Make Aggie Football Great Again

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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Thoughts on the Mississippi State Game

A&MvMSU Line

We’ll get to some specifics of how it happened but on Saturday night in Starkville Jimbo Fisher got outcoached by Joe Moorhead.  At the same time, the Mississippi State Bulldogs outplayed the Texas Aggies.  Make no mistake about those two things.  The Aggies made mistakes because of the MSU game plan and how well the MSU players played.  MSU won this game while A&M lost it.

A LOT of credit has to go to Moorhead who realized the Aggies’ greatest two weaknesses and decided to attack them.  I’ve been saying all season the secondary and offensive line had major issues from a talent standpoint.  Despite that, a lot of coaches this season chose to run their team normally rather than attack where the Aggies are weak.  We saw this against Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina where they tried to have a balanced attack.  Those teams lost.

Moorhead apparently decided to do things differently and it paid off in a win for his team.  All night long MSU looked to apply pressure through the air on offense and at the line of scrimmage on defense.  Nick Fitzgerald only attempted 22 passes but he attacked the Aggie corners down the field.  Defensively MSU stacked the line of scrimmage giving the Aggie offense looks and pressure they couldn’t defend.  The Aggies had no answer for what MSU was doing simply because they don’t have the talent needed at those positions.

Before I get to any analysis I want to point out three groups of plays that did the Aggies in:

MSU First Possession – After the Aggies went three and out, MSU took the ball and drove down for a touchdown.  On that possession MSU had FOUR instances of 3rd and 6 or longer and converted all FOUR.  This was a defense that has been solid at getting off the field on 3rd downs all season.  On that drive they failed on four attempts including a 3rd and 12 that resulted in a touchdown.  This really set the tone as MSU would wind up converting some other crucial third downs.

3rd and 21 – This was the biggest killer.  The Ags had just clawed back to be down 14-13 and were about to force the MSU offense to go 3 and out.  All the momentum was about to swing in the Aggies favor.  They not only let MSU convert a 3rd and 21 but gave up an 84 yard pass to the Aggie 2 yard line.  Three plays later MSU would score and be up 21-13.  Still a one score game but it was a dagger to the chest we wouldn’t recover from.  They stop this play and the outcome of the game could be different.

Fitzgerald’s 76 Yard Touchdown Run – While the 3rd and 21 conversion was the dagger to the chest, this run by Fitzgerald twisted the dagger.  Any hope the Aggies had of coming back was squashed with this run.  Even if Fitzgerald doesn’t score MSU likely wins.  It was disheartening to see the Aggie defense give up a long run rather then get a stop and give our offense one last chance to tie things up and get it to overtime.  This run put the game away with a little over 2 minutes left on the clock.
If the defense holds on those three sets of plays this game looks totally different.  Football is about making plays so credit has to be given to MSU but if the Aggie defense holds on two third downs (opening series and 3rd and 21) the Aggies have a legit chance to win this game.  They didn’t though and that’s why MSU won.

Coaching:

This was a tale of two different head coaches in my mind.  I’ve already talked about Moorhead deciding to attack where the Aggies are weak.  His strengths are a running quarterback and solid defense that doesn’t necessarily have to apply pressure.  Moorhead felt he could attack the Aggie secondary through the air as well as attack the line of scrimmage applying pressure to the Aggie offensive line.  It worked and Moorhead got the win.

For Jimbo I feel he coached this game just as he had Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina.  That style worked in all of those games but it didn’t work here.  The only slight difference is other than Kentucky for a little bit we lead or were tied in those other games from start to finish.  I think Jimbo felt we were 1-2 plays away from gaining and holding the lead.  He wasn’t far off as we were never more than 7 points down until the 3rd and 21 happened.

Here’s how it played out.  We took advantage of Moorhead not punting on 4th down to go into half up 10-7.  I think Jimbo failed to make any major adjustments at half thinking this game would turn out like the previous three.  MSU took the opening possession of the second half for a score to go up 14-10.  The Aggies then clawed back with a field goal to make it 14-13.  The Aggies kick off and on the first play of that possession sack Fitzgerald for a 12 yard loss.  Fitzgerald then gains a single yard setting up that 3rd and 21.  Seems like the Aggies are about to gain momentum but that didn’t happen.  MSU goes down the 2 yard line which leads to a touchdown putting them up 21-13.  Up until that 3rd and 21 there was no reason for Jimbo to believe his defense would fail him.  But it did, and the Aggie team would pay the price getting a loss in what was a winnable game.

Even with that score to go up 21-13 the Aggies weren’t completely out of it.  They got the ball back with 7:33 left on the clock and down 8 points.  They promptly drove down to the MSU 10 yard line before the wheels came off.  On first and goal from the 10 they got a substitution infraction making it 1st and goal from the 15.  Mond is then sacked making it 2nd and goal from 23.  Mond hits a 12 yard play to make it 3rd and goal from the 11 but he’d miss his next pass and then throw an interception in the end zone on 4th down.  Two plays later Nick Fitzgerald would run 76 yards for a score putting MSU up 28-13 and any hopes of the Aggies winning were done.

What worked in the previous three games didn’t work for Jimbo against MSU.  That’s on him.  He thought he could withstand MSU’s attacks against his secondary and at the line of scrimmage against his offense.  He was wrong.  His team lost and he has to take the blame.

I get what he was thinking as he hasn’t had to play in a shootout in a meaningful SEC game until Saturday night.  His method of controlling the time of possession had worked because his defense and offense had always made enough plays to come out on the right side of the scoreboard.  We won the time of possession by 3 minutes on Saturday night but we lost by 15 points.  Time of possession doesn’t always equate to wins when you don’t make enough plays.

The most frustrating thing I can’t figure out from Saturday night is if Jimbo is to blame for the lack of response to MSU applying pressure at the line of scrimmage or if Mond was completely confused by it.  The best way to get a defense to back off excessive pressure at the line of scrimmage is to attack the middle of the field with hot routes.  We did that a few times but there was confusion most of the night on what to do.  It appeared Mond felt like he had more time than he did.  I don’t know if that was by design or a result of Mond being confused.

Based on Jimbo’s reaction on the sideline I believe it had a lot do with Mond.  In watching Jimbo through the years he has a face I like to call “Disappointed Dad” when an offensive series fails to result in something positive.  The quarterback comes to the sideline and Jimbo has his readers sitting on his nose.  He’ll start questioning his quarterback and roll his eyes when the quarterback gives his feedback on what he saw.  They’ll have a discussion but it’s clear Jimbo is disappointed in his quarterback’s decision making.  That happened quite a bit on Saturday night.  A lot more than it’s happened previously this season.  I really think Jimbo had hot routes/plays for Mond to jump on but he just wasn’t pulling the trigger.  Some of that might be on the receivers too which we’ll get to in a bit.

Either way it’s still on Jimbo to have plays his quarterback can execute when a defense is looking to apply pressure.  That wasn’t the case on Saturday night.  MSU made more plays to win that game than A&M did.  That starts with coaching.  Moorhead looked to apply pressure while Jimbo looked to withstand pressure.  Moorhead’s team executed his plan better than Jimbo’s team.  Moorhead got the better of Jimbo that night.

Offense:

Mond:

Poor Kellen Mond gets the brunt of criticism for this game from most fans I’ve seen and heard.  He’s certainly not without fault but do you realize he was 50% on completions on Saturday?  50% completion isn’t horrible by any stretch.  Do you realize the receivers dropped 10 balls on Saturday?  Do you realize Mond was sacked 3 times?  Do you realize Mond was officially hurried 10 other times?  Do you realize we didn’t score a touchdown in the Red Zone again?

It’s natural to blame the quarterback when a team loses but you can’t pin this loss solely on Kellen Mond.  He was under pressure all day long along with his receivers not getting open and dropping the ball when they were.  There’s no doubt Mond could have made better decisions due to the pressure (based on Jimbo’s Disappointed Dad face on the sidelines) but this was a failure on the entire offense.

Blame Kellen Mond all you want but if you do you’re ignorant.  There’s no better option at quarterback than Kellen Mond for this Aggie team.  Starkel would have got pounded too.  I still contend for guys not named Tua, Mond is as good as the next group of SEC quarterbacks.  He’s certainly no Feilepe Franks at Florida who is terrible.  Mond is MUCH better.  He’s in the same conversation as Jake Fromm, Drew Lock, and Jarret Stidham.  I never thought I’d say that this time last year but Kellen Mond is not a bad quarterback.  He’s a true sophomore.  He certainly can still develop but he’s playing behind a suspect offensive line and doesn’t have a single go to receiver to throw to.  Do you see a Mike Evans, Josh Reynolds, or Christian Kirk on this offense?  I sure don’t.

If you’re putting the blame for this loss on Mond’s shoulders you need to pay closer attention to the rest of the issues on offense.

Running Back:

MSU didn’t just stack the box with defenders all night.  They put guys in gaps all night.  They showed they weren’t going to get run on and we didn’t even try.  We only attempted 13 runs totaling 59 yards on the night.  This loss isn’t on our running backs from an attempts standpoint.

One issue I did see from Trayveon is his pass blocking is suspect.  He whiffed on a few guys blitzing during the night.  The difference between Trayveon playing in the NFL will be pass blocking.  There’s a whole lot of guys that play like him so if he wants to play at the next level he’s got to block better on blitzes.

Wide Receivers:

Other than Quartney Davis our receivers had a truly forgettable night.  They didn’t get open for the most part and when they did they dropped 10 passes.  Sternberger had the worst night compared to what he’s capable of.  It wasn’t even close to what he did against South Carolina.

There’s no go to receiver in this group.  There really isn’t.  I know we all hoped Kendrick Rogers would be that after what he did against Clemson but he’s really not that strong of a receiver.  He doesn’t run solid routes and he’s not great catching the ball on the run.  He excels when he’s stopped and looking back to the ball.  When his legs are still and he can focus on the ball he’s fine but if he’s moving downfield he doesn’t have the same hands.

This is not a horrible group by any stretch but they’ve got a long ways to go to be a dependable group.  There’s just too much inconsistency and there’s not a single receiver that commands a double team from a defense.  If there was a single dominant receiver this group probably looks different but there’s a talent deficiency right now.  Not as bad as other units on this team but it’s still missing at least one dominant playmaker.  See the guys I mentioned above like Evans, Reynolds, and Kirk.  Just one of those guys changes the dynamic of this receiving corps in a big way.

Offensive Line:

These guys had their hands full all night long with MSU stacking guys in gaps.  For whatever reason they didn’t know how to handle it.  They weren’t terrible as they gave Mond some time to throw but didn’t give him nearly enough.  They were able to slow down most of the MSU defenders but their biggest issue was they couldn’t anticipate what the stacked gaps meant so a defender would slip through quite often pressuring Mond.

We know this unit isn’t that talented but the confusion and mental mistakes 8 games into the season is frustrating.  I know everybody loves Jim Turner but there’s still issues with this line.  The lack of talent I’m fine with to a degree but the constant mental mistakes and confusion on what the defense is doing makes me wonder how good Turner really is.  He’s certainly a better offensive line coach when he has NFL caliber talent.  Every coach would be, but let’s tap the brakes on Turner being the greatest offensive line coach ever.  I question how great he really is.  Sometimes I wonder if he just does more yelling than actual coaching so everybody believes he’s a great coach because he sounds like it.  Offensive line is not about emotion.  It’s about technique and being extremely smart.  There’s PLENTY of room for this line to learn both.

I don’t think we’re going to see much improvement in this unit the rest of the season so be ready for inconsistencies in blocking and mental mistakes.  Let’s just hope the guys that are redshirted this year and committed show up to campus ready to contribute.

Defense:

I’m not going to spend a lot of time here as we all saw what happened.  Our secondary has been a glaring issue all season.  MSU just decided to attack it from the get go.  It worked as MSU played in front score wise most of the game.

Truthfully, I’m tired of writing about the defense as it’s the same thing week after week.  The defensive line along with Alaka and Dodson show up every week but our secondary is just so terrible.  Sure, the defensive line and linebackers gave up the 76 yard run they shouldn’t have but the game was realistically over at that point.  You take away that run and MSU rushed for 67 yards on 30 carries.  That’s basically 2 yards per carry which is outstanding.  Our defensive line and main linebackers played good enough for most of the game for the Aggies to win.

Our secondary on the other hand was the issue.  We know this.  Our corners aren’t shut down guys and if you’ve got a receiver that can get downfield you can challenge our secondary.  Our safeties are just as bad at covering.  They’re also terrible at defending at the run.  I’m not sure what happened to Derrick Tucker but he’s been REALLY bad all season.  I’m not sure he should even see the field the rest of the season.  We really miss Armani Watts in a bad way.  That guy would make this secondary infinitely better.

Much like our offensive line the secondary is what it is at this point in the season.  There’s not much hope for it to get any better this season.  We must hope the young guys not playing big minutes (Leon O’Neal I’m talking about you) and the committed guys are ready to contribute next year.  We simply don’t have the talent.

Special Teams:

Seth Small was 2 of 3 on field goals so at this point we must realize he’s probably going to miss a kick each game finishing somewhere between 50% and 80% depending on the number of chances he gets.  Braden Mann had an off day which makes perfect sense considering most of the team had an off day.  Rashaud Paul had a nice return we only turned into a field goal since our offense wasn’t able to capitalize it into a touchdown.  I like Paul as a returner.  He’s not Christian Kirk but he’s got pretty good awareness for where the ball is coming down and the punt coverage coming at him.

 

Looking Forward:

The most frustrating part about this game is we have no idea what we have with Jimbo Fisher.  We think we do but it’s ultimately decided solely by wins and losses.  We were on the verge of having a 2012 season but with much less talent.  8 games in we could still go anywhere from 6-6 to 9-3 which is a MAJOR swing.  Jimbo wins out getting 9 wins and nobody gives a damn about this MSU game.  He wins less than 8 and we’ll all look back at this game as the difference maker for the season.  It will be the game we coulda shoulda won but didn’t get it done.

Something tells me we repeat last year where we trade what we thought would be a win over Mississippi State for a win over someone else.  Last year it was Florida and this year I think it’s Auburn.  Sure, there’s a lot of hope in that statement as I sure as hell don’t want Jimbo finishing 7-5 his first season.  I really do think we can beat Auburn as they’re not as good as advertised coming into the season.  Much like Florida last season.  Auburn still has plenty of talent to beat A&M so don’t get confused on that.  This is a 50/50 game based on how both teams have played all season.

The Aggies played their worse game of the year in Starkville and still only lost by 15.  That’s not terrible.  I hope the loss wakes Jimbo up he needs to be a little more aggressive if his secondary is being attacked.  If Auburn is trying to establish the run then it’s okay to play how we played against Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina.  If Auburn comes out attacking our secondary and is successful Jimbo better be ready to instill a sense of urgency and respond.  He tried his normal method against MSU and it didn’t work.  I’m fine playing a little conservative if you’re up but if you’re behind and your secondary is being attacked the Aggies need to get it going not worrying about time of possession.  Attack their defense as well.

As for the other remaining games I’m still confident we beat Ole Miss and UAB.  LSU looks like a certain loss but we’ll probably match up better with them than MSU.  I don’t see Eddie O doing what Joe Moorhead did.  LSU wants to run the ball and play outstanding defense waiting for the opponent to make a mistake.  When that happens LSU will pounce and score points.  There’s still a chance for this Aggie team to beat LSU but we’ve got three more games to worry about before worrying about LSU.

I still believe Jimbo is the right guy to Make Aggie Football Great Again.  Unfortunately, we’re going to have to wait at least one more week to find out.  Believe it or not there’s still a chance at 10 wins on the season which would be remarkable.  Right now, I think our best realistic scenario is an 8-4 regular season adding a bowl win to finish up 9-4.  That will still be a REALLY good year for Jimbo.  We just have to get through Auburn first before we worry about anything else.

#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 on the South Carolina Game

Jace at SCThe good part about the Clemson game earlier this year is it showed A&M can play with an elite team.  The bad part about that Clemson game is it fooled a lot of people into thinking A&M could be an elite team this season.  Texas A&M is not currently an elite team and will not be this season.  As I said coming into this season the offensive line and secondary are major areas of concern.  Those two things keep getting proven out week after week.  They’ve not been a major liability yet but they’re still not even close to being on an elite level.

Those Aggie fans that are down on the way A&M is WINNING are missing HOW the Aggies are winning.  They’re mainly bitching about Mond and/or how the Aggies aren’t putting teams away.  I’ll get to Mond later but the reason the Aggies aren’t putting teams away is because this team has flaws.  Opponents are able to exploit those flaws to keep the game close.  At the same time, those bitching Aggie fans aren’t giving credit to a team that won’t quit fighting and hasn’t let the other team gain full momentum when they’re making a push.  Just when it looks like the other team might grab all of the momentum this Aggie team does something to make sure it doesn’t happen.  This trait needs to be recognized by Aggie fans.  This isn’t an immensely talented team but they’re taking care of business winning games they could have lost.

I didn’t get a chance to write up my thoughts on the Kenucky game.  I was in Cleveland for the Astros game but the Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina game have basically been the same game for the most part.  Sure, Kentucky took the early lead on A&M but they never really had a lot of momentum.  After all, Kentucky never ran a play on the Aggie side of the field in regulation.  The Aggies controlled things for most of the game against Kentucky.  Same thing with Arkansas and South Carolina.

What complaining Aggie fans are missing is how there’s a game plan developed for the strengths and weaknesses of both teams every week.  That game plan seems to be pretty spot on and when it’s not working adjustments are made.  It’s clear to me Jimbo Fisher and his staff know what they have in their Aggie offense, defense, and special teams.  They also appear pretty good at identifying the strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies of their opponents each week.  There’s a cohesive game plan each week to depend on the strengths and cover the weaknesses as much as possible.

These games might be boring or even concerning but this is an Aggie team that has a plan.  In the past we’d put up points but there was no rhyme or reason.  The Aggie offense would sputter on drives and then would hit a quick touch down.  The Aggie defense would bring pressure and get a sack but then would give up a big touchdown on more than one occasion.  It was just a hodge podge of offense, defense, and special teams.  There was no cohesive plan.  Just individual units going out and hopefully making more plays than the other team.

This team is different.  This staff and team have a cohesive plan to have more points at the end of four quarters.  It begins and ends with keeping the Aggie defense off the field.  Our defensive line and linebackers named Alaka and Dodson are as good as anyone’s in the country.  Our secondary is not.  The last thing we want to do is get in a shootout with another team.  This team is not built for that.  We can control the line of scrimmage so that’s what we want other teams to play into.  We want an opponent’s offense to try and establish something at the line of scrimmage rather than sling the ball around.

Our offensive line and running backs aren’t built to grind people into submission.  We don’t have major deep threats and even if we did our offensive line can’t hold up well enough to buy the needed time.  This is an offense that has some talent but it has to take short and intermediate yards based on what the defense gives them.  This offense has to be smart with the ball and slowly move up and down the field for a host of reasons.  This offense simply can’t dictate it’s will on an opposing defense.

With all of that, I think Jimbo is being very smart from a play calling standpoint.  He’s not sandbagging plays by any stretch but he’s calling fairly conservative plays based on what he truly feels the defense will give them.  Most of the time he’s been right.  When the offense needs to do something they’ve been able to do it for the most part.  When needed they’ve been able to move the ball up and down the field chewing clock and yards.  We could use some help in the Red Zone but the talent just isn’t there to pound the ball once we get there.  We’ve still got to methodically move the ball based on what the defense gives us.  For the most part this offense has done that.  There’s plenty of room for improvement but at least there’s a solid plan and understanding of what’s possible.  There’s been a lot of timely play calls this season on both sides of the ball.  It doesn’t appear plays are just being called with no reason for the opponent or momentum of the game.  This is a different team and staff from in the past.  There’s an actual legitimate game plan each week.

I would love to see A&M close out games stronger with no threat in the 4th quarter but I like what I see from this staff.  For the first time in a long time I see a coaching staff that has a solid feel for their team and the opponent.  With that feel they’re creating and calling a game plan that’s won games we might have lost in the past.  At the end of the day a win matters more than anything else.  Don’t get lost in the style of how we win.  Stay focused on the fact we’re actually winning win momentum is swinging against us.  That’s a great sign.

On to the South Carolina game…

Offense:

Kellen Mond:

I’m starting with Mond this week because I’m tired of Aggie fans bitching about his play.  Is he perfect?  Hell no.  Has he been good enough for the Aggies to have won every game except the two teams that have perennially been in the College Football Playoff?  YES!!!  Yes, he has.  If you think Kellen Mond is inadequate and needs to be benched either stop watching Aggie games or go watch highlights from 2017.  Kellen Mond is LIGHT YEARS better than last year and easily in the Top 25% of college quarterbacks.  He’s a true sophomore that continues to develop.  He has a suspect offensive line and a decent but not great receiving corps.  He has no Mike Evans, Ryan Swope, Josh Reynolds, or Christian Kirk.  He’s still out there making plays though.

On Saturday Mond was 25/37 for 353 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.  That’s a 68% completion percentage.  That’s a DAMN good day at the office for a quarterback in the SEC not named Tua.  He also had some nice runs to account for the challenges of our offensive line.

Can Mond improve as a quarterback?  He sure can and likely will as he gets more experience.  Does he need to be benched in favor of someone else?  HELL.  NO.  If you truly think Mond isn’t the best option for this Aggie team then you’re a football moron.  I don’t know a nicer way to put it.  You don’t know anything about football and the quarterback position.  Especially in the college game.  Kellen Mond is a true sophomore playing in a new system behind a suspect line and no true playmaker to throw to.  Kellen Mond is doing just fine as the Aggie quarterback.  If you don’t think so, go watch some Bob Ross videos on YouTube and learn to paint some nature scenes.  It would be a better use of your time than watching Aggie football as you’re watching something you don’t have a clue about.

Sorry about the rant but it’s just frustrating to hear and read people complaining about Kellen Mond’s performance.  He’s doing a damn good job all things considered.  There’s not a better option on this team at quarterback.  I promise you that.

Running Back:

I love Trayveon Williams as a running back but this wasn’t his game.  For most of this game South Carolina wasn’t going to let him get established.  Not including Kellen Mond runs we ran the ball 24 times to 37 passes.  That’s a slight variation from what we’ve done in previous games.  South Carolina stacked a lot of people in the box basically daring A&M to pass.  Luckily, Jimbo noticed that and rather than try and establish something that wasn’t there he let Mond run and throw.

When Williams did get the ball he was his usual self where he’d squirm for 3-4 yards along with a couple nice intermediate runs.  Most impressive was his carries on the final drive of the game.  His first three carries of the drive went for 4, 9, and 6 yards.  His next carry was for a loss of 3 yards but the next play was the 23 yard pass to Sternberger that got us into South Carolina territory.  Corbin had a couple nice rushes while Williams was out and then Williams came back in with 1st and goal from the 9.  Williams ripped off a 6 yard run to set up and 2nd and goal at the 3 and then took the next carry to pay dirt for a big touchdown.  That drive consumed 78 yards and 5:45 resulting in a rushing touchdown that basically put the game away.

Statistically it wasn’t one of A&M’s better rushing days but South Carolina didn’t want A&M to establish the running game.  However, when A&M needed it most they were able to put the ball on the ground and control the clock along with punching it in the end zone.  Had the defense held on South Carolina’s next possession it gives this game a totally different feel.  The running game did their part when they had to.

Offensive Line:

This will never be a dominant offensive line but against South Carolina they were pretty serviceable.  They were confused by a couple early blitzes but for the most past gave Mond enough time to throw the rest of the game.  Mond was sacked in the 1st quarter and then early in the 2nd quarter but wasn’t sacked after that.

Penalty wise I remember one holding call on a 19 yard run by Trayveon so that nullified that.  I don’t remember any false starts.  If your offensive line has one hold and no false starts you can’t really complain about that.

This line was a key part of the final touchdown drive helping Williams grind out yards including the precious 9 yards needed to score.  I would like to see this line be better in the Red Zone really imparting their will but I just don’t think there’s enough talent to do so.  Either way if they do what they did against South Carolina the rest of the way they’ll give us a chance against every defense left on the schedule.  It won’t be dominant but it’ll be good enough to help us win if every other unit does their job as well.  There’s still lots of room for improvement with this offensive line but I have to give them credit they’ve done a better job than I expected coming into this season.

Wide Receivers:

This unit was shorthanded this week with Ausbon and Kendrick Rogers being out.  Jalen Preston is still coming along slowly so that basically left Sternberger, Quartney Davis, Cam Buckley, and Hezekiah Jones to throw to.  Outside of Sternberger none of those guys are true playmakers.  Those 4 guys caught 22 balls for 340 yards so they had a damn nice day.  We all know Sternberger had a day catching 7 balls for 145 yards including a touchdown and taking defenders for a ride.  Don’t discount Quartney Davis’ effort catching 7 balls for 127 yards though.  Buckley and Jones also pitched in catching three balls each so they all contributed at some point.

Even shorthanded it’s great to see them step up as South Carolina was basically daring A&M to beat them through the air with their defensive alignment.  We still need some true playmakers in our receiving corps but I can’t say anything bad at all about the effort by these guys on Saturday.  When they were called upon they delivered.  That’s all you can ask for.

Defense:

Front 6:

Not a lot to say about these guys that I haven’t already said this season.  Against South Carolina it was more of the same.  South Carolina running backs rushed 14 times for 67 yards with a long run of 27 yards.  Their other long was 14 yards right before that run.  On back to back plays they got 41 yards that accounted for 60% of their rushing yards by a running back.  Other than those 2 runs they got about 2 yards a carry from their running backs.  That is solid.

If there’s one negative it’s that we only got one sack.  We did get 4 additional quarterback hurries so it’s not like we weren’t bringing some pressure.  Bentley likes to run so my guess is the plan for our front 6 was to not blow lane assignments to keep the running backs and quarterback contained so they didn’t break off any big plays.  For the most part we did that.

Would it be nice to get more pressure?  Sure, but these guys aren’t built for that.  They’re big bodies designed to consume blockers and space.  They do an excellent job.  Complaining about the lack of pressure kind of feels like complaining about Mond holding on to the ball too long.  What they’re doing is working so no need in really changing it.

Secondary:

As I’ve been saying all year this is our Achilles heel.  On Saturday it showed up in the second half.  In the first half Jake Bentley was 6 of 17 for 46 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.  That’s a 35% completion rate which is really bad.  That’s as good as the secondary has been all year I believe.

Charles Oliver made a great interception mid-way through the first quarter keeping South Carolina from getting points on the board.  That potential touchdown wasn’t the fault of the secondary giving up any passes.  It was set up due to a personal foul on the previous punt giving South Carolina the ball near mid-field.  The first two offensive plays were the runs of 41 yards.  Two plays later the personal foul on Renfro that got him ejected setting up South Carolina deep in the Red Zone.  There was South Carolina with 1st and goal at the 5.  Oliver made the play to bail out other mistakes by the defense and special teams.  Credit to him for making that play.

Statistically the first half looked pretty dominant for the secondary but there were some cracks in the dam that were exposed.  Most notably Bentley missed some passes where his receivers had Myles Jones burned pretty bad.  It’s pretty clear South Carolina took note of that going into the locker room.

The second half was a different story as Bentley went 11 of 18 for 177 yards and three touchdowns, two two-point conversions, and no interceptions.  That’s not really all that dominant from a percentage and yards standpoint but the three touchdowns and two-point conversions were killer.  One of the touchdowns was a 22 yarder and the other a 33 yarder.  The secondary had problems covering in what was a reasonably short field on both of those.  I don’t like giving up long scores but if a receiver makes a great play to break off a long score you just tip your hat.  When teams are scoring touchdowns on 22 and 33 yard passes your secondary either busted its coverage or just isn’t talented enough.  I think for the Aggie secondary it’s a little of both.  The coverage was somewhat busted and the defensive backs didn’t have the athleticism to make up for it.

We also had some big penalties along the way that hurt us including two targeting calls on Renfro and Wilson.  I think the call on Renfro was technically correct but the call on Wilson was a little suspect.  That call on Renfro brought in Myles Jones and he got picked on pretty bad.  He had a couple of big pass interference penalties along with just some bad coverage all the way around.  Charles Oliver looked decent on a lot of pass plays but he’s still not a dominant shut down corner.  The second half likely looks different with Renfro in there but I think South Carolina would have likely still completed 50% of their passes for 120ish yards and a couple touchdowns.

The safeties have become bigger question marks in my mind.  Derrick Tucker played early in the game and did something that caught my attention but I can’t remember what.  I believe he got burned on a pass play that Bentley also missed on.  Whatever it was he looked completely clueless about the play on the field which he’s been prone to do this season.  Looking at the stat sheet his name doesn’t show up for anything.  Donovan Wilson, Deshawn Capers-Smith, Keldrick Carper, and Leon O’Neal, Jr. all show up on the stat sheet.  Looks like Tucker got pulled early and didn’t see the field again.  Fine by me as I think he’s a big liability at this point.  He’s talented but he doesn’t know his position very well and has also has had issues tackling this season.

How you fix this secondary I don’t know.  At this point it’s clear Renfro and Oliver are our best cover guys.  I don’t think Clifford Chattman coming back changes that.  Renfro and Oliver are serviceable but they’re going to get burned here and there.  At safety I think you just keep rotating guys in and out.  Wilson isn’t the best in coverage but he’s a great third linebacker playing the run and short routes.  You just need to make sure he’s not in a position where he must cover someone beyond 15 yards.  He’s not good going backwards.  Capers-Smith while not extremely talented seems to know his assignments and does a good job tackling.  Like the rest of the secondary he’s going to be prone to lapses in coverage.  I would like to see Leon O’Neal get more playing time if it’s warranted.  His shirt is burned so might as well get him as much experience as is reasonable.  We going to need him in a big way next season.

Basically, this defense is what it is.  We’re great up front but suspect in the secondary.  If we can eliminate ALL penalties (including targeting) and limit the big touchdown plays this unit can help us win the rest of the games on the schedule.  You just have to assume against the rest of the SEC teams there’s a good chance we’ll give up 20 to 25 points if a team has any semblance of a passing attack.  That’s not great but it’s not horrible.  You can win games if you’re honest in your game plan each week looking to minimize the secondary exposure.  Just eliminate any chance of getting into a shootout.

Special Teams:

Mann oh Mann:

Brand Mann “only” averaged 52 yards on 4 punts but he hit 3 over 50 yards including a 67 yarder.  Obviously his best play was on the punt return where he created a fumble the Aggies recovered.  The dude’s legend just continues to grow.  I haven’t paid attention to every punter in college football this season but I can’t imagine someone out there better than him.

Seth Small:

Seth Small was 4 of 5 on field goals including his first one which was a 52 yarder.  He missed on his second field goal which was 42 yards but he then connected on his next 3.  Those were critical so good to see him respond when needed.  I know a lot of Aggies have been down on this kid but I’m hoping he’s finally right.  Remember this is a guy that was perfect in his debut in Tuscaloosa.  It could be MUCH worse than what he’s done so far as a true freshman.  Surely he only gets better with experience and confidence.

Returns:

Nothing of any real substance here as Corbin and Paul had a couple decent returns trying to make something happen.  Probably the best thing about our kick teams were limiting Deebo Samuel on his two returns.  He’s an incredibly explosive player and he got to the 20 once and the 12 the other time.  He did nothing on the two kick offs he tried to make something happen.  Nice job but our kick off coverage team.  Our punt coverage was a bit suspect but thanks to Mann oh Mann lowering the boom it didn’t hurt us.

 

Looking Forward:

I still can’t move the needle from my 8-4 prediction before the season started.  So far I’ve nailed every game.  I truly believe in what Jimbo is doing but the secondary and offensive line is leaving little room for error.  I love the 6:00 pm start in Starkville as I think that works in our favor.  The 11:00 am starts in Starkville have been trouble for us.  I think we stand a good chance to win that game but it won’t be easy.  It’ll be tougher than our last three games so we can’t make mistakes.

Auburn sure looks like a possible win after the last two weeks but never under-estimate Gus Malzahn backed up against the wall.  If he comes out slinging the ball looking to test our secondary it could be tough.  They have a pretty solid defense that will be tough to score on.  I think the Tennessee win actually works against A&M.  We don’t want a desperate Auburn team.  It’s not a great Auburn team but neither is A&M.  That’s a 50/50 game right now to me even with how Auburn has looked of late.  Gus may wake up looking to throw that sucker 50 times on us.

Ole Miss should be a win but we could get into a shootout with them.  If that’s the case it’s not the easy win it looks to be.  They have talent at receiver and QB.  If their line can buy their receivers enough time to get downfield their QB can hit them.  I don’t think it happens and A&M wins but it’s a matchup problem for us to a degree.

UAB should be a win so no concerns there.

LSU just beat an elite Georgia team so if you’d pick A&M over LSU right now you’re a damn fool.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again it fascinates me how every season after a “bad loss” everyone wants to write off LSU as a bad team.  They’re as loaded as any team in the country outside of Alabama.  On any given day they can beat any team in the country and even give Bama a scare.  I do think A&M can beat LSU so it’s not impossible but that will not be an easy win by any stretch.  There’s a legit possibility there’s two 9-2 teams looking for their 10th win in their final game.  If you don’t think LSU will be up for that wanting their 10th win you don’t follow college football very closely.

I think we’re in a good position to go 8-4 and with some good breaks wind up at 9-3.  If we finish 9-3 and then win a bowl game to get 10 wins we’ll be well on our way to Make Aggie Football Great Again.  It’s looking very possible at this point.  It may not be as pretty or convincing as you want but it’ll be a remarkable job by the players and coaches.

#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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