Since Jimbo got here I’ve said the biggest step we’ll take is replacing LSU as the second-best team in the West.  No doubt replacing Bama as the best team in the SEC is the ultimate goal but in order to get there we have to prove we’re consistently the second-best team in the SEC West.  We finally beat that team that’s been entrenched as the second-best team in the SEC West.  That’s a good start to the ultimate goal of being the best in the SEC.  We just need to beat LSU consistently now.

2nd in the SEC West:

Building on that last point, for the 2018 season we are in fact the second-best team in the SEC West.  We tied with LSU in overall SEC record.  Since we have the head to head win we can claim second in the SEC West.  This is the first time we’ve ever been able to claim second in the SEC West.  In 2012 we shared the same SEC record as LSU but they beat us head to head so they got to claim second place.

A win over LSU is key but coupling it with a good enough record to claim second in the SEC West is even bigger.  That’s a great body of work in SEC play and this needs to be our new baseline going forward.  Expectations don’t go below here.

Margin of Defeat:

Other than the Alabama game where the Aggies lost by 22 the Aggies held their own in every game.  Note that was the smallest margin of defeat for an Alabama regular season game.  The Miss. St. lost was the next largest margin at 15 points but the Aggies where within a score the entire game until Nick Fitzgerald’s late touchdown run.  The other losses were by 2 to Clemson and 4 to Auburn.

I think this is one of the hardest things for Aggies to understand in how Jimbo coaches.  I know the offense and Kellen Mond struggled at times, but the reality is the Aggies were in every game until the final whistle except for Alabama and Miss. St.  That’s a MARKED improvement from Kevin Sumlin where it wasn’t uncommon to get our ass kicked by at least one more team other than Alabama every season.  By getting our ass kicked I mean you could leave the game or turn off the television at some point in the 4th quarter with no concern of missing an Aggie comeback.  Other than Alabama this season you can’t say that about the other 11 games.  Even after Fitzgerald scored his long TD run to go up by 15 the Aggies had 2 minutes to score a TD and get an onside kick.  Against Clemson we were looking to tie the game with a 2-point conversion with less than a minute left.  As big of a collapse as Auburn was we still had one final play to try and win as time expired.

To be competitive in every game this season other than Alabama was also a big step.

Reduction in Blown Leads:

Blowing massive and numerous leads in 2011 got Mike Sherman fired.  Blowing a massive lead to UCLA in 2017 ultimately got Kevin Sumlin fired.  In addition, Sumlin had plenty of other games where blew a 14-point lead to lose or to have to pull out in overtime.  Arkansas, UCLA, and Tennessee all come to mind.

The worst blown lead by Jimbo was a 10-point lead to Auburn with around 5 minutes in the 4th quarter.  Auburn was able to score 14 unanswered points in the 4th quarter to win 28-24.

I certainly don’t like the outcome of the Auburn game but if that was our worst blown lead then I do see this as a minor step.  It’s one thing to get beat but it’s a completely different thing to have a game in hand only to give it to the opponent.  That happened once in 2018.  It happened a LOT under Sumlin.

Time of Possession:

Despite what Kevin Sumlin and Mike Leach say, time of possession in a football game is important.  It’s even more important to a guy like Jimbo Fisher who has a complete game plan.  When you hold the ball longer than your opponent it allows you to control the game more how you want it.

Time of possession is predicated on two things more than anything:

  • The defense getting off the field on third downs.
  • The offense being able to string drives together to get first downs limiting three and outs.

The Aggies winning time of possession while going 8-4 says they did those two things pretty well.  What hurt the Aggies this season was the big plays against their secondary.  With more talent in their secondary the Aggies easily win 1 or 2 more games this season.  Hell, they might have won 11 games as long plays against Clemson, Miss. St., and Auburn were the reason the Aggies lost.

I’ve said it all season that I think Armani Watts is worth one more win and Christian Kirk is likely worth another.  Glad to see Jimbo control the possession clock but he just needs more playmakers to translate that time of possession into more wins.

Comprehensive Game Plan:

It was pretty clear to me Jimbo had a good feeling going into each game the strengths and weaknesses of his team and the opponent.  It didn’t always work out like he wanted but essentially being in every game with 2 minutes left indicates a coach who game planned pretty well.  It feels like Jimbo watched film of both teams on all sides of the ball and knew what the overall game plan should be.  It wasn’t simply let the coordinators do their jobs and see what happens.  He understood how it all fit together from every aspect of the game.

The biggest indicator of this to me was when Jimbo called timeout in the Ole Miss game halfway through the fourth quarter.  The Aggies were up 24-21 and Ole Miss had 4th and 2 from the 5-yard line.  It looked like an easy field goal.  Jimbo frantically called a timeout to keep the ball from being snapped.  Apparently Jimbo or someone on his staff picked up on a potential fake.  It certainly wasn’t to ice the kicker as a time out for that situation is too valuable.

If Jimbo isn’t paying attention to the entire game or isn’t aware of Ole Miss’ special teams tendencies he may not have called the timeout.  That could have swung momentum.

Jimbo’s press conferences also indicate he’s very aware of what happened in the game.  He can speak to the entire game citing specific plays right after it’s over.  There’s no generic coach speak.  He speaks to key moments of every game right after it happens.  He was paying attention to the whole game.

Jimbo is a solid offensive coach but when I watched the Aggie team this year it was pretty clear to me Jimbo had an entire plan to win the game.  It didn’t always work.  It was much more enjoyable to watch someone executing an entire plan rather than someone hoping random selections on a play sheet will produce more points than the opponent.

New Bowl Destination:

In the previous four seasons the Aggies have gone to bowl games in Memphis, Nashville, Houston, and Charlotte.  Nothing against those places as they’re great cities but nobody dreams of playing in those cities for a bowl game.  Especially when it’s not even close to New Year’s Day.  Two of those were even games that started early in the day which tells you how they rank in the grand scheme of bowl games.  ESPN doesn’t air the most intriguing bowl games when the sun is just peaking.

The Aggies lost the last three bowl games to Louisville, Kansas St, and Wake Forest.  Louisville was Lamar Jackson’s coming out party but the Aggies still could have won that game.  I’m sorry, but there’s no excuse for Texas A&M to lose to Kansas St. and Wake Forest in a mid-tier bowl game.  None.  Somehow it happened in back to back years.  That’s bad coaching.

Kevin Sumlin took the Aggies to the Cotton Bowl in his first season which was a major feat but it was a slow and steady decline from there.

In Jimbo’s first season he’s got the Aggies in Florida on New Year’s Eve.  I was hoping for the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day but it could be MUCH worse than playing in Florida on New Year’s Eve.  Crazy to think if we beat Auburn we’re probably in a New Year’s Six Bowl but at the same time had we lost to LSU we’d been in Memphis or Nashville more than likely.  Like I said earlier, 8-4 feels about right for the season.  Starting off the Jimbo Era in Florida on New Year’s Eve is certainly MUCH different than what we’ve experienced in the last four seasons.

Let’s hope Jimbo gets a win over the Wolfpack of NC State to keep the momentum going.

 

Overall Feelings for 2018:

Obviously I’m pretty pleased how things turned out.  In March I established what I felt would be 8 conservative steps for Jimbo to take as head coach of A&M.  Right now he’s slightly ahead of those steps because we’re sitting second in the SEC West after one season.  He got us 8 wins and it looks like there’s no issue closing on a Top 10 class in 2019.  It’s looking like Top 5 but Top 10 for sure.  2nd in the SEC West and a Top 5 recruiting class for his first year is really solid.

If you want some more off season reading here’s the link to what I wrote back in March and those steps:

https://rcwouldhavegonefor2.com/2018/03/27/expectations-for-jimbo-fisher/

Quick Look Ahead to 2019:

I think this team will be better in 2019.  It’ll be young with talent but overall it should be more talented.  I’m not quite sure what that means in terms of wins though.  After all, wins and losses is the only metric that matters in the end.

In my original steps I felt Jimbo needed to win 10 regular season games in 2019.  That is going to be EXTREMELY difficult due to playing Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia in addition to LSU.  Now I think just getting one win more in 2019 will be fine.  If Jimbo can pull off 9-3 in his second year with that schedule it’ll be a really damn good season.

I’ve always thought 2020 would be the year when A&M should take that big step to national prominence.  I don’t think the youth on the team and the schedule will allow us to take that big step to national prominence in 2019.  That’s okay because that’s all part of the building process.  Aggies may just have to be patient one more year before realizing for certain things ain’t gonna be like they used to be.

I’ll leave you one final thing for the 2019 schedule – In 2017 Auburn won the SEC West with almost the EXACT same schedule.  They played at Clemson the second game of the year and then played Georgia as part of their SEC East schedule.  Auburn was able to pull off 10-2 and win the SEC West so it’s not impossible.

We shall see if the Aggies can do the same.

First, we need a win over N.C. State to reverse the losing momentum in bowl games.  It’s small steps to Make Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

 

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Thoughts on the LSU Game

Hold on a Second Final Play

After the Clemson game this year I said the Aggies made a statement they could play with anyone in the country.  On Saturday night the Aggies began to change the perception the Aggie program is in fact “ain’t gonna be like it used to be.”  I’ll do my full season analysis next week but this week is about that seven overtime thriller at Kyle Field where the Aggies beat LSU.

8-4 with a win over LSU to close out the season looks COMPLETELY different than 7-5 with yet another loss to LSU to close out the season.  A&M walked out of Kyle on Saturday night with a regular season record of 8-4 while LSU walked out with a record of 9-3.  You change those to 7-5 and 10-2 and the two programs look completely different compared to one another.  COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

Add seven overtimes where the Aggies and Tigers went blow for blow with the Aggies coming out on top and those who watch college football certainly took notice.  The Aggies suddenly look like they could be a different program under Jimbo Fisher.  I say “look like” because there’s still a LONG way to go.  With a loss to the Tigers, fans of college football simply assume it’s the same old thing with yet another Aggie coach.  That win makes everything look different heading into the offseason.  Even with seven overtimes had the Aggies lost it wouldn’t have felt much different than before.  It would have felt much closer to being different but in the end wins and losses matter more than anything.  The Aggies beat LSU for their final game.  That’s really all the matters.

For the first time since 2012 the Aggie head coach has something to sell going into the offseason.  Going back to the days of Fran, Sherman, and Sumlin the offseason was generally a tough sell due to how November turned out.  We had two outliers in 2010 when Sherman beat Oklahoma, Baylor, Nebraska, and Texas and then in 2012 when Sumlin beat MSU, Bama, UTEP, and Missouri.  Other than those two seasons November has been pretty bleak the last two decades of Aggie Football.

I’ve said since Jimbo got here the biggest issue with Fran, Sherman, and Sumlin was they could never take consistent positive steps.  They all had one good season and one good recruiting class but they could never consecutively build on those.  We’d have a good season or recruiting class and then the head coach would snub their toe with a bad season or recruiting class and any momentum gained would fall apart.

I know 8-4 may not look much different than season’s past but beating LSU to close out the season changes the perception of how that 8-4 looks.  Jimbo Fisher has the whole offseason to sell a different A&M program thanks to the victory over LSU.  He closed out the 2018 recruiting season really strong and this win over LSU pretty much ensures the stellar class of 2019 stays intact.  If a 2019 committed recruit wants to go somewhere else after watching or experiencing that seven overtime thriller then that’s not on Jimbo.  That kid just wanted to go somewhere else.  This win also gives Jimbo serious ammunition to sway those final studs on the fence for 2019 things are different in Aggieland.  For the 2020 class and beyond he can keep selling the same story with minimal questions.

There’s a long way to go until Jimbo competes for a national championship but he’s making consistent positive steps since he got here a year ago.  It wasn’t easy with seven overtimes but the end result is all that matters.  For the first time since joining the SEC the Aggies have a win over LSU.  An Aggie season finally ends on a high note for the first time in 6 years.  Don’t underestimate what this win can mean long term.

Before I look at the game make no mistake LSU is a legit football team.  They’re EASILY one of the 10 best programs in the country.  They’re likely Top 5 in talent alone.  Other than the Aggie loss they’ve only lost to Alabama and Florida which as off this week’s playoff ranking are Top 10 teams.  They have convincing wins over Miami, Georgia, and Mississippi State.  For some reason a lot of people want to write off the LSU program every year, but LSU is loaded with talent and a tough game every damn season since Nick Saban got there.  They are literally one second away from being ranked in the Top 5 or 6 of this week’s playoff ranking.  Funny how that one second can change the perception of two programs but it did.

By the way – I think the name of this game should go down as “Hold on a Second.”  So much changed due to one single second.  Sports are funny that way.  Feel free to razz your LSU fans with “Hold on a Second” anytime you want.

Overall:

Obviously the referees’ calls were a big factor in this game.  There were certainly some close calls that wound up going the Aggies way but I’ll just say it feels good to be on the good side of the referees’ calls.  It happens every game.  For all the Aggies blaming the Clemson loss this season and going back to the 2014 LSU loss on the referees, we were finally on the right side of those calls that did or didn’t happen.  It tends to balance out over time.

The reality is in a game one play doesn’t make a game.  It’s a collection of plays despite how people want to fixate on single plays.  Ed Orgeron can blame “one second” all he wants but the reality is his team had seven overtimes to overcome that “one second”.  The Aggies certainly benefitted from the referees deciding that second should be added back.  At the same time, LSU certainly had their opportunity to take care of the ref’s decision to prove who was the better team.

Based on what I’ve seen, the calls on Kellen’s knee and the time with the spiked ball were all correct calls.  The call on Greedy Williams pass interfering with Kendrick Rogers during the 2 point conversion in the seventh overtime can be debated.  The reality is there was contact and the ball was in the air.  It’s not a made-up call by any stretch.  I thought Williams grabbed Rogers hair which is an extension of Rogers’ body, but I haven’t looked at a replay to analyze it like the Zapruder film.

While Eddie O and LSU fans are griping about the officials overturning calls on the field they conveniently forgot about the Myles Jones “interception” returned for a touchdown.  Luckily, replay overturned it correctly so it wasn’t just the Aggies benefitting from replay correcting wrong calls on the field.  LSU may not like it but in the instances in question replay did in fact get it correct.

LSU fans also seem to forget that up until 6:41 left in the 4th quarter the Aggies either lead the game or had it tied.  This was a closely disputed game so it really wasn’t the refs that decided the game.  The Aggies and Tigers were going at it for most of the game.

If Trayveon Williams doesn’t fumble that ball in the 4th quarter allowing the Tigers to tie it up the Aggies likely win going away.  The Aggies were starting to exert their will on the ground.  If Trayveon holds onto the ball the Aggies likely try a field goal at minimum rather than give up a quick 7 points allowing LSU to tie.  My point is not to take away from the LSU defense as they absolutely made the play to cause Trayveon to fumble.  But, football is a collection of plays and “one second” or another single play doesn’t totally alter the outcome all by itself.  The Aggies had to be in the game for that “one second” to matter like it did.

It’s crazy to think if Trayveon holds onto that ball it could have been a “normal” win in regulation.  As it turned out it’s a win that any Aggie fan alive will never forget.

One final overall thought is there’s no doubt to me Joe Burrow was the MVP of that game.  His team lost but I can’t think of a single player on that field who had a more valiant individual effort than him.  That dude threw almost 40 passes, carried the ball over 20 times, and was sacked 6 times.  He kept coming though.  That was one gritty effort by him so he deserves some serious props.

Offense:

Offensive Line:

I’ve been critical of these guys all year but on Saturday night they played their best game of the season.  They were tremendous.  They weren’t without fault as Mond was officially sacked twice and hurried another 6 times.  For the most part the line gave Mond enough time with a pocket.  They were also opening holes in the running game.  The Aggies had 107 total plays in this game and the Aggie offensive line showed up for every damn one of them.  I can’t say enough good things about the effort these guys put forth on Saturday night.

I don’t know where it came from but it was a welcome sight and truly the key to the Aggie victory.  It was certainly a team effort but the Aggie offensive line took a really solid LSU defensive line and imparted their will for the most part.  They hadn’t done anything like this all season.  They played above the standard they had been playing to all season.  Kudos to Jim Turner and his charges as they picked the right game to make their presence felt.

Trayveon Williams:

I’ve already talked about his fumble so I’m not talking about it anymore as it was a blip for what he did do.  What Trayveon Williams did on Saturday night should be up there with what Jamar Toombs did against Texas in 1999.  I know the Nebraska game gets Toombs more credit but he only carried the ball 10 times in that game.  In that ‘99 Texas game he carried 37 times for 127 yards and 2 scores Toombs did the heavy lifting that day on the way to an Aggie victory.  On Saturday night Trayveon carried 35 times for 198 yards and two touchdowns.  Trayveon was doing the heavy lifting for this offense behind the effort of the offensive line.

His longest run was only 24 yards but he carried 35 times for an average of 5.7 yards per carry.  Against that LSU defense it was an AMAZING effort.  His line was giving him holes to run through but Trayveon’s ability to find and exploit the holes was amazing.  Of those 35 carries he only had 5-6 for losses and they were only for a yard or two.  All night long Trayveon was finding holes to run through and getting second effort yards.  Can’t say enough about Trayveon’s will on Saturday night.  Next to Burrow no skill player gave more grit on that field than #5 on the Aggie offense.

I know I was critical of Trayveon’s pass blocking ability earlier in the season but he’s made TREMENDOUS strides in that.  I haven’t seen him miss a pass block in the last few games.  Kudos to him for improving that important aspect of his game.

I know I also said he was a mis-match behind this offensive line because he wasn’t a between the tackles runner.  He ran between the tackles all night against LSU.  A lot of credit goes to his offensive line but on Saturday night Trayveon was looking for yards and wasn’t settling until he was brought to the ground.  He consistently changed speeds and direction looking for holes and avoiding contact in the middle of the field.  He wasn’t just looking to get outside.  He ran hard all night cranking out yards even getting two short yardage goal line touchdowns which we hadn’t seen much of all season.

I don’t know if he comes back next year because at this point he’s pretty complete.  His issue is going to be his style of running back isn’t in big demand in the NFL.  The NFL is a numbers game and there’s a lot of guys that look like Trayveon.  He’s not built to be an every down back so he won’t get drafted very high if at all.  He can certainly last in the NFL for a decent period as his work ethic and durability this season are some positive signs for that.  He just needs to find the right situation for him.

Trayveon will make the best decision for himself and his family.  It certainly won’t be easy because he’s already accomplished a lot at Texas A&M.  If he decides it’s time to pursue his NFL career then Aggies need to wish him the best.  If he decides he wants to come back for his final season then Aggies just need to stand and smile with open arms.  I simply want what’s best for him.  He’s earned it this season.

Wide Receivers:

For the receivers in this game it’s really a tale of two parts.  The first 59:30 and then everything after that.  I didn’t think the receivers played exceptionally well during the regulation part of the game.  Sure, Kellen Mond wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire but the receivers weren’t getting a ton of separation and when they were they weren’t making the catches.

The greatest example of this was the second possession of the second half.  LSU had just gone down and scored to tie the game up at 17-7.  The Aggies come out and run two beautifully designed plays were both Kendrick Rogers and Quartney Davis are running across the field set up for a solid gain if they catch the ball.  Mond puts the ball where they can catch it but neither guy made the catch.  We’d wind up going 3 and out for the second series in a row.  Either of those guys make one of those catches and we likely get a 20-40 yard gain on the completion.  The plays were there but the receivers didn’t execute.

Ausbon and Sternberger had some nice completions in regulation but they also had a couple passes they couldn’t quite bring in.  Sternberger also had a nice TD in OT.  Sternberger is kind of who he is.  He’s a little inconsistent but he’s a huge weapon for this Aggie offense.  As for Ausbon he really reminds me of someone who could be a Michael Irvin style receiver when he played for the Cowboys.  Not the fastest guy on the field but Ausbon can use his size to be a big-time possession guy.  Not sure Ausbon will ever turn into an explosive receiver like Evans, Reynolds, or Kirk but he’s plenty talented to be a big part of the Aggie offense for the next couple of years.  He and Mond are developing a rapport in certain situations so I hope it keeps developing.

As for Quartney Davis and Kendrick Rogers these two guys knew when to show up.  These guys were HUGE in getting the game to overtime and in overtime.  Davis’ TD catch at the end of the game was beautiful as was his catch in the seventh OT to tie it up.  Davis has some serious explosive ability but he just needs to become more consistent.

Kendrick Rogers shows up when there’s lights on and Tigers at Kyle Field.  He’s been spotty all season but late in the games against Clemson and LSU he’s flat out balled out.  I’ve been saying since the Arkansas game he’s not good at catching balls when his legs are moving forward.  If his legs are going sideways or stationary and the ball is in the air he’s going to make a play for it.  He’s basically a basketball player in pads right now.  He’s been clutch in some big games at Kyle.  The ball he caught with the LSU defender draped on him was by far his best catch but don’t discount his winning two-point conversion.  He saw Mond scrambling to his left and immediately reacted changing his route getting to a spot where he was wide open and Mond could make the throw.  Rogers has a lot of development but it’s clear around the goal line he’ll go get the ball.

All in all this receiving corps has a lot of development to do.  Despite that, there’s not enough good things to say about how they showed up when it mattered most on Saturday night.  There’s something to be said for not shying away from the moment and the entire receiving corps stepped up when it was needed most.

Kellen Mond:

Oh boy, here we go.  Kellen Mond all season has basically been the President of the United States.  Half the Aggies support him and the other half don’t like him.  That’s not meant to be political in any way but no matter the party of the President half the country supports them and the other half bitches about them.  I feel like that’s Kellen Mond right now.  He can’t win the support of half the Aggie fanbase no matter what he does.

Kellen Mond is not without fault but make no mistake Kellen Mond was a big reason why the Aggies put 31 points on LSU in regulation to send it to overtime.  He then went toe to toe with LSU for seven overtimes.  He could have EASILY backed down after the interception that wasn’t but he didn’t.  He got up from that play and delivered three beautiful passes to get the Aggies tied up.  There’s not enough to be said for Mond’s effort after Aggies at home had turned off their TV sets while Aggies in the stands either headed for the exit or slumped in their seats.  For the record I never headed to the exit but I’ll admit I was slumped in my seat.  Oh I was slumped in my seat wondering how we’d ever take that next step.

When he hit those first two passes after the interception was overturned there was a lot of anxious energy built up in Kyle Field.  When he hit Quartney Davis for the touchdown that tied it Kyle Field erupted.  That anxious energy would never leave for the rest of the night.  From that moment Mond never backed down and made play after play to help lead the Aggies to victory.  It wasn’t just him as it was a team effort but you can’t deny he made some awesome plays when the Aggies needed it most.  He never backed down or got flustered.

Everyone has their opinion on Mond and this game likely didn’t change it much.  If you don’t like him you still question his overall ability but hopefully you respect his ability to make plays when it’s needed.  He helped the lead the Aggies back in a game for the ages and he deserves a lot of respect for that even if you don’t like him as a player.

I’m tired of trying to change people’s mind on Mond.  Before the comeback I was considering not even doing a blog for this game.  So many Aggie fans would have been validated because they could just say “Mond sucks” and blame the entire loss on him.  There would have been no changing people’s mind on Mond.  Hopefully at least coming out of this game the people that don’t like Mond have some respect for his ability to make plays.  If you don’t see that there’s nothing I can say after his final three throws in regulation and his effort in seven overtimes.  You think he sucks and you’re entitled to your opinion.  I just happen to think you’re wrong.

My final thought on Mond as I watch him more – I think Jimbo has a bag of plays he know will work.  The other plays require a little more read and react to see what the defense will do.  When Jimbo calls those plays he thinks will work then Mond tends to execute them flawlessly.  The best examples are the touchdown passes to Davis at the end of regulation and the Sternberger pass in the 6th overtime.  Both of those passes Kellen knew exactly where the guy was going to be open and threw a perfect pass right away.  They weren’t easy passes but Mond made them look easy due to quick recognition and reaction.

I think there’s a lot more method to Jimbo’s madness with Mond.  I’m not saying Jimbo is having Mond struggle to set up good plays, but I do think there are plays where Jimbo is very specific to Mond on who will be open.  When it’s there Mond hits it more times than not.  When it’s not, Mond gets a little confused and isn’t sure where the play will develop so he struggles.

I don’t know what the next two years look like with Kellen Mond at A&M but I see some promise as he and Jimbo grow together.  It could certainly be a lot worse than having Kellen Mond under center the next two seasons.  If you’re one of those people that will never come around on Kellen Mond that’s fine.  One game doesn’t make a quarterback.  Just know in two more years you’ll get the chance to have a candidate you can get behind.  Maybe Mond gets impeached and thrown out of office but I don’t see it happening right now.  Jimbo clearly sees a lot of promise in Mond and Saturday night proved Jimbo more right than wrong for the season.  Right now I don’t see anyone unseating Mond unless he just totally regresses but I don’t see that happening.  He’s been solid all season despite what some Aggies think.

Defense:

Front 7:

Not much to say about these guys.  They did what they normally do.  They gave up one run of 46 yards and the next longest run by a running back was for 16 yards.  Take away that 46 yard run and the LSU running backs had 20 rushes for 66 yards.  That’s a little over 3 yards a rush which is respectable for a defensive effort against LSU.

The wildcard in this game was Joe Burrow as I don’t think anyone expected him to run the ball over 20 times.  His running was really the difference in this game.  Without his running effort there’s no way this game gets to overtime much less seven of them when it did get there.  I think LSU saw a lot of what Mississippi State did with Nick Fitzgerald.  Burrow was up for the task and he certainly delivered.

I’m not letting our defensive line off the hook for Burrow’s effort but they weren’t really prepared for his running and adjusted pretty well.  The Front 7 accounted for 5 sacks on Burrow so he was feeling pressure.  It was just a constant battle between our Front 7 and Burrow all night long.  Sometimes we got the better of him and other times he got the better of us.

I thought the two most impressive series for this unit was LSU’s final possession in regulation and first possession of overtime.  LSU got the ball back with 2:32 on the clock and A&M only having two timeouts.  It was no secret that LSU was going to run the ball but the defense held LSU to 5 yards on three tries ensuring LSU would punt giving the Aggies one final chance.  They did their job in that moment when we’ve seen PLENTY of Aggie teams not make a final stand to get the ball back.  They stood their ground when they had to.  That was a big effort by the Front 7 there.

LSU got the ball first in the overtime and the Aggie defense along with the 12th Man pushed LSU back 7 yards on three possessions.  The 12th Man helped get LSU to false start and then Otaro Alaka sacked Burrow for a five-yard loss setting up a 49 yard field goal.  I was certain LSU would miss it but either way momentum was squarely in the Aggies favor.  As we know LSU made that field goal and the Aggie offense couldn’t punch it in from 1st and goal at the 1 when we got the ball but the Aggie defense never gave up all game long.

The Front 7 also had a great effort on the final LSU play where the pass was tipped on the two point conversion.  An LSU receiver was able to catch it and tried to work his way into the end zone but the defense held him out.  An underrated as who knows what could have happened if the ball wasn’t tipped or the defenders weren’t looking to make the tackle after the tip.  They didn’t give up until the LSU receiver was on the ground short of the goal line.  This unit played heads up ball for most of the night.

I think what’s most amazing about this unit is I’m not sure there’s an NFL starter other than Tyrel Dodson.  I think a lot of these guys will see NFL rosters but I’m not sure there’s any of these guys that will be every down starters in the NFL.  It’s pretty amazing to think what these guys have achieved as an entire unit.  Don’t get me wrong there’s a lot of talent with these guys but there’s as much smarts and effort as there is talent.  These guys have played as an entire unit all season long and it was a remarkable run.  If there’s one group that reminds me of the 2012 team it’s these guys without a doubt.  There’s a lot of comparisons between the Front 7 in 2012 and 2018.

Secondary:

This unit didn’t play half bad but LSU really didn’t test them.  LSU never took any real deep shots downfield but I think that was partially by design.  LSU wanted to keep the ball moving and chewing clock.  They didn’t want to get into 3rd and long situations which they didn’t for the most part.  LSU was able to convert 10 of 20 third down conversions and were really successful converting third downs early in the game.

The Aggie secondary was never really tested and they gave up a lot of completions but they kept LSU from breaking off a big pass reception.  There’s some credit owed there as we’ve seen this season where a short pass turned into a much longer gain.  Still a lot of changes need to be made to this secondary but for one night it was nice to see the Aggie secondary limit the opposing receivers to no big plays.

I think LSU copied a lot of what Mississippi State did with Fitzgerald going after high percentage passes. Burrow was 25 of 38 passing which is 66% and damn good for an LSU team.  Burrow is a much better passing quarterback than people think.  All year long he’s made some pretty solid throws.  His longest completion was for 25 yards.  That was in overtime on the first play of a possession so there were no big gains through the air in regulation.  Burrow just made smart throws and turned in a remarkable performance.  Lucky for A&M it simply wasn’t enough.

The one person I’d like to point out in the secondary is Myles Jones.  Since the Ole Miss game he’s been really solid.  He’s been a MAJOR addition to this secondary because it got Charles Oliver off the field.  Nothing against Oliver personally but he’s terrible at corner and teams know to pick on him.  Whenever Oliver came in for Jones in overtime it wasn’t a surprise Oliver wound up getting a pass interference call.  It’s obvious it’s a different secondary with Myles Jones at corner over Charles Oliver.  Jones is a sophomore so let’s hope he keeps developing as he’ll probably need to start another year while some of these young recruits adapt to SEC play.  At minimum he’ll provide nice depth at a position where we have none right now.

Overall:

This was a solid but not spectacular effort by the Aggie defense.  I expected LSU to score 23 points in regulation and they did almost that at 24.  In the end they did just enough to give the offense chances to win which the offense finally did in the seventh overtime.  This has been a pretty remarkable unit all season despite the lack of talent in the secondary.  The defensive line has been as productive as any unit recent memory.  That defensive line has been the biggest key to the success of the defense.

The other part is Dodson and Alaka.  I’ll say it now as I’ve been afraid to say it all year – how Alaka and Dodson were able to stay healthy all season is the real story of this defense.  We have NO depth behind those two guys.  I mean ZERO depth.  If one or even both of those guys goes down this defense looks COMPLETELY different.  By different I mean TERRIBLE.  We need to thank Sweet Baby Jesus for the health of Dodson and Alaka all season.  I’m not kidding.  Their ability to stay healthy was the real key to this defense.  Those guys go down and there’s no way we’re 8-4 with a win over LSU.

I can finally write that last paragraph.  I’ve been wanting to mention how important their health was to this defense but was afraid I’d jinx it.  Thank you Sweet Baby Jesus for their health this season.  Amen.

Special Teams:

Solid effort by this unit.  Seth Small was perfect which was no small feat with the pressure in this game.  Mann was booming punts.  Paul wasn’t spectacular on punt returns but there’s one thing he didn’t do – turn the ball over.

Like Trayveon’s fumble being a key moment for LSU gaining momentum, the Aggies recovering the fumbled punt by LSU was a MAJOR swing in the Aggies direction.  The Aggie offense took the ball and scored putting the Aggies up 24-17.

I’ve been saying all year if you don’t have a dynamic punt returner then give me someone that can confidently catch the ball.  That’s been Paul all year other than the Ole Miss when he was off for some strange reason.  If LSU doesn’t fumble that punt I’m not sure what that game looks like.  While not spectacular Paul was solid at fielding punts all season except for that one game.  Don’t underestimate what that meant to this team all season.

 

Looking Forward:

In addition to everything I’ve mentioned above for this win helping change the perception of A&M it also provided a major immediate benefit.  Thanks to this win A&M is likely headed to Florida for a New Years Eve or New Year’s Day game against a Big 10 team.  This keeps us out of Nashville, Memphis, or Houston.  Florida is much more prestigious for a bowl game than those locations.  Plus, we’ll likely match up pretty well against whatever Big 10 team we face.

It’s looking like the Outback Bowl right now unless the conference championship games have some major chaos.  If the Outback Bowl happens the Aggies will decide for all of America if there’s going to be free coccy skrimps or a free big ass fried onion on January 2nd.  Who ya’ got, Ags?  Personally, I hope the Aggies are the coccy skrimp team as they’re just as tasty and better on the waistline.  That dipping sauce is divine.  If it’s a big ass fried onion I’ll be okay with that too as long as the Aggies win a bowl game proving their taking even more steps towards a national title.

Things are looking good for Jimbo to be the right guy to Make Aggie Football Great Again.  It just took seven overtimes to keep us on that path.  Hold on a Second – a night for the ages for Aggie Football at Kyle Field.

#MAFGA

 

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Thoughts on the Auburn Game

Mond vs Auburn

That loss to Auburn on Saturday was a serious deflation to the 2018 Aggie football season.  Nobody liked the lost to Mississippi State but the reality is they’re a good team that beat us from the get go.  Against Auburn it looked like everything for the 2018 season was going to get right back on track.  Then the Aggies fell apart.

Losing a game like that spans a ton of emotions.  Right after the game you’re upset and disappointed.  The next day you feel the sky is falling and Aggie football can’t get any worse.  Monday comes around and you start looking forward to the next game against Ole Miss and hopefully getting back on the good side of the win and loss column.  By the time you’ve read this you’ve forgotten all about the Auburn game for the most part.  Being a devoted sports fan is truly a span of emotions most of the time.

The reality of Saturday’s game against Auburn is this Aggie team is not as bad as some Aggie fans make it out to be.  It’s also not as good as we’d hoped from earlier in the season where we came close to upsetting Clemson and played Alabama closer than anyone in the country this season.  That’s right.  The Aggies have the closest margin of victory against the two best teams in the country.  I know.  I can go stick my moral victory where the sun doesn’t shine because we’ve lost the last two weeks and that’s what matters most right now.

The truth is this Aggie team is somewhere between the “moral victories” against Clemson and Alabama and the disgusting defeats against Mississippi State and Auburn.

Before I get to the Auburn unit analysis I want to point out a few things:

  • If Gus Malzahn had followed Joe Moorhead’s game plan there’s a chance Auburn wins this game the same way Mississippi State did where A&M never chokes away a victory. We don’t know that for sure but I was shocked Auburn didn’t come out firing through the air.  They wanted to establish the run and the Aggies flat out denied it.  Maybe Gus wanted to try and establish the run to keep our safeties’ eyes toward the line of scrimmage which worked a couple of times.  Their first touchdown on the reverse pass was based on their trying to establish the run.  Maybe Gus was afraid Stidham would throw it away like he did against LSU.  No telling the reason but I was surprised Gus didn’t attack our secondary like MSU did from the get go.  The outcome could have been a totally different where there was no lead to blow with 2 minutes left.
  • We all have our opinions but I don’t think this team is as talented as last season’s. I believe if this team had Armani Watts and Christian Kirk we would have beat one of Mississippi State or Auburn if not both.  I sure don’t see anyone in our secondary or receiving corps that is close to their level of talent.  Our defensive line and linebackers are certainly better than last year, but I think that’s more scheme and coaching along with being a season older.  Our offensive line and running backs are basically the same as last year.  I really feel our secondary isn’t even close to what we had last year with Watts and our receiving corps doesn’t have on playmaker like Kirk.  Maybe you feel this team is as talented as last year but even if that’s the case last year’s Aggie team got humiliated at Kyle Field in back to back weeks against these two teams.  We got beat 35-14 against MSU and 42-27 against Auburn.  At Kyle.  This season on the road we lost 28-13 and 28-24 to the same teams.  I know “moral victories” suck but the reality there is some progress using similar measuring sticks from 2017 to 2018.
  • This Aggie team flat out collapsed in the final minutes against Auburn. Here’s the sequence of events:
    • With 2:19 left on the clock and Auburn having just used their second timeout Kellen Mond flat out misses Quartney Davis on a wide receiver screen on 3rd and 15. Mond totally misses Davis high when Davis is wide open.  Davis doesn’t likely get a first down but at worst Mond completing that pass would have forced Auburn to use their final timeout.  Auburn would get the ball back with around 2:00 on the clock and no timeouts.
    • Mann then punts the ball 41 yards to the Auburn 14. He kicks it near the right sideline.  The Auburn returner doesn’t fair catch.  The Aggie gunner is in position to bring him down but doesn’t make a play on the returner.  He completely lets him go with no contact.  The rest of the Aggie team for whatever reason is nowhere near the returner.  Several of them are actually on the other side of the field.  Let me repeat that – the rest of the Aggie coverage team is NOWHERE NEAR the catching the ball.  Auburn had two guys back and the punt coverage team bit on the guy who wasn’t getting the ball pretending he was about to field it.    Three Aggie defenders run to where the ball isn’t.   The Auburn punt returner who is not challenged by the initial Aggie defender heads up field 28 yards where he’s brought down by Braden Mann.  That’s right, the freaking punter makes the stop when the returner was pinned to the sideline but the Aggie punt team had NO clue where the damn ball was going and let the returner go.  Great job by Auburn to fool the Aggie special teams.  Auburn now has the ball at their 42 with a little over two minutes left and one timeout.  They should be pinned inside the 20 if not the 10 with less than 2:00 left and no timeouts.

If you want to see the punt click here.  Watch it several times and start/stop to break it down and see how this was a colossal failure by our punt unit.  If they tackle the punt returner at the 14 the outcome could have been totally different I think.  Momentum wouldn’t have swung Auburn’s direction like it did after the punt return.  I set it to the Mond/Quartney Davis play so you know just how maddening and crucial these plays were in Auburn’s comeback – https://youtu.be/IlEMg2cGkCk?t=757

  • They say bad things come in threes so with the offense and special teams already on the board for bad plays the defense got involved on the next play. With our defense playing back Stidham throws a one-yard crossing route.  That’s right, a one-yard crossing route.  With no Aggie defender around the Auburn receiver heads up field where he weaves and runs into Charles Oliver at the Aggie 40-yard line.  In addition to him running into Oliver there are two other Aggie defenders within 2 yards of the ball carried and a fourth Aggie defender closing in 3 yards away.  Somehow the Auburn ball carrier spins away from all FOUR Aggie defenders and keeps running.  He winds up getting pushed out of bounds at the 11 yard line.  That’s a 47 yard gain on a 1 yard pass when he was nailed dead to rights 18 yards from the line of scrimmage.  Auburn would then put the ball in the air and score an 11 yard touchdown on the next play.
  • As if that weren’t enough the Aggies get the ball back with 1:35 and one timeout on their own 16 yard line. Not ideal, but enough time to drive down and potentially get a hail mary to try and win.
  • The Aggies get two quick plays to get to their 44 yard line.
  • On the next play Mond misses a pass to Hezekia Jones but it doesn’t matter because Quartney Davis is illegally downfield. Let’s back it up 5 yards and try again, Ags.
  • On the following play we have a screen set up for Trayveon but the unblocked defender bats the ball away.
  • Mond is then rushed where he’s basically sacked but squirms for a two yard gain. This sets up a 4th down so we take our final timeout.
  • Mond then hits Kendrick Rogers for 10 yards across midfield and a 1st
  • Mond then hits Quartney Davis on a roll out running for his life for 10 yards down to the 39 yard line and out of bounds. So, we’re at the Auburn 39 yard line with a stopped clock and 23 seconds left.  This is doable, Ags.  One problem – Davis had stepped out of bounds making him ineligible for the catch.    No play.
  • On the next play Mond is running for his life again and throws the ball away. Another problem – holding by Carson Green so back across midfield to the Aggie 41 and 12 seconds left.  One step forward and two steps back.
  • We essentially have one hail mary left. Auburn rushes 2 guys against our 5 offensive linemen and get pressure on Mond where he as to roll out and heave it downfield.  The ball is intercepted out of bounds.  After a review it’s deemed there’s one second on the clock so the Ags get one final shot.
  • This time Auburn sends three guys and gets pressure on Mond and he’s sacked for a loss of 9 yards as the time expires.   Three Auburn guys against five Aggie guys and Mond gets sacked 9 yards deep.

I know that’s a lot to read but in 2:19 of football with a 3 point lead and around midfield the Aggies have a comedy of errors on the offense, special teams, defense, and offense again.  Auburn definitely took the victory but the Aggies did nothing to stop them in the final 2:19 of the game.  I mean nothing.  That’s on the players and coaches equally.  It’s mind boggling how a team sitting on a win just completely botches so many consecutive plays.  Maybe Auburn still wins but if Mond hits Davis on the screen not even getting a first down we force their final timeout.  If our gunner stops their punt returner at the 14 he doesn’t get a free 28 yards.  Then if Charles Oliver makes the stop at our 40 maybe they hold Auburn to just a field goal sending it to overtime rather than a loss.

In the end you have to make plays but those three consecutive plays are totally maddening.  Just a lack of focus and execution by the staff and players.  They played almost 58 minutes of winning football but brain locked in the final 2 minutes and lost the game.  Football is 60 minutes and when you don’t play all those 60 minutes you stand a chance to lose.  Coffee is for closers and the Aggie football program doesn’t deserve any coffee after Auburn.

Overall:

Defense:

We all know about the issues with the secondary.  We can’t cover.  What’s interesting is our guys are not completely out of position but they can’t play the ball because they’re using every ounce of athleticism just to keep up with the offensive player.  Their lack of ability to play the ball even though they’re on the receiver shows the athleticism is just lacking.  Time and time again receivers have gone up to make plays against our defensive backs.  Unfortunately, even though our defenders are on the receiver they’re just not athletic enough to make a play on the ball.

The defensive line and linebackers were outstanding against the run.  Auburn running backs had 41 yards on 18 carries.  That’s outstanding.

Not much else to say about the defense.  We’re the best in the nation against the run.  Against the pass, well, we can see it with our own eyes.  It’s bad, Ags.

Offense:

The majority of this is going to be about Kellen Mond since he’s the focal point of every Aggie’s thoughts on why we’re losing.  Before we get to Mond I want to point out the following:

  • This offensive line is MUCH better at run blocking than pass blocking. The performance of this offensive line is deceptive because they’re pretty decent at blocking forward.  When they must slow someone down in the passing game they’re terrible at technique and assignments.  I think most of this is talent but if you’re watching the offensive line these guys leave a lot to be desired when it comes to pass blocking.  Mond may hold the ball too long but his offensive line is not helping him when it comes to giving him time and space.  He’s constantly trying to feel out pressure.
  • Trayveon Williams was a stud against Auburn. Jashaun Corbin gets better every day.  Those guys are proving to be a really good 1-2 punch against most defenses.
  • Our receiving corps is not that good. All of our receivers not named Kendrick Rogers are listed at 6’2” or shorter.  I think that’s being a bit generous as I don’t think many of these guys are over 6’.  They certainly don’t play tall at all.  They don’t go out and fight for the football.  In addition, none of them are true burners with break away speed or a knack for finding the open area on the field.  I know we’re missing Ausbon but he has yet to blossom.  Rogers is the tallest but I’m telling you he’s not a strong route runner and unless his legs are still and he’s turned back for the ball he’s not a consistent receiver.  If you want to see what I’m talking about watch that highlight film of the Auburn game above.  Watch the number of catches their guys make where they go up and get the ball.  We don’t have anyone in the receiving corps that plays above a defenders helmet other than Kendrick Rogers.  Sure, some of it is Mond isn’t making those passes but I don’t see our receivers going up and fighting for the ball on a regular basis.  Right now I wouldn’t put a single receiver on this team above any of these guys from past teams – Mike Evans, Josh Reynolds, Christian Kirk, Ryan Swope, Uzoma Nwachuku, Malcome Kennedy, Jeff Fuller, and Receiver Ryan Tannehill.  I’d take any of those guys from the past 10 years over anyone on the roster right now.  Hell, 2017 Damion Ratley might be better than anyone on the roster right now.  These guys have talent but they have a LONG ways to go to develop into a solid receiving corps.  I just don’t see it right now.

Kellen Mond:

Let’s talk about everybody’s favorite scapegoat.  Before I do I think it’s obvious no matter what anyone thinks Jimbo is sticking with Mond.  I think there’s some reasons for that.  The first is that physically Kellen Mond is fine.  His mechanics are pretty sound and he’s got mobility.  He made some plays in the Auburn game nobody else on this roster can make.  As crazy as it seems Mond was 50% passing against Auburn.  That’s not terrible.  You remember the bad throws and decisions but you forget the good throws.  He had one play where he was rolling right and then threw left hitting Sternberger on a backside drag for 42 yards.  Nobody else on this roster can make that throw.  It was really an amazing throw.  He also had some other good passes.

He’s not without fault though because his greatest issue is 100% mental.  If the play is not there he doesn’t know what to do.  He’s also slow to diagnose the play at the line.  He’s at odds with Jimbo which you can see as he comes off the field.  Jimbo is questioning his decision making and he doesn’t have an answer.  Couple his uncertainty with a line that can’t pass block and receivers that struggle to get open and fight for the ball making this offense a damn mess right now.  It’s on everyone.

Kellen Mond is basically a student that has the ability but is utterly confused on what is going on.  He understands some of what Jimbo wants him to do but not all of it.  He’s not helping himself as he’s lost confidence.  He appears afraid to make a mistake and that’s causing him to make mistakes.

It’s easy to point to Mond’s mistakes for the last two losses but I think he’s playing within what Jimbo is wanting him to do.  He’s not without fault but he’s not total garbage either.  He’s just utterly confused on what’s going on at times.  He definitely makes bad decisions at times with the ball.  At times he makes pretty good decisions and plays as well.  It’s good and bad with Mond right now.

I think it’s clear Jimbo sees something and is hoping that if he can get over his mental hurdles then he’s going to take off.  It’s basically the same thing with how people perform in their first year on the job as opposed to their second and third year.  Maybe Mond never advances from here.  I have no clue, but I understand what Jimbo sees and what his long term plan is.  Jimbo is sacrificing a little for this season hoping Mond turns into a veteran signal caller by his senior year.  No doubt Jimbo wants to win now but I think he’s also having some patience to see if he can develop Mond.  He’s the guy on his roster that fits his system the best.  Remember, Jimbo is the guy that got Deondre Francois to 10 wins a couple of seasons ago.

As for Starkel I get he’s everybody’s darling because he’s the back up.  That’s always the case.  Starkel might be a better decision maker but I don’t think he’d fare any better behind a line that can’t pass block and receivers that struggle to get open.

He was 2-5 as a starter and 1-3 in the SEC last year.  He also never beat a ranked team and I feel he was playing in a system better suited for him.  Quick reads and throws are his thing.  Sure, he got hurt against UCLA so maybe the outcome of his 2017 stats change but I’m not sure it would other than the outcome of that UCLA game.  Overall, he wasn’t that bad as he completed 60% of his passes but he did throw 6 interceptions to 14 touchdowns.  He was better against non-conference opponents as he was a 65% passer in those games as opposed to 55% in SEC games.  The big contrast was his TD/Int ratio which was 8/1 in non-conference and 6/5 in conference games.  He certainly had his challenges in SEC games last year.  It’s possible that carries over from last season but it’s also possible he improves under Jimbo.  Nobody knows that but for some reason Jimbo believes Mond is the better option.

I’d be fine if Jimbo put Starkel in but I don’t think we’d see overall improvement.  We might see a quick lift but I think defenses would learn to play Starkel with a lot of pressure.  They’d basically copy what Mississippi State did stacking gaps along the line and challenging our receivers at the snap so they couldn’t get into their routes.  They would probably apply pressure to Starkel and we’d see sack after sack I think or bad throws leading to interceptions.  Maybe not.  No way to know that but there are indications Starkel wouldn’t have time or open receivers.  It’s infinitely better for a quarterback when they both.

If you want a one sentence summary of all of everything it’s this – Jimbo makes $7.5 million a year to coach football because he has a lot of skins on the wall and right now he believes Kellen Mond is his best option to win football games.

It really boils down to that.  Maybe Jimbo is a complete moron and doesn’t know what he’s doing.  Maybe the people that don’t get paid to coach football know more than he does.  It’s entirely possible.  I’m certainly not going to say I’m right in that Mond is the better option right now than Starkel.  I do firmly believe that Mond is not as bad as some Aggie fans make him out to be.  We did come back against Clemson, put points up against Alabama, and currently sit at 3-3 in conference with wins over Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina.

Mond certainly needs to improve but so does the entire talent on this team other than defensive line and starting linebackers.  Maybe Mond gets there.  Maybe he doesn’t.  You can gnash your teeth all day about Mond taking snaps but I don’t think it’s going to do any good.  There’s a different style of football being played from the past and it may take a little time to get where it needs to be.  After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Yes, I went there.

At least we’re not getting our asses kicked like we have in so many games the last 4 years.  I do see that as improvement.

Looking Forward:

Right now I can’t look past Ole Miss.  I feel like coming back to Kyle and with their defense this is just what we need.  I think we’ll put the ball on the ground and keep their receivers in front of us for the most part.  Keep their offense in the red zone instead of the end zone as their red zone offense is worse than the Aggies.  We’ll get a win against Ole Miss and UAB so we’ll be sitting at 7-4 with LSU coming to town.  If Jimbo can somehow pull off the upset against LSU which is entirely possible we’d be looking at an 8-4 season with SERIOUS momentum heading into our bowl game.

I think right now EVERY Aggie fan would trade losses against MSU and Auburn for a win against LSU.  It’s an absolute long shot but football is a crazy game.  Let’s see Jimbo’s first year body of work before we decide he’s not the guy to Make Aggie Football Great Again.  I still think he is.

#MAFGA

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What’s Left for the Aggies

Jimbo Pointing at Ref

The Aggies are sitting at 5-2 with five official games left.  One of those games is against Alabama Birmingham so let’s just say the Aggies are 6-2 with four SEC games left.  Yes, I’m chalking up that game against UAB as a win.

The Aggies have Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss, and LSU left on their schedule.  Ironically enough all four of those teams played each other this past weekend.  I was able to watch bits and pieces and feel the Aggies can run the table if they play mistake free football.  I doubt that will happen and it’s more likely the Aggies go 3-1 in their final SEC games.  There’s a chance the Aggies go 2-2 as well.

These four games have always been set to be the biggest test of Jimbo’s first year as Aggie coach.  The reality of this season and schedule was the Aggies didn’t have the talent to beat Clemson or Alabama and had more talent to beat Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina.  That’s not to downplay those three teams but the reality is as a team Texas A&M has more talent.  Those were wins all along assuming the team played to its talent level.

So far, this season has played out exactly as one would expect.  Now is when we find out what kind of coach Jimbo Fisher really is.  He’s about to go up against teams with as much if not more talent than Texas A&M.  Ole Miss is not more talented but they have the best passing weapons of any team we have left on the schedule.  We know how bad our secondary is.  We should beat Ole Miss but they can absolutely beat us with how their team is built.

Let’s breakdown each game:

Mississippi State:

There’s a LOT of uncertainties in this game.  I don’t think anyone can quite tell what either team is at this point.  MSU spent a good portion of the season ranked in the Top 25 but now sits at 4-3 and outside the Top 25 after this past weekend’s loss to LSU.  They have wins over Stephen F. Austin, KSU, Louisiana Lafayette, and Auburn.  They have losses against Kentucky, Florida, and LSU.  In those three loses they’ve scored one touchdown.  One touchdown.  LSU has an outstanding defense but I wouldn’t rank UK and Florida’s defenses as stellar.  They’re certainly pretty good defenses but I think the Aggie defense is as good if not better than those two.

This team centers around Nick Fitzgerald on offense.  He reminds me of a Trevor Knight style quarterback.  He’s a suspect passer but he’s a great runner.  He’s got power, speed, and jukes.  Joe Moorhead is the new coach of MSU and runs the offense.  Moorhead likes to pass so Fitzgerald’s inability to pass and ability to run appears to be a mis-match.

Early in the season it was fine as MSU was able to win their first three games in convincing fashion including a win over KSU.  They then went to Kentucky and got pounded 28-7.  The following week came a 13-6 loss to Florida at home.  In that game MSU didn’t score a touchdown.  That’s a good Florida defense but not a great Florida defense.  After five games they were sitting at 5-2 but 1-2 against P5 opponents and 0-2 against SEC teams.

After they lost to Florida they took on Auburn and Moorhead seemed to get back to Fitzgerald’s strengths as he rushed more times than he passed.  Fitzgerald ripped off 197 yards on the ground and 2 touchdowns.  MSU won that game 23-9 which might say more about Auburn than it does MSU’s ability to win with Fitzgerald running.

Last week MSU went to LSU and it appeared MSU wanted to run Fitzgerald more like against Auburn.  Fitzgerald had some nice runs early on but MSU couldn’t find the end zone all game.  Fitzgerald threw some early interceptions that allowed LSU to get a comfortable lead where they basically sat on the ball.  Fitzgerald had a decent day running as he carried the ball 23 times for 140 yards.  Passing wise he was horrible throwing the ball 24 times with only 8 completions and 4 interceptions.  That’s a 33% completion percentage.  In watching the game LSU wasn’t even really jumping routes.  LSU either had good coverage or Fitzgerald didn’t see or didn’t care there was a defender where he was throwing the ball.  He was extremely lazy or ignorant throwing the ball.

Here’s a summary of Nick Fitzgerald statistically against Power 5 opponents this season:

Fitzgerald Stats

He’s 44% in completions, averages 105 yards a game, and has thrown 2 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.  That is HORRIBLE.  Even Trevor Knight wasn’t that bad.  He’s a decent runner averaging 123 yards a game but he only has 3 touchdowns in 5 games with 2 of those coming against Auburn.  This is not the kind of quarterback Joe Moorhead wants.

I think the Aggie defense shuts down the run with no issues.  The key is for the Aggie defensive line along with Dodson and Alaka to continue what they’ve been doing.  Maintain gap integrity and execute assignments.  Don’t try to do too much or improvise as a play is breaking down.  Let your assignment dictate if you’re the one making the play or not.  Don’t give Fitzgerald a seam to run as he can exploit it if he gets to the second level.

Even if Fitzgerald starts to pass I think the Aggie secondary will be just fine.  If the Aggie defense plays like they’ve played all year I don’t see MSU scoring more than 10 points against this defense.  If UK, UF, and LSU can hold them to single digits I expect the same from the Aggie defense.

Defensively the MSU front 7 is experienced and talented but they’re not better than Clemson or Alabama’s front 7.  The Aggies put up 26 and 23 points on those defenses so I expect more of the same here.  In fact, the Aggies have scored more than 20 points in every game all season.  I don’t see how this game is any different.

It won’t be pretty but I think Jimbo is going to do the same thing he’s done all season against opponents not named Clemson and Alabama.  He’s going to come out and chew up clock not trying to do too much on offense letting his defense do what they do.  I think this will be what we thought South Carolina was going to be.  We’ll be up 13-3 at half and then won’t make mistakes in the second half pulling away winning this game 27-10.  It’s entirely possible we hold MSU without a touchdown but I think Moorhead finds a way to break off a big pass play against our defense.

This feels a lot like 2012 when we walked into Starkville.  There were a lot of questions about those teams where the Aggies where ranked 16th coming off an Auburn beatdown and MSU was ranked 17th after a beatdown by Bama the week before.  They were on the downswing and A&M was on a slight upswing after pounding Auburn.  The Aggies won a convincing 38-13 game and we all know what happened after that.  This team won’t do what the 2012 team lighting up college football, but I think this will be a game where we look back and know Jimbo is for real.  It may not happen at the national level but those paying attention will see this game as A&M showing it’s truly different than the past 4 seasons.

Somehow A&M is the underdog in this game so feel free to take the points and wager your house, boat, vehicle and even loved ones.  Jimbo will make sure your money and/or loved ones return with more than you put up as collateral.  Assuming you want more loved ones than you have now.  If not, then just put up cash and personal property.

Auburn:

I have no clue what to make of Auburn.  They’re more talented than their record indicates but they’re just disjointed.  This is basically a normal Gus Malzahn team other than when he catches lightening in a bottle.  He’s only done that twice winning 10 games in 5 seasons.  At best he goes 9-3 this season but that would include wins over A&M, UGA, and Bama.  That ain’t happening.

I feel good about A&M’s chances in this game except for one thing – Jarret Stidham.  He’s not had the season everyone expected but he’s still a damn good passer and has some decent weapons.  If Auburn decides to attack the Aggie secondary and his receivers hold on to the ball they’ll beat the Aggies.  They’ll be coming off a bye week so they have plenty of time to work on the passing game before the Aggies get to town.

I put this game as a 55/45 chance of the Aggies winning right now.  If the Aggies do what I think they do against MSU and Auburn doesn’t/won’t/can’t attack the Aggie secondary then this is an Aggie win.  Trends favor the Aggies as Gus tends to have very average years after catching lightening in a bottle and ironically enough the road team has won every A&M/Auburn matchup since joining the SEC.  Coming into the season I had this as a loss but right now I’m leaning to an Aggie victory.

Ole Miss:

This matchup scares me ever so slightly because Ole Miss strengths are where we’re weakest.  They’ve got a solid quarterback and really good receivers.  They can attack the Aggie secondary.  Fortunately for the Aggies they’ve got a HORRIBLE defense and they’re bad in the red zone.  Don’t be shocked to see Ole Miss put up over 300 yards in the air.  The problem is they’ll run for less than 100 while scoring less than 20 if they even get that.

Meanwhile I expect the Aggie offense to roll up and down the field likely scoring more than 35 points.  This seems like an easy Aggie win.  However, there’s a slight chance it’s one of those bizarre games where Ole Miss hits some long passes for touchdowns so this game turns into a shootout.  I don’t think Jimbo and company will get sucked into something like that though.  Jimbo once came back down 28-6 in the 2016 season opener against Ole Miss to win 45-34.  He’s dealt with an early Ole Miss lead before and won.  Even if Ole Miss somehow gets up early on some fluke plays Jimbo will stay the course and exploit their terrible defense.  This seems like a certain Aggie win.

UAB:

Win.  Nothing more to say.  If we don’t it’s a BAD loss.

LSU:

Right now I think this is an Aggie loss.  Mainly I don’t want to drink the Aggie Kool-Aid just yet and there’s too much uncertainty for both teams.  Despite what others said coming into the season LSU is a really talented team and Ed Orgeron is not the idiot everyone thinks he is.  Turns out he’s a pretty decent coach with a pretty good staff.

The LSU defense is still extremely talented and Joe Burrow has moments where he can throw the ball.  What you can’t do against LSU is throw interceptions on your side of the field and let them establish the run.  I know that sounds obvious but you’d be shocked at the teams that allow them to do that.  Just ask Miami, Georgia, and MSU.  LSU plays a brand of football where they don’t make mistakes and force the other team to make mistakes where they’ll capitalize.  It’s simple but EXTREMELY effective when you have the talent that LSU has.

I think this is a VERY winnable game for the Aggies but it won’t be easy.  If Florida can beat LSU with Feleipe Franks at quarterback there’s no reason the Aggies can’t beat LSU with their defense and Mond at quarterback.  It’s just too early to predict this game right now.

I need to see what A&M does against MSU, Auburn, and Ole Miss when it comes to making mistakes.  Even if they win those games but make mistakes they’ll lose to LSU.  I also need to see what LSU does against Bama to make sure they’re the team I think they are.  They’ll likely lose to Bame by 20 points even in Baton Rouge.  I think Bama is that good and LSU is slightly worse than they’ve been in the past.  However, if LSU goes toe to toe with Bama then my outlook on this game completely changes.  I don’t see that happening though.  I just need 2 more weeks of Aggie and LSU football to get a more certain feel on this one

Overall:

There’s a REALLY good chance A&M and LSU march into Kyle Field at 9-2 hovering around the Top 10 (if not both Top 10)  which will make for an epic battle.  This is still not the 2012 team in terms of talent but it’s possible Jimbo pulls off an epic run finishing the season at 10-2.  The odds right now say he won’t but it’s very possible.

If he does there’s no doubt he’ll be well on his way to Making Aggie Football Great Again!

#MAFGA

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Thoughts from the Arkansas Game

2018 Arkansas Defense

The four quarters the Aggies played against Arkansas was extremely confusing.  It was confusing because the Aggie were extremely inconsistent.  If you think back through the whole game the final 7-point win wasn’t nearly as close as it felt.  The main problem from a fan’s standpoint is everyone kept expecting the Aggies to put Arkansas away and never did.  It felt like Arkansas was gaining momentum but they never could capitalize.  At the end of the day the Aggies held the lead from start to finish.  Arkansas was never in a position to seriously tie the game either.  A&M was more dominant than the 7-point win indicates.

Based on how both teams had played coming into the game it’s reasonable to have expected the Aggies to win in convincing fashion.  Couple that with the fact A&M returned the opening kick for a touchdown, held Arkansas to a three and out, and then scored on their first offensive possession to be up 14-0 not even halfway through the first quarter and it compounds those expectations.  That’s not how the game played out though.

A&M played an extremely inconsistent game and Arkansas never quit.  A&M had some untimely penalties, key drops, Mond threw a very bad interception in the first half, and Seth Small missed a couple of key field goals that could have kept momentum in A&M’s favor.  Because that happened Arkansas was able to hang around with a chance to tie the game late in the 4th quarter.  It doesn’t mean Arkansas every really had a chance to win this game.

The good news is the Aggies played a game with a lot of mental mistakes and were still able to control the game for the most part.  The bad news is the Aggies played a game with a lot of mental mistakes and had they played a better opponent they lose that game.  It shows that despite some positives against Clemson and Alabama the Aggies still have a lot of work to do.

Still, a win is a win so you’ll take this.  I think the old regime would have let this game get to overtime or even lose.  This Aggie regime and team found enough plays to make sure the game was never truly in question.  When looking at the score don’t forget while the Aggies never put Arkansas away they never let them fully get up off the mat.  A&M controlled the game from start to finish despite making a lot of mistakes.

Offense:

Kellen Mond:

I’ll start with Kellen Mond because most folks are wondering what happened with him.  What’s funny is if this is 2017 Kellen Mond we all just shrug our shoulders and say, “Yep, that’s Kellen Mond.”  In 2018 we raise our hands and say, “What was going on with Mond?”  That’s how much Mond has lifted the bar on himself in one season.  Mond was 17 for 26 for 201 yards with 0 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.  One of those interceptions was a bad throw intended for Sternberger and the other one was a bad decision where he didn’t see someone sitting under the receiver.  He still completed 65% of his passes with two big drops by Ausbon in the first quarter.  If Ausbon catches those two balls then Mond is a 73% passer on the day.  Completion wise Mond didn’t have a terrible day.

Decision wise Mond didn’t have a great day at all.  He was hesitant to throw it seemed like.  I don’t know if it was by design but he wasn’t really active in the pocket.  He stood in the pocket way more than he has all season.  We didn’t have any rollouts or bootlegs for the most part.  Mond didn’t step up much in the pocket either like he did mostly against Clemson.  There was some pressure up the middle thanks to Arkansas blitzes but Mond was way more statuesque than any game this season.  I really thought Jimbo would move Mond around a lot more in the second half trying to make things happen.  That didn’t happen.

Mond seemed confused by the look the Arkansas secondary was giving him most of the game.  He wasn’t real decisive at all on his passes.  There were certainly times he let the ball fly early but for the most part he was slow in making his reads.  His most decisive series was the last one of the first half.  On the A&M 26 with 1:45 left to go in the half he hit Hezekiah Jones on 3 straight passes around 10 yards each and then hit Sternberger for 13 yards.  He then threw 2 more passes to Jones but missed them.  In 6 consecutive passes he targeted Jones 5 times with quick reads.  A part of this was because Arkansas was playing back to not give up a big play but Mond was definitely decisive on that drive.

All in all I don’t think Mond was as terrible as Aggie fans made it out to be.  I think Mond has raised the bar so high fans were expecting a 400 yard 3 touchdown game through the air.  I think some credit must go to Arkansas and John Chavis in confusing Mond and the lack of adjustment by Jimbo and staff.  Not saying Chavis outcoached Jimbo as the proof is on the scoreboard but I think Arkansas anticipated a lot of what A&M planned on doing and that created enough confusion where Mond was slow to make plays.

Running Back:

I love Trayveon Williams but he just seems like a mis-match for this offensive line and scheme.  He’s still an outstanding back so don’t get me wrong but he’s not a between the tackles runner.  This reminds me of when Sumlin and Spav had Tra Carson.  They wanted Carson to run outside the tackles when Carson was built to run between the tackles.  Too bad we can’t flip Tra and Trayveon as they’re better suited for different schemes.

Trayveon wound up with 152 yards and 2 TDs on 29 carries.  His effort was incredible.  The problem with Trayveon is he can’t break tackles at the second level when he runs through the middle of the line.  I’ll get to why in a bit but if the dude had a little more weight to him he’d be a complete stud.  As it is he’s a solid back but he’s a guy that needs space to make things happen.  Either way I’m not going to complain about his effort when he racked up 152 yards and 2 scores on 29 carries.  That’s a heck of a day for any running back.

Corbin got a few snaps on the third series so I think it’s pretty clear he’s the new back up to Trayveon.  I’m good with it as he’s looked good the times he’s been in there.  I’ll talk about his kickoff return in a bit.

Wide Receivers:

I’m not sure what happened to the receiving corps on Saturday but they were largely non-existent.  Mond was slow to let the ball go but the receivers weren’t getting open.  We lost Ausbon in the first quarter so that didn’t help.  Still, the receivers weren’t getting open at all.  Camron Buckley was by far the best receiver on the day catching 5 passes for 72 yards followed by Sternberger who caught 4 passes for 51 yards.  Hezekiah Jones was the only other receiver that caught multiple passes catching 4 passes for 33 yards with 3 of those coming on one series.

Mond tried to hit Kendrick Rogers deep a couple of times but missed.  The first time Rogers had his arm held down and got a pass interference call.  The second time they just couldn’t connect with some solid defense on Rogers.  There just wasn’t anything that really stood out in the passing game.  Credit to the Arkansas defense for putting a coverage out there that didn’t allow for much opportunity through the air.

The loss of Ausbon seems like a major loss but I don’t know if it is.  He’s an outstanding receiver but up until this point his talent has been largely untapped.  He’s certainly not the contributor Christian Kirk was through his first two seasons at this point.  The Aggies are still looking for a go to receiver in this group as there has been no one to emerge through five games.  With the injury to Ausbon I think the coaching staff needs to strongly consider burning the redshirt of Jalen Preston if that was the plan.  I don’t think Preston will be a contributor like Kirk in his first season but he has the physical tools.  We might as well expose him to SEC football and see what he has.

Offensive Line:

The offensive line as a unit actually played a pretty good game on Saturday.  They were able to get Trayveon 3-4 yards on most carries and gave Mond enough time to pass picking up blitzes by Arkansas.  It wasn’t a dominant effort by any stretch but it was certainly serviceable and not the weakness of what took place on the field.  I would consider this their best game this season.  The downside in this game is they had some bad penalties that cost the Aggies momentum.

The main problem to this unit is they don’t do a very good job of blocking at the second level.  This offensive line is pretty good at engaging the defensive line at the line of scrimmage.  However, when they go to the second level looking for linebackers and safeties to block they’re not that great.  This is why Trayveon isn’t able to bust off big runs up the middle.  I’m glad they’re able to get Trayveon holes at the line on scrimmage but when they release to take on linebackers they usually whiff.  To me this is just a sign of pure lack of athleticism.  These guys just aren’t that talented.

When this line gets 2 steps from the line of scrimmage they’re lost on who and how to block.  I’ve seen this occur with the tight ends and fullbacks as well.  You’ll see these guys pull or release into the second level and they’re just lost on who to block.  I saw Cullen Gillaspia lead block for Trayveon and not hit anyone.  He’s the fullback and just walked into the second level passing up guys to hit.  By the time Trayveon was tackled Gillaspia hadn’t hit anyone.  That’s really bad.  It’s not just Gillaspia either.  I saw Trevor Wood do the same along with a couple linemen on other plays.

Most offensive line coaches will get frustrated when you miss an assignment.  Most offensive line coaches get really upset when you fail to hit someone.  I don’t think there’s an offensive line coach that will get truly upset if you’re trying to block someone.  I’m seeing a lot of these Aggie blockers hit the second level and not even blocking a linebacker or safety coming for our running back.  I think it goes back to they’re just not that athletic and that needs to change through recruiting.

This offensive line should could use a guy like Aldo DeLaGarza who could bench press Buicks and karate kick Bruce Lee.  That’s your message board LOL for the week.

Coaching/Game Planning:

As much as the players appear to be at fault for this game I think the coaching staff deserves just as much blame.  I didn’t see any wrinkles in this game like I saw against Clemson and Alabama.  The staff certainly schemed against Arkansas specifically.  I don’t want to say they just ran out a junior high game plan but there wasn’t really anything we hadn’t seen from this offense so far this year.  The Chavis lead defense seemed well prepared for much of what the Aggie offense was trying to do.

It speaks well the Aggie offense was still able to roll up over 400 yards of offense so it’s not like the offense was completely stagnant.  If Seth Small makes his two missed field goals and Mond doesn’t throw his second interception which could have set up a fifth field goal or even touchdown this looks like a completely different game with 6 to 13 more potential points.  Still not as dominant as we would have liked but it would have been more comfortable.

I don’t think Jimbo was sand bagging or afraid to show too much but what we did is what we’ve done on offense all season.  Maybe because the game was never really in question Jimbo wanted to see how his offense could do without any wrinkles.  The reality is we did move the ball but had some costly mistakes in penalties, interceptions, and missed field goals that greatly affected the final score.  I’d rather see 400 yards of offense with mistakes but controlled the game as opposed to 400 yards with a furious comeback.

It’s clear this offense still has work to do so we’ll see if the players and coaching staff are up to the challenge.

Defense:

Before I get into unit breakdowns let’s be clear that without the defensive effort on Saturday the Aggies likely lose this game.  It’s possible the offense would have tried some different things to score more points but the Aggie defense was the part of the team that controlled this game.  Arkansas had 248 yards of total offense in this game.  That’s a damn fine defensive effort even if Arkansas appears to be a weak conference opponent.  They practically shut down the running game with 55 total yards on 26 attempts.  This certainly wasn’t old school Wrecking Crew defense but this was a REALLY dominant effort by the defense.  The Aggie Defense stepped up in a big way and deserve a TON of credit for this win.

Defensive Line:

Words can’t even describe what the defensive line did in this game.  They weren’t dominant from a pressure standpoint but their gap discipline was unreal.  They never let Arkansas get outside and forced everything in the middle.  Along the way Landis Durham, Kingsley Keke, Justin Madubuike, and Daylon Mack accounted for five sacks.  That’s pretty damn impressive when you spread out five sacks across your starting front four.  Daylon Mack also contributed an additional tackle for a loss along with a quarterback hurry.  This was no doubt Daylon’s best game statistically but he’s been giving this effort all year.  It’s taken him 4 years but he appears to finally be the player we always thought he’d be.

As for the other guys they just did their normal thing.  It honestly doesn’t look dominant because they’re so good at executing their assignments and letting the ball come to them naturally to make a play.  They’re not just trying to be disruptive and make plays individually.  I really feel all four guys are working their assignments knowing someone will make the play if the ball comes in their direction.  Can’t say enough about those four guys in this game.

I saw quite a few backups in there at times   Bobby Brown looked to have gotten quite a few snaps.  The starters are the meat of this unit but there’s some quality backups giving them relief.  I don’t think there’s any doubt the defensive line is the strongest unit of this entire team.  This is a different game without the effort by the defensive line.

Linebackers:

Obviously we all know about Tyrel Dodson thanks to Jimbo grabbing his facemask.  Personally I wished it wouldn’t have happened because the optics don’t look good.  However, I don’t think it’s as bad as people barking for attention are making it out to be.  Dodson was stirred up and Jimbo was trying to focus him away from what was going on.  He didn’t want Dodson getting ejected.

As a player I don’t think most Aggie fans realize Tyrel Dodson is a special player.  He’s really in the mold of Dat Nguyen and Von Miller from a talent standpoint.  It just hasn’t shown up in stats and highlights.  If he played at Alabama he’d be an all SEC Linebacker.  There’s no doubt in my mind.  The dude is extremely talented and he’s definitely going to play on Sundays.  I wish he’d get more attention for his efforts but the guy goes hard every play.  He’s great and cleaning up what the defensive line doesn’t take care of it.  He’s going to take on a blocker so someone else can make a play if that’s his assignment.  He just does his job extremely well.

Otara Alaka got all the statics in this game with 3 solo tackles and 4 assists.  I’m not trying to take anything away from Alaka as he too plays with great heart.  The more I watch Dodson I realize how much he truly means to this defense.  He’s a stud.  He and Alaka are a formidable pair right behind the Aggie defensive line.

Secondary:

I’m shocked Chad Morris didn’t attack the Aggie secondary more than he did.  Their quarterback ran 5 times not including his sacks.  Of those 5 I didn’t count how many were designed runs and how many were flushes but it seems like 2-3 were designed runs.  Counting sacks as passes then Arkansas attempted 21 runs and 32 passes on the Aggie defense.  That’s a 40/60 mix so it did favor the pass but they didn’t do that until late in the second half.  For most of the first three quarters they were balanced running and passing the ball.  I would have lined up empty back at least 20 times and tested the Aggie secondary.  Maybe it wouldn’t have worked but if I was Morris I definitely would have tried passing rather than worrying about establishing the run against the Aggie defensive line.  He didn’t so I personally believe the Aggies benefited from his decision to try and stay balanced.

It’s a little tough to truly grade out this Aggie secondary as Arkansas passed 27 times with 14 completions.  That’s a little better than 50% completion.  They totaled 193 yards through the air with one touchdown and one interception.

Statistically that’s not a bad day for the Aggie secondary.  Watching the game though it felt like the Aggie secondary just wasn’t really tested by Arkansas and when they were they gave up some plays they shouldn’t have.  Most notably the two consecutive passes in the 4th quarter that totaled 53 yards with the second resulting in a touchdown that made the game 17-24.  That was right after the drive where A&M had scored to go up 24-10.  It was deflating to watch the Aggie secondary give up two big pass plays in a row letting Arkansas get within 7 points with enough time to get the ball back.

In the end Donovan Wilson made a big interception on Arkansas’ last drive to seal the victory.  Credit to Wilson for making that play.  In years past that drive likely results in a touchdown where A&M and Arkansas go to overtime yet again.  We’ve been fine in overtime in this series since joining the SEC but thanks to Wilson there was no need to see if we’d be fine yet again.

Of the 14 Arkansas completions 5 of those went for more than 15 yards.  That’s a little over 33% going for good chunks of yardage.  I just can’t get over the feeling this secondary will be prone to big pass plays for the rest of the year.  If an offensive coordinator can get his line to buy enough time where he can flood the secondary with receivers I feel like our secondary will struggle to cover everyone.  Despite a completion percentage around 50% and the big interception, the 5 pass plays over 15 yards still gives me concern when it comes to this secondary.  I can’t help but wonder what this game looks like if our defensive line didn’t get their 5 sacks and 2 quarterback hurries.  Until they prove me wrong this secondary is going to concern me for the rest of this season.

Special Teams:

We’ll start with the obvious which was the opening kick return by Corbin.  It was beautiful as he caught the ball and headed upfield.  When he saw a hole develop he accelerated to it and then turned on the jets getting outside where he was able to outrun everyone to the endzone.  He had great blocking but make no mistake his speed made the difference.  There were some guys who had angles and made it close but Corbin clearly has enough speed to take it to the house.  If I’m not mistaken they didn’t kick it Corbin’s way the rest of the game.  I guess Brett Bielema called Chad Morris to let him know it’s not wise to kick off to certain guys in this game.

Braden Mann was his usual awesome self punting 4 times with an average of 48.8 yards.  That includes a long of 65 where he almost angled it out of bounds inside the five but instead it went in for a touchback.  That was his first punt and it was amazing.  I’ve never seen someone try and angle a kick out of bounds that distance but he almost pulled it off.  His two punts in the third quarter went for 50 yards and were fielded inside the 10 including one downed at the one-yard line.  That was key in keeping Arkansas’ offense pinned and not letting them get any real momentum.  His shortest punt which killed his average was his last one where he only kicked it 31 yards to the Arkansas 26 and it was fair caught.  I think the point of that kick was to make sure Arkansas couldn’t return it as he was punting from A&M’s 43 yard line.  Without that kick he would have averaged almost 55 yards a kick including those two pinned inside the ten.  This dude is a flat out weapon.

I’ve heard some people claim Roshauud Paul isn’t a good punt returner.  I actually like him a lot.  Sure, he hasn’t made any special punt returns but I like how he fields the ball.  He seems really aware of the punt coverage and if it’s possible to get yards.  I haven’t seen him make a mistake when calling or not calling for a fair catch and he’s caught some balls in heavy traffic.  If you don’t have a Christian Kirk or Dante Hall give me a guy that’s smart in catching the ball.  The last thing you need is a guy trying to be a punt return hero and giving up the ball.  That will change the momentum of a game in a hurry.

Obviously the worst part of special teams was Seth Small.  The true freshman who looked so good in Tuscaloosa looked pretty bad at JerryWorld.  He was 1 for 3 missing two VERY makeable kicks of 36 and 33 yards.  One was right before half that would have given the Aggies a nice 20-7 lead.  The worst was in the 4th quarter he hit the upright with the Aggies only leading 17-10.  The Aggies had a nice 5-minute drive and making that kick would have kept momentum squarely in A&M’s direction.  As it was it hit the uprights and the Arkansas bench and fans exploded feeling they had a legit chance to win the game.  The Aggie offense and defense ultimately kept Arkansas at bay but it would have been nice if Small could have helped kill their belief they had a chance to win.  I guess we’ll wait another week to see if we have an automatic kicker like the kid that showed up in Tuscaloosa.  We sure need someone like that.

Overall:

While there’s a lot to not like about this game the reality is the Aggies controlled a game at a neutral sight at 11:00 am after the Alabama game.  I would have liked to have seen a more convincing score but the Aggies controlled that game from start to finish.  There’s a lot of mistakes and play to clean up but anytime you’re that inconsistent and make that many mistakes in an SEC game you should be happy to get the win.  Not happy with the effort and execution but happy to get the win without a doubt.

 

Going Forward:

I’m still leaving my season prediction at 8-4.  Kentucky and South Carolina won’t be easy games but I like our chances against them.  Getting Kentucky for a night game at Kyle is a huge help for us.  South Carolina doesn’t look as good as I originally thought but that’s still going to be a tough road game.  The 2:30 start definitely helps us in my mind.  Ole Miss still looks extremely beatable and Mississippi State looks more and more beatable.  I just hope that game isn’t at 11:00 a.m. in Starkville.  Would be nice to have the Aggies ranked squarely in the Top 25 coming off a bye week so we can get a night kick for that game.  Get those 4 wins coupled with UAB and we’re at 8-4 headed to a decent bowl game.

I really think Auburn is beatable but Stidham against our secondary scares the living daylights out of me right now.  As for LSU let’s get to November and see more games before we worry about breaking that SEC drought.

That Arkansas game certainly didn’t alleviate any concerns but it’s a nice win no matter how it looked.  I’ve got the Make Aggie Football Great Again Kool-Aid powder ready and just waiting on Jimbo and the boys to give me the water so I can get to mixing.  I guess Jimbo is still figuring out the right quantity of water so it tastes just right!

#MAFGA

 

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